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Literacy has been cited as an important factor in nation building in late nine- teenth-century Europe, particularly where politically active citizenries are concerned. But what about the millions of non-literate Europeans? How were they incorporated in the nation-building process? This article suggests answers to these questions by focusing on the spread of literacy in late nineteenth-century Spain. It discusses a broader notion of public education, spurred in large part by Spanish print culture, as part of a complex interaction that resulted in a larger, more politically active citizenry in turn of the century Spain with obvious parallels for other European nations. This article also suggests that there are myriad ways to educate a populace outside the restrictions of a formal state education system. Spanish newspapers were at the vanguard of this informal education system, but were not the only means of political transmission of ideas. Simultaneously, reading clubs and other extra-state educational and political bodies developed that also used newspapers, along with other materials, to politicize Spaniards. The result, as I show here, was a symbiotic relationship between the press, the state, and Spanish citizens that altered the direction of educational reform while it broadened the numbers of politically-active Spaniards.