History of Dame and Young Engagé School

History of the Dame School and Young Engagé School at Fort Vancouver

At the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver, education for young people was encouraged.In the mornings, girls and boys attended school together in the building known as the Owyhee Church. In the afternoons, young men worked in the fields or apprenticed as tradesmen or engagés, the contracted employees of the company, while girls were instructed in household skills. Young ladies of any social class would have been expected to have some basic skill in hand sewing, knitting, and other domestic chores centered on textile and clothing production necessary for everyday life. At one time, it was recorded that 60 students were attending school at the fort, 20 of which were girls and 40 boys.

The students were the children of Hudson's Bay Company employees stationed throughout the region, as well as orphans of Native Americans who were sponsored for tuition by Company employees. They came from a variety of cultural backgrounds, often using a single language, Chinook Jargon, for easy communication. The Fort Vancouver school flourished for a number of years until disagreements over religious instruction and the departure of Chief Factor John McLoughlin weakened its support. Eventually the school closed, as students began to board at other area schools that had been established in the meantime.

Children of trappers accompanied their parents on long trapping expeditions called brigades, which traveled throughout the West. Young men assisted with trapping and repairing equipment, while young women helped clean pelts, make clothing, and cook for the camp. These children did not attend formal school, but acquired the necessary life skills and knowledge from all members of the brigade.

Our youth programs follow in these educational traditions. The Dame School features the needlework and handwork skills traditionally taught to girls and young boys in schools managed by women (referred to as Dames), and emphasizes the roles of women at Fort Vancouver in the 19th Century. Young Engagé School concentrates on skills traditionally taught to older boys in the past and emphasizes the role of men. Both programs are open to any gender, and the program track desired should be stated within the application.

Last updated: April 15, 2016

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