Places that Matter

Rand School (former)

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Exterior overview - present, Marina Gan
Exterior overview - present, Marina Gan
Exterior overview - historical, Tamiment Library, New York University
Group of people with Rand School of Social Science banner at front stairs, Tamiment Library, New York University
Group picture - historical, Tamiment Library, New York University
American socialist educational institution, offering vocational classes as well as ideological ones
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The Rand School, founded in 1906, was one of many educational institutions created by the American Socialist Society expressly for the transmission of socialist ideas. It is arguably the first, but unquestionably the longest-lived of these schools. Housed for many years in a former YWCA building on East 15th Street, the school is particularly remembered for the integral role it played in the lives of its many working-class students. The school closed in 1956.

The Rand School was founded by the American Socialist Society and named for Carrie Rand, who bequeathed $700,000 to the Socialist Party with the express intention of founding an educational institution. Initially established to extend the "understanding and practice of socialism," it soon expanded its course offerings to include vocational training and non-socialist courses in the humanities. During its peak years in the early 1920s, the school counted over 5,000 enrolled students and held frequent lectures by notables such as August Claessens, Helen Keller, W.E.B. Dubois, Bertrand Russell, Diego Rivera, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London.

In 1917, after 11 years of temporary leases, the Rand School found a permanent home in a former YWCA building at 7 East 15th Street. The five-story brick, stone, and terracotta structure, originally built in 1885, was christened "the people's house" after the "mission du peuple" in Belgium. Interestingly, it was not unlike a socialist YWCA, with facilities including classrooms, a library, bookstore, auditorium, and gymnasium. The school also rented out office space to a variety of union locals and socialist groups, and it was home to the Socialist Party headquarters.

The Rand School was not an anomalous part of the fabric of New York City's political scene. Up until the Cold War, Socialist Party members were elected to the State Assembly, Communists held seats on the City Council, and the crowds from mass political rallies filled Madison Square Garden. Moreover, leftist politics included both "mass" and elite elements. Benefits were held at the Metropolitan Opera with receptions at the Waldorf=Astoria. The Rand School was located just off Union Square, a nexus of much leftist political activity. A few years after the school opened, the Communist Party splintered from the Socialist and situated its headquarters and educational institution, the Jefferson School, on the opposite end of Union Square Park at 35 East 12th Street.

Nor was the Rand School unique in offering classes to working-class people. At the time, the city had a remarkable array of affordable educational resources--both City College and Hunter College offered free courses and, unlike the Rand School, these institutions were accredited. Cooper Union also provided a robust free lecture series. The Rand School's popularity, then, was due at least in part to the complete social life it offered its students, who were primarily young, white "ethnic" working-class immigrants who were, more often than not, also members of the Socialist Party. In addition to academic classes, the school offered physical education classes and threw dances every Friday and Saturday. A historian of the school, Frederic Cornell, wrote, "It was their school, not the city's or some philanthropist's."