old woodcut image of the Kentucky River

A Teacher’s Guide to

Kentucky’s Story

A nine-part Kentucky history series for grades 4 and 5, produced by KET.

See our online ITV catalog  for upcoming broadcasts and additional information for teachers.

School Marm

Program Goal

Students will understand that education in Kentucky became segregated after the war and that prejudice, physical separation of races, and violence were commonplace.

Program Summary

A black Berea graduate's high hopes are dashed when postwar prejudice and segregation close the integrated school in which she teaches. Her appeals for broadmindedness fall on deaf ears at the local council meeting, and she is later driven from her home by hooded nightriders.

Historical Background

Post War Society (1865-1900)

For Kentucky, the last three-and-one-half decades of the 19th century were a study in inconsistencies. According to one authority, it was an age of change when much of life remained unchanging, a period of rapid growth also characterized by stagnation, a time of expanding educational opportunity in the midst of widespread illiteracy, a time of sophisticated, genteel culture amid continued lawlessness and violence, a period of rapid urbanization in a basically rural economy-in short, a complex and diverse period that was also simple and stereotypical. Great stress, conflicting emotions, and myriad social problems relating to race, equality and democracy filled the years which social historians now call the Victorian era.

The end of the Civil War found Kentucky in a terrible plight. In many ways the state, with native sons in both armies, had been a mini microcosm of the total conflict, a civil war. The return to peacetime normalcy, often called Reconstruction or Readjustment, proved a formidable challenge. In 1865, Kentucky faced a number of problems: federal military rule had to be ended; the economy had to be revived; labor problems accompanying the emancipation of the slaves had to be resolved; and the freed Negro had to be integrated into the state's political, economic and legal systems. Although the state was spared the trauma of secession and the subsequent necessity of read-mission to the Union, because of Kentucky's slave interests, the years immediately following the war were as critical to its residents as to those of the Confederate states.

Lawlessness and violence abounded in Kentucky during the decades after the war, continuing to the turn of the century and beyond. The suspicion and animosity of the war did not end as soldiers returned home to live, often side-by-side, in continuing hatred. Seething over real and imagined injuries, lawless groups-night riders, guerillas, Ku Klux Klansmen, Loyal Leaguers, Regulators, Skagg's men, the James boys, Rowzee's band-roamed the countryside. Outrages occurred throughout the state; beatings, lynchings, shootings, rape and arson created a dismal picture.

In Eastern Kentucky, the tragic background of the Civil War spawned a number of clashes. There was the French-Eversole feud in Perry County, the Howard-Turner contest in Harlan, and the Hargis-Marcum-Cockrel-Callahan imbroglio in Breathitt. But undoubtedly the most famous struggle was the Hatfield-McCoy feud. This conflict ultimately involved, directly or indirectly, every person in Pike County, Kentucky, and Logan County, West Virginia; by implication it affected every Kentuckian, as it added to the creation of the feuding mountaineer stereotype held by many Americans. Civil War allegiances caused unfriendly relations between the two families. Voting frauds, the ownership of a razorback hog, and a mountain Romeo and Juliet story added fuel to the already ignited flames. Murderous raids took place-with vows of continued fighting-until a particular Hatfield or McCoy had been killed. This epic clan war lasted seventy-odd years and resulted in a number of deaths and even, from time to time, the intervention of state militias. In 1976 descendents of the two families finally ended the feud when they erected a monument to the slain on the banks of the Big Sandy River.

Outside of Appalachia, much of the post-war violence was directed against the newly freed Negro in an effort to keep him in his so-called "place" on the farms and plantations. Frightened blacks, however, fled from the rural setting. Many left the state in search of better opportunities. Others took refuge in towns. Not surprisingly, they soon begged the federal government for protection. From January 1866 to January 1869 the Freedmen's Bureau operated in Kentucky, and directly aided blacks. But to many partisan Kentuckians it was a thorn in the side for they saw it as a vehicle for organizing the Negroes for the Republican Party. Ex-Unionist and ex-Confederates in the General Assembly continued to try to restrict black rights and joined to reject the 14th and 15th amendments. (Kentucky also had rejected the 13th Amendment, but since all three were ratified nationally, they became law in the state.)

With the election of a new legislature in 1871, comparative peace and order were restored. The Democrats won a majority of the seats in both houses and placed one of their own in the governor's chair. Kentucky Democrats had regained political power, as the Republicans failed to convert battlefield victories to post-war control.

