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Schools in the Landscape

Localism, Cultural Tradition, and the Development of Alabama's Public Education System, 1865-1915

Written by Edith M. Ziegler

Publication Year: 2010

This richly researched and impressively argued work is a history of public schooling in Alabama in the half century following the Civil War. It engages with depth and sophistication Alabama’s social and cultural life in the period that can be characterized by the three “R”s: Reconstruction, redemption, and racism. Alabama was a mostly rural, relatively poor, and culturally conservative state, and its schools reflected the assumptions of that society.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

In expressing gratitude to the many organizations and people that helped me to research and write this book, I should first mention the University of New England, whose award to me of a Keith and Dorothy Mackay Postgraduate Traveling Scholarship in 2006 defrayed significantly the expenses of living for many months in Montgomery, Alabama. ...

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pp. 1-11

On December 14, 1819, Alabama was admitted to the Union. Between then and February 1854 when the General Assembly of Alabama passed a law establishing a statewide public schooling system, the state’s educational enactments were exceedingly modest and largely restricted to the chartering of private academies. Such action was barely sufficient to give substance to the constitutional piety that “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in this State.”1 ...

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1. Reconstruction and Its Reach, 1865–1901

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pp. 12-24

In the immediate wake of the Civil War—the period of so- called Presidential Reconstruction (1865–1867)—Alabama’s General Assembly was primarily concerned with returning the state to a recognizable normality. This meant conservative white rule and the continued repression of its black population, which now included 439,000 former slaves or “freedmen.”1 A new ...

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2. Captains and Cohorts

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pp. 25-41

Following the adoption of the 1875 constitution, Alabama’s General Assembly enacted new legislation relating to the public schooling system. This specified the roles and responsibilities of various office bearers and, by so doing, indicated an organizational structure that was highly decentralized and roughly pyramidal with an elected state superintendent at the peak. If it were not quite ...

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3. Teachers and Teaching

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pp. 42-60

If students were the raison d’être of the public schooling system, then teachers— whose numbers more than doubled between 1868 and 1901 from 2,902 to 6,302—were its necessary enablers.1 Their critical importance meant they were always vessels for the expectations and ambitions of others. To most communities teachers were instruments for achieving social and cultural ...

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4. The Schoolhouse—Inside and Out

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pp. 61-79

In the nineteenth century and even later, the pedagogical methods employed in Alabama’s public schools were intended to assure (almost wholly rural) parents that their children would acquire basic skills in the subjects or “branches” regarded as the essence of education.1 These were reading, writing, and arithmetic; spelling, grammar, and composition; history and geography. ...

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5. Funding and Survival

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pp. 80-97

From 1865 onward, Alabama’s public schools were chronically underfunded. Near the end of the nineteenth century the state was spending less per pupil ($0.38 per annum) than any other state in the Union.1 This underinvestment can be attributed most readily to the long- term Bourbon hegemony but the problem had other and older antecedents as well. ...

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6. The Progressive Urge

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pp. 98-115

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Alabama’s public schools came under the purview of social activists who were becoming involved with reform not only in education but in matters as various as temperance and prohibition, female suffrage, child labor restrictions, race relations, convict welfare, reformatories, public health, and child protection. This was “Southern ...

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7. Special Days and Festivals, Rites and Rituals

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pp. 116-130

From the very beginning of Alabama’s state educational system, its public schools were, and continued to be, part of their community’s cultural fabric— a fabric woven from a skein of meanings that informed daily life and were encoded into the community’s calendar, its social etiquette, its regard for its artifacts, and its ceremonies, rites, and rituals.1 The school morning usually began with prayers and/or a reading from the Bible and the school week ended ...

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8. Black Schools in a Dual System

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pp. 131-148

Until 1891 Alabama’s black public schools were funded, or underfunded, in ways not dissimilar to the ways in which white public schools were funded. Black communities, like white communities, faced difficulties in acquiring land for schoolhouses, often having to rely on sympathetic farmers. They had to build and equip their schoolhouses at their own expense or rely on private ...

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9. 1915—A Watershed Year?

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pp. 149-158

In January 1915, almost fifty years after the end of the American Civil War, Alabama’s legislature met for its regular quadrennial session. Its principal educational work for the session was to be the consideration of fifteen bills placed before it by the state superintendent, William Francis Feagin. The intent of these was to extend further the reform process begun by John William Abercrombie when he introduced his own bills to the assembly in the ...

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10. Conclusion: Then and Since

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pp. 159-161

In 1875, after what it deemed to be an unsatisfactory experience with an imported and unaffordable educational system during Reconstruction, Alabama’s government devolved a great deal of the responsibility for public schooling to parents and trustees. This educational localism was in harmony with the way in which most of the state’s population actually lived. In fact, the arrangements ...


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pp. 163-201

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 203-206

This essay is a guide to some of the material I found most useful in researching this book. It does not seek to be comprehensive and omits titles actually named in the text or cited on multiple occasions in the endnotes. ...


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pp. 207-217

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383596
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317096

Page Count: 217
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Public schools -- Social aspects -- Alabama.
  • Public schools -- Alabama -- History.
  • Education -- Alabama -- Finance.
  • Education -- Social aspects -- Alabama.
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