Collection inventory

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William Langner Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

The adult education holdings are collectively known as the
Alexander N. Charters Library of Resources for Educators of Adults.

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 23 January 2008

Biographical History

William Langner (1932-1998) was born in Morrisville, New York. He attended Morrisville-Eaton Central Schools and, after a family move, graduated from Henry Clay High School in Ashland, Virginia. During his freshman year at the College of William and Mary, while hitchhiking south to Florida for spring break, he was involved in a car accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. He spent nearly two years in the hospital after which, undaunted, he enrolled at the University of Virginia where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1957.

Despite his qualifications, Langner struggled for several years to support himself with a series of jobs including advance sales for circuses, advertising sales, owner/operator of an import/export business (Langner and Company), and teacher at the Blue Ridge School in St. George, Virginia. In the early 1960s he served on the Board of Directors of Cordet Foundation, a Richmond, Virginia job training program that specialized in finding employment for the disabled, and in 1964 he opened Commonwealth Tutoring Center in Richmond. Over the next decade Commonwealth Tutoring and its successor organizations -- Educational Development Center (1966?-1970) and Langner Learning Center (1970-1978) -- served hundreds of students from the local school districts as well as offering foreign languages and other training to local executives.

In addition to operating his tutoring schools, Langner served on the Virginia Board of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Governor's Commission on Employment of the Handicapped, the Mayor's Committee on the Handicapped, and the board of directors of numerous social and civic organizations including the local branches of Easter Seals and Goodwill. In 1973, President Nixon appointed him to the National Advisory Council on Adult Education (NACAE) where he served for three years. He received an M.Ed. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1977 and was an adjunct faculty member there for two years (1977-1979). He also worked as an educational consultant to various business, governmental, and educational institutions. Langner also traveled several times to Central and South America which stimulated a lifelong interest in the region.

Persistent cash flow problems due to old and new medical expenses and intermittent hospitalizations had for years prevented Langner from achieving any kind of financial security, but that came at last in 1980 with an offer of a position with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). When the Department of Education was split off from HEW, Langner took a position with new department's Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL). While with the Department of Education, he implemented the National Adult Literacy and Learning Disability Center (NALLDC) and was instrumental in organizing the Clearing House on Adult Education and Literacy, which compiled, wrote, and published fact sheets, pamplets, guides, directories, bibliographies, newsletters and other resource material.

Langner was a member of the National GED Advisory Committee from 1981 to 1987 and worked with the GED Testing Service to train test administrators. He participated in the White House Adult Literacy Initiative (1983) and was on the advisory committee for the International Center for the Disabled's "Survey III," and served as advisory board member for the University of the District of Columbia Department of Adult Education. With Boris Bogatz of Gallaudet College, he organized a National Congress for Adults with Special Learning Needs in 1987, which resulted in several annual conferences and grew into the National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs (NAASLN), and he coordinated the first World Congress for Adult Learners with Disabilities in 1995.

Langner was a founding member of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) and chair of its Adult Learners with Disabilities Unit. He was a member of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and served on the executive committee of its International Associates, and under its sponsorship coordinated the International Network for Adult Learners with Disabilities. He was a delegate to the World Assembly of Adult Education three times and during his career received nearly a dozen awards for his work in education of the disabled. In addition to his professional activities, he was a Freemason, a Rotarian, a member of the education honor society Kappa Delta Psi, traveled extensively, and opened his home to eleven foster sons over the years.

Langner retired from the Department of Education in 1995, intending to purchase a small farm in Florida or Belize. He died in 1998.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William Langner Papers spans nearly sixty years and includes correspondence (both personal and professional), writings, memorabilia, and large amounts of printed material (papers, reports, handbooks, manuals, etc) relating to adult education. The collection illuminates the growth of interest in adult education of the disabled both at the federal level and at the state and local level. In addition, the large and comprehensive quantity of personal material, spanning Langner's entire life, highlights Langner's refusal to be discouraged or hindered by his disability and illuminates the challenges faced by the disabled during this period. Throughout his life, as the collection amply demonstrates, Langner exhibited impressive perseverance, drive, and integrity; despite recurrent illnesses due in large part to his paraplegia, he not only worked full-time but raised eleven foster sons over the years and traveled to more than thirty foreign countries -- including a trip to the Amazon which required his wheelchair be lashed to poles and carried through the jungle on the shoulders of native guides.

