These last few weeks before the College is back in session are quiet around town with most of the camps finished for the summer and few students milling about. Not like it was at the turn of the 19th Century. Back then, and for nearly 25 years, summers in Amherst were home to a bustling and vibrant summer school of languages and one of the first schools in the country for librarians.
The Normal School of Languages
Dr. Lambert Sauveur founded the Normal School of Languages at Amherst College in 1877. Sauveur was one of the first teachers in America to employ the natural method for teaching languages. Now a common method for teaching and learning foreign languages, at the time the natural method (where all instruction is conducted in the target language) was considered a breakthrough innovation.
The Normal School was intended for but not limited to teachers. Tuition for the six week course was on average $16 and the school attracted about 200 students a year.
Dr. Sauveur served as Director and a French instructor at the school until 1883, when Amherst College French Professor W. L. Montague took over as Director of the program. Sauveur returned as Director of the Summer School in 1895 and continued as Director until the school closed several years later.
Additional tidbit: Anna Leonowens, author of The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870), taught Sanskrit at the Normal School of Languages in 1878. More about this in Alfred Habegger’s recent biography Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens.
The Summer School for Library Economy
The Summer School of Library Economy, begun in 1891, was developed by William I. Fletcher, Librarian of Amherst College and a vice president of the American Library Association, in response to a growing demand for library instruction. The Library School appears to have been considered a department of the Sauveur Summer School, as the Normal School of Languages came to be known.
The Library School was an intensive six week course intended for people already engaged in library work. Fletcher instructed classes in “methods of doing library work, such as cataloguing, keeping records, etc.” and gave lectures on “absolutely practical subjects, such as methods of classification and cataloguing, the buying of books, making a library useful, etc.” The library program could be taken either “as an extra in connection with the regular course of the Summer School, or as a special course by itself.”
In addition to classroom instruction and lectures, Fletcher provided the Library School students with field trips to visit regional libraries, including the Forbes Library in Northampton, the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, as well as the Riverside Press, a book printing outfit in Boston.
Fletcher continued to run the one-man Library School for fifteen years until his retirement from the position in 1905, at which time the Summer School for Library Economy was discontinued.
The Amherst Summer Student
The students of the Summer School edited and published The Amherst Summer Student newspaper.
The Summer Student was published every Friday during the Summer School session and was “given up entirely to the interests of the School” with the “endeavor to become the printed representative of the School and all the enterprises connected with it.”
In addition to printing reviews of professors’ lectures, the Summer Student detailed many of the exciting happenings around Amherst, including picnics up Mt. Toby, informal dancing parties at Miss Heaton’s, pickup baseball games in Northampton, whist club meetings, and excursions of all types.
Summer Schools: No longer a fad! The Summer school is now as definite and permanent a factor in the professional training of teachers as the normal school…No teacher grows old in his work who devotes half of every summer to first-class vacation study and student companionship…The teacher’s opportunities for self-improvement to-day are so far beyond anything dreamed of twenty years ago, that he lives in another world.
See more in the Amherst Summer School Collection in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.