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Smith-Hayes Vocational Education Act of 1917

Sen. Hoke Smith Rep. Dudley Hughes The Smith-Hughes Act (also known as the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1917 or the Vocational Act of 1917) promoted vocational education throughout the United States. It has been called the "Magna Carta" of vocational education. Normally the curriculum was separate from regular school programs. Written by Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Dudley Hughes, both of Georgia, the act established vocational education in the fields of home economics, industry, agriculture and trade crafts.

With production in the US rapidly expanding in the early 20th century, skilled manpower was needed to fill jobs in the growing industrial and agricultural areas. The Act was seen as a way to provide that manpower, and at the same time to reduce unemployment and poverty. Supported by labor unions and businessmen alike, vocational education was seen as the answer to many societal problems. The Act created the Federal Board for Vocational Education, a governmental agency responsible for management and supervision of vocational education nationwide.

It also resulted in the establishment of state vocational boards, designed and implemented to work with the Federal Board for the promotion and improvement of vocational education nationally.

The goal of the Act was the promotion of vocational education in the public school systems, geared toward providing specialized vocational skill education to students at least 14 years of age, training teachers for classroom teaching the areas of home economics, agriculture, construction trades and industrial fields, specifically targeting students wanting to enter the trades. It was believed the Act would ensure a steady supply of trained laborers and employment opportunities to citizens for decades to come.

The federal government provided states with funding to train teachers, and pay salaries for directors, supervisors of programs. Vocational schools afforded rural and urban secondary schools the opportunity to expand their educational systems and provide more opportunities to students, families and communities. Although mainly providing training in labor fields for men, programs for women were also offered in areas such as home economics, dressmaking, millinery and cooking, giving girls and women in low income families the ability to contribute financially to their households.

For biographical information on Senator Hoke Smith (Ga.) and Rep. Dudley Hayes (Ga.), click on their photos above. For more information on the Smith-Hayes Vocational Education Act of 1917, check the links below.

Smith-Hughes in Britannica
Groups Advocating for the Vocational Edcation Act of 1917
e-notes: Smith-Hughes Act of 1917
Smith-Hughes Act on Wikipedia