TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE
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The first settlers in Tennessee had little time or use for book-learning, but they did have a wide and thorough education in the lore of rifle, plow, and broadax - learning which cleared and peopled a wilderness.
Such schooling as there was lay in the hands of a few clergymen, usually Presbyterians who had joined their Scotch-Irish congregations from North Carolina and Virginia. In summer, when children could be spared from farm work, the local preacher kept school in the community church-courthouse, a rough one-room log cabin with a packed clay floor and slab benches. Here for a few weeks the children struggled with ciphering, writing, and learning to read from a great leather-covered Bible.
A departure from this sketchy between-planting-and-harvest schooling was made by the Reverend Samuel Doak in 1780, when he began conducting graded classes in a log outbuilding on his farm near Jonesboro. The first regular school west of the Alleghenies, it was chartered three years later by North Carolina as Martin Academy, in honor of Governor Alexander Martin. In 1785 the charter was confirmed by the legislature of the short-lived State of Franklin. About the same time the North Carolina Assembly chartered, as Davidson Academy, the meeting house near Nashville where the Reverend Thomas Craighead had gathered a class of boys.
The Constitutional Convention of 1796 made no provisions for public education, and for a decade the small academies that a dozen or so ministers had set up, after the example of Doak and Craighead, were the only schools in Tennessee. In these "literary institutions" matters of conduct and morals were stressed as much as familiarity with the English classics, Latin, Greek, and oratory: the prized hallmarks of a gentleman's education. They ranged in quality from little backwoods establishments with almost illiterate teachers - who accepted payment in food, wood, or help about the place - to expensive town schools conducted by the most pontifical and flowery of scholars. The best of these prepared the sons of the land-holding gentry for Harvard and Yale, and for politics; the worst gave doubtful prestige and rather muddled minds to the sons of solvent small farmers. So strongly did the system of private academies entrench itself that by 1889 more than 500 had received charters from the State, and nearly a third of these were actually operating.
In 1806 the United States Congress had directed that 600 acres of good land in each Tennessee township should be reserved and sold for the support of public schools. This requirement was largely ignored. Of the 6,500,000 acres which should have been set aside, only 23,000 - and these so poor that they sold for as little as one cent an acre - were actually converted into school funds. Money realized from land sales was insufficient to establish a single school. A tentative effort toward the establishment of common schools was made in 1815, when the State legislature passed an act "to provide for the education of orphans of those persons who have died in the service of their country." In 1823 a few thousand dollars were appropriated for pauper schools, and five years later half the proceeds from the sale of public lands between the Hiwassee and Little Tennessee Rivers was allotted to a common school fund. The scant income from the Hiwassee lands supported only a handful of extremely ill-equipped schools. They were taught by political appointees, minor bandwagon followers who often were barely able to sign their names.
Every year or so between 1823 and 1854 the General Assembly passed some ineffective act "to establish a system of common schools in Tennessee." By 1840 the State was spending for public education a little less than 50 cents a year for each white child; a fourth of the adult white population was illiterate. Inevitably, the Negroes were overwhelmingly illiterate, though here and there a bright slave child was allowed to study with his master's children or was taught by some liberal clergyman.
Private academies, meanwhile, had multiplied and flourished. Three of the older ones assumed the dignity of colleges even before the State had been admitted to the Union. Greeneville College, which had been the Reverend Hezekiah Balch's school, was chartered in 1794. In the same year Blount College was established at Knoxville, to succeed the Reverend Carrick's seminary. One of the earliest nonsectarian and coeducational schools in the United States, Blount College was named for the Territorial Governor, whose daughter Barbara was among the women enrolled. The school became in succession: East Tennessee College, East Tennessee University, and the University of Tennessee. In 1795 Samuel Doak's Martin Academy was chartered as Washington College.
Maryville College was begun in 1802 as the log-cabin school of the Reverend Isaac Anderson. Several appeals for a charter were refused by the legislature, for Anderson was active in politics and had made powerful enemies. The charter was not granted until 1842. Davidson Academy, chartered as Cumberland College in 1806, later became the University of Nashville, and eventually fathered the present George Peabody College for Teachers, the leading school of its kind in the South.
