Manual labor college

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A manual labor college was a type of school in the United States, primarily between 1828 and 1861, in which work, usually agricultural or mechanical, supplemented academic activity. The manual labor model was intended to make educational opportunities more widely available to students with limited means, and to make the schools more viable economically. The work was seen as morally beneficial as well as healthful; at the time, this was innovative and equalitarian thinking.

The inventive power, which is a modification of the same principle [of suggestion], is greatly invigorated by that healthful energy of the circulation, which is produced by bodily exercise.[1]:32 ...The law of connection between the healthful, vigorous and locomotive powers of the muscular system, and the state of the affections and operations of the mind, has not yet been sufficiently investigated. Facts show its existence and importance.[1]:45

According to the atrustees of the Lane Theological Seminary:

[I]t is to the directors no longer a matter of experiment, but of sober fact, resulting from three or four years experience, that the connexion of three hours daily labor in some useful and interesting employment, with study, protects the health and constitution of our young men; greatly augments their physical energy; furnishes to a considerable extent or entirely, the means of self-education; increases their power of intellectual acquisition; facilitates their actual progress in study; removes the temptation of idleness; confirms their habit of industry; gives them a practical acquaintance with the useful employments of life; fits them for the toils and responsabilities of a new-settled country; and inspires them with the independence of character, and the originality of investigation, which belong peculiarly to self-made and self-educated men.... At the close of the session the students, instead of feeling worn out by their efforts, exhibited as much intellectual and physical energy, and as great an elasticity as is usally found in literary institutions at the beginning of a term.[2]

These "colleges" usually included what we would today (2019) call high school ("preparatory") as well as college level instruction. At the time, the only public schools were at the elementary level, and there were no rules distinguishing colleges from high schools.

The four states with the majority of such schools were New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.[3]:76

George W. Gale[edit]

George W. Gale was the founder of the first and best-known American example, the Oneida Institute of Science and Industry, and he thought the concept was his, although there are European predecessors.[4]:35[5] He and many of the other pious Yankees were persuaded that manual labor was to be the central practical feature of the coming American, Christian program of education. In 1830 Gale wrote: "Depend on it, Brother Finney, none of us have estimated the importance of this System of Education. It will be to the moral world what the lever of Archimedes, could he have found a fulcrum, would have been to the natural."[4]:42

The Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions[edit]

In July, 1831, the philanthropist Lewis Tappan, Gale, and others founded the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions, "literary institutions" being non-religious schools, as in "In every literary institution there are a number of hours daily, in which nothing is required of the student."[1]:40 Later in the same year they persuaded Theodore Weld, "a living, breathing, and eloquently-speaking exhibit of the results of manual-labor-with-study,"[4]:42 to be the Society's agent (its only employee). Among the charges to Weld was "to find a site for a great national manual labor institution where training for the western ministry could be provided for poor but earnest young men who had dedicated their lives to the home missionary cause in the 'vast valley of the Mississippi.'"[4]:43

In Weld's January, 1833, report to the Society he stated that "In prosecuting the business of my agency, I have traveled during the year four thousand five hundred and seventy-five miles; in public conveyances [boat and stagecoach], 2,630; on horseback, 1800; on foot, 145. I have made two hundred and thirty-six public addresses."[1]:10 Weld recommended Cincinnati, which he visited twice, as "the logical location [for the new school]. Cincinnati was the focal center of population and commerce in the Ohio valley." [4]:43 The new and barely-functioning Lane Theological Seminary in Walnut Hills, Ohio, near Cincinnati, was coincidentally looking for students. On Weld's recommendation, the Society chose it as the site for a national institution. See Lane Theological Seminary for more on it.

Incomplete list of manual labor schools[edit]

The failure of manual labor in colleges[edit]

Although a variety of colleges incorporated manual labor to some degree, in most cases it was abandoned after only a few years, amd it was all but gone by 1850. According to Herbert Lull, the reasons for its failure are:

  1. Labor was treated as a source of revenue, to support unrelated college activities.
  2. The labor was not linked in any way to the students' educational or career goals. Agricultural labor, for example, was of little relevance to the student preparing for a pulpit.
  3. The work became drudgery. Students wanted some leisure, some play.
  4. The work did not fulfill the financial expectations colleges had of it.[8]:387[9]:208

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Weld, Theodore D. (1833). First annual report of the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions, including the report of their general agent, Theodore D. Weld. January 28, 1833. New York: S. W. Benedict & Co.
  2. ^ "Manual Labor With Study". The Harbinger (Chapel Hill, North Carolina). March 20, 1834. p. 4 – via
  3. ^ a b c d Boone, Richard Gause (1892). A History of Education in Indiana. New York: D. Appleton. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Fletcher, Robert Samuel (1943). A history of Oberlin College from its foundation through the civil war. Oberlin College. OCLC 189886.
  5. ^ Cubberley, Ellwood Patterson (1919). Public Education in the United States: A Study and Interpretation of American Educational History; an Introductory Textbook Dealing with the Larger Problems of Present-day Education in the Light of Their Historical Development. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 363–365. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  6. ^ Gyory, Lila (Spring 2016). "Albany Manual Labor Academy". Colored Conventions Project Team, University of Delaware. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Gyory, Lila (Spring 2016). "Woodstock Manual Labor Institute". Colored Conventions Project Team, University of Delaware. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  8. ^ Lull, Herbert Galen (June 1914). "The Manual Labor Movement In the United States". Manual Training. pp. 375–388.
  9. ^ Bigelow, Dana W. (1915). "Whitestown Seminary". Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association. 14. pp. 207–213. JSTOR 42890041.

Further reading[edit]