Helen Oakes papers
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Overview and metadata sections
Helen Oakes was a nationally recognized activist for public education from the 1960s to 1980s. Oakes was chairman of the West Philadelphia Schools Committee from 1965 to 1970, chairman of the Education Committee of the League of Women Voters in 1965, and in 1968, she wrote The School District of Philadelphia: A Critical Analysis. From 1971 to 1980, she was a member of the board of the Citizens Committee on Public Education in Philadelphia. She was a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education from 1982 to 1989. From 1989 to 1998, she served as liaison in the educational partnership between ARCO Chemical Company and James Rhoads Elementary School in Philadelphia. She also wrote, published and distributed the “Oakes Newsletter,” from 1970 to 1989, which addressed issues affecting the Philadelphia School District.
Helen Oakes’ most notable contribution to public education was perhaps her own research and writing. The “Oakes Newsletter” tackled issues affecting the Philadelphia school district, especially teaching methods, standardized testing, technology in the classroom, school budgets, classroom environments and other social issues. Oakes started the newsletter shortly after her tenure with the League of Women Voters, when the results of some reports completed by that group returned dismal results. According to a January 31, 1989 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Oakes observed “...that predominantly black schools were getting the short end of the education stick: the worst overcrowding, the greatest concentration of teacher vacancies and the biggest shortages of resources.” It was after this that she decided to start writing the newsletter. In addition to “Oakes Newsletter,” from 1975 to 1981, she also wrote “School by School Statistical Analysis,” which provided data on enrollment, average class size, absentee rate for staff and students and reading scores for the Philadelphia public schools.
Oakes also worked as a consultant from time to time. From 1988 to 1998, she served as an educational consultant and liaison in the educational partnership between the ARCO Chemical Company and the James Rhoads Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The ARCO Chemical Company, which had a long-standing tradition of tutoring and mentoring initiatives in the Philadelphia School District, financially sponsored the James Rhoads Elementary School in an experimental school “cluster” project with the intention of improving the educational system, especially in under-represented communities.
In recognition of her work in public education, in 1982, Philadelphia Mayor William J. Green, III appointed Oakes to the Philadelphia Board of Education. She served on the Board until 1989. Oakes was an unusual board member; “...contrary to school board tradition, she represented no constituency: she spoke for no ethnic group, political party, labor union or school faction,” ( Philadelphia Inquirer, January 31, 1989). While on the Board of Education, she was also a member of the Philadelphia School District’s Desegregation Task Force and the Task Force on Teacher Selection.
Oakes’ work, especially her work on the “Oakes Newsletter,” was recognized with awards and honors from numerous organizations, including the West Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (1974), the Institute for Public Education of Lansdowne (1975), the Philadelphia Association of School Administrators (1976), the Black Women’s Educational Alliance (1980), and the Philadelphia Council of Administrative Women in Education (1982). She also received the John N. Patterson Award from the Citizens Committee on Public Education in 1979 because she “consistently provided the community with in-depth and objective analyses relating to problems and progress in the public schools.”
Helen Oakes graduated from Smith College in 1944. She was married to Earle Oakes. They had three sons and one daughter, all of whom attended Philadelphia public schools and graduated from Overbrook High School.
All information provided in the preceding biographical sketch was taken from biographical information file found within the collection (box 35, folders 27-28).
This collection contains the papers of Helen Oakes, a public education activist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The materials date from 1958 to 2002, and include correspondence; printed materials, such as newsletters and pamphlets, newspaper clippings, educational and statistical reports, meeting minutes, financial records, and memoranda. The materials relate to Helen Oakes’ long-term involvement with a wide-range of educational institutions and initiatives, specifically in Philadelphia. Of particular note, are significant materials related to Oakes’ research, writing and publication of the “Oakes Newsletter.”
The collection is arranged into six series: “I. Oakes Newsletter,” “II. Board of Education,” “III. James Rhoads Elementary Project,” “IV. School District of Philadelphia,” “V. Correspondence and Subject Files,” and “VI. Printed Materials.”
The first series of this collection, “I. Oakes Newsletter,” is divided into three subseries: “a. Published Newsletters,” “b. Administrative Records,” and “c. Resource Files.” The first subseries, “Published Newsletters,” contains copies of the entire run of the Oakes Newsletter, from Volume I to Volume XX. The files are arranged by volume number, and date from April 1970 to January 1989. The second subseries, “Administrative Records,” houses records related to the production of the Oakes Newsletter. Within the subseries, researchers will find correspondence, financial records related to publishing the newsletter, as well as financial and business papers regarding Acorn Educational Press, Incorporated, Helen Oakes’ corporation under which she published her newsletter. Additionally, statistical surveys related to schools in Philadelphia are located in the subseries. The files are arranged alphabetically by record type, and date from 1969 to 1997. Interested researchers should also peruse the series “V. Correspondence and Subject files” for additional papers related to the funding of the newsletter. The last subseries in series I,“Resource Files,” consists of research materials compiled by Helen Oakes for articles in the Oakes Newsletter. The files are titled by their corresponding article title and are in numeric order, according to volume number. The resources include Helen Oakes’ handwritten notes, magazine and newspaper clippings, pamphlets, brochures, reports and correspondence. Some of the resources postdate the article; Oakes probably continued to use the files for later resources she found despite the articles being complete. The records date from 1968 to 1988.
