The Search by Blacks For Employment and Opportunity: Industrial Education in Philadelphia

Black History and Culture is a special edition of 15 features devoted to the history and heritage of African Americans in Pennsylvania, from the American Revolution to World War II, published December 1977.


Historian Sol Cohen describes the industrial­-education movement at the end of the nineteenth century as an effort to relegate the new immigrant to the lower levels of society. Placing emphasis on the “status rivalry” between the middle-class progressives and the new immigrant, Cohen views industrial education as the means used by the progressives to keep the immi­grant in his place. While this explanation offers insights into the immigrant experience it does little to clarify the Black industrial-education movement.

A study of one northern city, Philadelphia, reveals that few nineteenth-century whites supported or even en­couraged Black industrial schools. With the exception of the Quaker-led Board of Managers of the Institute for Colored Youth and the Directors of the Armstrong Association, few city whites supported efforts to train Blacks in trades. The continual delay and foot-dragging by public­-school authorities in establishing Black industrial schools stands out in marked contrast to their prompt response in immigrant neighborhoods. In the three decades before 1910, three Philadelphia Blacks led the campaign for indus­trial education. Despite the lack of white support and differing views on industrial education, Fanny Jackson Coppin and Hugh M. Brown of the Institute for Colored Youth and Matthew Anderson, pastor of the Berean Pres­byterian Church, initiated and shaped industrial education for Philadelphia Blacks. Their struggles to establish industrial-training schools contrasted sharply with the immi­grant experience.

If industrial education was a useful tool of control, as Cohen hypothesizes, why did white progressives not pro­mote industrial education for Blacks as well as immigrants? The Philadelphia Black experience offers an answer. There was no need to keep Blacks in their place through industrial education since a prejudiced white society already restrict­ed Black occupational mobility and opportunity.

Industrial education emerged as a legitimate subject for schools after the Civil War. National interest was stimulated by the Centennial Exposition of 1876 held in Philadelphia. The theme of this anniversary celebration was the relationship between education and national progress. Under close scrutiny was a display of tools from Moscow and St. Petersburg. What most impressed those who viewed this exhibit was the scientific approach used to teach mechanic arts by Russian Victor Della Vos. Trades, according to his method, should be organized into shops, one for carpentry, one for plastering, and so on. Each shop should then be taught through a series of graded exercises that uses a combination of drawings, models, and tools to assure competency in a particular skill. Gone were the principles of general teaching of manual-training skills. To those who saw the exhibit this scientific approach legitimized industrial education as a subject which could be taught in school. This allowed industrial training to become one of the bases for school reform in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The Centennial Exposition impressed Blacks as well as whites. Prominent among this group was Fanny Jackson Coppin, principal of Philadelphia’s privately operated Institute for Colored Youth. During the eight years before the exposition, she had trained the Black youth of Philadel­phia in the traditional classical courses of Greek, Latin, and philosophic logic, but she was intrigued by the Della Vos approach to industrial training. Her marriage to Rev. Levi J. Coppin, whose concern for Black laborers and servant workers was inherent in his pastoral responsibilities at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, made Coppin more conscious of the need by Blacks for training in a trade.

Fanny Jackson Coppin soon came to see industrial education as a necessary educational reform because of its promise of steady, useful employment. Soon after the exposition she began a campaign aimed at promoting industrial courses at the Institute.

Coppin’s campaign continued into the 1880’s with public speeches in churches and at Black literary societies. Throughout this campaign the white Quaker Board of Managers of the Institute remained aloof from the demand for industrial education. Cost of equipment and lack of classroom space prevented Coppin from putting her ideas into action. In 1882 she convinced the Managers to investigate the possibility of adding an industrial program to the school. A committee visited the Auchmuty School in New York and the Hampton Institute in Virginia to observe industrial training firsthand. Coppin was given permission to begin an industrial program on a limited basis. In 1884 dressmaking was introduced for girls. Two years later cooking lessons became available. In 1888 a new industrial­-education building was erected adjacent to the school and courses offered for boys in carpentry, bricklaying, shoe­making, and millinery. The industrial annex was open three nights a week for men who worked during the day and in the afternoon for women. In 1890 classes were added in printing and plastering for boys and shorthand and typewriting for girls.

So popular were these courses at the Institute that the Bee Hive School, founded by Quakers in 1865 to instruct Black children in sewing, was closed and the funds transferred to the Institute to further its sewing program. Another group, the Association of Friends for Free Instruction of Adult Colored Persons gave its treasury of $2,750 to the industrial department of the Institute. Donations from individual Blacks and Black organizations followed, giving financial stability to these new training programs.

