Paul H. Douglas
Assistant Professor of Labor Administration
The University of Chicago
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Political Science
Perhaps the most important educational movement of the past decade has been that of industrial education. The cause lies in the failure of the workshop to provide proper industrial training for its young employees. In order to understand the present educational situation, therefore, it is imperative to examine the roots from which it has grown, namely, the old system of apprenticeship that formerly provided broad training for the young workers of this country. The problem is not alone educational, but is economic as well and can only be understood by studying it from both aspects.I. Definition. Apprenticeship is essentially a combination of education and industry. It is a process of learning by doing under which a minor is taught the art of a trade by one who is at the moment engaged in it; the minor paying either in whole or in part for this instruction by the work done on objects destined for the master's consumption or sale.This is sufficient definition of an institution that was the chief means of trade education until the advent of the machine era. The apprentice differs from the ordinary child laborer in that he not only works for his master but receives instruction in his trade. Apprenticeship ceases when child labor degenerates from education to routine. Since now the shop no longer trains the child worker, other agencies must be created to assume the responsibility.Apprenticeship can exist, either with or without a legal indenture. In its essence it is a contractual relationship between boy and master, involving an exchange of work for education. The indenture is merely the legal instrument bearing witness to this relationship. The contract itself may be held binding in the absence of any written agreement whatsoever. For instance, a Connecticut court has held that a boy who lived to the age of twenty-one with a mechanic, learning the trade under parole agreement, was an apprentice though there were no articles of indenture existing between the two. Other decisions have been made supporting this view. In face, many of the firms that now have apprenticeship systems do not have formal written indentures binding the two parties, but allow a continuance of the relation upon the pleasure of both. It goes without saying, however, that though the indenture is not synonymous with apprenticeship, it is very valuable as a means of giving needed fixity and definiteness to a relation that might otherwise become too lax.
7. Functions of Colonial ApprenticeshipThe function of Colonial apprenticeship was fourfold. It was at once a punishment for debt, a penalty for idleness, a system of poor relief, and the earliest educational institution.(1) It was a punishment for debt. ... binding-out for debt played in the importation of indentured servants and indeed often in their indenturing on this side of the water. ...(2) It was a penalty for idleness. This, even in a child, was a sin to the Puritan. Connecticut ordered her selectmen to put out to service single persons 'who lived an idle and riotous life.' Massachusetts followed a similar policy and bound out those whom she deemed idlers.(3) Apprenticeship here, as in England, was a system of poor relief. Massachusetts as early as 1636 had enacted "that all towns shall take care to order and dispose of all single persons and inmates within their town to service." Nor was this merely paper legislation; records exist of its enforcement. In 1692 Massachusetts reenacted this law with the provision that the selectmen should bind out the children and have the legal right to act for them. In 1703 they made a further emendation. The previous law had been thought to apply only to children whose parents actually received alms; the new law now declared that it applied to all children whose parents were deemed unable to maintain them. It was thus prospective, not merely retrospective. This extension of the law closely parallels that of the English Poor Law of 1601, which, as we have sen, similarly broadened the interpretation of what constituted a "poor" parent.Virginia in 1672 had passed similar legislation. The Justices of the Peace of every county were ordered to "put the laws of England against vagrant, idle, and dissolute persons in the strict execution." The county courts must bind out "all children whose parents are not able to bring them up, apprentices, tradesmen, the males till one and twenty years of age, and the females to other necessary employments, till eighteen years and not longer." South Carolina in her act of 1740 provided for the children of indigent parents in parallel fashion, while Connecticut, and indeed all the other colonies, built their poor law legislation as closely as possible upon the English model.