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November 13: Abraham Flexner

November 13, 2011

Educator Abraham Flexner, the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and a reformer of higher education and medical education, was born in Louisville, Kentucky on this date in 1866. Flexner taught high school for nearly twenty years and founded an experimental prep school in 1890 that had no formal curriculum, exams, or grades but succeeded at landing its students in top-flight colleges. When his wife, playwright Ann Crawford, succeeded with a play on Broadway (Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch), Flexner was able to pursue graduate studies at Harvard and the University of Berlin and gained access to trendsetters at the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. In 1908, Flexner published his first book, The American College, which strongly criticized the use of lecturing and other aspects of university education; in 1910, he published The Flexner Report, which examined the poor state of medical education and led to closure of many second-rate medical schools. Flexner was also an influential observer of the social work profession. His biographer, Thomas Bonner, calls Flexner "the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had."

"We feel strongly that the spirit characteristic of America at its noblest, above all the pursuit of higher learning, cannot admit of any conditions as to personnel other than those designed to promote the objects for which this institution is established, and particularly with no regard whatever to accidents of race, creed, or sex." —Abraham Flexner