Ohio History Journal

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Newton D. Baker and the Adult

Education Movement


In 1921, Newton D. Baker returned from his cabinet position to

practice law in Cleveland, Ohio, his adopted hometown. He had

completed the mammoth job of organizing the nation to fight a war

and, then, of dismantling the bulk of the war machine when the

fighting was over. Before going to Washington as Woodrow Wilson's

Secretary of War, Baker had been a progressive Cleveland politician,

serving as city solicitor during Tom Johnson's administration and

then as mayor himself. Coming back to Cleveland, he savored his re-

turn to private life where he could reenter his profession and work for

his favorite causes. Guided by his experience in politics and govern-

ment, he decided to make adult education his major civic commit-

ment. Through his knowledge, his stature, and his influence, he was

able to advance the development of adult education as few other in-

dividuals could.

The more Baker reflected on his governmental roles, the more the

indispensability of education in a democracy became a guiding be-

lief. From his Cleveland government experience he reminisced about

Tom Johnson's tent meetings which took place in every part of the

city, educating people about the issues of the day on which they

would have to make decisions. From his war experience Baker laud-

ed a variety of camp educational and recreation programs, especially

the amazing American Expeditionary Force University. The latter be-

came a symbol to him of the general population's thirst for education.

During his years as a citizen-educator, Baker frequently referred to

the AEF University as evidence of the desire of adults for further ed-

ucation. In a sense, this university provided him his first opportunity

to lend his power and influence to the development of an adult ed-




Rae Rohfeld holds a Ph.D. in American History from Case Western Reserve Univer-

sity and is currently Metropolitan Campus Director for Continuing Education at Cuya-

hoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. This article was made possible in part by

a grant from the Travel to Collections Program of the National Endowment for the Hu-

manities. Gracious assistance from the staffs of the Library of Congress Manuscript Di-

vision and of the Case Western Reserve University Archives is acknowledged.