Before the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, several academies for girls had been established in the State. The more fashionable and prosperous of these were in Nashville - Price's College for Young Ladies, the Misses Martha and Fanny O'Bryan's school, Ward's Seminary, the Belmont School for Girls, and the Nashville Female Academy. Here came the daughters of wealthy Tennesseans to be taught manners and morals, and to read such books "as are considered proper for the sensibilities of the female intellect." In summing up his system of education, Dr. Collin Elliot, the Methodist minister who conducted the Nashville Female Academy, wrote: "We educate the girl according to God's Word and the demand of every fiber of her mind to be a wife, to be a mother. Then in after life, circumstances determining, she may do anything a female body, mind, and soul may do."
Public schools begged for funds in vain until the administration of Governor Andrew Johnson. The "Little Tailor of East Tennessee", who had learned to read after he was grown, was a passionate advocate of public education. In his message to the legislature of 1853, Johnson said: "At the present period, and for a long time past, our common schools have been doing little or no good, but on the contrary have been rather in the way than otherwise. There is one way that the children of the State can be educated... and that is to levy and collect a tax from the people of the whole State." Against stiff opposition, Johnson's bill for the support of schools by direct taxation was passed on February 28, 1854. Subsequent legislation standardized the method of examining teachers and authorized the employment of women teachers on an equal footing with men. For the first time Tennessee had public schools that functioned.
During the decade before the War between the States Nashville and Memphis set up free public school systems, with graded grammar courses and four years of high school. Operating funds were secured from municipal poll taxes and levies on real and personal property.
In 1857 the Protestant Episcopal Church established the University of the South at Sewanee, a village on the Cumberland Plateau, and proposed to introduce the English tradition of education. Soon after the war began, the uncompleted university buildings were burned by Federal raiders.
The war brought the machinery of formal education to an abrupt halt in Tennessee. Academies and colleges, drained of able-bodied young men, shut down. State and municipal public school systems were disrupted. After the Confederates were driven out of Tennessee, school and college buildings were commandeered as Federal barracks and hospitals, or were used to house the Negroes who flocked in the wake of the liberating armies.
In the years of Reconstruction public attention was centered on repairing material damage and little thought could be spared for the problems of education.
While the Republicans controlled the State, the post of superintendent of public instruction was created, county superintendents were appointed, school taxes were levied, and special schools for Negroes were put into operation. As soon as the Democrats returned to power, in 1869, these measures were repealed. In 1873, however, the legislature passed bills which substantially incorporated the earlier measures.
Concurrently, academies and colleges were evolving into their present forms. Between 1865 and 1900 some of the States leading private schools began operating - Montgomery-Bell Academy, St. Cecilia Academy, and Ward-Belmont School, at Nashville; Webb Preparatory School, at Bell Buckle; Morgan School, at Petersburg; and several military schools for boys.
The Fisk School for Negroes, founded at Nashville by the American Missionary Society in 1866, developed into a normal school and was chartered in 1867 as Fisk University. It has become one of the country's foremost institutions of higher education for Negroes. Associated with Fisk and using the same library facilities is Meharry Medical College, the world's largest Negro institution of its kind, founded in 1865 by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Fisk University and Meharry Medical College have been leading factors in advancing Negro education in the South, and in uniting the efforts of the two races in developing an educational program for the Negro.
As was the case with other colleges in Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, at Nashville, was founded as a church school. Chartered in 1872 as the Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, it was endowed by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1873 and reopened as Vanderbilt University. The Methodist Church relinquished control in 1914.
In 1875, with money voted by the legislature and an endowment from the George Peabody Trust Fund, Peabody Normal School was established as a department of the University of Nashville. Shortly afterward the normal school absorbed the university and became George Peabody College for Teachers. One of the three ranking teachers' colleges in the United States, the school is noted today for its advanced methods and its extensive experiments with new techniques of child training. Its graduate teachers hold key positions throughout the South.
When the University of the South was reorganized in 1876, law and medical departments were included; later these branches were discontinued. In addition to the academic and theological schools of the present university, there is a preparatory school, the Sewanee Military Academy.
The legislature designated East Tennessee College, at Knoxville, as the University of Tennessee in 1879. By the terms of the act, it became "a part of and the head of the public school system of the State."
After publication of the 1870 census figures on illiteracy, interest in public education increased in Tennessee. In 1893 the legislature provided for tax-supported secondary schools, and in 1899 county courts were empowered to set up county high schools. With the expansion of the school system, the power of the county courts over local schools increased. The magistrates approve county school budgets, audit school expenditures, and require quarterly reports from the county boards of education.
