Summer meetings

Bringing Extension students to Oxford

An early and lasting development in Oxford's University Extension movement was the 'summer meeting', the ancestor of our present day summer schools.

'The idea of taking the University to the people is English, that of bringing the people together into a vacation university is American.' (1)

M.E. Sadler, quoted above, was secretary of Oxford University Extension from 1885-95. He was intrigued by a popular American form of adult education at the time: the 'chautauqua'.

From 1874 the town of Chautauqua in New York State was a centre of education for ministers and teachers; summer meetings were held, and students from across the nation attended to hear lectures on a wide range of subjects. These summer meetings complemented the correspondence courses and so-called 'home-reading' activities of students throughout the rest of the year.

Sadler felt this model would suit Oxford's Extension activities. He organised a 'home reading circle' in 1887, and championed the notion of bringing Extension students to Oxford for an intensive summer meeting. The idea was one that was acted on immediately: it had the support of Benjamin Jowett, one of Oxford's earliest pro-Extension dons, who by now was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

The 'drawing together' of the Extension centres

The first summer meeting was held at Balliol College in 1888, and was such a success that over one thousand attendees came to the second meeting in 1889, and many stayed on for two to three weeks afterward, for supervised private study.

For many dedicated, working class students, the time in Oxford was their only holiday of the year.

The summer meeting quickly grew to be the culmination of the year's Extension activities, bringing students together from the disparate Extension centres for a shared experience in Oxford.

As M.E. Sadler put it, 'The local centres do the preparatory work and furnish the constituents for our Summer Meetings; the Summer Meetings in turn have drawn the isolated centres together, have imported esprit de corps to the students, and have demonstrated the national character of the movement.' (2)

Bringing students to the University also echoed a time-honoured central tenet of Oxford education: face-to-face tuition, held in Oxford.

Next: how adult education became a collaborative process between ordinary citizens and the University at the dawn of the new century.


  1. M.E. Sadler, quoted in The Peripatetic University, by Edwin Welch, 1973
  2. MacKinder and Sadler, University Extension, 1891


The text in these 'History of the Department' pages is to be found in the book 'Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850', by Dr Lawrence Goldman, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St Peter's College, Oxford, and a former member of the Department for Continuing Education.