As the state's political situation stabilized, public attention turned toward a long overdue reform of the public school system. Between 1861-1865 education was the last thing on anyone's mind; the legislature's one appropriation for schools was based on money confiscated from illegal gambling enterprises and dog fees. With almost one-fourth of all Kentuckians over the age of ten illiterate, the establishment of a state education system proved an enormous task. Schools had to be reopened with public support, and facilities for the children of freedmen had to be provided. Unfortunately, there were few trained teachers, scant facilities for educating them, no school commissioners or boards, and a lack of textbooks.

During the antebellum period, education for black Kentuckians, although not illegal under state law, was largely ignored. A very few free Negroes attended Berea (1855-59), which had no race restrictions. After the Civil War, the situation began to change, and the education of blacks became a public concern. In 1866, with pressure from the Freedmen's Bureau (which also set up a number of schools), the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill appropriating a small percentage of funds derived from taxation of Negroes' property (including dogs) to support black education. However, even this meager aid received a setback when the legislature decreed that black paupers had to be cared for from the school fund first. In the 1870's Negroes attempted (to no avail) to have educational opportunities equalized between whites and blacks, and in 1882, Negro schools did receive equal funding from the general state school fund (at a rate of $1.38 per pupil-the same as white schools-as compared to 58c under the old system). In 1891, the new state constitution continued to support existing separate (and supposedly equal) schools for the races. However, black schools received second priority, and Negroes knew it. Only outside philanthropies, like the Rosenwald and Slater funds, made any real effort to create educational opportunities for black children.

White schools, however, faced many of the same problems. Insisting that many people were leaving the state because of its backward educational system, in 1869 the State Superintendent for Public Instruction lobbied successfully for a 20c tax per $100 of property for education. The legislature also enacted a bill requiring popular election of county school commissioners, county selection of textbooks, and the establishment of teacher training institutions. In 1884 the General Assembly passed the Common School Law, which provided a uniform education system for the state. The measure regulated the length of the school year, duties of state and local officials, and the course of study. It also set forth the process for erection and condemnation of school buildings, provided for better teacher examinations, and defined teachers' authority. These measures were only a beginning, and such legal pro-visions were easily ignored. Each annual report on education between 1865 and 1900 stressed the need for more public support and expressed dissatisfaction with commissioners, boards, textbooks, poorly trained teachers and the location of schoolhouses.

Whether black or white, the Kentucky school child's education was far from ideal. The Common School Report of 1871 described schools as having "leaky roofs, filthy floors, smoked ceilings and walls defaced with obscene images," and the 1874 survey stated that "foul air and feculent odors" prevaded the school buildings. No wonder that schools failed to attract more than 40% of the school age children. The state did not even have an eight-week per annum compulsory school law until 1896 For those who did attend, the McGuffey Readers, the Eclectic Spelling Book, and the American Standard School Series provided instruction in the three R's, spelling, grammar, composition, history, geography, and the laws of health. In 1893, Kentucky history was included in the curriculum. Spelling bees, ciphering competitions, and other contests enlivened the school day; at recess the students played ball, hide-and-seek, marbles, jump rope, and a host of singing games.

Not all of Kentucky's postwar schools were state-supported. Philanthropic organizations supported a number of schools. The Catholic Church developed an organized system of parochial institutions, and Protestant groups established schools in the eastern Kentucky mountains. In the early part of the 20th century, "moon-light" schools-designed to teach adults to read and write-added a new dimension to the state's educational interests.

In the field of higher education, Kentucky boasted a number of publicly supported institutions in the years after the Civil War. The University of Louisville had law and medical departments; Lexington had Kentucky University (which, after various name changes, became the University of Kentucky in 1916); and Frankfort was the site of Kentucky Normal School for Colored People (now Kentucky State), established in 1889. In 1906, Bowling Green and Richmond established Western and Eastern State Normal schools from pre-existing institutions, and Morehead and Murray placed their colleges in the state system in 1922. There were also numerous colleges endowed by religious institutions. But Berea may well be the state's most unique postwar educational institution. Forced to close as the Civil War approached, Berea received a charter from the state in 1865, opening its doors to 75 white students and three blacks. The next year enrollment included 96 Negroes and 91 whites. Blacks attended the school until the passage of a segregation law in 1904.

