Edward Francis Worst (1866-1949)
Edward F. Worst was born in Lockport, Illinois May 20, 1866 to German immigrants Jacob and Henrietta Lang Worst, the fifth of six children. He attended Illinois Normal College and Cook County Normal School, earning a teaching certificate. As a teacher, Worst introduced crafts into his classroom teaching. Like others in the Progressive Education movement, his interest in handwork was in its relationship to other disciplines.
In 1900, Edward Worst was appointed principal of the Yale elementary school, a training ground for student teachers of the Chicago Normal School. But he was not only involved in school administration. In 1904 he developed the “Normal Extension” program at Chicago Normal, where he taught paper and cardboard construction, metalwork, woodwork, basketry, and weaving. Within a few years he added an advanced thirty-week weaving course for teachers.
In 1909, Worst became the first Superintendent of public schools in Joliet, Illinois, and in 1912 he became superintendent of elementary vocational education in the Chicago public schools. Worst was one of the first educators to consider the therapeutic value of handcraft. He taught occupational and physical therapy skills to employees of state mental institutions and pioneered one of the earliest occupational therapy classes in Illinois. In 1915, he began instructing teachers of mentally and physically handicapped children in Chicago Public Schools.
In 1905, Edward married Evangeline Sheriff. Worst and his wife traveled to Europe to study handicrafts schools. Worst was inspired by visits to Norway and Sweden, where handloom weaving was a very successful line of home industry. Sometime between 1910 and 1914, Worst purchased spinning wheels and looms and had them shipped from Sweden to Lockport where he organized Swedish immigrants into a cottage industry. Originally named the Lockport Home Industry, the group changed their name to Lockport Cottage Industries in 1923.
Through the publication of his books, Edward Worst became a national expert on weaving. Foot-Power Loom Weaving, published in 1918, described the weaving process in detail. Mr. Worst also established the course in the famous Penland School of Handicraft at Penland, N. C., and taught in state prisons, mental institutions, homes for the aged, and schools throughout the country. He enjoyed his work at Stateville Penitentiary, and was proud of the vocational school there. During his time there, he befriended the notorious prisoner Richard Loeb, whom he considered a friend at the time of Loeb’s murder by another prisoner in 1936.
Edward & Evangeline had three children; Lewis Worst, Elizabeth Worst Musgrave and William Worst. Dorothy Woebbeking Worst, who was featured on a 2015 Lockport Collector Card, was married to Edward’s son William (Bill) Worst. At the time of his death at age 82 on January 31, 1949, Edward was president of the Lockport High School board of education. He is buried in the Lockport City Cemetery.