In the early twentieth century, the Industrial Age was booming. Immigrants were pouring into the shores of Boston, New York and other major cities along the coast. In Beverly, the United Shoe Machinery Corporation was the backbone of the local economy. The Industrial Revolution changed the landscape and economy of the country, revamping old industries and creating new ones. This new urban environment set the stage for the national debate over the importance of manual training and industrial trading in the public school system. This national issue was played out in Beverly where a trade school was eventually established.
The planned purpose of manual training was to teach students skills such as sewing, cooking, commercial penmanship, agriculture, woodworking and patternmaking. These skills would allow them to be employed in skilled areas of industry upon the completion of their education. It would be replacing the dying art of apprenticeship and compensating for the lack of education and practice of manual work at home or outside of school. 1
Industrial training, on the other hand, was to be aimed at children who were around the age of fourteen who were planning to leave school to become factories employees.
A Day Industrial School would offer instruction for two to four years in the theoretical knowledge fundamental to a particular trade and in addition, and would afford either in the school shop, or in some regular factory or workshop ample opportunity for comprehensive practice of the various parts of the trade under factory conditions. 2
This was not just an education of a particular skill such as carpentry, but a preparation particular to work in factories appropriate to local industries. Prior to having a day school Beverly had held Evening Industrial Schools, but these were later considered “fragmentary and less comprehensive” than a day school would be. Industrial and manual training classes could be taught in two ways. One was independently in a separate school and another way was through a composite high school which contained both a traditional high school as well as a vocational one. 3
At the same time as the discussion on manual and industrial education in public school systems reached its height, immigrants were coming into the United States in record numbers. They brought with them their own cultures and developed ethnic neighborhoods such as the North End in Boston which was predominantly Italian. Many of these immigrants ended up working in factories. Manual and industrial education was considered a way to assimilate immigrants into the culture of the United States. 4
In Origins of the Urban School: Public Education in Massachusetts, 1870-1975, Marvin Lazerson writes about the North Bennet Street Industrial School in the North End of Boston. It was established for philanthropic means and to meet the “needs of the immigrant poor.” The experimental school was an attempt to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty in the area. 5
While not all school committee reports from various school systems direct their trade school initiatives at the immigrant class, one can see that in many ways it is inferred. For instance, one article from the National Education Association states that vocational education is essential for “public safety and public welfare,” and then goes on to say further that manual training schools “give a superior cultural education”. (pdf) 6 In another article it says that composite high schools are more favorable than independent vocational schools because the separation of the two schools results in “caste distinctions.” Furthermore the article states that a composite high school is the best atmosphere for “promoting democratic ideas thru acquaintance and saner judgments.” (pdf) 7
All of these comments, when paired with the nativist attitude of the time can be seen as referring to the education and assimilation of immigrants. The comment about “caste distinctions” shows that there is a distinct and tangible gap between the social status of those attending vocational schools and those attending traditional high schools.
A perfect example of vocational education being used as a tool for assimilation is in home economics. In another National Education Association article discussing vocational schools for girls, it lists reasons for such schools to exist. The third reason states these schools help “groups of foreign girls and women who desire and need to be initiated into American standards and methods of homemaking” 8 Around the same time period a group of concerned citizens submitted a report to the Beverly School Committee which concerned sewing. It stressed its importance and practicality since it was one of the least expensive classes to run. It reads as follows:
While it is quite possible for girls to be taught to sew at home, as a matter of fact this is rarely done. Few mothers have, themselves, been systematically taught to sew and consequently few are capable of teaching their girls to sew properly. The busy mothers of today have little leisure and continually put off teaching their daughters to a more convenient day with the result that the girls are not taught at all. 9
While this excerpt does not specifically mention the immigrant population of Beverly, it does imply the shortcomings of the lower classes. While many women had jobs, those who were working so hard as to not to have to time to teach their children to sew were probably forced to take up a factory job to support their family. Whole families worked in factories in order to support themselves. The article goes on to give a short list of the deeds a young girl should be capable of in the contemporary culture.
Sewing and home economics was not solely for immigrants and those in lower classes with hardworking mothers. It was also suggested for young girls in “well-to-do modern homes, who are in school but do not practice homemaking.”10 Like many other instances in history, vocational training was not just for the poverty stricken immigrants. While in the case of the North Bennet Street Industrial School it was set up to alleviate poverty, there were also other purposes for setting up such schools. 11
In 1905 a Beverly School Committee report stated that a “Professor Tyler” gave physiological reasons for the need for manual training.
He says that the vital organs, the heart and lungs, are not stimulated to increased activity by mental exertion alone. It is necessary to exercise the muscles in order to relieve congestion and restore the perceptive faculties to their normal powers. In this way manual work actually increases the power of the mind to acquire knowledge by keeping the mental machinery in proper condition. 12
While claims such as this and others were made about the general importance of vocational education for all, it is also clear that muddled in between the lines is the idea that it is a way to assimilate and regulate the influx of immigrants. By implementing manual training and industrial schools it was one way to teach new immigrants the cultural aspects of the United States workplace and made schools civic and social centers. Foreign girls were taught how to keep proper homes, while boys were educated on factory work and other trades. In some instances such as the North Bennet Street School the schools were established to try and eliminate poverty.
History is not simple however and the importance of vocational schools is still evident today without an immigration issue. There were and always will be students that are not bound for colleges or universities but wish to go into some form of skilled labor. In a time were apprenticeships no longer exist as they once did, trade schools provide an opportunity for students to get the education they need to become successful in the job market.
1 “Manual Training“, School Committee Report, Beverly City Documents 1905. (Beverly High School Archives)
2 “Industrial Training“, School Committee Report, Beverly City Documents 1907. (Beverly High School Archives)
9 “The Fads,” School Committee Report, Beverly City Documents 1906. (Beverly High School Archives)
12 “Manual Training.”