Posted by: newenglandarchivist | January 8, 2014

The Needs of the Time: Needlework in Notre Dame Schools

Syllabus overviewSyllabus Grade 7
Overview of syllabus                     Example of sewing taught in Grade 7
Measures 8″ x 10.5′

From those first days when St. Julie Billiart gathered young girls to teach,
the emphasis was always on training them to be able to do for themselves.
While the curriculum shifted and expanded in the passing years to accommodate
parents’ expectations, sewing remained an integral part of the Notre Dame education.
But as St. Julie said, the Sisters were not “gathered to teach. . . children all kinds of fashionable work.” She believed that girls needed to be trained in manual work. With manual work, they would have the means to support themselves.

In 1895, the American Sisters of Notre Dame privately published their curriculum,
Course of Study in the Academies and Parochial Schools of the Sisters of Notre Dame,
The volume outlined grade by grade the coursework to be taught. These lessons included mathematics, history, geology, meteorology, science, reading, penmanship, bookkeeping, music, religion, literature, geography, physics, astronomy, languages, and lastly, but by no means least, needlework. The needlework curriculum presented in specific detail the stitches and abilities to be taught in each grade. In second grade, the girls learned the simple hem stitch. By the ninth grade, when most of the girls graduated, they would have learned everything they needed to sew their own clothing.

A year after the publication of the curriculum, Sister Sabina Clancy (1869-1947) created a visual syllabus of those needlework lessons for the first seven grades. This visual syllabus, now more than a century old, offers a window into the history of Notre Dame education. While this particular curriculum and syllabus is no longer in use, in the spirit of St. Julie, Notre Dame education continues to prepare students for today’s world by addressing the needs of our time.

The display and exhibit, The Needs of the Time: Needlework in Notre Dame Schools, is available for viewing in the Boston/Ipswich Archives Monday through Thursdays 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


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