Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Parks, Steven

Second Advisor

Nordquist, Brice


English Only policy, Ford Motors English School, industrial archive, linguistic economic ableism

Subject Categories

American Studies | Rhetoric


Assembly Line Americans: Labor, Language, and Literacy at Ford Motors explores the significance of Henry Ford’s and Ford Motor’s industrial education project, which impacted the working-class life and educational development of migrants and US citizens alike. Ford’s industrial education project emerged in its Highland Park, Michigan plant where Ford produced Model T’s and in 1914 founded the Ford English School (FES). The FES engaged an Americanization curriculum as a way of preparing a largely migrant workforce for labor on the assembly line and to apply for US citizenship in the name of developing an industrial class of labor. I begin by unpacking the historical and social conditions of labor at Ford Motors, including the spirit of standardization that not only influenced Ford’s new assembly line system of manufacturing but also influenced the curriculum of the FES. Through its industrial education program, sought to mold laborers according to the image of The Ford Man, who puts the needs of the company before their own. As a response to the field, I describe the relationship between Henry Ford’s industrial education project and histories of English and Composition. Thus, I argue that when we engage standardized English in our writing classrooms, we engage histories of industrial relations of power that Ford inscribed onto the body of working-class migrants over a century ago. Through intuitional documents, I trace key moments in Ford’s industrial education project, as well as how individuals and communities sought to maintain a working-class ethos within a changing laboring landscape of industrialization. Throughout, I focus on schools and initiatives that Henry Ford contributed to, as well as political and educational spaces that developed a counter-network to challenge Ford’s project. Ultimately, I argue that at the heart of Ford’s industrial education project was an ideology of linguistic economic ableism, whereby English would act as the vehicle for the transmission of values and beliefs beneficial to Ford Motors, thereby readying the body, the mind, and the voice of the laborer for industrial labor.


Open Access