Monday, September 5, 2016

The Elmira Vocational School

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Since my turn to write our weekly blog post has fallen on Labor Day, I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to share some images of the Elmira Vocational School, which are part of one of my favorite photograph collections at the museum. The Elmira Vocational School was public school in the Elmira district. It opened in 1913 to teach boys mechanical, industrial, and construction trades. The school opened in an abandoned building owned by the city at 717-721 Lake Street.  The building needed significant remodeling to make it a working school, but that challenge itself provided an important opportunity for the school. In fact, the students did most of the remodeling as part of their course work. This involved building classrooms and workrooms, doing plumbing and electrical work, and metal work and carpentry.

Above: Students working on concrete forms for new school building annex
Below: Framing done by students on the school building

Students’ time in school was divided equally between traditional book work and their vocational training. The school taught intermediate and high school boys. Intermediate students (those who had completed 6th grade) took a two year course before they had the opportunity to move on to the high school program.
Above and below: students in various workshops and classrooms at the school, learning carpentry, plumbing, metalwork, and drafting.

 The Elmira Vocational School was operating at a time of new emphasis on formalized vocational training.  A few years ahead of its time, the school was already in operation for four years before the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act, or the National Vocational Education Act, gave federal funds to states to support job training in business and industry, agriculture, and home economics.
Getting a lesson about electricity
Learning how to use the lathe.
Ultimately, the school’s success led to it being merged with Southside High School in the mid-1920s. Its methods and faculty served as the foundation for the new vocational program at the high school.  


  1. I had no idea that vocational schools started that long ago. Always surprised what we learn from your blogs!
    Keep them coming.....

  2. interesting to know how vocational schools were started back then to what they are today (BOCES -Horseheads NY & Tech Centers - Elmira NY) where they teach a lot of different trades which helps the students hopefully after graduation from the particular program if they so choose , make a career of it.