“Ladies Who Sew, Men Who Weld” Exhibit Narrative

The digital exhibit “Ladies Who Sew, Men Who Weld” is designed to contrast two high schools, specializing in vocational education, that were part of the Chicago Public School system for most of the twentieth century. Flower Tech, for girls, and Lane Tech, for boys, each featured a specialized curriculum designed to prepare students for the modern workforce. These curricula were highly gendered, with Lane Tech students learning mechanical skills like printing and auto shop, while Flower Tech students trained for careers as beauticians or for unpaid roles as homemakers.

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The Lane Tech Surveyors Club gets to work, 1930.

Rather than taking a chronological approach to the histories of these schools, the exhibit is structured thematically. After an introduction to the vocational education movement and the founding of the two schools, visitors will be able to click through a page each on “Curricula”; “Inside Lane and Flower Techs,” which deals with the architecture and physical layout of the school buildings; “Athletics”; and “Graduates,” which discusses postgraduation outcomes for Lane and Flower alumni. These pages will contain images and documents relating to both schools, as well as text that discusses the history and our interpretation of its significance. Students from both school who appear in the photos and documents will feature as “characters” in this thematic narrative.

The exhibit will conclude with details about each school’s closing or turn away from the single-sex, vocational model of education, and finally with a “Join the Conversation” page. This section will include a “Further Reading” section and an invitation to to view and contribute to the exhibit’s Facebook page. We imagine the exhibit to be directed at two distinct audiences: high school students (perhaps for use by teachers as an assignment), and interested alumni of Lane Tech, Flower Tech, or similar schools. Thus the social media aspect of the exhibit will encourage student viewers to add reflections on how the information in the exhibit relates to their own experiences in high school (this way of engaging with the material could be part of their assignment). Alumni, meanwhile, will be encouraged to add memories, photos, or other materials from their time at the schools. This participatory social media strategy will hopefully increase the value of the exhibit as a teaching tool, encourage discussion among current high school students and alumni, and generate new content and information for the exhibit that could then be added at regular intervals to the original structure.

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2 thoughts on ““Ladies Who Sew, Men Who Weld” Exhibit Narrative

  1. This sounds perfectly wizard. I really like how you tell the story thematically – rather than chronologically – but maintain the narrative device of characters by highlighting specific students. I also think this has incredible potential for inter-generational learning with the social media plan; if the high school students targeted by the project connect with the alumni of the two schools, the project would have a powerful impact on perceptions of the youth towards their elders, and vice versa. I hope there will be a way to archive their responses in the site itself, as the alumni’s reminiscences are just as much primary documents as the images the site is built from.

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