Who Was Alice Cook?

Alice as a young womanAlice Hanson Cook (1903-1998) devoted her life to helping working people, and especially working women, on four continents. What she herself called her ''patchwork career'' included social work, adult education, labor organizing, a tour of foreign service at the end of World War II, twenty years teaching in Cornell''s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and authoring numerous books and articles. She was a pioneer in bringing attention to issues such as comparable worth, maternity leave, and pay equity, known for both her scholarly writings and her activism on the experiences of working women around the world.

Alice attended Northwestern University''s School of Speech from 1920-1924, gaining her only formal degree. (She would later receive a number of honorary doctorates, including one from Northwestern.) While enrolled at Northwestern, Alice began her studies of both economics and social work, as well as beginning her lifelong attachment to the ideals of socialism. Early employment with the YWCA''s Industrial Department in the 1920s led her to find ways to use the Y for both union support efforts and attempts to organize women workers previously ignored by unions, such as domestic servants. These early efforts with the Y led to Alice''s involvement with adult labor education efforts such as the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, Arkansas'' Commonwealth College, the Southern Summer School for Workers in North Carolina, and the Hudson Shore School. They also led to her first direct employment by the union movement, as she worked for the early CIO''s Textile Workers'' Organizing Committee.

The 1930s and 40s also mark the beginning of Alice''s interests in similar developments around the world. From 1929 to 1931, she studied in Germany under a DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) fellowship, beginning her long association with the German system of adult and labor education. She would return to Germany after World War II, when she became the chief of adult education in Germany''s American Zone for the Education Division of the High Commission, Germany. Her travels through Germany at this time combined with her own personal experiences led her to become intrigued with questions of comparative systems of labor education. She would ultimately travel throughout both Western and Eastern Europe as well as Asia in order to carry out her research.

Alice''s academic career began in 1952, when she was hired by the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She began as a researcher in the School''s extension division, but moved into a full academic teaching position in 1955. She served as a well-respected teacher in the School up to her retirement in 1972.

Photo credit: © Kheel Center, Cornell University, All Rights Reserved

Last Updated: 10/12/2005