In 1909, with one-fourth of the State's revenue allotted to education, four teacher-training institutions were established - three for whites and one for Negroes; funds for the consolidation of schools, vocational education, and libraries were increased. Four years later one-third of the State's income was set aside for educational purposes, and school attendance was made compulsory. Meanwhile the number of local school-board members throughout the State had been reduced from 10,000 to 600.
Consolidation of schools began in 1924 in counties where declining population has made it increasingly difficult to maintain efficient schools. By 1933, 324 consolidations had been made; but since then cuts in appropriations have retarded this trend. At the close of the school year of 1934 there were still approximately 3,000 one-room schoolhouses in the State, comprising almost one-half the total number of elementary schools. At this time there were 617 high schools, 545 of which were for white students. Two hundred and ten high schools which do not give a full four-year course offer further possibilities for consolidation.
Tennessee's anti-evolution law and the Dayton trial that was its aftermath are best understood if viewed as indications of a social problem caused by the swift imposition of a system of public education, compulsory and uniform, upon a people long accustomed to private and denominational education - or to no education at all. When the Tennessee fundamentalist found himself compelled by law to send his children to a tax-supported State school, where doctrines were taught that seemed to him a denial of Scripture, he rebelled. This rebellion, characteristically blunt and straightforward, led to the adoption of prohibitive legislation. On March 21, 1925, the General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by John Washington Butler, a farmer, making illegal the teaching in tax-supported institutions of any theory concerning the creation of man which disagreed with Holy Scripture. While discussions of the bill in the legislature were extremely facetious, and the sponsors of the Scopes test case did not themselves take the matter too seriously, the popular tension which followed indicated much support for the law.
Dayton became the scene of a drama that centered national interest on Tennessee. The episode was exploited by newspapers and by partisans as a conflict between religion and science, or between a progressive ideal of education and sheer backwardness. Rather, it was a struggle between those who conceived of democratic education as purely and wholly a State function and those who were doubtful of the State's capacity to assume complete control of such a function. Though efforts to repeal it have failed, the anti-evolution law is to some extent a dead letter today.
Illiteracy remains one of the State's major problems. In 1930 the percentage of rural illiteracy was 8.8 - twice as high as that in the urban areas. At this time there were 18,536 persons between the ages of 10 and 20, and about 127,000 persons 21 years old and over, who were illiterate. Of the total number, 87,406 were native whites and 57,251 were Negroes. The marked decrease in the illiteracy rate for the total population between 1920 and 1930 - from 10.3 to 7.2 - as well as the consistent increase in school attendance during the same decade, indicates definite educational progress. In 1930, 71.7 per cent of native white persons 7 to 20 years old, or 466,220, and 64.6 per cent of the Negroes within this age group, or 91,268, were attending school.
Among institutions doing special work in vocational training are Lincoln Memorial University at Harrogate, the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School at Gatlinburg, and the Cumberland Homestead Project at Crossville. The Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute is supported by the Fentress County Board of Education in cooperation with the State board. The College of Agriculture of the University of Tennessee combines practical and theoretical training in farming. Although emphasis is placed on training boys and girls for farm life, most of the graduates are drawn into more lucrative positions as teachers and demonstration agents.
Seven institutions of higher learning are administered as part of the public school system in Tennessee: the State university at Knoxville, with medical and dental schools at Memphis and a junior college at Martin; the three units of the State Teachers College at Johnson City, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute at Cookeville; the Austin Peay Normal School at Clarksville; the Tennessee School for the Blind, at Nashville; the Tennessee School for the Deaf, at Knoxville; and the Agricultural and Industrial State Teachers College for Negroes at Nashville.
The last-named institution, opened in 1909 as a normal school, is the largest land-grant college for Negroes in the United States and the second largest Negro educational institution in the world. There are three other four-year colleges and two junior colleges for Negroes in the State.
Under the rehabilitation program of the WPA, adult classes have been organized throughout the State. Primarily organized to give employment to unemployed teachers, these classes taught 7,448 adults to read and write during the 1937-38 school term. There are 17,750 white and 7,853 Negroes enrolled in the adult classes; the white teachers number 311 and the Negro 133. Health, citizenship, and homemaking are taught in addition to reading and writing.
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TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE