By Grace A., Summer Student
In May of 1930, The Oshawa Daily Times cut the metaphorical ribbon on Oshawa Collegiate’s new technical wing with a thirty-page special edition paper. The headline read “What Technical Education Means to the Youth of Oshawa,” implying, of course, that the opening of a vocational school meant opportunity. Industry-based learning was intended to prepare students who wouldn’t be attending university for direct entry into the trades. For boys, this meant taking courses in Motor Mechanics, Drafting, Woodworking, Electricity and Blue Print Reading. The curriculum was designed by the city’s most prominent industry men. With their vast knowledge and resources, the program was state-of-the-art. Across the hall, the young girls of Oshawa were also thinking about their future. That is, as Miss V. I. Lidkea, Head of Household Science, put it – “their life work of matrimony.”
Lidkea’s program was one of many educational opportunities which emerged in the early twentieth century that was specifically designed for girls. Home Economics was a response to the question of how women’s work might be able to adapt to industrial society. Through technical training, young girls would learn the science behind sewing, cooking, laundry, home nursing, and the management of household appliances- and it was a science. At Iowa State College, women could receive a degree in homemaking after completing rigorous courses in physics and math, as well as instructions on electric circuits and household equipment. The ideal 1930s housewife could not only use an oven, but she could take it apart and put it back together again too. Despite their proficiencies in a multitude of technical subjects, it was clear that female students would be directed towards homemaking. Perhaps the question that economists actually meant to ask was, “how can we industrialize women’s labour while maintaining the idea of separate spheres?”
In the one-page feature, “Oshawa Girls Will Take Courses in Home-Making Arts,” Lidkea specified what technical education meant for the girls of Oshawa. Like the boy’s program, Oshawa Collegiate’s Homemaking Arts courses were created for girls who would not be pursuing further education. In a rather progressive effort, Lidkea assured readers that the girls would also be given the skills to meet the needs of industry. If a student decided to contribute to the family income through waitressing or nursing, she would be considered a competitive candidate. She would be able to earn a wage, regardless of whether she was single or married. (Lidkea explained that statistics showed both single and married women were working those days.) Above all, girls could use their education to improve the standard of living in their household. She would be a more efficient cleaner, launderer, cook, and dressmaker. She would run her home like a factory. Thus, the opening of Oshawa Collegiate’s technical wing seemed to walk the line between women’s work and economic activity. Was she a wife or a worker- or both?
Bix, Amy Sue. “Equipped for Life: Gendered Technical Training and Consumerism in Home Economics, 1920-1980.” Technology and Culture 43, no. 4 (2002): 728-754.
Leonard Turner, Katherine. “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done: Cooking, Class and Women’s Work.” In How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century, 121-140. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014.
“Oshawa Girls Will Take Course in Home-Making Arts,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.
“Some of the Special Vocational Department Classrooms,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.
“What Technical Education Means to The Youth of Oshawa,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.