Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the United States began to seriously consider the harsh realities of many American childhoods as activists worked to set basic standards of life, work and education. The child labor and compulsory attendance laws that grew out of this movement plucked poor children out of factories and agricultural fields and deposited them into classrooms on a scale never before seen in the nation. Ultimately, the schools that the commonwealth built resulted in low educational attainment across the twentieth century. Kentucky's schools, however, did not fail to educate the state because of unexpected difficulties or material challenges. Rather, they essentially functioned the way politicians, activists and education officials intended them to. These people created Kentucky's schools not to educate the population but to maintain the social hierarchy of the early-twentieth century, which favored urban white Protestant children at the expense of all others. It codified advantages for demographic groups and people who acted in the interests of this conservative social system. Over the next eight decades, new generations of urban white Protestants recommitted to that goal—writing legislation and defending the system in courtrooms to preserve the existing social stratification. When they faced challenges from black, rural and non-Protestant groups that the system disadvantaged—or even the occasional urban white Protestant activist—this establishment devised laws and policies to recreate the system in more palatable ways. When courts successfully forced urban white Protestants to concede some of their hold on the schools, they took to the streets to protest and riot, eventually retreating from public education altogether. Supporters of this structure used rhetoric about expanded opportunities or equal education as a cover to convince themselves and the disadvantaged groups in the state that social inequality occurred naturally rather than as an intended goal.



Committee Chair

Gutfreund, Zevi

Available for download on Friday, March 21, 2031