Les petites mains du textile.” Journeys of female apprentices in Tourcoing in the 1960s

By Stéphane Lembré

Roubaix and Tourcoing, two emblematic cities of the textile industry in northern France, had a long history of hosting training institutions for factory supervisory staff. Beginning in the 1940s, however, local employers sought to promote part-time apprenticeships through apprenticeship centres run collectively by the companies and providing training in various textile trades. Prior to the 1971 legislation that aimed to revive apprenticeship in France, records of apprentices that have been preserved provide us with information on the careers of young girls who missed out on the broader educational and vocational prospects that were experienced by adolescents of the 1950s and 1960s. These records reveal the choices and decisions made by these young women, their families, guidance institutions and employers, as well as the judgements made about their training and professional integration, which were marked by professional standards and stereotypes about women’s qualities.

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