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REFORM FOR THE AGES

After the Civil War, Kentucky, like much of America, found itself wrought with social, political, and economic problems — both new and old. Some Kentuckians stepped forward and attempted to resolve these issues. Reforms generally focused on education, health, politics, and African–Americans.


Kentucky’s educational development had a slow start, only to be halted by war. With low funding in a generally agricultural economy, children — if they attended school — faced poor supplies, underpaid (and, often, underqualified) teachers, and irregular schedules. Even when Industrialization caused a shift toward manufacturing, children helped support households. Illiteracy rates ran high. By the early 1900s, state and federal legislation resolved many of these issues. Powerful laws passed during the Whirlwind Campaigns, requiring regulated school attendance among other regulations. Child labor laws, in a way, supported schooling. Kentucky standardized teaching through certification and two state–supported normal schools; a movement supported by Henry Hardin Cherry, Western Kentucky Normal School’s president.


Illiteracy remained an issue; one which Rowan County Superintendent Cora Wilson Stewart could not overlook. Stewart spearheaded a movement to tackle this problem — "moonlight schools." These experimental schools offered reading and writing night classes for adults. This convenient and probable solution was an overwhelming success and spread from eastern Kentucky to other states. But what good is literacy without anything to read? Libraries, previously exclusive to subscribing members or universities, were evolving. Business magnate Andrew Carnegie historically established US public and academic libraries around the US, including various Kentucky institutions. The Kentucky Library Association collaborated with the Kentucky Confederation of Women’s Clubs on "traveling libraries," which supplied rural regions with books and school texts.


Rural development was not exclusive. An entire movement — the settlement movement — concerned with educating rural and poverty–stricken areas developed in Chicago. This movement inspired Appalachian "Settlement Schools;" perhaps most notably, the Hindman and Pine Mountain schools. They uniquely taught regional culture — inspiring folk festivals with traditional music, arts, and storytelling — rather than strictly typical lessons. Though likely perpetuating stereotypes, to some extent, they potentially held value. Libraries and schools of the era often struggled against Nativism through censorship against anything "non–American."


Settlement schools inspired Linda Neville to health reform. While visiting the Hindman school, the high rate of trachoma — an eye disease leading to blindness — shocked Neville, and she vowed to resolve it! She recruited, fundraised, and organized permanent and mobile clinics. She brought blindness to the attention of Kentucky’s General Assembly, the State Board of Health, and the national stage. Her crusade brought legislation for treatment and the Kentucky Society to Prevent Blindness.


Aside from trachoma, many unnecessary health issues, such as hookworm (typically from exposure to waste), afflicted schoolchildren. The State Board of Health served to protect Kentuckians from known illnesses. Joseph McCormack, a long–time member, designed the "sanitary privy," which helped prevent hookworm. With his son, Arthur, who also served, they standardized medical practice through regional legislation and professional regulations; eventually becoming affiliated with the American Medical Association.


Medicinal and food regulations were slower to develop. Patent medicines could contain anything, even poison, and make any claim because labels need not show ingredients. The Pure Food and Drug Act somewhat regulated this, but still only curbed these sometimes deadly "cures." It helped further medical and food regulations, but affected a Kentucky industry. Bourbon now required legitimate labeling and standards, and was even specifically defined by President William Taft!


While politics enabled reform, some politicians required scrutiny. Governor Luke Blackburn confronted overcrowding in prisons by lobbying for a new State Penitentiary. However, construction demanded increased property taxes. Meanwhile, he resolved overcrowding by liberally providing pardons. His successor, Governor J. Procter Knott, also liberally offered pardons, ignored vigilantism, but successfully supported tax reforms.


Long–standing State Treasurer James "Honest Dick" Tate caused money problems, too. When candidate W.O. Bradley demanded a treasury audit during the 1887 elections, Kentuckians discovered Tate’s insurmountable embezzlement for personal investments. He fled and it is still uncertain where and when he died. Nevertheless, his actions resulted in an amendment to the 1891 Kentucky Constitution that state officials cannot hold more than one consecutive term.


Senator William Goebel also confronted elections with his 1895 "Election Law," claiming local officials were unfairly obtaining office; his law established a state Board of Elections. Though he successfully removed tolls from roads, which likely gained favor, the "Election Law" was an advantage during the 1899 gubernatorial election. His opponent seemingly won, but fraud accusations raged. Between January 30 and February 3, 1900, Goebel was named winner, shot outside the Capitol, nonetheless inaugurated, and, ultimately, died. The only Kentucky governor assassinated in office, 16 people were charged. Yet, even today, it is uncertain who exactly was involved.


African–Americans were not bystanders to reform. Although free from slavery, they struggled for real "freedom," facing prejudice, segregation, and inequality nearly everywhere. Many took opportunities to create better lives very seriously. They founded higher education institutions (Lincoln Institute, Simmons University); practiced medicine (Ora Porter, Dr. Henry Fitzbutler, Mary E. Britton) and law (Nathaniel Harper); and fought for their rights as citizens. This ranged from voting to integrated streetcars to equal schooling.


Even when Kentucky saw reform, African–Americans often received unequal, if any share of the consequences. Superintendent of schools H.A.M Henderson developed public funding to standardize African–American schools in the 1870s, but white school districts still received larger percentages of funding, despite higher attendance in African–American communities. Lobbying eventually gained merged funding. Berea College, one of the first integrated colleges, segregated (with a fight) after the 1904 Day Law. The landmark case went to the US Supreme Court, in which Justice John Marshall Harlan (a Kentuckian) was the sole dissenter. African–Americans responded with the Lincoln Institute — a segregated faction of Berea. Fifty years later, Chief Supreme Court Justice Fred Vinson (another Kentuckian), supported Brown v. Board of Education. He died before the final ruling, but the case passed, and school segregation ended!


Kentucky’s history of reform has influenced national changes, as well as been inspired by movements from other states. Whether a success or failure, positive or negative, changes affected after the Civil War was inspired by problems Kentuckians saw within their world. They implemented reforms with passion; an inspiration and passion still around today.