Popularity of the program was shown not only in the form of bequests and gifts but also by increased enrollment. The 282 pupils of the industrial department were double the number found in the traditional academic program. By 1889 the Board of Managers reported a waiting fist of 325 pupils for the industrial school. In 1891 graduation featured for the first time a “closing exhibition in Industrial Arts” as well as “The Annual Commencements of the Literary.” Principal Coppin triumphantly claimed the program a success since “No event in the history of this school, or of the Colored people of Philadelphia, has been hailed with so much joy as the opening of the Industrial school.”

Fanny Jackson Coppin had accomplished her goal. In the sixteen years between the introduction of industrial­-education courses in 1884 and the turn of the century, the Institute had moved from an emphasis on academic training for teachers to an emphasis on trade-preparation courses. Most pupils attended non-degree programs in the industrial department. This suited Edward M. Wistar, Quaker member of the Institute’s Board, who felt that “the average scholar at the Institute, of both sexes will be better equipped for the duties of life by careful atten­tion to manual training and to the primary branches… rather than by following an extended curriculum.”

Increasingly concerned with the economic plight of Philadelphia’s Black community, Mrs. Coppin fully sup­ported the school’s transition. Advocating a shelter for the girls attending the Institute, a sort of Black community “settlement house,” she received money from the Board of Managers to rent a house. A ten-room dormitory house accommodated as many as fifteen girls at one time under “Miss Fanny’s” supervision. The Institute was open from early morning until late at night serving all segments of the Black community – the high-school student, the general community through lecture programs, those interested in industrial training, and girls with no home. Fanny Jackson Coppin’s interest in the social and economic conditions found in Philadelphia’s Black community had reshaped the policies of the Institute.



Despite Black support of courses aimed at fostering employment and support of housing for girls, the Quaker Board of Managers had second thoughts about the direction of the school. To them efforts to correct economic and social conditions within the Black community were causing the school to drift away from the basic principles under which it had been founded, namely to train Black teachers. To the Quakers the importance of educating Black teachers would counterbalance the ill effects of discontinuing some of Coppin’s programs. Given these circumstances the Board of Managers recommended that the Institute be moved from its urban setting in Philadelphia to Cheyney, Pennsylvania. Fanny Jackson Coppin opposed this relocation since her primary interest was the improvement of the Black community’s economic and social conditions. Whether Coppin was forced to leave or voluntarily departed to accompany her husband on a trip to South Africa is not clear, but she retired from the Institute in 1901.

In order to fill the vacancy the Quaker Board announced a nationwide search for a new principal. Booker T. Wash­ington, president of Tuskegee, was called upon to recom­mend a successor. After consultation with some friends at Hampton Institute, Washington gave his unqualified endorsement to Hugh M. Brown, a training-school teacher from Baltimore. Educated at Howard University, Brown had studied for one year in Edinburgh and two years in Germany. He then taught briefly in Liberia, in Washington, D.C., and three years at Hampton Institute. Brown’s background at Hampton and close association with Washington marked him as a man who favored the training of Black industrial-education teachers. In announcing the appointment of Brown, the Quaker Board recognized this difference and reinforced the view “that the administration of such a man must mean radical changes ‘in the Institute.” Brown immediately discontinued courses aimed at developing specific skills and trades, preferring rather to emphasize teacher-training courses in industrial education. Using Tuskegee Institute as his model, Brown advocated removal of the school to a rural setting, away from the vices and influence of the city.

Events occurred in rapid succession. Fearing for the safety of night pupils forced to walk through the white immigrant neighborhood that surrounded the Institute, the Board closed the evening school. Next, the Board of Managers recommended the sale of the property, since the Institute was no longer in the center of the Black community. While there was some truth to this claim the Quaker Board vastly exaggerated the situation. Close to the center of the majority of Blacks in the city, now to be found in the Seventh Ward, the Institute was still a vital part of that community’s life. Objections arose within the Seventh Ward to the closing of the school, but the Managers sold the school building on Bainbridge Street to the Board of Public Education for use by white children. At the same time a farm was purchased in Chey­ney for the future site of the school. The final classes were held at the Institute building on Bainbridge Street in 1903. The academic pupils attending the Institute were sent to the public schools; industrial pupils reported to principal Matthew Anderson of the Berean Training School, located in the basement of the Berean Presbyterian Church.



