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Theodore Brameld Papers

Identifier: mss-091

Scope and Content Note

The Brameld Papers contain a variety of personal and professional materials relating to Theodore Brameld and his family. They include professional and family biographical information and correspondence, financial records, academic papers, published journal articles, publicity, book reviews, media presentations, family ephemera, two diaries, a scrapbook, audio tapes, slides, photographs, and newspaper clippings. They also include a restricted file containing family letters on a specific financial matter. This file may be viewed only with special permission from the Director of Special Collections.

The collection is organized chronologically according to the categories listed above. Dates of undated materials have been estimated and are filed behind materials with fixed dates. The most extensive materials are the personal/professional correspondence, academic papers, articles, and reviews.

The collection also includes a modest number of materials relating to the Society for Educational Reconstruction (SER) and research gathered by Frank A. Stone, Ed D, while writing an intellectual biography of Theodore Brameld titled, Theodore Brameld's Educational Reconstruction. The papers of Dr. Stone and other materials relating to SER can be accessed at: The Hanna Collection on the Role of Education in Twentieth Century Society, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, California, Attention: Director and Curator, Hanna Collection. Telephone: (650) 723-4427; Fax: (650) 723-6483.

After valuable initial work on the collection by Dr. Stone, the Brameld Papers were donated to the University of Vermont Special Collections in 1999 by Midori Matsuyama Brameld Kiso, Theodore Brameld's widow. Further processing was supported by a grant from the Society for Educational Reconstruction and was completed by Sally Y. Conrad in 2003. The Brameld Papers are open for research under the conditions of the University of Vermont Special Collections access policy.

This significant gift of Theodore Brameld's papers is an important addition to the growing collection of history and philosophy of education materials in Special Collections including the Horace Mann and Paul Nash papers. The John Dewey Project on Progressive Education of the University of Vermont College of Education and Social Services is continuing to build an archive of scholarly materials related to progressive education, including the National Middle School Association papers.

Researchers interested in the philosophy of education, history of educational thought, teacher education, innovative education, education for a world community and the educator as an agent of social change will find the Brameld Papers fruitful. Because the collection is arranged chronologically, it illustrates the sweep of a life lived during a particularly eventful time span in social and educational history --- the mid 1920s to the mid 1980s.

To benefit most from the collection, the researcher should study all materials in each category during the same time period. That is to say, if one were interested in the debate about the educational philosophy of Robert Hutchins while he was President of the University of Chicago in 1937, it would be wise to review not only correspondence from that time period, but also the academic papers, articles, and reviews from 1937.

Biographical Information

The biographical materials in the Brameld Papers contain both professional and personal information about Theodore Brameld and his family. Therefore the biographical materials are divided into two categories: Biographical Information: Professional located in Box 1 and Biographical Information: Family located in Box 12. Of vital importance to researchers are Brameld's career curriculum vitae (Box 1), bibliography (Box 1), and obituary (Box 1).

Brameld's Last Will and Testament is included in Biographical Information: Family. (Box 12). Also in this category are various materials relating to Brameld's British ancestors, as well as to his father Theodore E. Brameld and to his mother Minnie Dangers Brameld. It also includes the curriculum vita of Midori Matsuyama, Brameld's third wife.

In connection with the family biographical information, researchers should review family correspondence (Box 12) to form a more complete picture of Brameld as a complex human being.

Professional Correspondence

Probably of greatest interest to researchers is Brameld's extensive professional correspondence (Boxes 1, 2) organized chronologically. Brameld's drive to communicate his ideas to as wide an audience as possible through his books, articles, speaking engagements, professorships, radio, and eventually television resulted in often colorful correspondence with both supporters and critics who themselves are historically significant. These include John Dewey (1931, 1932, 1933, 1936, 1937, 1938), Sidney Hook (1931, 1932, 1933), Lewis Mumford (1934, 1977), William Heard Kilpatrick (1936, 1937), George Counts (1933, 1937), Ben Shahn (1937), George Kneller (1957), Harold Rugg (1959), and Jonathan Kozol (1973, 1978, 1979).

The most sustained correspondence is with historian Merle Curti (born: 1897, died 1996) which apparently began in 1937 (May 4, 1937) when Curti was a professor at Smith College. This initial letter of support for Brameld's ideas began a forty-year collegial and personal friendship reflected in their letters to each other. Eventually Curti and Brameld shared neighboring summer homes in Lyme Center, New Hampshire.

