Rebuilding Rural Southern Community: Reformers Schools Homes Tennessee 1900-1930

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9781572330214: Rebuilding Rural Southern Community: Reformers Schools Homes Tennessee 1900-1930

In studying the reform programs of the Progressive Era, historians have often dealt with them in a strictly urban context—as responses to problems attending industrialization and immigration. Yet many reformers in those first three decades of the twentieth century concerned themselves with rural problems, for they believed that the decline of America's social, economic, and political values could be traced to the degeneration of the agricultural communities that had been the country's foundation.

In this book, Mary Hoffschwelle shines a much-needed light on the efforts of rural reformers. She focuses on Tennessee because its varied geography and the large number of rural reform programs it hosted make it a particularly rich subject for study. Also, the state typified the burdens of poverty and racial division that characterized the South as a whole, and, as the author shows, such problems attracted considerable attention from reformers.

Since reformers regarded education as the key remedy for many southern ills, including its economic and racial difficulties, Hoffschwelle pays close attention to the efforts to rebuild, sanitize, and prettify country schools in Tennessee, both for black and white students. She examines school architecture and planning as well as the ways in which schools were organized and consolidated. She also considers how home economics programs were designed as a bridge between home and school life and thus shows how education reforms were extended into the domestic realm. In her closing chapters, she addresses the role of home demonstration programs in domestic reform and traces reformers' efforts to expand the "consumer ethic" of rural women.

In many cases, Hoffschwelle notes, rural Tennesseans were indifferent or resistant to change—not because their communities were deteriorating, as the progressives charged, but because they sustained strong identities. However, they were not uniformly opposed to reform. Rather, as the author concludes, "They chose if, when, and how they would participate in outsiders' programs according to their own needs and aspirations. Rebuilding schools, homes, and communities in rural Tennessee began and ended with the people inside them."

The Author: Mary S. Hoffschwelle is assistant professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University. She has published articles on women's sphere of influence in the changing rural landscape.

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Mary S. Hoffschwelle is assistant professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University. She has published articles on women's sphere of influence in the changing rural landscape.

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