The Woman's Institute took its first student in 1916. Planning started somewhere around 1914 as an offshoot of the International Correspondence Schools - a phenomenally successful organization that offered practical, affordable education in many different areas. Somewhere in 1914 they got the idea to do the Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. They connected up with Mary Brooks Picken, and the Woman's Institute was born.
From Student 1 in 1916, they grew to around 85,000 subscribers in 1918 or 1919 and had upwards of 250,000 in the early 20s.
Everyone now thinks that all our grandmas and great-grandmas could sew. In fact, they couldn't. They could hem and mend (not unlike today) but for any more complex work, they sent it to dressmakers.
Clothing was rapidly simplifying and the sewing machine and invention of patterns were putting construction in the reach of more people but instruction required school or apprenticeship.
There are different booklet versions. They had four courses: 1) Dressmaking/Tailoring; 2) Plain Dressmaking; 3) Millinery; 4) Cooking. On the corners of the booklets, you'll see the name of the department: Dressmaking, sewing, tailoring, millinery.
The full course of dressmaking and tailoring had 38 lessons. It included lessons on how to draft using foundation patterns and a tool called the Picken Square which Mary Brooks Picken invented. The course included not only the booklets, but the foundation drafts, the Picken Square and other similar materials. The first versions were numbered starting 1. The later versions were numbered in the 400s. The latest were the little black leatherette books that numbered 1D through 16D and combined earlier booklets.
That was the first course offered. As the program developed, they had lots of call for a simpler course that included dressmaking and working with tissue paper patterns so they offered a shorter course of 25 lessons called Dressmaking with Tissue Paper Patterns. I can also give you that order if you like. It had a different direction to its instruction including the booklets on Plain Dressmaking.
There was also the Millinery Course. The original materials were written by Ora Cne'and then, was taken over by Mary Mahon
They opened their big new building around 1920 and employed hundreds of people in the Scranton area. These included the stenographers who handled the correspondence, the people who worked in their merchandise department fulfilling product orders, the staffs for the two publications, and, of course, the teachers who evaluated the exams and samplers submitted by the students. When a student started, they were given an ID number and forms and envelopes to submit their exams and samplers of work to be evaluated.
It was directed by Mr. Sumner. He and Mary Brooks Picken (a widow) eventually married. They offered premiums (books, materials and other bonuses) for referring friends who signed up. In the early 20s, they started recruiting graduates to market through home visits. They apparently also encouraged students to use their materials to teach others. They advertised in a lot of women's publications and did not seem to miss any opportunity to promote themselves with interviews and stories of local interest. Somewhere in the 1920s Mrs. Picken was hired by Singer to be a spokeswoman which is why you see her name on the Singer set of booklets on sewing (How to Make Children's Clothing; Dressmaking the Modern Way; Sort Cuts to Home Sewing) and why she eventually wrote the Singer Book of Sewing.
I believe they were successful up through the middle thirties and they stopped taking students though they continued to publish the black booklets through the 40s.
The parent company was still offering courses in the late 50s and early 60s. Eventually they sold to what is now Penn-Foster correspondence school.
THANKS RUTH for the info!
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1940s ORIGINAL Pretty Peplum Afternoon Dress Pattern Sz 29 B