Fortunately for historians, Brameld kept copies of many of the letters he sent to Curti and others as well as the originals he received. Therefore, often the thread of an ongoing conversation can be traced through the actual letters written and their responses. Researchers will notice that many carbon copies of letters lack the Theodore Brameld signature. However, from the content and responses to them, one can reasonably assume that these letters were sent by Brameld.

One piece of correspondence of particular significance in Brameld's professional development is a letter (7/26/1938) from Dr. Boyd H. Bode, Department of Education, Ohio State University, advising him to move from the specialty of pure philosophy to philosophy of education as a practical strategy. During the economic depression of the 1930s, academic teaching positions in pure philosophy were few. Brameld found it difficult to get work in his field and Bode suggested more opportunities might be available in the philosophy of education. Brameld followed Bode's advice and began his lifelong career in innovative educational thought and teaching.

Also of interest is a series of letters (1959) responding to Brameld's television series on WGBH-Television, Boston, titled "Challenge to Education" in which the educational ideas of John Dewey and Admiral H. G. Rickover were presented. Several letters from viewers illustrate the controversial nature of Dewey's ideas in the 1950s. One letter (10/16/1959) asserts that Dewey's "doctrines coincide definitely with Communistic teachings regarding education of the American youth." Three audio tapes from this series are in the Brameld Papers (Box 7).

When reviewing professional correspondence researchers should include the subcategories "Correspondence with Publishers," "Financial Records," and "Letters to the Editor."

Academic Papers

Several boxes in the collection (Boxes 2, 3, 4, 5) contain Brameld's academic papers. This large category comprises a variety of materials including manuscripts, lecture and speech notes, academic course descriptions, proceedings of national meetings, drafts of articles and books planned or later published, news clippings reflecting the context of the times or describing Brameld's work, and graduation and honorary degree certificates. Some of the early materials include papers written for Brameld's doctoral work at the University of Chicago (1928-1931), many with his professor's comments in the margin. Also of note is the draft of his doctoral dissertation later published as his first book, A Philosophic Approach to Communism (University of Chicago Press, 1933). Marking a later stage in Brameld's career are the proceedings from the testimonial dinner in honor of his retirement from Boston University, May 1, 1969.

Specifically of interest to scholars are Brameld's experiments in innovative education which he pursued throughout his life. Included in the collection are extensive materials relating to the proposed establishment of Veblen College (1936, 1937, and 1938) explored by Brameld and his colleagues while he taught at Long Island University. These materials include a curriculum plan, need rationale, policy discussion, work program for students, progress reports, and brochure drafts. For a more complete understanding of the process, the Veblen materials should be reviewed in conjunction with correspondence exchanged among the organizers during the years 1936 to 1938. Most correspondence about the Veblen experiment occurred during 1937. Despite all the work invested, Veblen College never progressed beyond the planning stage.

During the early 1940s, Brameld began to question if American public schools were producing the kind of critically thinking citizen which democracy seemed to demand. This inquiry resulted in the Floodwood Project (Floodwood High School, Floodwood, Minnesota) which implemented a curriculum based on Brameld's ideas of what constitutes a "good citizen." To document the process, Brameld later authored, Design for America: An Educational Exploration of the Future of Democracy for Senior High Schools and Junior Colleges New York/Philadelphia: Hinds, Hayden and Eldredge, Inc., 1945). A photocopy of this publication is included in the "Academic Papers" section of the collection.

Later in Brameld's academic career while teaching at the University of Hawaii, he initiated "Community Quest" at Kailua High School (1972). "Community Quest" was another successful effort at moving education beyond classroom walls to involve students directly in relevant contemporary social and political issues. Various materials about "Community Quest" dating from 1971 to 1981 and including an evaluation of the project are available in the collection.Articles

Brameld's prolific writing may be best exemplified by his numerous published articles, many of which are included in the Brameld Papers (Boxes 5, 6). He contributed often to the most highly respected academic journals of the day, including: The Social Frontier, Frontiers of Democracy, The Educational Forum, Journal of Higher Education, Harvard Educational Review, Teachers College Record, Educational Theory, The Humanist, Phi Delta Kappan, and Educational Studies.

Brameld's articles should be reviewed by researchers jointly with the Academic Papers and Professional Correspondence because the combination offers a more complete picture of the development of his intellectual thought and his concept of educational reconstruction over time. Articles in the collection by authors other than Brameld often include material about his work or the work of his colleagues.

