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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

Notes from: Bolin, Paul E. "The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870: Industrial Mandate or Democratic Maneuver?" In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education.Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz. Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association 1990.

The Massachusetts
Drawing Act of 1870

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In 1870 Massachusetts lawmakers enacted legislation that mandated drawing as one of nine required subjects taught in all public schools of that state. The law was titled "An Act Relating to Free Instruction in Drawing." With passage of this Act, Massachusetts became the first state to legislate compulsory public school drawing education. The statue also required cities in Massachusetts with populations that exceeded 10,000 to provide free "industrial or mechanical drawing" for citizens over fifteen years of age. [pg. 59]

. . . . presented here is an interpretive belief that the Massachusetts Drawing Act was the outcome of a democratic legislative process, and was specifically crafted in response to numerous influences, pressures, and ideas concerning drawing education present in New England at the time this bill was approved . . . . it appears the legislation was adopted in response to a multiplicity of drawing education purposes and practices promoted by general citizens, politicians, and educators in late nineteenth century Massachusetts. [pg. 59]

Twelve individuals and two businesses endorsed this petition. These prominent signatories were involved in industry and politics in a manner that helped form a common purpose. M any were highly regarded for their efforts to develop New England textile and carpet manufacture, as well as for improvements to machine design and railroads. Joseph White, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education at the time the petition was signed, described the petitioners as, "well known and highly respected citizens, distinguished for their interest in popular education, and for their connection with those great branches of mechanical and manufacturing industry which absorb large amounts of the capital, and give employment to great numbers of the residents of the Commonwealth. [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871, 163].

Parallel with their industrial involvement, a number of the petitioners engaged in electoral politics . . . . these and other petitioners expressed strong economic protectionist sentiments, and actively promoted legislative tariffs on imported European textile commodities . . . . Many of them participated both in manufacture and government policy-making, and were well acquainted with benefits that could be gained through alliances of business and government. The petitioners believed that drawing ed cation, like textile import tariffs, could be legislated. Thus, when faced with another business predicament--this time involving the availability of qualified draftsmen rather than textiles--these petitioners sought a solution through proposing and appealing for government assistance. Signers of the petition pursued public drawing education as a strategy for decreasing the state's dependence on European-trained draftsmen. They perceived this legislation as a means to possibly ameliorate economic conditions in helping train Massachusetts citizens for the individual personal advantages of such education, as well as for the state's benefit. Seeking to improve conditions in Massachusetts through increasing the number of trained machinery and textile pattern designers, the petitioners actively pursued publicly financed drawing education legislation. [pg. 61]

Within days lawmakers approved the following legislative Resolve: Resolve Relating to Provisions for free instruction in Mechanical Drawing in the Cities and Large Towns of the Commonwealth . . . . Resolved, That the board of education be directed to consider the expediency of making provision by law for giving free instruction to men, women and children in mechanical drawing, either in the existing schools, or in those to be established for that purpose in all towns in the Commonwealth having more than five thousand inhabitants, and report a definite plan therefor to the next general court. Approved June 12, 1869. [pg. 62]

In response to this Resolve, the ten-member Massachusetts Board of Education formed from its body a four-person drawing education subcommittee. [Gardiner Hubbard, David Mason [Chair], John Philbrick, and Joseph White]. Their purpose was to secure information pertinent to the Resolve and "to make all needful inquiries and investigation, and to report their conclusions thereon for the consideration of the whole board" [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871,164] [pg. 62]

During the months that followed, the drawing subcommittee actively sought opinions and information concerning "mechanical drawing" education. They conferred with individuals from the community who manifested interest in this form of drawing instruction. Drawing petitiners Francis Lowell, Jr. and Reverend Edward Hale met with the subcomittee to personally communicate beliefs and concerns of the fourteen petitioners. [pg. 62]

The petitioners were only one segment of the population interested in advancing drawing education. These prominent men were, however, a unified puissant body. In their meeting with the drawing subcommittee, "the views of the petitioners were fully explained and elaborately set forth in a carefully prepared bill to be presented to the legislature" [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871,164]. This action was not favorably received by the subcommittee . . . . may have been viewed . . . . as improper and presumptuous [without prior input from the drawing subcommittee and other citizens] . . . . deemed it advisable to seek for further information and suggestions from gentlemen of well-known experience and skill in this department of instruction" [thirty-fourth Annual Re port 1871, 164] [pg. 62]

To help secure information regarding instruction in mechanical drawing, late in 1869 the subcommittee prepared and delivered a circular to prominent drawing educators throughout New England. The circular requested opinions on six general topics related to mechanical drawing, that ranged from the "advantages which might be expected to result from the contemplated instruction in mechanical or industrial drawing," to what these individuals saw as "the organization and supervision of the proposed Drawing Schools" [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871,165] pg. 64]

The subcommittee received numerous replies to the circular . . . . nine of the most thorough responses to the circular were selected for publication . . . . Some writers focused on economic advantages anticipated from instruction in mechanical drawing; others addressed drawing relative to more broad-ranging educationally propitious issues, such as its potential to instill moral character, develop intellectual capabilities, and aid in teaching other school subjects. [pg. 64]

