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The Modern School

American school(s) founded on the ideas of the Spanish anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer.

See the in-depth article by Reid Friedson, Paul Avrich's article on the Modern School at the Movement for Anarchy site.

See also Aaron Wunderlich's excellent in-depth pages dedicated to the Modern School, Ferrer, etc, with an excellent collection of photos, graphics & links, at

Several women, including Elizabeth Ferm, were instrumental in the school's development. The Modern School

Tidbits: The printer / anarchist Harry Kelly (1871-1953) was a founder of the Modern School at Stelton.

Alexis Ferm (1870-1971), usually known as "Uncle," principal of the Modern School from 1920 to 1925 & 1933 to 1948, wrote an education column for "The Road to Freedom," an anarchist journal published at Stelton. A strong believer in the rights of African Americans, his attacks on the Ku Klux Klan & the White Citizens Council in the paper led to harassment & hate mail.

Joan Bridge, daughter of William Bridge who was on the staff of the school in the mid 1920s, & very dear to uncle [Ferm]— he called Joan & her sister his "children" — was the mother of folk singer Joan Baez. In a letter to Alexis Ferm attached to her memoir, Pauline Bridge Henderson mentions her niece "Joannie."

  • Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975) describes evening lectures for adults at the Modern School in New York, where he heard Leonard Abbott & Will Durant speak, took art classes taught by Robert Henri & George Bellows. He also describes memories of anarchist leaders Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, & Hippolyte Havel. Zigrosser relates his experiences editing "The Modern School" (1917-1920), & impressions of Wallace Stevens & Hart Crane, who wrote some poems for the magazine, & the Van Gogh family, who allowed him to publish extracts from Vincent Van Gogh's letters.

  • Greek anarchist, publisher & lover of Magaret Sanger, John Rompapas founded the Rabelais Press, a New York radical publishing house that funded the Revolutionary Almanac, a journal edited by the notorious Hippolyte Havel. Rompapas also supported the Social War, another anarchist publication edited by Havel & Robert Lee Warwick.

  • Berenice Abbott, photographer, landed in the heart of Greenwich Village bohemia. As "the youngest thing around," she played bit parts in Eugene O’Neill plays & was adopted as "the daughter" of Hippolyte Havel, a legendary anarchist best remembered for declaring Greenwich Village "a spiritual zone of mind." She moved out of the apartment she had shared with Light, Jenkins, & writers Malcolm Cowley, Kenneth Burke, & Djuna Barnes, later claiming that their crowd was "too bohemian."

    Abandoning her desire to be a writer, Abbott took up sculpture & supported herself with odd jobs. By 1920, she had befriended Dadaists Marcel Duchamp & Man Ray, whom she boasted having taught to dance.

  • Joseph Ishill published works under various imprints for ten years before he created the Oriole Press in 1926. From 1916-1925, Ishill often used the imprint "The Free Spirit Press." He helped produce three magazines. The "Modern School," (1912-1922) was published at the Ferrer Colony, Stelton, N.J. The Ferrer Colony, one of many named after the Spanish anarchist & educator Francisco Ferrer, was a pioneer of the "modern school" movement. Ishill, a member of the Ferrer Colony, printed the magazine in 1916-1917. Paul Avrich called the magazine "one of the most beautiful cultural journals ever published in America, rich alike in content & design."

  • Growing up in the anarchist colony exposed Bill [artist Bill Giacalone] to the writings of Hippolyte Havel, Emma Goldman, Harry Kelly & others. He showed artistic aptitude early on & by the age of six, his drawings were being published in the the Modern School newspaper "Voice of the Children."

    The Friends of the Modern School met at Rutgers University on September 25, 1999. About 80 or 90 former students of the Modern School, residents of the Ferrer colony, their families, anarchists, and sundry others partook of assorted salads and chocolate cake. There was a very interesting program, highlighted by a talk by Paul Avrich, Professor Emeritus at Queens College, New York about Alexander Berkman. The talk was based on Paul's forthcoming biography of Berkman, and gave a graphic description of Alexander Berkman's attempt to assassinate Henry Clay Frick.

    The other speaker was Kevin Van Meter, a young anarchist organizer from Garden City, New York, who spoke about his work with the Modern Times Collective (a collective of anarchist-identified groups on Long Island, including Food Not Bombs), the Long Island chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World and Students for Peace and Justice.

    There were several interesting announcements as well. Bob Helms of Wooden Shoe [Books] Collective in Philadelphia spoke about his efforts to liberate Hippolyte Havel's ashes from a storage vault in Linden, New Jersey. Apparently he has found a sympathetic lawyer willing to do the work pro bono. Bob has also done some research on Mary Hansen (one of the teachers at the school) and her partner George Brown.

    Bill Giacalone, a former student of the Modern School, discussed the work of the committee trying to preserve the site of the Modern School as a children's park and nature preserve. The committee (of which I am a member) has designed a park, and has met with the Piscataway Borough Council and the Mayor who were enthusiastic about the proposal. The next step is to apply through Piscataway for Open Space/Green Acres funds to acquire the property, part of which is owned by a real estate firm.

    Finally the group discussed the future of the Friends of the Modern School. It was agreed to keep holding yearly reunion for the time being.

    — Fernanda Perrone

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