Book Reviews

Brameld's extensive writing resulted in a variety of book reviews of his work by other academics (Box 6). Perhaps most noteworthy of these included in the collection is the review of Brameld's first book, A Philosophic Approach to Communism, written by John Dewey in The New Humanist (May-June 1934, Vol. 7, No. 3, p.22). In his review, Dewey says of the book, ... " [it] provides the non-communist with material highly valuable in understanding both communist theory and practice." And further... "it seems to me to throw much light on the psychology of the intellectual strategy of communist leaders." This measured but positive review was a major achievement for Brameld. To be reviewed by a scholar of Dewey's stature illuminated Brameld as an emerging philosophical thinker. Perhaps it was not so important what Dewey said about Brameld's first book, but rather that he commented at all. Probably this review helped Brameld launch his career by making this book and later works more attractive to other reviewers.

In this section of the collection, researchers will also find reviews of many of Brameld's subsequent books written by academics of various philosophical persuasions. Brameld's books reviewed include: Philosophies of Education in Cultural Perspective (1955), Toward a Reconstructed Philosophy of Education (1956), The Remaking of a Culture: Life and Education in Puerto Rico (1959), Education for the Emerging Age: Newer Ends and Stronger Means (1961), and The Climactic Decades: Mandate to Education (1970). Brameld's stature as an educational philosopher also allowed him to review other authors, including Ashley Montague (1959) and Admiral H. G. Rickover (1959). The reviews of and by Brameld are important because they provide an additional view of the debates within the field of educational philosophy and practice at the time.

Publicity and Media

Because Brameld sought to move educational philosophy into public discourse, he did not shrink from print and electronic media. His lectures and speeches were widely publicized by handbills or press releases (Boxes 6, 7). His subjects were not confined to purely educational matters, but he also spoke often on politics including issues of peace and war. In fact, in some quarters Brameld's views were so controversial they resulted in a press release (7/27/59) implying he was connected to the Communist Party.

The collection includes texts from various radio presentations as well as audio tapes from a series on education aired over WGBH-TV in Boston during 1959-1960 (Box 7). The series stimulated varied viewer responses, some of which are evident in Brameld's professional correspondence of those years.

Photographs-Audio/Visual Materials

The Brameld Papers include a moderate number of family and professional photographs (Box 8) which have been dated and labeled to the best of the processor's ability whenever previous documentation had not been made. Family photographs include Brameld as a young boy performing the magic tricks which eventually allowed him to help finance his college education as "Aladdin the Mystifier." The photographs also include a group picture of Brameld, John Dewey, and William Heard Kilpatrick at a birthday party for Kilpatrick. The photographs also feature documentation of Brameld's several professional trips to Japan as well as slides of Cuba , Europe, Japan, and Alaska (Box 9). Audio materials include cassette sound tapes of reminiscences by Brameld's colleagues about the Society for Educational Reconstruction and an oral history interview of Brameld himself. Also included is a videotape lecture by Brameld at the University of Hawaii titled "Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward."

Society for Educational Reconstruction (SER): A modest part of the Brameld Papers (Boxes 10, 11) is devoted to materials from the Society for Educational Reconstruction, the organization founded by Brameld and his doctoral students from Boston University in the late 1960s. These materials include records of meetings and conferences, the organization's statement of purpose, the incorporation certificate, Theodore Brameld Symposia materials, records from Hardscrabble Seminars, the SER constitution and by-laws, correspondence, and SER publications. The publications include a generally complete set of Cutting Edge and SER in Action.

Diaries: The Brameld Papers contain two diaries (Box 12). The earlier diary (1917) is only of modest length and written when Brameld was a young boy. The second diary (1925) covers about one year while Brameld was at Rippon College. It paints a picture of a young man introspective, expressive, intellectually curious, gregarious, interested in college life, and hungering for the challenges of the larger world. The 1925 diary is a document interesting in itself, but also very much worth mining by a researcher fleshing out the character of Brameld as a human being. For instance in it Brameld mentions meeting his future first wife, Georgine.

Research by Frank A. Stone Ed.D. for "Theodore Brameld's Educational Reconstruction": In 1996, Frank A. Stone, Ed.D., a former doctoral student of Theodore Brameld and a founding member of the Society for Educational Reconstruction, began research on an intellectual biography of Brameld which continued until 2000. The Brameld Papers contain the original research for this manuscript and each chapter which relates to it (Box 12). Publication by Caddo Gap Press is scheduled for late 2003.

Miscellaneous Materials: The final boxes of the collection are devoted to miscellaneous materials relating to the Bramelds' "Hardscrabble" property in Lyme Center, New Hampshire (Box 13); non-academic writings by Theodore Brameld and others (Box 13); family memorabilia, including a scrapbook of newspaper cartoons (Box 13); a list of books donated to the Brameld Papers (Box 13); duplicates of many materials in the Brameld Papers prepared by Frank Stone (14); guides to the Hanna Collection at the Hoover Institute, Stanford, University (Box 14); and a restricted file of family correspondence available only through special permission of the Director of Special Collections (Box 15).


