Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation explores how the competing efforts of women to prepare girls for wage-earning and homemaking shaped the development of vocation programs for female students in Chicago schools between 1880 and 1930. Histories of vocational education have neglected the role of women as school reformers and suggested that boys rather than girls were the primary focus of new work-oriented classes in urban public schools. Using Chicago as a case study, this dissertation uncovers how groups of women social reformers, educators, and trade unionists promoted vocational programs to protect school-aged girls from dangerous working conditions, steer girls into "wholesome" occupations, and ultimately prepare them for motherhood. This study analyzes why women founded private vocational schools for girls in Illinois; lobbied for sewing and dressmaking programs in Chicago public schools; created the first school guidance system dedicated to female students; and helped shape federal vocational education policy by World War I. This dissertation argues that women used vocational education to further their larger social reform agendas in progressive-era Chicago, and uncovers how their efforts to make girls "useful for life" impacted the daily school lives of native-born white, European immigrant, and African American female students.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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