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There was no way to avoid the Sloyd if you were a Carlisle Indian School student in the late 1890s.

School administrators had set up an entire academic department to teach Native American children a system of manual training first developed in 19th century Europe.

Teacher Jennie Ericson was a strong advocate on campus for this method of instruction, which derived its name from the Icelandic word for “dexterity” and the Old Swedish word for “artistic” or “skillful.” Her views on Sloyd were published in the August 1896 edition of the Red Man, a student publication.

“Sloyd … trains the eye to the sense of form and the hand to general dexterity,” she wrote. Contrary to what some believed, Sloyd was not a pathway to training in the carpentry trade, according to Ericson. Rather, it was hands-on instruction in the use of tools to teach children such basic values as self-reliance, industry and perseverance.

1896 marked the first time visitors on campus had the chance to tour the Sloyd department during annual commencement ceremonies. “It takes but a few moments in that busy room to see the advantages of such training of mind through the hand,” The Sentinel reported on Feb. 27 of that year.

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The newspaper said the Sloyd teachers moved students through a progression of projects that included clay models, book holders, pen-racks, wooden spoons, salad forks and egg stands.

Three years later, on Sept. 15, 1899, The Sentinel reported that Ericson had resigned from her job in Carlisle to accept a position of administrator to set up Sloyd programs in schools throughout Puerto Rico.

Six weeks later, the newspaper reported that a “Miss Stewart” was ready to teach Sloyd classes. “She is full of her subject and ever willing to explain to listeners the scientific whys and wherefores for certain kinds of hand training.

“That mechanical training is essential to a well-developed man is conceded at this day and age by all educators of any standing,” The Sentinel reported. “A college graduate who has not had any mechanical training is a one-sided man or woman. Head, hand and heart culture must go along together.”

Tour Through Time runs every Saturday in The Sentinel print edition. Reporter Joseph Cress will work with the Cumberland County Historical Society each week to look at the county through the years. Send any questions, future ideas or tips to jcress@cumberlink.com.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.