  • 1896-2002



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights:

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Theodore Burghard Hurt Brameld (1904-1987) was a leading twentieth century educational philosopher. Developing, teaching, and refining his reconstructionist philosophy of education during a career which spanned more than 40 years, he was termed a "prophet father of the coming world civilization" by historian W. Warren Wagar.

Influenced by the educational philosophy of John Dewey, Brameld advocated that schools become a driving force for social and cultural change. This philosophical position often thrust him into spirited debate with traditionalists who believe that the role of education is to preserve and transmit fixed cultural values. Throughout his life Brameld never wavered from a commitment to education for social change. To this end he disseminated his ideas broadly through many books, journal articles, lectures, and public speeches, as well as print and visual media. Brameld invited reasoned argument and debate both inside and outside the classroom. He welcomed the opportunity to express his ideas in the public arena and was tireless in seeking to engage his critics in dialogue about his approach to education.

Theodore Brameld's philosophy of education, which later became known as "reconstructionism," germinated in 1928 when he enrolled as a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Chicago. There Brameld was introduced to pragmatism and John Dewey's influence. Among his teachers were George Herbert Mead, Edwin A. Burtt, and his dissertation advisor, T. V. Smith. Brameld did not shrink from controversial ideas even in his early academic work. His doctoral dissertation, A Philosophic Approach to Communism -- finally published in 1933 -- set the stage for his life's work as a challenger of the status quo.

After receiving his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Chicago in the early 1930s, Brameld began his distinguished career in philosophy of education at Long Island University (1931-1935) and Adelphi College (1935-1939) in New York. Brameld continued his teaching at the University of Minnesota (1939-1947), New York University (1947-1958) and Boston University (1958-1969). After his formal retirement from Boston University, Brameld taught at Springfield College (1969-1970) and the University of Hawaii (1970s).

During his long career, Brameld lectured at universities throughout the United States and around the world. He was the author of more than a dozen books and several hundred articles and book reviews. He also co-authored or edited a dozen other volumes.

Brameld's prolific scholarship from the 1930s through the 1970s illustrates his wide range of concerns. In the 1930s, he wrote characteristically controversial articles titled, "Karl Marx and the American Teacher" for the lively progressive journal, Social Frontier (November, 1935), and "American Education and the Social Struggle" for Science and Society (Fall, 1936). During the following decade, Brameld completed manuscripts on teachers and organized labor, workers' education, and planning for a more equitable post-war America. He authored Minority Problems in the Public Schools (1945) beginning a long commitment to intercultural/multicultural education. At this time, Brameld began to develop his own educational philosophy which focused on education for personal and cultural transformation. A key tenet of this philosophy states that a major purpose of education is to create a world community; thus it is not surprising that Brameld wrote an article titled "The Human Roots of World Order" for the journal Progressive Education in 1948 (April, 1948).

Brameld further developed and refined his philosophy in the 1950s, culminating in Toward A Reconstructed Philosophy of Education (1956). Several other books comparing and contrasting educational philosophies helped establish Brameld as a leading figure in his field. As he began exploring relationships between philosophy, education and anthropology, he placed philosophies of education in a conceptual framework which later he called "culturology" or "an anthropological philosophy of education." Late in the decade, Brameld published a complex volume titled Cultural Foundations of Education: An Interdisciplinary Exploration (1957) which demonstrated his debt to various anthropologists. He then completed a field study based on his research, The Remaking of a Culture: Life and Education in Puerto Rico (1959).

During the 1960s, Brameld's philosophy of education continued to evolve with the publication of several books including, Education for the Emerging Age: Newer Ends and Stronger Means (1961); Education as Power (1965); The Use of Explosive Ideas in Education: Culture, Class, and Evolution (1965); and Japan: Culture, Education and Change in Two Communities (1968). One of Brameld's most influential books, Education as Power (1965) has been translated into Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese and was re-issued in 2000 by Caddo Gap Press with a Foreword by Robert J. Nash.

Though Brameld considered himself a citizen of the world, he was particularly interested in Japan where in the 1960s he was Fulbright Research Scholar at Shikoku Christian College. Several Japanese assistants helped him in his research in two communities, one a fishing village and the other a segregated community which suffered from considerable discrimination. Two of these assistants, Nobuo Shimahara and Shigeharu Matsuura, later became Brameld's doctoral students at Boston University.