Biographical and personal material contains material relating to Langner's personal life, including correspondence with family and friends; correspondence with and records relating to several of Langner's foster sons; bills and other material from Langner's creditors over the years; various potential business ventures; medical records; resumes and biographical sketches along with genealogical material on the Langner and Rankin families; membership information for clubs to which Langner belonged; and books, brochures, clippings, maps, newsletters and reference material on Langner's two main avocations: tropical agriculture and travel. Included here is a letter Langner received from "The Seven Society," the most secretive of the University of Virginia's secret societies and known for its generosity. The letter was accompanied by a gift of money to help defray Langner's expenses while attending the University.

Correspondence-subject files comprise the bulk of the collection, and the largest subset of this material (27 boxes) is that from Langner's years at the the Department of Education. This includes vast amounts of internal correspondence as well as weekly work reports, site visit reports, Langner's job performance evaluations, and Sections 310 and 353 grant applications and projects. (See Printed material below for additional Department of Education material.) Other topics or organizations with a significant amount of material include the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education (6 boxes), the GED Advisory Committee (4 boxes), the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) (5 boxes), Langner Learning Center (8 boxes), National Advisory Council on Adult Education (6 boxes), and the National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs (NAASLN) (6 boxes).

Memorabilia contains certificates, clippings, letters of appreciation and thanks, Langner's passports, photographs (of Langner and of others), a collection of postcards, and miscellaneous souvenirs.

Multimedia consists of three multimedia programs (videotape with accompanying literature), several floppy disks (some commercial and some Langner's), and two audiocassettes.

Printed material consists of reports, papers, summaries, conference proceedings, newsletters, books, brochures, journals and other material on various topics relating to adult education. Topics include adult basic education, the Adult Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, competency-based adult education, correctional education, the GED, international education, education of the learning disabled, literacy, and miscellaneous books, journals and newsletters. Also included here are four boxes of reports, papers, and other printed material from the Department of Education.

The last series, Writings, contains Langner's own writings and spans much of his career. Included here are numerous issues of two newsletters written and edited by Langner while at the Department of Education ("Adult learning activities" and "Adult learning seminars"), drafts and outlines for Langner's work on two books for Cowles Book Company's GED preparatory series, and typescripts of articles, papers, speeches, and presentations, including a few that offer personal reflections on his disability. Also included here are several notebooks, many outlines and fragments of pieces, and an assortment of miscellany (to do lists, notes, reminders, and other scraps).

Arrangement of the Collection

Material in all series are arranged alphabetically. For material that required subdivision, most are alphabetical but some (e.g. Langner Learning Center, Department of Education) are arranged chronologically to provide a more narrative structure.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The collection originally included a considerable number of books and journals. Books that were duplicates of items already held by Special Collections Research Center or in the circulating collection of the library were discarded. For journals which were already held by the library, duplicate issues were discarded; issues the library did not have were sent to Periodicals for cataloging (these are annotated in the catalog as "Gift of William Langner"). Journals which were not held by the library remained with the collection and may be found in Printed material: Misc journals (Box 146).

The library holds a considerable number of collections related to adult and continuing education. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing of all adult education collections.

Subject Headings


Langner, William R.

Corporate Bodies

American Association for Adult and Continuing Education.
GED Testing Service (Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials)
International Council for Adult Education.
National Advisory Council on Adult Education (U.S.)
National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs.
United States. -- Department of Education.
United States. -- Division of Adult Education and Literacy.


Adult education -- United States.
Educators -- United States.
Elementary education of adults.
People with disabilities -- Education -- United States.
People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States.
Special education.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Manuscripts (document genre)
Minutes (administrative records)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William Langner Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of William R. Langner.

Table of Contents

Biographical and personal material

Correspondence-subject files



Printed material