Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Before 1860 people in the Gulf South valued education and sought to extend schooling to residents across the region. Southerners learned in a variety of different settings – within their own homes taught by a family member or hired tutor, at private or parochial schools as well as in public free schools. Regardless of the venue, the ubiquity of learning in the region reveals the importance of education in Southern culture. In the 1820s and 1830s, legislators in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama sought to increase access to education by offering financial assistance to private schools in order to offset tuition costs and thereby extend learning to less wealthy residents. The Panic of 1837 made it difficult for legislators to appropriate money for education, but the economic recovery of the 1840s ushered in a new era of educational progress. The return of prosperity in the Gulf South coincided with the maturation of Jacksonian democracy – a political philosophy that led Southerners to demand access to privileges formerly reserved for the elite, including schooling. While Jacksonian ideology led voters to lobby for schools, the value that Southerners placed on learning stemmed from other sources. The political philosophy of republicanism rested on the premise that a representative democracy needed an educated populace to survive. In addition, Southerners embraced learning as a means of social mobility. Most parents exhibited an innate desire to have their children educated in hopes that it would contribute to later success in life. The urban governments of the South were the first to acquiesce to voters’ demands, so that New Orleans, Natchez, and Mobile all established public schools during the 1840s and 1850s. The success of these schools led residents in rural areas to lobby their legislatures for similar schools in their neighborhoods; by 1860 Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama had all established statewide public school systems. The story of these developments not only catalogues educational developments largely overlooked in the larger historical narrative of the antebellum South, but offers insight into the worldview and aspirations of the people inhabiting the region.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

William J. Cooper, Jr.



Included in

History Commons