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Settlement Schools of Appalachia

The Role of Women
in the Development
of the Settlement Schools

To tell the story of settlement schools in Appalachia is to tell the story of the young women who journeyed from Central Kentucky and New England to establish the schools and to teach the children.

Toward the end of the 19th century, a new emphasis on the education of women emerged in America. Many women’s colleges were established during this era, especially in the Northeast, and began producing classes of well-trained young women. Energized by the Progressive Movement and anxious to make a contribution, these graduates still found themselves limited by societal notions of the proper roles of women. Many of them turned to social reform and teaching as “acceptable” ways to use their college educations. And some of them focused their attentions on the desperate need for teachers in Appalachia.

Lexington and the Bluegrass region were supportive of the reform movement. With the encouragement and financial support of the wealthy and influential Breckinridge family, who were at the forefront of the Progressive Movement in Kentucky, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, many young, affluent women in the area showed themselves willing to give of themselves for the good of the reform movement. Believing they could make a difference in people’s lives, they were eager to share their knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm with the people of the mountains.

The leaders among the independent, strong-willed women who built and ran the settlement schools in Eastern Kentucky were Katherine Pettit, May Stone, Ethel de Long Zande, Elizabeth Watts, and Alice Lloyd. Pettit, who had attended Sayre Female Institute in Lexington, and Stone, a former Wellesley College student, both left well-to-do Bluegrass families to establish Hindman Settlement School in 1902 after running summer camps there for several years. The energetic Pettit later began Pine Mountain School in 1913 after local residents requested a school in that area. Stone remained at Hindman as principal until 1936.

Ethel de Long Zande, originally from New Jersey, was a Smith College graduate who went to Hindman Settlement School to teach in 1901 and stayed there until leaving to help Pettit found Pine Mountain. She would later become the Pine Mountain Settlement School administrator.

Massachusetts native Elizabeth Watts, strongly influenced by her Abbot Academy teachers to become part of the social reform movement, came to Hindman in 1909 for a planned one-year stay. She remained there for 47 years as a teacher and later as a school director.

The list of women leaders is not complete without Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd, also from New England, legendary in her vision and determination to provide higher education opportunities in Eastern Kentucky. Lloyd founded Caney Creek School, which became Caney Junior College (officially chartered in 1922). The school was renamed Alice Lloyd College shortly after her death in 1962.

These middle- and upper-class women could have led genteel lives in more comfortable surroundings than they found in the mountains. Instead, they dedicated their lives to education—in an environment many in their social circles would have found uninviting.

Starting out with idealistic notions of “educating the masses,” they sometimes found culture shock and discouragement as they tackled the realities of illiteracy and unhealthy living conditions. Public education had so far failed the region, and these women were challenged to bring the people of Eastern Kentucky into the 20th century, while at the same time preserving all that was good in the culture of the area. They met the challenge and were able to generate a trust between themselves and their students. In return, local residents revered these women for their devotion to a cause and to a people.

—Jennifer Minton and Harry Hinkle


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