The moving of the Institute for Colored Youth from the city and the retirement of Fanny Coppin from public life had little impact on Philadelphia’s Black-community interest in industrial-training programs. Soon after the decision to close the Institute was announced, Rev. Matthew Anderson sponsored a meeting at Witherspoon Hall which brought national leaders to Philadelphia to plead the cause of industrial training for Blacks. This Annual Conference of the Berean Training and Industrial School featured speeches by ex-President Grover Cleveland and educator Booker T. Washington. Cleveland encouraged Blacks to seek industrial training and industrial schools to relieve their “ignorance and mental backwardness.” Inclined to value this above all other forms of education for Blacks, the ex-president asked for financial support of the Berean Trade School by all Philadelphians. Booker T. Washington agreed with Cleveland. To him “Mere book education alone, as valuable as it is, will not save our race … The objections which once existed on the part of our people against any form of hand training has in a large measure disappeared.”

The Philadelphia Black community’s new leading advocate of industrial training, Matthew Anderson, graduate of Oberlin College (1874), Princeton Seminary (1875-77), and Yale Seminary (1878-79), also presented his views on industrial education. As principal and founder of the Berean Training School in 1899, Anderson staffed and developed the all-Black school in conjunction with his position as minister of the Berean Presbyterian Church. With the cooperation and financial assistance of Phila­delphia store owners Issac Clothier and John Wanamaker, the school trained “minors and adults in cooking, car­pentry, upholstery, sewing, millinery, or any other kinds of manual or industrial employment.” Later, after the close of the Institute for Colored Youth, courses in shorthand, bookkeeping, tailoring, and printing were added. Welcoming the former pupils from the Institute, the Berean school under Anderson became the largest private school in the city to offer Blacks industrial training.

Whereas Fanny Coppin had defended industrial training on the basis of a special need by Blacks for economic opportunity. Anderson defended it as a bulwark of racial equality. Since industrial education was available so freely to the newly arrived immigrants, Blacks, too, must have the same opportunity. Not opposed to schools like Atlanta, Fisk, and Clark, Anderson demanded “manual training among the colored people of the North” even more than the same training in the South. To him, this was necessary since urbanization and industrialization had eroded away some of the older Black urban occupations; unless Blacks prepared themselves to meet the new challenges of the city. Anderson predicted that they “would be shoved aside.”

Between 1900 and 1920 the Berean Training School continued to be the largest and most active of Philadelphia’s private industrial schools for Blacks. Beginning in 1903 appropriations from the Pennsylvania legislature stabilized the school’s finances, despite complaints from certain segments of the State’s Black population who opposed funding by government of separate Black institutions. An industrial-arts building followed in 1909, adding to the Berean Presbyterian Church property at 19th Street and Girard Avenue. In 1910 the school had twenty teachers, the majority of whom were part-time employees. Most were Black, but an occasional white teacher was used in classes when no trained Black teacher could be found. The Berean School has continued to serve the Philadelphia Black community to the present day.

The Institute for Colored Youth and the Berean School were important to the Black community because so few white industrial schools were available to Blacks. A 1912 survey lists seven schools available to Blacks, but these were open on a limited basis only. Each school had but two or three Blacks in attendance, with Temple University offering but one separate all-Black class. Although the courses in these schools appear at first glance to be exten­sive, it must be remembered that many of these classes had no Blacks attending.



The experiences of Coppin and Anderson were indicative of the struggle nineteenth-century Blacks had in pursuing industrial education in a private setting. Whites in urban centers were hesitant about providing industrial training for Blacks lest it lead to conflict with white workers. A prejudiced society reinforced these fears. The continued denial by whites of Black demands for industrial education is most clearly demonstrated in the events taking place in the public schools. For despite the demand for industrial education by Blacks, public-school authorities refused to offer industrial education for Blacks throughout the nine­teenth century.

Reflective of the lack of interest by public-school authorities in industrial training for Blacks was the refusal to change the curriculum at the Forten Public School. The school was opened for Blacks in 1828 and for sixty­-three years served the Sixth and Lombard Street Black community. During this span of time little consideration was given by school authorities to improving the training for children attending the school or for special programs in the community.

However, as the population of the neighborhood changed (Blacks moved westward on Lombard Street into the Seventh Ward and Jewish immigrants moved in), the Forten School changed also. Miss Anna Hallowell, member of the Board of Education, recommended that the “Black only” admission requirement be removed and that the Forten School be temporarily closed in February 1891. Sub­sequently. the Black children were transferred to the Pine and Quince Streets School and Forten classes discontinued. Renovation and remodeling followed and six months later the James Forten Elementary Manual Training School opened under the former principal of the House of Refuge, Hannah A. Fox. The school followed the same course of instruction as other elementary schools but offered a manual-training program in addition to the regular elemen­tary studies.

