Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in the Bluegrass, 1880-1917

By Kolan Thomas Morelock | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

Lexington, Kentucky, was a much smaller place a century ago (the population was only 26,000 in 1900), the proportion of African Americans was larger (39 percent), and the color line ran deep. But more to the point, the landscape of learning was profoundly different from our own, and not just because the revolutionary impact of new information technologies and the modern movement for civil rights were still a long way off For most people in the 1880s or 1890s—whether they were rich or poor, white or black, male or female—the prolonged school career that would become the norm among generations born after World War II was all but unimaginable. That is not to say that educational opportunity was limited, but only that it was enmeshed in older meanings and different social purposes.

As Thomas Bender, Joseph Kett, Louise Stevenson, and others have suggested, the classroom was but one scene of instruction among many in the nineteenth century, and not the most important scene at that.1 Of course, the public school movement was already gathering momentum in certain quarters, the same public school movement that would eventually erect a curricular ladder extending from kindergarten to graduate school and help create the entrenched social imperatives that required every child to climb it. But the horizon of educational interest among the middle classes was still broad enough to include the sites and occasions that the nation’s cities and towns had to offer. Museums, parks, fairs and expositions, lyceum lectures, libraries, and theaters continued to hold an honored place alongside schools and colleges. And on a more intimate scale, serious reading, journal keeping, correspondence, and conversation were cultivated daily in a spirit that is difficult for us to appreciate today. Whether in the parlor or in literary societies, reading clubs, or church groups, an alert commitment to edification and mutual self-improvement helped set the tone for relationships among family, friends, and associates alike.

-ix-

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