A discussion of the present sewing courses in the public schools will be found in Chapters XIV and XV, which summarize the special reports on the Garment Trades and Dressmaking and Millinery. In the present chapter the consideration of these occupations is limited to an examination of the administrative questions connected with training for the sewing trades.
The compulsory attendance law requires all girls to attend school until they are 16 years old. This forces a considerable number into the high schools for one or two years before they go to work. As a rule the type of girl who is likely to enter the needle trades selects the technical high school course, not because she has any idea of finishing it, but because she believes it offers a less tiresome way of getting through her last one or two years in school than the academic course. The technical course requires three and three-quarter hours a week of sewing during the first two years. The student may elect trade dressmaking and millinery during the third and fourth years.
Very few girls who can afford to spend four years in high school ever become dressmakers or factory operatives. If the school system is to do anything of direct vocational value for them it will have to begin further down. Most of them leave school before the age of 17 and the years between 14 and 16 represent the last chance the school will have to give them any direct aid towards preparation for immediate wage-earning.
For successful work in machine operating the class must be large enough to warrant the purchase and operation of sufficient equipment to give the pupils an opportunity for intensive practice. The only way this condition can be secured is by concentrating in large groups the girls who need such training. Little will be accomplished in training for the sewing trades without specialization, and specialization in small administrative units is impossible. The teaching and operating cost in a school enrolling, say 200 girls, who want the same kind of work, can be brought within reasonable bounds. In a school where the total number who need specialized training does not exceed 10 or 15 the cost is prohibitive.
In the opinion of the Survey Staff a one or two year vocational course in the sewing trades should be established. The entrance age should not be less than 15. Courses should be provided for intensive work in trade dressmaking, power machine operating, and trade millinery. A conservative estimate of the number of girls who could be expected to enroll for courses in these subjects is 500. A trade school might be established where only this type of vocational training would be carried on, or it might be conducted in the same building with the trade courses for boys recommended in a previous chapter. In either case the number of pupils would be sufficient to warrant up-to-date equipment and a corps of specially trained teachers.