The anti-Jewish feeling in the Black community mili­tated against parents encouraging their children to attend the immigrant-dominated Forten Manual Training School. The new immigrant with his strange customs, foreign language, and different religious practices was a radical departure from the largely Protestant, English-speaking Black population.

Given these circumstances Black pupils increasingly transferred out of Forten never to return. By the end of the first year Black enrollment at the newly renovated school dipped to less than twenty-five per cent of the total school population. By the turn of the century the Forten school was primarily a school for the children of the immediate community – namely Jewish immigrants. “Miss Hallowell’s Experiment,” as it was then called, was “taking the children of immigrants, many of them from wretched and deprived homes, and … instilling in their young minds valuable lessons of industry and patriotism, and teaching them habits of neatness, accuracy, truth and honesty.” Why was it that this newly established great “mission among the poor children” excluded Blacks?

As Blacks moved westward along Lombard Street to avoid the Jewish immigrant, certain school populations shifted from white to black. First were the Ramsey School (1851-1911) at Quince and Pine streets and the Catto School ( 1867-1896) on Lombard near Broad Street. However, these schools taught rudimentary subjects with no courses offered in industrial training. It was not until 1910 that the Thomas Durham School (1910-present) opened on 16th and Lombard Street “as a combined grammar and primary school for boys and girls, with the addition of elementary manual training”; that in­struction was offered to Blacks in trades for boys and dressmaking-millinery for girls. The school soon became a “social center to care for the colored children of the city.” Offering evening classes in manual training, recre­ation programs after school and in the evening, an active Home and School Association meeting twice weekly, and Black evening Civic Clubs, the Board of Education had permitted the first Black industrial-training school in Philadelphia to be opened to the community.



Three years after the opening of Durham an outside organization conducted a study to evaluate the effective­ness of the industrial-training program. The study compared the occupations and wages of the children from similar environmental conditions in two schools where populations were in one case largely Black and the other white. The school selected to be compared with Durham was the all­-white Potter School in the Kensington section of the city at Sixth and Indiana streets. The summary of this report depicts the frustrations faced by Blacks taking the in­dustrial-training courses offered at the Durham School.

First, Durham children stayed in school more years than those of the Potter School but were generally in lower grades than their white counterparts. Second, many of Durham’s older boys worked during the summer months as errand boys, returning to school in September; on the other hand a large proportion of Potter boys did not return to school after the summer, since they found jobs in factories which became full-time employment. Third, Durham children were limited to occupations of errand boys and domestics; Potter children usually entered fac­tories or offices. Fourth, Durham girls received higher wages (when board and lodging were included) than Potter girls. Durham boys received less than Potter boys. The wages of Potter boys and girls were much higher than those of the boys attending Durham. Fifth, the field of work for Durham children was more limited than for those from Potter. Except for domestic service, there was little possibility for promotion or increased wages among the occupations entered into by Durham children. The implications were significant to those who wished to see: the problem facing Blacks wishing to acquire a trade rested in a racist society as well as in an uninterested public-school system. Since society denied equal employment opportunities, how could Blacks be motivated to continue schooling?

The report and its findings were submitted to the Board of Education with a recommendation that greater “educational preparation be given the boys and girls of the Durham school, especially the boys, in the vocational scheme of the city.” These requests, like those requesting desegregation, went unanswered by Superintendent Martin G. Brumbaugh.

The lack of action by the Superintendent led to pro­tests by local Black leaders. Black historian Richard R. Wright spoke for the group asking, “Who is responsible for Jim Crow schools and How children leave school without transfers?” To answer this criticism by the Black community, Brumbaugh invited Howard W. Odum, a graduate of Columbia University, to study the “Negro Children in the Public Schools of Philadelphia.”

The scope of the inquiry covered the elementary schools from September, 1910, to January, 1911. When completed Odum’s research data were used to justify the school sys­tem’s treatment of Blacks. To Odum, environmental and hereditary factors caused Blacks to be inferior. To support this Odum offered some statistics.

Odum also used the Benet and Thorndike (A-T) tests to compare the intelligence of white and Black children. His conclusion: “In these tests ranging from the simplest to more complex the Negro children tend to decrease in efficiency as the complexity of the process increases, as compared to white children.” Odum stressed “the existence of fundamental differences between white and Negro children.” The cause for the retardation was placed by Odum in the statistic that identified “one-third of the black pupils in the schools as born outside of Philadelphia … , especially in Virginia and Maryland.” Since they were unaccustomed to schooling in their home communities they tended to attend school less in Philadelphia; poor study habits followed. Not recognizing any bias in the types of materials collated, Odum recommended that the school system provide “rudimentary subjects, and an in­crease in vocational training and guidance for blacks.” Basing his plea on the necessity for pupil progress by grades, Odum asked for a return to basic instruction for Blacks, since “the lack of adaptation of children to the curriculum is costing thousands of dollars annually.” Odum’s report had upheld Superintendent Brumbaugh’s contention that Blacks were different from whites and would profit from “separate” curriculum and schools. Eventually the report would become the basis for up­holding segregated schools in Philadelphia.

