Seattle YMCA establishes a vocational school in 1899.

  • By Staff
  • Posted 4/11/2001
  • Essay 3150

In October 1899, the Young Men's Christian Association of Seattle opens the city's first full-fledged vocational school, with a staff of 15 teachers offering instruction in 27 different subjects. Classes are held in the YMCA building at 1423 Front Street (now 1st Avenue).

The YMCA, founded in 1876, had been involved in adult education since 1888, when it began offering evening classes in German, shorthand, penmanship, and mechanical drawing. By 1893, bookkeeping, arithmetic, and stenography had been added to the curriculum and the education department was pleading for better facilities. "Many young men who come to our city from the country, come to us with a very meagre education and are thus handicapped in the race of life in our city because they cannot hold their position beside their more fortunate brother who has had all the advantages of good schools," the director of the department argued in the Y's monthly newsletter. "To be able to do this evening class work successfully we must have class rooms where the students will be by themselves and away from the noise of the other departments" (Bugle Call, June 1893, 12-23).

The educational program was greatly expanded with the 1899 opening of what was informally known as the Night School (officially the Evening Institute of the Young Men's Christian Association). The curriculum was designed to meet the needs of three types of students: those who had missed the opportunity for a general education, those who wanted technical training, and those who were simply interested in personal growth. It included a variety of high school classes that were fully accredited for entrance into college or university. The school also offered "definite, practical, helpful, educational facilities" to "working young men" who wanted to learn a trade, such as bookkeeping, commercial law, electrical engineering, or mechanical drawing ("Night Classes of the Young Men's Christian Association").

The program continued to expand over the following decades. A Day School was added in 1907, after the Y moved into new headquarters at 4th Avenue and Madison Street (adjacent to the current headquarters); at the same time, an Automotive School was established, to teach owners and chauffeurs how to drive, maintain, and repair the cars that were just beginning to appear on the city's streets; and English classes for the foreign-born were added to both the Day and the Night Schools (apparently the first English-as-a-Second-Language classes in Seattle). In 1911, the Y opened a private grammar school for boys, originally called the Day School for Boys and in 1916 renamed the Madison School.

The YMCA schools were reorganized several times in the 1930s and 1940s, but continued to offer a wide range of vocational-technical and college preparatory classes (after 1937 open to females as well as males). In the 1950s, however, the schools steadily lost enrollment. The college prep program ended in 1952. Four years later, the Y turned over all its remaining vocational programs to a private entrepreneur.


Some Facts and Figures in relation to the Young Men's Christian Association of Seattle, Washington, For the Years 1888-9 (Seattle: YMCA, 1888); Bugle Call, June 1893, 12-23; The Saturday Mail, January 21, 1899; Seattle YMCA, Night Classes of the Young Men's Christian Association for the school year 1899-1900 (1899 pamphlet); YMCA of Seattle, Educational Department Annual Catalog, 1910-11; YMCA, "Monthly Financial Report and Program Summary," November 1952; "Washington Radio & Television School" (1956 brochure); The Seattle Times, December 13, 1983.

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