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Irma E. Zimmer Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG7-014

Scope and Contents

Contains papers (meeting minutes, letters, publications, memos, etc) from all of the groups which Irma Zimmer organized; also a small number of miscellaneous papers.


  • Creation: 1960-2004


Limitations on Accessing the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Rights Information

Permission to reuse, publish, or reproduce items in this collection beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to copyright law must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns. See

Biographical / Historical

Irma Elizabeth Zimmer was born in Swarthmore on November 7, 1916. She was the daughter of George and Agnes R. Zimmer, and her family joined Swarthmore Monthly Meeting in 1920. Her brother, Kurt E. Zimmer, died in an accident in Swarthmore in 1931. Educated at Barnard College and the University of Pennsylvania, she returned to teach at Swarthmore High School from 1946 until her retirement in 1976. She lived in the family home on Ogden Avenue which was designed by her parents and built in 1918.

After her retirement, she began to work diligently, though unsuccessfully, to prevent the merging of the Swarthmore-Rutledge School District with the Nether Providence School District, as dictated by a Pennsylvania State law that consolidated smaller local districts into 501 larger districts throughout the State. The first committee that Zimmer served on relating to this topic was a Swarthmore group known as the School Liaison Committee (SLC) in the late 1970s, which quickly evolved into the School Action Committee (SAC). This group, in turn, focused its attention on a wider area and became People United for Local Support of Education (PULSE). It grew into a lobby with connections to local/rural school groups throughout the State and in other parts of the nation. This effort lapsed by the 1980s, however, and Swarthmore High School was closed. (The papers include a fairly exhaustive history of the process of merging and closing the schools.)

Irma Zimmer was also concerned with the fairness of school taxes for town residents. She was instrumental in the founding of two groups, Swarthmore Property Owners and Taxpayers Association (SPOTA) and Association of Concerned Taxpayers (ACT), which asserted that since municipal taxes paid a large portion of school costs, community members should have access to district buildings and enjoy services provided by the district. She was also convinced that reopening the local schools in Swarthmore would have a positive effect on tax savings in the town, and so she continued to lobby for "local control of local schools." In the late 1990s, she was also involved in a group, Partnerships for Alternatives in Education (PAE) that worked to organize a charter school in the Rutgers Avenue School building which had been leased to various other organizations by Wallingford-Swarthmore School District. From 1983-1989, she taught and served as curriculum director at the short-lived Swarthmore Academy, a private school founded by members of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

As she grew older, Irma Zimmer became more preoccupied with the quality of life for seniors in Swarthmore, and therefore she involved herself in projects for Borough revitalization and the Pennsylvania Municipal Comprehensive Plan. In the late 1990s, she formed a group called the Swarthmore Residents' Initiative (SRI), which represented Swarthmore at the town meetings held with Rose Valley, Wallingford, and Nether Providence on the Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan for revitalization and development. Parallel to these efforts, she worked with Alice ("Putty") Willets for the Swarthmore Senior Citizens Association, which concentrated on providing services and activities for retired Swarthmoreans. In both of these projects, Irma Zimmer made it clear (through repeated letters to the editor, presentations to Borough Council, and self-circulated news updates) that her primary wish was to see the Rutgers Avenue School building returned to Swarthmore's control and reopened as a senior citizen center separate from the Swarthmore Community Center. Eventually, however, the entire School building was reclaimed as school building for District students.

Throughout the period from the end of PULSE and SAC until her death, Irma Zimmer also created an organization that she called Educational Systems Research Associates (ESRA). There is no evidence in the papers that anyone besides Zimmer herself was involved in this group, but she wrote extensive letters to the editors of various local papers, presented projects to Borough Council, and circulated "newsletters" and "updates," which were generally a combination of clippings from other newspapers with comments that she added. The projects she presented usually correlated to whichever one of her other groups was particularly strong at the time; they included but were not limited to: a back-to-basics program for Strath Haven High School (anti-elective, anti-activity) to save tax dollars, opposing "Outcomes-Based Education," forming a charter school, opening a senior center in Swarthmore, and strengthening the bond between schools and community. Overall, her entire post-retirement work was shaped by a belief that schools functioned best, and the community benefited most, if they were local and locally controlled; furthermore, that Swarthmore had once had such an arrangement but had lost it with the State-mandated merger with Nether Providence. She was dedicated to Swarthmore as a "town," which she regarded as distinct from the surrounding "suburbs," and was committed to preserving those qualities which she perceived as essential to its character. She died in Swarthmore on March 17, 2005.


1.75 Linear Feet




Irma Elizabeth Zimmer was a life-long Swarthmore resident who taught at Swarthmore High School from 1946 to 1976. After her retirement, she was active in groups that attempted to prevent the merger into the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District. After these efforts were unsuccessful, she participated in projects to start a charter school, reopen the Swarthmore K-8 School, and develop a senior community center on Wallingford-Swarthmore School District property. She also served on Borough Council from 1974-1984 and was a member of the Swarthmore League of Women Voters, Swarthmore Womans Club, and Swarthmore Republican Committee. This collection contains her papers, largely her post-retirement projects pertaining to school protest groups.


The collection is divided into six series:

  3. PAE
  5. ESRA
  6. Miscellaneous

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Estate of Irma E. Zimmer

Acc. 2005.015

Related Materials

RG 7/010 Girl Scout Troop #16 Records were deposited by Irma Zimmer who had been an early member of the Troop

RG7//001 Swarthmore Womans Club Records were organized and described by Irma Zimmer

Processing Information

The papers were organized by general topic which was maintained; duplicates were removed and papers within the larger groups were reorganized on a topical, then chronological, system. Due to overlap in projects between the groups, check all groups for a specific items. Also removed were: newspaper clippings not pertaining directly to Swarthmore/SDS, a large number of research and reference booklets from outside sources, and several booklets and pamphlets on life in Swarthmore which were duplicates of material already in the collection.

Irma E. Zimmer Papers, 1960-2004
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