Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia (review)
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Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia. By Earl J. Hess. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. Pp. xiii, 319. $45.00 cloth)

Earl J. Hess’s study traces the evolution of Lincoln Memorial University from its founding in the late nineteenth century to the present. Chartered in 1897 to honor Abraham Lincoln and benefit descendants of southern white Unionists, the university not only provided disadvantaged Appalachian youth with an education but also furnished the counties surrounding Harrogate, Tennessee, with adept primary and secondary teachers. Rather than writing an institutional history, Hess focuses upon several issues that shaped the development of the university within the wider Mountain South—including the commemoration of Civil War veterans, Appalachian stereotypes, and notions of race and modernization. Employing an impressive assortment of newspapers, campus publications, and personal papers from archives across the nation, Hess claims the history of the school “exemplifies many aspects of Appalachian life, southern life, and American life from the turn of the twentieth century to the turn of the new millennium” (p. xvi). [End Page 125]

Hess asserts that the Civil War and Lincoln’s legacy proved a fundamental element of the university culture throughout the late nineteenth century. Preeminent founder Oliver O. Howard and other boosters garnered financial contributions from northern benefactors— including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—by alleging that the institution fulfilled a promise Lincoln made to East Tennesseans for their wartime loyalty to the Union. Though he may have expanded upon the ways in which university boosterism contributed to the myth of Appalachian Unionism, he goes on to indicate that the institution became a symbol of sectional reconciliation. Influenced by Lost Cause rhetoric, school officials adopted Union blue and Rebel gray as school colors, invited Confederate veteran Robert Patterson to serve on the first board of directors, and named the principal campus building Grant–Lee Hall. Hess argues that institutional literature “pushed the Lincoln connection, the needs of the ‘southern mountains,’ and the ‘fraternal feeling’ between the two sections which had fought in the Civil War” (p. 30). He explains, too, that the Civil War legacy pervades the modern ethos on campus, as it is one of the foremost repositories of Lincolniana, and administrators require students to complete two courses on Lincoln and the Civil War era before graduating.

Supplementing the works of Henry Shapiro, Allen Batteau, and James Klotter on the cultural construction of Appalachian “otherness,” the author also illustrates how Appalachian stereotypes shaped the mission of the college. The establishment of Lincoln Memorial University coincided with the late-nineteenth-century “discovery” of Appalachia, and the founders were part of a larger social and cultural movement to uplift southern highlanders—often at the expense of African Americans. Hess argues that most university founders perceived that “Appalachian culture was a problem” and sought to integrate mountaineers into mainstream American life by stressing “moral training, manual arts and crafts, and . . . strong sense of civic responsibility” (pp. 235–36). He acknowledges that the paternalism of university officials sustained the work-study program until the [End Page 126] 1960s, which allowed many underprivileged mountaineers to afford a college-level education, and that others genuinely sought to preserve elements of Mountain South folk culture. Though Hess admits that the perception of destitute mountain students occasionally “led to some degree of tension” between the student body and professors, he concludes that over the years “Lincoln Memorial University was shaped as much by Appalachia as its people tried to shape mountain youth” (pp. 228, 237).

Hess has produced an insightful work that will surely intrigue scholars and general readers alike. While the author provides brief glimpses into student life at Lincoln Memorial University, some readers may yearn for greater insight into the unique aspects of students’ daily lives on campus. Additionally, within his chapter-length examination of the 1930 student strike, Hess’s claim that the row proved a “clash of cultures” in which “a handful of worldly professors had invaded the insular world of Appalachia” remains tenuous because it was not necessarily an insider-outsider conflict (p. 158). These quibbles aside, Hess’s study is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on...


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