On July 11, 1914 the Black community replied to the Odum report. Black historian William Carl Bolivar found the study to contain “biased and untruthful statements.” To him, the final report showed that the investigation was done by men harboring a prejudice against Blacks. With pride, Bolivar claimed that “The great bulk of the Colored people are virtuous, energetic, provident and moral and yet the Odum report makes all … vicious, lazy and purposeless.” The narrow viewpoint of the work rested, according to Bolivar, upon racial prejudice. To the Black community “the Superintendent of Education, aided by a few sly, misguided men, are doing their level best to secure school houses for Colored children under the guise that its their desire to obtain employment for colored teachers. This might have been acceptable years ago but not today.” Bolivar’s protest was not carried in the white press. Black protests simply went unheeded by an uninterested white society.



The Philadelphia organization which carried on the fight for Blacks during the first half of the twentieth century was the Armstrong Association. Named after General Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839-1893), the founder of Hampton Institute in Virginia, the association was formed in 1907 to improve the life and opportunity of Philadelphia Blacks. John Thompson Emlen, a graduate of the Univer­sity of Pennsylvania and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Jeans Funds, became the secretary and treasurer of this racially mixed group. Petitions to the school board, statistics on employment, efforts to desegregate employ­ment, and a general concern for the public schools were the Armstrong Association’s major areas of interest. Data were quickly compiled showing a need for improvement of the economic situation of skilled Blacks. The asso­ciation’s Bureau of Information catalogued job oppor­tunities, which aided some five hundred Philadelphia Blacks to secure employment in 1912. Despite these gains race prejudice tended to bar Blacks from occupations where whites and Blacks might have to work side by side on the same construction site. In most cases Black laborers were required to work on jobs that required large labor gangs which could be of one race.

The other area of concern among Armstrong Association members was the public schools. The association continually petitioned the Board for social centers, manual­-training programs, and use of home and school visitors in conjunction with Black schools. The program of manual training in the Durham School and the use of three home and school visitors to encourage attendance were accom­plished through the Armstrong Association’s funding of the salaries of the visitors. During 1913 the association combined its interest in schools and its commitment to finding jobs for Blacks by researching job opportunities for Durham School pupils. The home and school visitor made numerous inquiries in the white business community seeking employment for Durham pupils. Frustration soon set in since few jobs were forthcoming.

The Armstrong Association again became active by publicizing the lack of occupations for Blacks to pursue that were commensurate with their skills and training. How could whites argue the point after the association published the occupations of the nine. Black men who graduated prior to 1899 from Philadelphia’s academically elite Central High School? Two clerks in city service, one each a grocer, caterer, porter, and butler, with three un­known. While most white graduates from the same institution were college bound or working in positions with advancement potential, Blacks were confined to mediocre­-level positions. Black writer John Stevens Durham con­demned the practice of educating children and then re­fusing them work. In an article for the Atlantic Monthly in 1898, Durham accused schools using such practices as doing little except to train “loafers and rogues.” Little did he suspect at the time that a school named for him would be a participant in this practice twelve years later.

Even if changes in curriculum had occurred in public schools, the experience of the Black private schools showed that the gaining of satisfactory employment was usually uncertain. Most Black businesses were small in size, em­ploying few apprentices. Both the Black community leaders and the Armstrong Association decried the lack of these opportunities, stating that “Business opportunities for Negroes in the South are … better than in Philadelphia.” It mattered little if the school was public or private, all had difficulty in placing Black graduates in jobs. Only domestic positions and outdoor work in labor gangs were available for Blacks, while employment in factories or white-dominated trades was rare. Even more disturbing to men like W. E. B. DuBois was the fact that Black de­mands for industrial education clouded the issue of higher education for Blacks without being able to produce jobs for those trained in trades. Even if successful in training Blacks, industrial education must fail. Specific training for an occupation was valuable only if it led to employment and a useful life thereafter. Society itself, with its white­-only employment and social restrictions, stood in the way.


Dr. Harry Silcox received his doctorate in education from Temple University. Considered an expert in the field of Black education, he has published articles in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, The Harvard Educational Review, and Pennsylvania History. Currently he is principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, Philadelphia.