Tracy L. Steffes
Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act provided federal aid to states for the purpose of promoting and reforming precollegiate vocational education in agricultural, industrial, and home economics subjects at a moment when reformers were rapidly expanding secondary education and broadening its curriculum to prepare youths for modern life. Spearheaded by the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE), the effort for federal aid encompassed an array of interest groups with different reasons for supporting the bill. While the law helped expand vocational courses and enrollment, it often did not live up to the lofty aspirations of its supporters. Historians have also pointed to its unintended effects in differentiating and stratifying curriculum in ways that often reinforced existing inequities. Beginning in the late 19th century, a variety of groups began to advocate the addition of new manual training courses like woodworking and cooking in schools, ...