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Taking the Town

Collegiate and Community Culture in the Bluegrass, 1880-1917

Kolan Morelock

Publication Year: 2008

The relationship between a town and its local institutions of higher education is often fraught with turmoil. The complicated tensions between the identity of a city and the character of a university can challenge both communities. Lexington, Kentucky, displays these characteristic conflicts, with two historic educational institutions within its city limits: Transylvania University, the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the University of Kentucky, formerly “State College.” An investigative cultural history of the town that called itself “The Athens of the West,” Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in Lexington, Kentucky, 1880–1917 depicts the origins and development of this relationship at the turn of the twentieth century. Lexington’s location in the upper South makes it a rich region for examination. Despite a history of turmoil and violence, Lexington’s universities serve as catalysts for change. Until the publication of this book, Lexington was still characterized by academic interpretations that largely consider Southern intellectual life an oxymoron. Kolan Thomas Morelock illuminates how intellectual life flourished in Lexington from the period following Reconstruction to the nation’s entry into the First World War. Drawing from local newspapers and other primary sources from around the region, Morelock offers a comprehensive look at early town-gown dynamics in a city of contradictions. He illuminates Lexington’s identity by investigating the lives of some influential personalities from the era, including Margaret Preston and Joseph Tanner. Focusing on literary societies and dramatic clubs, the author inspects the impact of social and educational university organizations on the town’s popular culture from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era. Morelock’s work is an enlightening analysis of the intersection between student and citizen intellectual life in the Bluegrass city during an era of profound change and progress. Taking the Town explores an overlooked aspect of Lexington’s history during a time in which the city was establishing its cultural and intellectual identity.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

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...

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pp. xi

Aware of, and grateful for, all the help I have received, I would first like to thank Richard Angelo. Richard, as the chair of my doctoral committee, guided me through the dissertation process several years ago and then more recently encouraged and aided me in reshaping that work into this book. His scholarly example, kind support, patient prodding, and insistence on my best have earned my undying admiration and gratitude. I also owe a...

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pp. 1-11

This is an account of turn-of-the-century southern intellectual life flourishing in a local and regional social environment of considerable turmoil, violence, and change. More specifically, it is the story of an evolving intersection of community and collegiate life in a small city in the upper South, a story of extracurricular activities that played a vital role not only in the intellectual lives of the undergraduates but also in the middle- and upper-class...

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1. Lexington in the Gilded Age: Public Voices

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pp. 13-48

On 2 April 1879 George W. Ranck, educator, newspaper editor, and historian, stood before his audience in Morrison Chapel on the campus of Kentucky University in Lexington to deliver a historical address during the centennial celebration of the city’s founding. Reconstruction, and the federal military occupation of the South, had ended only two years before....

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2. "Put Me in Class with the Widow Who Gave the Mite": Lexington’s Joseph Tanner in the Gilded Age

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pp. 49-69

In February 1884, thirty-eight-year-old attorney Joseph Tanner, the incumbent Democratic city treasurer for Lexington, Kentucky, entered the race for reelection to that office. He appeared to be an ambitious and rapidly rising politician with many of the right credentials for success: central Kentucky...

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3. Campus Prominence: Collegiate Literary Societies in Nineteenth-Century Lexington

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pp. 71-107

On the morning of Friday, 3 April 1896, attorney Joseph Tanner might well have paused by the window of his office in the Northern Bank Building on Short Street to look down Cheapside, toward Main Street, where a growing crowd of youthful collegiate revelers paraded up and down the city’s thoroughfares, shouting college yells as they went. Perhaps Tanner, remembering...

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4. Community Presence: Collegiate Literary Societies in Gilded Age Lexington

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pp. 109-141

On the afternoon of Friday, 5 April 1889, the streets and hotel rotundas of the city were filled with college students and their friends and well-wishers who had gathered from throughout central Kentucky for the second annual intercollegiate state oratorical contest to be held that evening at the Lexington Opera House. Every seat in the house was filled that night, and...

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5. "This City's Never Dull": Public Culture in Progressive Era Lexington

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pp. 143-193

Lexington’s collegiate literary societies retreated from the community’s cultural stage and from the campus spotlight during a period when the Bluegrass city was rapidly evolving from a Victorian to a “progressive” city. Yet all the while, it remained firmly rooted in the New South—a vibrant, ambitious...

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6. "In Her Most Charming, Characteristic Way": Lexington’s Margaret Preston in the Progressive Era

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pp. 195-242

As thirty-year-old Margaret Wickliffe Preston stood on the reviewing stand representing Columbia at Lexington’s preparedness parade on 14 June 1916, her thoughts might have turned for a moment to her absent father, Robert Wickliffe (“Wick”) Preston, who had died, at age sixty-three, two years earlier, on 13 June 1914. Having initially survived a paralyzing stroke, he...

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7. The Dramatic Clubs Take the Stage: An Extracurricular Succession in Prewar Lexington

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pp. 243-274

When Margaret Preston exercised her taste for the theatrical arts during the prewar years, she was, on an individual level, expressive of broad cultural trends. These trends would bring change to student life on campus and beyond. This change, in turn, would ensure that although the collegiate extracurriculum would continue to play a role in the community’s...

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Epilogue: Postwar Lexington--So Long, Gilded Age

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pp. 275-284

Lexington’s collegiate literary societies, like those everywhere, ultimately lost the struggle to retain relevance and student loyalty, and in so doing, their fate was sealed. In the years immediately following World War I the literary societies in Lexington had declined to the point that—if not already defunct— they were small, obscure clubs lost in a sea of campus organizations....


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pp. 285-301


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pp. 303-382


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pp. 383-394


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pp. 395-422

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173054
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125046

Page Count: 434
Publication Year: 2008