Discussions by various authorities lamented the impoverished condition of mechanical drawing in Massachusetts and throughout the United States. Respondent John Wodman of Dartmouth College believed mechanical drawing instruction would benefit local economies, and declared that a Proper training in Drawing of ten or fifteen years, in many a town in Massachusetts, might double the industrial efficiency, and put two for one on account of this influence" [Board of Education 1870, 31-32]. Louis Bail of Yale College described America's plight of having only a few available skilled mechanical draftsmen: "The whole nation is deploring the lack of good ornamental designers. We are becoming tired of sending so many millions to Europe for articles that we might produce cheaper at home if we had skillful designers" [17] . . . . [pg. 64]

. . . . Many other advantages were presented by the nine authorities. William Bartholomew, a teacher of drawing in the public schools of Boston, believed drawing "cultivated the habits of neatness and accuracy," as well as taste [Board of Education 1870, 24]. He also discussed drawing relative to imaginative and inventive faculties, and concluded that drawing should be undertaken as a "means of improvement as well as [for] amusement" [27]. J. W. Dickinson, who taught drawing at the Westfield Normal School, advocated drawing lessons as a "valuable auxiliary" to study in arithmetic, geometry, botany, natural history, and penmanship {41]. Drawing was seen by Boston public school drawing instructor Charles Barry as being of "inestimable use," and he believed it "tended to improve the intellect of the masses, [and] purify the tone of their moral character" [43]. A past Commissioner of Education, Henry Barnard, asserted that drawing was directly useful in various academic subjects such as natural history, natural science, and geography, and that its acquisition "can introduce its possessor more directly into the region of the beautiful, the true and the good, both intellectually and morally" [47]. pgs. 64-65]

In its statement to the legislature, the Board of Education recommended passage of: "An enactment requiring elementary and free hand drawing to be taught in all the Public Schools of every grade in the Commonwealth; and which shall further require all cities and towns having more than [blank] inhabitants, to make provision for giving annually free instruction in industrial or mechanical drawing to men, women and children, in such manner as the Board of Education shall prescribe [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871,166] [pg. 65]

This recommendation rankled the petitioners, who saw it as ambiguous in wording and lenient in effect . . . . The petitioners were desirous of instituting mechanical drawing education . The Board of Education seemed to have taken a different approach in its recommendation to the legislature . . . . The board divided the issue of drawing education into two separate matters. The first section of the proposal addressed the type of drawing education recommended to be required in all graded public schools: elementary and free hand drawing. The second part of the recommendation focused on industrial or mechanical drawing instruction for men, women, and children. Use of these specific drawing terms by the Board of Education may be tied to information received in replies to the subcommittee's circular. Throughout the nine responses to the circular, mention was made of elementary, free hand, industrial, and mechanical drawing. Elementary and free hand drawing were described as basic types of instruction that required little more than blackboards, chalk, pencils, paper, and a few models or flat copes. Industrial and mechanical drawing were more advanced approaches, and necessitated use of rulers, drawing pens, drawing boards, T-squares, and mathematical instruments. [pg. 66]

The Massachusetts legislature was presented with a dilemma. Lawmakers had been furnished a number of diverse purposes, approaches, and terms, related to drawing education . . . . What form of drawing education legislation should be drafted to satisfy these heterogeneous constituent factions? . . . . They undertook a legislative maneuver that supported local autonomy for each Massachusetts school committee . . . . to not limit or constrict the possible interpretations of the statute by school officials, legislators enacted a law that placed all Massachusetts cities and towns in a position to select the type of drawing education most appropriate for scholars in their public schools. [pg. 66] An Act Relating to Free Instruction in Drawing. Be it en acted, &c., as follows:

Section 1. The first section of chapter thirty-eight of the General Statutes is hereby amended so as to include Drawing among the branches of learning which are by said section required to be taught in the public schools.

Section 2. Any city or town may, and every city and town having more than ten thousand inhabitants, shall annually make provision for giving free instruction in industrial or mechanical drawing to persons over fifteen years of age, either in day or evening schools, under the direction of the school committee.

Section 3. This act shall take effect upon its passage. Approved M ay 16 , 1870. [Secretary of the Commonwealth 1870,183-84] [pg. 66-67]


It appears the Drawing Act of 1870 was adopted to accommodate a variety of purposes for drawing education in the graded public schools of Massachusetts. [pg. 67]

. . . . The statute's only mention of "industrial or mechanical" drawing occurred in Section 2, and specifically applied only to the education of citizens over fifteen years of age. At the time this legislation was enacted, most Massachusetts citizens completed or terminated their formal public education by age fifteen [Clarke 1885]. With this historical background it seems obvious that Section 2 of the Drawing Act was aimed not at the majority of school-age children, but rather at "a class of persons quite distinct from scholars in our public Schools" [Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1871,171] The specific mention of industrial or mechanical drawing stated in Section 2, coupled with the lack of any designated direction or drawing education in Section 1, makes it appear that lawmakers did not intend to define precisely the type of drawing education provided students in Massachusetts graded public schools. For this reason it seems misleading to label the legislation an "Industrial Drawing Act." To describe the laws in this manner does not fully acknowledge the ostensibly broad aim for drawing education recognized by Massachusetts legislators in adopting "An Act Relating to Free Instruction in Drawing." [pg. 67]

[Bolin, Paul E. "The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870: Industrial Mandate or Democratic Maneuver?" In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education.Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz. Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association 1990.]

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