“The Training of the Hand”
Sunday, 18 December 2016
This week’s poem is “The Training of the Hand” by Wendy DeGroat. It was constructed from sewing manuals by Etta Proctor Flagg and Mary Schenck Woolman published between 1893 and 1915.
About the poem Wendy says:
“This poem is part of a manuscript about Grace Evelyn Arents, a Progressive Era educator and philanthropist who had a lasting impact on Richmond, Virginia, and Mary Garland Smith, Grace’s companion in her later years. The school Grace founded in 1894, St. Andrew’s, had its roots in a sewing class. Over time, both Grace and Garland served as the school’s principal, and the curriculum expanded to include reading and math, trades, science, physical education, music, and art; yet sewing remained a consistent component. I was drawn to the precise diction in these sewing manual excerpts and the way they illustrate the multifaceted nature of sewing as practical skill and art, as well as a source of moral and mental strength, and a gateway to empathy, self-sufficiency, and further opportunities—elements echoed in Grace’s works and words. I first encountered these manuals at the American Antiquarian Society and later studied copies in Google Books. The sections arranged here relay an engaging and provocative narrative about sewing, education, and the Progressive Era, as well as broader themes important to the manuscript.”