Jessie A. Charters was one of the pioneers in the field of adult education, surmounting curricular, gender, and economic barriers. In 1904, she was one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. (from the University and Chicago) and became the first female professor of adult education. She expanded the availability of her programs to groups who were formerly not included in continuing education and was instrumental in the founding of Pi Lambda Theta educational fraternity. She held positions at the University of Chicago, Ohio State University, and Carnegie Institute of Technology.
In 1928, Dr. Charters founded the Department of Adult Education at Ohio State University. As its head, her major area of interest was parental education and she developed one of the original degree programs in the field. There is evidence based on the information on file at the Syracuse University Education Archives that her parental course materials were used in Burma, India, China, and Scotland. She emphasized parental education by supporting lectures and conferences, and wrote a book entitled Bringing Up Children. She developed a series of leadership training institutes to supervise the training of leaders of parent-study groups all over the state of Ohio. She was secretary of the Illinois Child Study Association and worked closely with the Illinois Parent-Teacher Association in developing study groups, which led to its national policy of a study group for each parent-teacher association.
Jessie was a visionary in several of her primary areas of educational interest. She hypothesized that those who graduated from college would be most likely to want more educational opportunities. Operating under this now common assumption, she created programs that were offered for alumni—programs that did not exist at the time and were revolutionary for continuing education.
During the 1930s, she sought to reach out to the needs of adult women by risking to speak on taboo subjects. She educated college women about sexual matters when these topics were not openly discussed. She offered lectures and courses promoting responsible sexual behavior, before it was acceptable and popular to do so.
Jessie faced sexism inherent in the educational system at the time, and created new programs that opened up continuing education to other women. She also managed to create these programs before and in the wake of the Great Depression, when she was forced to give up her job because her husband had one; two jobs in the same family were not allowed.
Through her pioneering work to bring education to parents, college-age women and alumni, she expanded the scope of continuing education to a diverse audience that is taken for granted today.
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats
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