While political and educational endeavors did not lead immediately to an ideal society, Victorian Kentucky did have its positive features. The growth of towns and industry, the introduction of electricity and telephones, the establishment of public fire and health departments, the birth of a women's rights movement, and the wholehearted enjoyment of leisure-time activities pushed Kentucky past the frustrating legacy of the post-war period toward the eagerly awaited twentieth century.

Suggested Activities

  1. Assign the writing of an essay or short story on the subject: If you were a person living in your community in the period after the Civil War, would you be able to forgive your past enemies and work together for a better future? Give your reasons and some specific examples of your actions.
  2. In order to make students more aware of how statements which have no basis in fact contribute to misunderstandings within a community, have one student whisper an innocuous message to another and pass the comment around the room. Does the "message" received by the last student resemble the original statement? How and when did it change?
  3. Students should have access in school or community libraries to some of the many useful histories of American education, which can be used as resources for research and class reports. A few of the many possible topics are:
    1. Who were the teachers of the Freedmen's Bureau schools and what did they teach?
    2. What school subjects and books were most popular?
    3. How did teachers keep discipline and order?
    4. How were school buildings furnished and heated?
    Make a diorama or draw pictures of old schoolrooms.
  4. Stage a spelling bee. Old-fashioned spelling bees were exciting dress-up events, often attended by the whole family and the community at large. Rules were important since spelling bees taught discipline and morality as well as spelling; each word was enunciated twice, slowly and clearly. The student (1) pronounced the word properly, (2) spelled the first syllable, (3) pronounced the first syllable, (4) spelled and pronounced subsequent syllables, (5) pronounced the whole word again. Any failure in any part of this sequence ended the student's participation. Rules might vary, but there were always rules. Why do students think that rules are so important? Was it fair for an excellent speller to fail because of a broken rule? What was the effect upon children who never learned to spell well despite years of try? ing? Why are spelling bees less popular today?
  5. Today's students, if they were transported backwards in time one century, would very much miss modern school equipment. Ask them to list objects in their own classroom that were not available 100 years ago or which existed only sometimes or in small quantities. A partial list might include: pencil sharpener, erasers, thumb tacks, electric lights, floor tile, indoor plumbing, A -V equipment, etc.) Then ask students to imagine how a school classroom will look in 20, 50 or 100 years. What objects do they envision in the future classroom, which are not available now or which are little used?
  6. Get a copy of a McGuffy's Reader. Compare a 4th or 5th grade reading lesson in it to one of today's texts. Talk about content, vocabulary, interest, questions. How are they similar? How are they different?
  7. Discuss the importance of education. How would your life be different if you could not read or write? How would this affect the jobs you would be qualified to do to earn a living?

Web Picks

Free and Inexpensive Materials:

  • "The Diary of Josephine Calvert." The two-year diary of a Victorian Bowling Green teenager who recorded the story of her day-to-day existence. KY Museum Library, WKU, Bowling Green, KY 42101.
  • "Growing Up Victorian: At School Loan kit of reproduction objects for the classroom, including textbooks, slates, photographs, and a teaching aids package. KY Museum, WKU, Bowling Green, KY 42101.
  • "Growing-Up Victorian: Resources for Secondary English." Loan kit of color slides of images and objects that illustrate the themes of Museum's exhibit. KY Museum, WKU, Bowling Green, KY 42101.


*Baird, Nancy Disher
Luke Pryor Blackburn: Physician Governor, Reformer
Lexington, 1979.

* Clark, Thomas D.
Agrarian Kentucky
Lexington, 1977.

*Hartford, Ellis
The Little White Schoolhouse
Lexington, 1977.

*Irvin, Helen Deiss
Women in Kentucky
Lexington, 1979.

Kimball, Phillip Clyde
Freedom's Harvest Freedmen's Schools in Kentucky After the Civil War
Filson Club History Quarterly, 54 (July, 1980), pp. 272-88

*McVey, Frances Jewell, and Robert Berry Jewell
Uncle Will of Wildwood: 19th Century Life in the Bluegrass
Lexington, 1974.

*Rice, Otis K.
The Hatfields and the McCoys
Lexington, 1978.

Tapp, Hambleton, and James C. Klotter
Kentucky: Decades of Discord
1865-1900. Frankfort, 1977.

*Webb, Ross A.
Kentucky in the Reconstruction Era
Lexington, 1979.

*Denotes books from The Kentucky Bicentennial Bookshelf series.