Washburne Trade School

Named after Illinois congressman Elihu Benjamin Washburne, the Washburne Trade and Continuance School served as an elementary school prior to its switch to vocational training in 1919. While in operation, Washburne offered training to high school students in various industries, such as electricity and carpentry, with programming supported by nearby labor unions. Over time, Washburne’s programming expanded to offer additional training (i.e. painters, pipefitters, sheet metal workers) to a wider community base.

A 1986 article published in the Chicago Tribune reported that Washburne Trade and Continuance School operated 28 programs at one point in time. It was highly recognized for its success in vocational training in the Chicago area. However, this success did not go without issue.

In 1963, a study conducted by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations examined the enrollment at Washburne and found that only an estimated 2% of its students were black. Around this time, many Chicago companies were relocating to the suburbs, as were residents as in what would come to be known as white flight. With this expansion of the suburbs, work opportunities extended outside of the city center. The suburbanization coupled with desegregation caused many of the labor unions to pull out of programming with Washburne. By the late 1970s, only eight programs with the labor unions remained at Washburne. By 1993, there were only 2 programs remaining.

Washburne closed in 1993, only to reopen in 1994 with City Colleges of Chicago, a system of community colleges located throughout the city. In 1996, select programs moved to the South Shore Cultural Center, while culinary programs operate within Kennedy-King College.

Washburne’s history is quite interesting. For the majority of its operation, Washburne taught mostly white students. When desegregation occurred in Chicago, many programs pulled out of the school. It is hard to assume that action did not have any racial connotations. However, today Washburne operates under City Colleges of Chicago, a system that strives to provide services to “diverse student populations” and address “socio-economic disparities and inequalities of access and graduation in higher education.” It is ironic that a school that once was under fire for not being inclusive is now a part of a system whose mission is promoting an inclusive educational environment.

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  1. Chrucky, Serhii. "The Last Days of Washburne," Forgotten Chicago.com, last edited 1-8-2009 Available Online.
  2. Scannell, Ray. " A Plea to Save Washburne Trade School." Chicago Tribune, November 27, 1986. Available Online.
  3. Scannell, "A Plea," 1986.
  4. Chrucky,"The Last Days," 2009.
  5. "History," Washburne Culinary.com, accessed March 19, 2021. Available Online.
  6. "Mission," City Colleges of Chicago. Available Online.