An article by Rosa Knuuti about the courses offered by Work Peoples College, an IWW run school in Duluth, Minnesota that operated until the 1940s. Originally appeared in the Industrial Pioneer, October 1921 (Vol. 1, No. 9, Serial No. 9)
AMONG the millions of foreigners that have crossed the waters to this side of the world, are the Finns numbering nearly 300,000. Ignorant of the customs and language of the country, they with other immigrants were easily liable to become cheap slaves for the American labor market.
Thousands of these Finns located in the mining regions of Michigan and Minnesota. They were being educated to the ways of the country by the religious clergy, the obedient servants of the master class. In time they established a school or seminary for the purpose of putting forth ministers as educators among the Finns. It was first organzed in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1903 and was called the "People's College." It was moved later, however, to Smithville, Minn., a suburb of Duluth, where it is situated today.
As a religious seminary, this school wasn't much of a success. The workers that enrolled for study demanded something in modern sciences. The liberal element among the Finns were interested in a project of this sort and began to purchase stock in the People's College Corporation. And along in 1907-8 they were holding the majority of the stock, which as a result meant that their influence began to be felt in no time. The radical element was injected into the school board and soon potent changes were seen. The name of the college was changed to the Working People's College.
The new policy was a change for the better. It created interest among the workers. They began to flock to the school in such numbers that it was necessary to build another building to house the students. In 1908 the Finnish Socialist Federation had full control and ownership of the college. Its membership was assessed one dollar per year for the maintenance of the school. One improvement after another took place. Important changes were made in the curriculum. Preparatory courses in Scientific Socialism and advanced classes for advanced students. The teaching of such subject-matter that was of paramount importance to the class struggle was given first consideration. This included history, political science and sociology. Commercial subjects were also taught, and while some of the students enrolled for the commercial courses alone, they were obliged to take the scientific courses in socialism. Each student spent part of his time in getting acquainted with the teachings of Karl Marx, Engels and Kautsky. Essays and lectures were prepared on topics concerning the class struggle. Students were put through rigid tests and examinations of their studies. In due time the Working People's College became a veritable factory for turning out finished speakers, lecturers and editors for the socialist movement.
A few years later, however, in the year of 1912 new ideas innoculated into the movement began to work havoc with the teachings of conservative socialism. A controversy arose in the Finnish Federation which resulted in a split. Incidentally, the College was affected. There, also, two factions arose. The conservative political socialists and the industrial socialists. It reached its climax at the annual college conference in the spring of 1913. The industrialist element dominated. Before the conference was over the conservatives had evacuated. They refused to abide by the rules of the College Corporation and automatically lost all control over the school. Since then it has been in the hands of the industrialists.
Again the curriculum was changed. Industrial socialism became industrial unionism, and was being taught from the viewpoint of the I. W. W. The most able teachers that could be had were obtained for the instructors along these lines. Men and women in sympathy with industrial unionism came flocking to the school, eager to know more about the scientific doctrines of the class struggle.
It was not long before the student body voiced their sentiments as to what subject matter was most important to them. They were not satisfied to confine their studies alone to the theoretical side of the class struggle, but demanded a new course of study in addition. Organization book keeping and the study of the delegate system appeared on the curriculum. Soon a miniature I. W. W. headquarters with all its various branches and officials was formed as part of the study.
Every student was a delegate, and efficiently and thoroughly the filling out of application blanks for membership, the lining up of new members, stamping cards, and making out intelligible report blanks were being learned. Side by side, the burly miner from the regions of Mesaba, the lumber jack from the west, the harvest stiff, the girl from someone's kitchen or from the factory looms of the east, studidied, learning to become fighters in the ranks of labor. What a vocation to choose, to follow. They were there for a specific purpose. They are learning the A. B. C.'s of industrial administration, studying the plans for a workers' system of society to replace the old.
But the mission of the Work People's College is not the education of Finnish workers only, but seeks to cater to the English speaking workers also. It is striving to become the working class institution of America. It has already been sanctioned by the 1921 convention of the I. W. W. which went on record to give it support and publicity in every way possible. It is the wish of the Work People's College that the English speaking workers rally to College this coming year.
