The History of the Summer School

The Summer School of Alcohol Studies was founded in 1943 as a part of what would become Yale University’s Center of Alcohol Studies. Its first director, E. M. “Bunky” Jellinek, did not intend for the School to exist beyond that first summer and even expected the Center to lose money on the “experiment.”

The 1943 School was attended by 86 students. The following summer, the School’s prospectus included the following statement:

“[t]he  prevention of inebriety through civic activities has been seriously hampered in the past by the lack of a sufficiently large number of persons who have a broad and scientific understanding of the problems of alcohol and who could qualify as leaders in their communities. Education of such leaders is believed to be essential in preparing the way for the prevention of inebriety. The aim of the School is to furnish a thorough grounding in all the problems of alcohol—not merely the teaching of the physiologic effects of alcohol to students of the type indicated.”

From Yale Law Library via Flickr

In the nineteen years the School was held at Yale, over 3,600 students participated in the four-week session, which took place in the Sterling Law Building. The class size rose from 86 to over 300 by the early 1960s. Participants hailed from all 50 states and many countries. They came from a variety of professional backgrounds, including teachers, psychologists, physicians, temperance workers, clergy, and social workers.

The curriculum, which was initially lecture-heavy, came to feature seminars and discussion groups that targeted specific audiences and discussed the roles each played in addressing alcoholism. Short films such as the following were produced in consultation with Center researchers and shown to prompt discussion.

What About Drinking? (1954)

None for the Road: Teenage Drinking and Driving (1957)

The School was not without its share of controversy. It was widely speculated (and privately conceded by Jellinek) that its purpose was to popularize the “disease conception” of alcoholism among laypeople. Temperance workers, who made up a third of the inaugural class, quickly realized that the School was not an ally. Their participation sharply dropped off in the 1940s and never rebounded.

Graduates of the Yale School were instrumental in forming state alcohol commissions. At least 38 were established between 1943 and 1952. The School also served as a model for over a dozen summer institutes and university courses. By the late 1940s, one of the School’s primary objectives was to reform alcohol education in public schools, many of whose curricula were unchanged from the days before Prohibition.

Soon after the Center and the Summer School were moved to Rutgers in 1962, the curriculum was substantially revised to provide more specialized training courses in areas that had previously been the focus of seminars. The School was also shortened to three weeks.

By the 1990s, it was shortened again to one week. Today known as the Summer School of Addiction Studies, it continues to be a source for research and training for professionals in the alcohol and drug addiction field.

Still from What About Drinking?