Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Guide to the esther raushenbush (1898-1980) Papers, n.d.,1935-1980

Administrative Information

Biographical Note

Esther Mohr Raushenbush, an integral part of Sarah Lawrence for over fifteen years, served the College in many capacities as a Literature professor, Dean of the College, President of the College, and the Founder and Director of the Center for Continuing Education. Her presidency ran from 1965 to 1969, four years that were characterized by unrest across communities and campuses, including Sarah Lawrence. While Raushenbush strongly believed in women’s ability to learn, to carve out academic niches for themselves, she was faced with a changing campus, one very different from the time she entered to the time she left.

Esther Raushenbush began her academic career at the University of Washington, earning an A.B. in 1921 and an M.A. in 1922, both in literature. She spent a year at Radcliffe and then a fellowship year in England. Upon her return, Raushenbush taught at Wellesley College and Barnard, and supervised the Master’s Essays in 18th century literature at Columbia.

In 1935 she was invited to join the faculty at Sarah Lawrence as a teacher of literature and to help design the new program for freshman, the parent of the present Freshman Studies. Having by that time eight years of often-frustrating experiences teaching traditional Freshman English courses, along with other English courses, and convinced that something better could be created for freshman, she saw in this new approach a possible answer to the frustrations. She continued to teach literature at Sarah Lawrence for eleven years.

Raushenbush became Dean in 1946 and kept that position until 1957. While Dean, she helped develop the graduate studies program and the programs for training teachers. She directed the College’s summer sessions during and after the war, when it conducted an accelerated program. For seven years she served as Director for Sarah Lawrence of the Summer Seminar in Higher Education for college teachers, conducted jointly by Sarah Lawrence and New York University.

She resumed teaching after her time as Dean and in 1962 founded the Center for Continuing Education. As director, she ran this unique program that allowed women to return to college later in their lives in order to finish their undergraduate degree. To this day the center continues to attract older students interested in continuing their schooling.

On July 1, 1965, Esther Raushenbush was named President of the College. While President, she maintained her commitment to the development of the philosophy and practices of Sarah Lawrence. Commenting on the relation between the academic work of the student and his or her life experience, Raushenbush stated:

“Learning is not synonymous with the acquisition of knowledge or with mental discipline; it is a process of growth toward intellectual and emotional maturity. An education which increases the ability of the student to use his intellectual and emotional capacities in the optimum way is a good education. An education that does not do this is a failure no matter how much information the student may have acquired.”

In January 1969, Raushenbush’s administrative policies were tested as a group of white students took over Westlands in protest of a tuition hike. For ten days the protestors occupied the building which houses the President’s office as well as other administrative offices. Concomitantly, the Black Student’s Association set forth a series of demands requesting structural change in the College, specifically the hiring and retention of more black faculty and a stronger emphasis on the Black Experience (in the from of class offerings, lectures, art exhibits, etc). The actions taken by the students and the responses by the administration can be found in the Presidential Papers and in the Political Action folders in the Student Life boxes.

Upon her retirement from the Presidency, Raushenbush worked as a consultant to the John Hay Whitney Foundation which supports educational and economic development programs for minorities. Raushenbush participated in general policy making, advised and monitored special projects for the Foundation. In 1972, she published a study sponsored by the Foundation entitled Opportunity Fellows Fulbright and Visiting Professors. She consulted for the foundation until 1979 when she returned to the college to review the program at the Center for Continuing Education. Although she was not at full strength, she spent many days on campus and concluded her work by making recommendations for the future that were then implemented, resulting in a renewed energy for the Center.

Raushenbush was an avid proponent of education and was often asked to lecture and write articles on the subject. Her publications include Occasional Papers on Education, a collection of her speeches written during her Presidency, The Student and His Studies, and The Student in Higher Education. The bound copies of these books may be found with the Faculty Publications.

Esther Raushenbush passed away on July 21st, 1980 at age eighty-two from a heart attack. Before she died, however, she was able to see the Sarah Lawrence library renamed in her honor, a fitting memorial for a woman who loved the College and the progressive pedagogy it imparted to its students.

Series Descriptions

Series I. general papers

General Papers consists of biographical information, material from Raushenbush's literature courses, and copies of her many lectures and speeches.  Note: The lectures are listed chronologically; however, included is one folder listing the titles of the lectures organized by subject as well as an unbound copy of Raushenbush's collection, Occasional Papers on Education.  The bound copy is located in the President's Books Collection.

Series II.  administrative papers

Administrative Papers consists of material related to the inauguration of Esther Raushenbush, General Papers (invitations, contractual information, activities of the President, Center for Continuing Education, American Council on Education, Princeton-Sarah Lawrence proposal, gifts to the President, 1969 Westlands Sit-in, retirement material), Reports (President’s Report, to faculty, to committees, financial reports), Correspondence listed alphabetically by subject heading, including correspondence with former Presidents Charles DeCarlo, Paul Ward, Harrison Tweed, Harold Taylor, and Constance Warren, Media (articles referring to Sarah Lawrence College and Esther Raushenbush and press releases, all listed chronologically).

Series IIi.  published works

Published Works consist of articles written by Esther Raushenbush, organized chronologically, and four bound books entitled: The Student and His Studies (1964), The Student in Higher Education (1968), Opportunity Fellows Fulbright and Visiting Professors (1972), Occasional Papers on Education (1979).

Folder List

Box 1:

Series I. general papers
series ii. administrative papers

Box 2:

Series ii. administrative papers (continued)
Series iiI. published works

Box 3:

Series I. general papers (oversized)