Education of Our Ancestors: Alice Wellin & the Girl’s Polytechnic School

A recent post from A Hundred Years Ago asked the question, “What Courses Did High School Students Take a Hundred Years Ago?” Although she did not attend high school a hundred years ago, this made me think of my paternal great grandmother Alice (Wellin) Graber (1916-1985) and what education she had.

Alice Wellin’s 1931 Certificate

Although I do not have every detail of Alice’s education during her high school years, I do know that in 1931 she completed a course of training in “home hygiene and care of the sick” through the American Red Cross under the auspices of the Girl’s Polytechnic School in Portland, Oregon. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Girl’s Polytechnic High School was a technical school for girls who were trained to work in in-demand occupations. At the time my great grandmother attended the Girl’s Poly, it appears they trained young women not only in certain occupations, but also provided training that would be termed “home economics” today.

According to the course textbook, American Red Cross Textbook on Elementary Hygiene and Home Care of the Sick (Delano and McIsaac, 1913), the home hygiene and care of the sick course was established to provide the necessary knowledge and skills for not only what Florence Nightingale once said that “nearly every woman at some point in her life is obliged to act in,” that of “the capacity of a nurse to the sick,” but also “the continued good health of the well,” with particular attention to enabling woman and girls “to prevent the conditions in their own homes which undermine the health of their families.” This was achieved by fifteen lessons, which included: a discussion of bacteria and its relation to health and disease; causes and transmission of disease; proper care of food, water, and ice; proper care of air, ventilation, heating, lighting, soil, sewage, and garbage; the proper arrangement of rooms and furnishings in the home; the care of the home, including laundry, the cellar, plumbing, cleaning of the home; personal hygiene; hygiene of infancy and childhood; proper care of beds, mattresses, pillows, and bedding; bed making; general care of the sick in their own homes; general care of patients; sick room appliances; symptoms of disease; and the household medicine closet.

I am certain that my great grandmother was taught other subjects in high school, but it is fascinating to learn that at the young age of 15 what kinds of information she was expected to learn in high school and how it differs from today. When I was in high school in the 1990’s, a course in home economics was not offered, though I did take a semester of it in junior high. We did not cover a fraction of what my great grandmother was expected to learn. I kind of enjoyed the course. I wish I knew what Alice thought of hers.

About a year after Alice’s completion of this course, she married Theodore Alexander “Ted” Lapham (1910-1955), with whom she had three daughters: Gloria, Margaret (my paternal grandmother), and Jacqueline. Alice and Ted’s two eldest daughters also attended the Girl’s Polytechnic School in Portland.

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3 thoughts on “Education of Our Ancestors: Alice Wellin & the Girl’s Polytechnic School

  1. I really enjoyed this post–and it’s wonderful to hear that one of my posts led you to write it. It’s cool that you have your grandmother’s red cross certificate, and it’s really interesting how some high schools in the mid-20th century prepared students for in-demand careers.

    • Thank you. :) Your blog is one of my favorites, and I must admit I have a touch of “genealogy envy” over the journal you have. A distant relative of mine has a nearly 50 year long journal belonging to the mother of my step-great grandfather, but she has never taken the time to duplicate it. I have a part of it that chronicles their (and my step-great grandfather’s) move to Oregon during the Great Depression, but that is all. To my knowledge, no other relative of mine ever kept a journal. You have an amazing treasure, and I enjoy reading it and your insightful comments. They make me think about different topics in family history and how they relate to my own family. :)

  2. Very interesting information and I like the connection you made to Sheryl’s blog. I started a blog about old newspapers and through my blog I have connected to great witers like yourself and Sheryl. Thanks for taking the time to write here and not just a FB note or Twitter msg.

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