The second series, “II. Board of Education,” houses records related to the Board of Education in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1991. Of note, is a log or diary kept by Oakes’ which documents work she completed presumably as a member of the Board of Education. Researchers will also find here records from various Board committees, notes from Board meetings, teacher development material, and papers produced by former Superintendent Constance Clayton. There is also a range of material on national and local education issues such as student enrollment, gay and lesbian awareness, and curriculum development. Much of the material here relates to materials also found in the series “IV. School District of Philadelphia.” The subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject title.
The third series “III. James Rhoads Elementary Project” consists of materials collected by Helen Oakes pertaining to her involvement as educational consultant and liaison in the ten year partnership between the Atlantic Richfield Chemical Company (ARCO) and the James Rhoads Elementary School in Philadelphia. The materials date from 1988 to 1998 and are arranged alphabetically by subject title. Materials include numerous reports written by Helen Oakes to ARCO’s Steve Cohen, assessments of educational resources, correspondence, evaluations and notes of classroom visits conducted by Helen Oakes, reports and research materials of various educational committees, proposed yearly budgets submitted to ARCO to justify funding allocation as well as reports on the effectiveness of general curriculum and standardized testing. Also of note are the materials related to the Penn Literacy Network, the development of various educational standards within James Rhoads Elementary School and other related schools who were members of the experimental “cluster” of schools in the School District of Philadelphia, as well as evaluations and reports produced by Villanova University’s Human Organization Science Institute for ARCO.
The fourth series “IV. School District of Philadelphia” dates from 1958 to 1994 and is divided into three subseries, “a. Reports,” “b. Directories” and “c. Subject Files.” The “Reports” subseries includes various published and unpublished reports about education at the local and national level. The reports provide information on such topics as achievement testing, finance and budgets, race, sex, and Philadelphia schools. The subseries is arranged in alphabetical order and dates from 1967 to 1992. The “Directories” subseries contains collected directories mostly from the Board of Education and the School District of Philadelphia. The directories date from 1964 to 1986 and are arranged in alphabetical order. The third subseries, “Subject Files,” contains a variety of materials relating to the School District of Philadelphia. Researchers will find files related to a superintendent search, probably performed while Oakes was a member of the School Board, as well as desegregation, teachers’ strikes, occupational coursework, and School Board members. Of interest is the School District of Philadelphia files relating to the Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Compliance Policy, which had a goal of providing “an affirmative, positive and safe learning environment for our lesbian, gay and non-gay youth.” The report and testimony from this task force offers some useful documentation of 1980s attitudes on homosexuality and education. Also of interest are materials related to Constance Clayton and Thomas K. Gilhool, the former Secretary of Education for the state of Pennsylvania. These materials contain correspondence, reports and memoranda, and notes and newspaper clippings related to the controversial hiring of Gilhool to teach in the Philadelphia School District in 1989 and 1990. The subseries is arranged in alphabetical order according to topic and dates from 1958 to 2002.
The fifth series, “V. Correspondence and Subject Files,” dates from 1963 to 2002 and is arranged in alphabetical order by general subject. Please note, many of the papers filed in this series directly relate to several of the other series in the collection. As such, if a researcher does not find the information he or she is seeking elsewhere in the collection, this series is a good place to look.
The series consists of wide-ranging record types including correspondence, mailing lists, personal notes, speeches given, awards, financial records, reports, literature, grant proposals and newspaper clippings. Of particular interest are the materials regarding Floyd Logan, the West Philadelphia Schools Committee, the League of Women Voters, Educational Parks, and Helen Oakes’ various personal notebooks. The Floyd Logan records include materials from and about Floyd Logan (1900 to 1979), a public education advocate who stood for school desegregation and black representation on the school board. Helen Oakes' notebooks contain document meetings of boards, committees and task forces of which she was a member. The League of Women Voters files document Oakes’ participation in the League in the 1960s, as well as her advocacy for public education as a member of this group specifically. The Educational Parks materials were compiled by Earle Oakes, Helen’s husband, and include grant applications to the U.S. Department of Education, correspondence, park sketches, architectural drawings, notes and research. Earle Oakes used these gathered materials to promote the creation of educational parks, which would be used as a tool for desegregation in Philadelphia. Some other subjects included are the Citizens' Committee, cluster schools, decentralization, desegregation and child abuse. There are also several files related to the "Oakes Newsletter."
The sixth and final series, “VI. Printed Materials and Publications,” contains reports and publications on educational topics. Researchers will find reports on comparisons between Philadelphia public schools and other school districts, home school provisions, and young parenting. Researchers are advised to review the box and folder list for additional details. The series is arranged alphabetically by title, and spans from 1965 to 1993.
When reviewing the finding for this collection, researchers are advised to pay close attention to box and folder numbers. Note that the intellectual and physical arrangements of the records do not match.
Gift of Helen Oakes, 2003
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
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- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Megan Atkinson, Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, Courtney Smerz, Forrest Wright
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
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