(4) Finally, apprenticeship was a state-directed educational system. Masters were in general required by statute law, to impart not only trade training, but to give instruction in the liberal arts, and to inculcate sound morality as well. Massachusetts in 1642, ordered that al parents and masters, "should endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices, so much learning, as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue and knowledge of the capital laws," and further "do breed and bring up their children and apprentices in some honest, lawful calling, labour or employment." If parents or masters neglected to give this intellectual or trade instruction, the children were to be taken away from them by the selectmen and indentured as apprentices to masters who would give it. Thus apprenticeship was made to serve as a school for children uninstructed at home. The prescribed education for every child included some instruction in the trade and some in the liberal arts. Failure on the art of the master or parent to give either was punished by the removal of the child.Free public school for the poor hardly existed in Massachusetts before 1700, and from then on spread but slowly. In this interregnum the device of apprenticeship served as a rude substitute. It was the only guarantee that children whose parents would not or could not pay the customary tuition fees, should be instructed. It thus established the principle of universal free education.Records exist of the enforcement of this Massachusetts Act of 1642. The selectmen of Dorchester, Brookline, and Watertown haled delinquent parents before them and carried out the provisions of the law. In 1668, however, the legislature stated that it had not been well observed, but that the selectmen should enforce it more stringently in the future. The Essex county court in the following year ordered the selectmen of Topfield to enforce the act and to make out a "list of all those young persons who do live from under family government."Professor Jernegan holds that the act of 1642 was nullified in 1695 by the refusal of the English Privy Council to allow the act passed by the Massachusetts legislature upon the merging of the colonies of New Plymouth and Massachusetts which continued all legislation hitherto enacted by either colony. Thereafter al new legislation concerning apprentices save for a special act in 1735 for Boston, applied only to poor children and not to all children. With the exception of Boston, therefore, apprenticeship could not be legally resorted to after 1695 as a method of educating children whose parents had neglected their duty.Both the Connecticut and New Haven colonies passed acts almost identical with the Massachusetts act of 1642. Thus the New Haven act of 1656 provided that if parents and masters did not teach children and apprentices "to read the Scriptures and other good and profitable printed works in the English tongue and to understand the main grounds and principles of Christian religion necessary to salvation," the children were to be taken from them and placed as apprentices "with such others who shall better both for publick convenience and for the particular good of said children of apprentices."In New York, on the other hand, apprenticeship was not used as a means of compelling parents to educate their children. Indeed it was not until 1788 that it was required that poor children bound out as apprentices be taught reading and writing. Despite the absence of legal requirement, however, approximately one half of the indentures filed between 1694 and 1707 specified that the master should teach, or have the apprentice taught, reading and writing, while from 1718 to 1727 the percentage was still greater. A large number of the indentures provided that the master should send the apprentice to school during the winter, or during the evenings. This is a clear indication of the use of agencies other than the master himself to give liberal training to the apprentice.By 1770 in Pennsylvania as well, although legal enactment was lacking, the indentures almost invariably required the master to give schooling to the apprentice.In Virginia, the apprenticeship regulations took a slightly different turn. A law of 1646 provided for the apprenticing of poor children "to tradesmen or husbanmen to be brought up in some good and lawful calling." So far it is merely the application of the Elizabethan poor law. But it also comended the commissioners of every county to choose two poor children, whose parents were unable to support them and send them "to James City" -- to be employed in the public flax houses under such masters and mistresses as shall then be appointed, in carding, knotting, and spinning. It was prescribed that the children should be furnished from their home county with sufficient clothing and provisions to maintain them. An appropriation of 10,000 lbs. of tobacco was made to house these children, and two buildings were ordered to be erected for them.
It does not require much perspicacity to perceive that this was a trade-school for poor children, state-built and county-supported. No mention is made of teaching the children reading or writing. The act, unlike that of Massachusetts, provided for industrial training only. It was not till 1705, in an act applying apprenticeship to orphans, that it was ordered "that the master... shall be obliged to teach him to read and write." This educational provision was extended in 1769 to illegitimates, when it was provided that they should be indentured as apprentices under the protection of the County Court. So long as the aristocratic landholders were in power in Virginia, free public education was impossible. Apprenticeship was therefore the only means of education that the poorer classes possessed.In all the colonies with the possible exception of the South, therefore, trade training was not the only educational feature of apprenticeship. Instruction was required in the liberal arts as well, while in New England, the colonies required that the apprentices be educated in the Christian religion and sound ethics. Apprenticeship was thus not a mere means of acquiring trade efficiency, but it was a preparation for citizenship and for life.