In the 1970s, Brameld analyzed four major philosophies of education in Patterns of Educational Philosophy: Divergence and Convergence in Culturological Perspective (1971). In his discussion of reconstructionism, one of the four, he explored the historic contribution of utopian thought as well as normative designs for a reconstructed society. He admitted that reconstructionism borrowed much from other philosophies, particularly pragmatism and progressivism, but he also criticized progressivists.

In Brameld's view, reconstructionism is -- most of all -- a crisis philosophy which acknowledges the perilous nature of life in a world saturated with weapons of nuclear warfare. It is a philosophy of values, ends and purposes which goads each person to find intelligent solutions to critical problems confronting humankind. To this end, Brameld introduced concepts like "defensible partiality" which suggests a search for answers to human problems by exploring alternative approaches and then defending the partialities which emerge from a dialectic of opposition.

Theodore Brameld believed it is the process of critical inquiry and committed action based on human dignity which moves society forward. Thus he searched tirelessly for models of educational experience which would be outside the walls of conventional thinking about schooling. This drive led to his involvement with educational experiments such as Veblen College in the 1930s, the Floodwood Project in the 1940s, and "Community Quest" in the 1970s. Brameld felt strongly that students, in order to be informed participants in a democracy, should be wrestling with the issues of the day ---politics, economics, the environment, class, gender, race, war and peace.

All his professional life, Brameld was concerned with teacher preparation and the quality of teachers. In the early 1970s, he shared the first draft of a book titled The Teacher As World Citizen with students in a summer course at the University of Vermont. This university, the alma mater of philosopher John Dewey, awarded Brameld an honorary degree in 1976.

Inspired by his ideas, Brameld's former doctoral students and other friends established an organization centering on reconstructionist principles. Founded in the late 1960s, The Society for Educational Reconstruction (SER) initially published a journal titled Cutting Edge and continues with a newsletter titled SER in Action. Numerous conferences on educational and political issues have been sponsored or co-sponsored by SER over the years. To honor Brameld, SER established the Theodore Brameld Lecture series on education and social change.

In the mid 1970s SER and Brameld conceptualized a plan to develop "Hardscrabble", the Brameld family's summer home, into a research and study center similar to Highlander Folk School (now Highlander Research and Education Center, New Market, Tennessee). In 1946, Brameld bought the former Frank Cutting Farm in Lyme Center, New Hampshire as a summer retreat for his family. Though various educational conferences were held at the site in the 1970s and titled "Hardscrabble Seminars," ultimately Brameld's declining health led to the sale of the property.

Shortly before his retirement, Brameld was asked to deliver the Boston University Lecture for 1968-69 which was later published as Chapter 2 in The Climactic Decades(1970). Titled "Imperatives for a Future-Centered Education," Brameld called for a shift away from traditional investigations of the past and present to the future and its vast potential. Human beings, he affirmed, have the capacity to direct and shape the course of their evolutionary future. They "can achieve an international order strong enough and democratic enough to eliminate war". They "can commit themselves to individual as well as cooperative life-affirming values." [Theodore Brameld, "Imperatives for a Future-Centered Education" in The Climactic Decades, New York: Praeger, 1970, p. 31]

At the conclusion of his lecture, Brameld argued that a future-centered education can and must fulfill an urgent prophecy, one which seems to encapsulate his lifetime of scholarship and teaching: "This is the prophecy of a converging, peace-maintaining, yet ever evolving and adventuring community of mankind." [p. 41]

After continuing to publish, hold visiting professorships, and remain active in the anti-war/anti-nuclear movement through the late 1970s, Brameld became chronically ill. In 1987 Theodore Brameld died in Durham, North Carolina, leaving his third wife, Midori Matsuyama Brameld [Kiso] who cared for him in his declining years. He also left three daughters and several grandchildren.

This biography was written by Sally Y. Conrad and David R. Conrad, April, 2003 (portions of this biography were published in Conrad, David R., "Profile: Theodore Brameld: visionary educator", The New Era ,Vol. 66, No. 2, 1985)


15.0 Linear feet (15 cartons)

Language of Materials



The Brameld Papers include professional and family biographical information and correspondence, financial records, academic papers, published journal articles, publicity, book reviews, media presentations, family ephemera, two diaries, a scrapbook, audio tapes, slides, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

Physical Location

Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Guide to the Theodore Brameld Papers, 1896-2002
Finding aid prepared by Processor: Dr. Frank A. Stone and Sally Conrad.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)