The school year at the Work People's College commences on November 15th and continues for five months, until April 15th. Everyone entering the College may begin his course of study from where he left off either at the College or other school or at the place he had reached by self-study.
Courses of Instruction
1. Scientific department.
2. Technical elementary sciences and practise.
3. English department.
4. Organization bookkeeping department.
Lectures in this department will be given on the following subjects: The construction and procedure of industrial unionism, commencing with the preamble of the I. W. W. and concluding in industrial society. Economics and sociology.
Literature which treats on these subjects will be used as text books. The teachers will guide the students in the obtaining of such course books which are collateral to the lectures. The College library has a good assortment of books dealing with these subjects, giving an abundance of material in this work.
Among other work in this department, two hours per week will be devoted to correct pronounciation, reciting poetry, reading and platform deportment.
Two hours per week will be given to public speaking and presentation, debate, parliamentary drill, and organizing work.
In addition to these hours the student body will arrange for two meetings per week in which subjects of the hour and other discussion will be carried on so as to give the students practise in speaking on his feet and conducting meetings according to parliamentary rules.
Department of English
The teaching of English language is divided into four classes. The first class learn the fundamentals of grammar, pronounciation and the diacritical marks.
The second class goes through the grammar thoroughly and in detail. Considerable attention is given to composition in connection with the points raised in the grammar. Attention is also given to sounds and the pronounciation.
The third class concentrates on composition with reviews now and then in grammar. Considerable time is given to reading.
The fourth class gives most of the time to the study of rhetoric; several long themes are written; some time is given to working out speeches and debates.
II. The duties of a secretary; 3 hours.
III. Fundamentals of double entry bookkeeping according to the Rowe system; 2 hours. The students can take up the work where he had formerly left off, or depending on his former preparation.
IV. Penmanship; 5 hours.
V. Letter writing; 2 hours.
VI. Arithmetic 1. Whole numbers, fractions, decimals; 5 hours.
VII. Arithmetic 2. A review of Arithmetic 1, measures, percentage and proportion; 5 hours.
Room and board may be obtained by each student at the College dormitory and boarding hall. The charges are as follows: tuition $8.00, board $25.00, and room $6.00 per month, the total expenses being $39.00 per month. Under all circumstances the payments are to be made in advance for at least one month. If for any reason the student is compelled to leave before the month is up, the balance of his boarding and rooming account will be refunded, but no tuition will be refunded.
How to Get to the College
To get to the College buy a ticket at the Union Depot in Duluth to Spirit Lake. In case of baggage which is checked, the check must be given to the conductor on the train before the baggage is put off at the Spirit Lake station. The station is right near the College. If the street car is taken, take car No.9 or 14 to 91 Ave. W. From here it is just a short distance to the College.
The students are organized and have regular business sessions as well as discussions and debates. Parties, games, and dances are given Saturday evenings. Frequently programs are given which are attended by fellow workers and friends from Duluth and the neighborhood who come here to take part in the program and to visit the College.
There is plenty of opportunity for the student to take regular exercise indoor and outdoor to keep himself in good physical condition. It is an absolute requisite that one be healthy to get the most out of these subjects.
Instruction for Those Intending to Attend the College
Hereafter is attached a student's entrance application. Fill it out and send it to the College. When you have made application for entrance, report at the time you specify. If you are unable to attend after you have reported, be sure to notify the College of the inability.
Try to arrive in time at the College. Do not unnecessarily delay in making your entrance application, for in the College dormitory there is now room for only about 60 students, therefore a delay may shut you out.
Take all your text books with you for they may be useful course books here.
Select your course of study as completely as possible before your arrival here, selecting what you think the most important subjects. Follow your selections and plan to the end; then you will get the most from your study.
The College has received the recognition of hundreds of its former students; this should behoove you to come to the College to get information and reap the benefits of learning while you live.
Knowledge is the keenest weapon in the unavoidable class struggle. Learning is its best capital. The sooner the working class becomes conscious of its significance in society the nearer is the day of industrial freedom.
It is required of all students persuing courses at the College that they take at least one subject in the scientific course.
Originally appeared in the Industrial Pioneer, October 1921 (Vol. 1, No. 9, Serial No. 9)