Original Document
Original Document
Fanny Jackson Coppin, On the introduction of industrial education at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, 1913.

Richard Humphreys, the Friend - Quaker - who gave the first endowment with which to found the school, stipulated that it should not only teach higher literary studies, but that a Mechanical and Industrial Department, including Agriculture, should come within the scope of its work. The wisdom of this thoughtful and far-seeing founder has since been amply demonstrated. At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, the foreign exhibits of work done in trade schools opened the eyes of the directors of public education in America as to the great lack existing in our own system of education. If this deficiency was apparent as it related to the white youth of the country, it was far more so as it related to the colored.

In Philadelphia, the only place at the time where a colored boy could learn a trade, was in the House of Refuge, or the Penitentiary!

And now began an eager and intensely earnest crusade to supply this deficiency in the work of the Institute for Colored Youth.

The teachers of the Institute now vigorously applied their energies in collecting funds for the establishment of an Industrial Department, and in this work they had the encouragement of the managers of the school, who were as anxious as we that the greatly needed department should be established.

In instituting this department, a temporary organization was formed, with Mr. Theodore Starr as President, Miss Anna Hallowell as Treasurer, and myself as Field Agent.

The Academic Department of the Institute had been so splendidly successful in proving that the Negro youth was equally capable as others in mastering a higher education, that no argument was necessary to establish its need, but the broad ground of education by which the masses must become self-supporting was, to me, a matter of painful anxiety. Frederick Douglass once said, it was easier to get a colored boy into a lawyer's office than into a blacksmith shop; and on account of the inflexibility of the Trades Unions, this condition of affairs still continues, making it necessary for us to have our own "blacksmith shop."

The minds of our people had to be enlightened upon the necessity of industrial education.

Before all the literary societies and churches where they would hear me; in Philadelphia and the suburban towns; in New York, Washington and everywhere, when invited to speak, I made that one subject my theme. To equip an industrial plant is an expensive thing, and knowing that much money would be needed, I made it a rule to take up a collection wheresoever I spoke. But I did not urge anyone to give more than a dollar, for the reason I wanted the masses to have an opportunity to contribute their small offerings, before going to those who were able to give larger sums. Never shall I forget the encouragement given me when a colored man, whom I did not know, met me and said: "I have heard of your Industrial School project, come to me for twenty-five dollars. That man was Walter P. Hall; all honor to him.

In preparing for the industrial needs of the boys, the girls were not neglected. It was not difficult to find competent teachers of sewing and cooking for the girls.

Dressmaking on the Taylor system was introduced with great success, and cooking was taught by the most improved methods.

As the work advanced, other trades were added, and those already undertaken were expanded and perfected.

When the Industrial Department was fully established, the following trades were being taught: For boys: bricklaying, plastering, carpentry, shoemaking, printing and tailoring. For the girls: dressmaking, millinery, typewriting, stenography and classes in cooking, including both boys and girls. Stenography and typewriting were also taught the boys, as well as the girls.

Having taught certain trades, it was now necessary to find work for those who had learned them, which proved to be no easy task.

It was decided to put on exhibition, in one of the rooms of the dormitory, specimens of the work of our girls in any trade in which they had become proficient, and we thus started an Industrial Exchange for their work. Those specimens consisted of work from the sewing, millinery and cooking departments.

In order to get the work of the Exchange more prominently before our people, I asked and obtained permission to hold some public exhibitions of it in the lecture rooms of the churches.

Those who sent their work to the Exchange were asked to send articles that would be salable.

Our white friends were invited to come and inspect the work of the Exchange. Some of the exhibits were found to be highly creditable, and many encouraging words were given to those who prepared them. There is one class of women, for whom no trades are provided, but who are expected to do their work without any special preparation; and these are the women in domestic service. I have always felt a deep sympathy with such persons, for I believe that they are capable of making a most honorable record. I therefore conceived a pan of holding some receptions for them, where the honorableness of their work and the necessity of doing it well might be discussed. I earnestly hoped that no one should be ashamed of the word servant, but should learn what great opportunity for doing good there is for those who serve others.

There is, and always must be, a large number of people who must depend upon this class of employment for a living, and there is every reason, therefore, why they should be especially prepared for it. A woman should not only know how to cook in an ordinary way, but she should have some idea of the chemical properties of the food she cooks. The health of those whom she serves depends much upon the nutritive qualities of the food which she prepares. It is possible to burn all the best out of a beefsteak, and leave a pork chop with those elements which should have been neutralized by thorough cooking.

A housemaid should know enough about sanitation to appreciate the difference between well ventilated sleeping rooms and those where impure air prevails.

I have often thought, as I sat in churches, that janitors should be better prepared for their work by being taught the difference between pure air and air with a strong infusion of coal gas.

Then, besides the mere knowledge of how to do things, morality and Christian courtesy are valuable assets for those who serve others. Thoughtful kindness for those we serve is always in place.

As a means of preparation for this work, which I may call an Industrial Crusade, I studied Political Economy for two years under Dr. William Elder, who was a disciple of Mr. Henry C. Carey, the eminent writer on the doctrine of Protective Tariff.

Credit: Fanny Jackson Coppin, Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching, Philadelphia: A.M.E. Book Concern, 1913, p. 23-27.
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