Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Bonaro Overstreet as Adult Educator: An Interpretation from Her Writings

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Bonaro Overstreet as Adult Educator: An Interpretation from Her Writings

Article excerpt

Bonaro Wilkinson Overstreet's career spanned the transitions adult education encountered as it evolved in the twentieth century. Overstreet's publications communicate the need for continuous learning over the lifespan to provide individual development and to ensure democracy through the exercise of an open mind. In her nonfiction publications, both individual and collaborative with Harry Overstreet, Bonaro Overstreet portrayed adult education as a continuous, mutual interrelationship between learner and educator. In an interview with the Washington Post in 1956, Overstreet described herself and her husband Harry as "middlemen and itinerant lecturers." (Rappaport, 1985, p. C6). They regarded themselves as intermediaries between scholars and scientists, and laymen, who needed to know what the scholars and scientists were saying, but who also were looking for emotional significance in life.


Overstreet's contribution to adult education can be estimated by the extent she influenced the learning of individuals and groups in the United States and to the extent that she contributed to the development and elaboration of the field of adult education. This study reviews her contribution to the field through her published works. One task Overstreet set for herself was to help adults deal with social and personal development and crisis. This research provides initial insight to the life and work of an individual who contributed to adult education during the establishment and expansion of the field for the five decades spanning the middle of the twentieth century.

The youngest of three children, Overstreet, was born October 30, 1902 in Geyersville, California to Edward and Margaret Wilkinson. In her publications she reported that as she grew up she frequently retreated into books or poetry to avoid stressful situations. She later attributed much of her psychological and social maturity to her development as a child. The habits and beliefs rooted in the early years influenced her inner nature and were used in adulthood as resources during times of stress.

In adolescence, Overstreet developed a passion for poetry which culminated in both her first and last publications as collections or discussions of poetry. Overstreet was a shy, awkward teenager who was not entirely at ease with her public self. After graduation from high school, she received a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley where she majored in English. In 1925 she graduated from Berkeley and earned her teaching certificate the following year. She taught at Kern County Union High School in Bakersfield from 1926 to 1929. Between 1929 and 1930 she pursued graduate study in psychology at Columbia University and received her master's degree in 1931. She taught at Kern County Junior College (now Bakersfield Community College) from 1930 to 1932. During this time she published her first book The Poetic Way of Release (1931) which included an introduction by Harry Overstreet.

Bonaro and Harry Overstreet were married in New York in 1932 and resided in New York city where she taught creative writing at the Arts Guild from 1933 to 1937. Her first volume of poetry Footsteps on the Earth was published in 1934. In 1938 she published Search for a Self a reflection on self understanding, a topic the Overstreets would pursue in later books. The Overstreets collaborated on Town Meeting Comes to Town (1938) which described the history of Town Hall in New York City. Following Harry's retirement in 1939 as head of the department of Philosophy and Psychology at the City College of New York, they began careers as lecturers and writers that took them across the United States and brought them considerable popularity. Bonaro Overstreet worked as a research associate for the American Association of Adult Education in New York City in 1939 and 1940. She succeeded Harry as Director of the Leadership Training School at Town Hall in New York City in 1941. …

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