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Taking the Town

Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in the Bluegrass, 1880-1917

Kolan Thomas Morelock
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    Taking the Town
    Book Description:

    The relationship between a town and its local institutions of higher education is often fraught with turmoil. The complicated tensions between the identity of a city and the character of a university can challenge both communities. Lexington, Kentucky, displays these characteristic conflicts, with two historic educational institutions within its city limits: Transylvania University, the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the University of Kentucky, formerly "State College." An investigative cultural history of the town that called itself "The Athens of the West," Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in Lexington, Kentucky, 1880--1917 depicts the origins and development of this relationship at the turn of the twentieth century. Lexington's location in the upper South makes it a rich region for examination. Despite a history of turmoil and violence, Lexington's universities serve as catalysts for change. Until the publication of this book, Lexington was still characterized by academic interpretations that largely consider Southern intellectual life an oxymoron. Kolan Thomas Morelock illuminates how intellectual life flourished in Lexington from the period following Reconstruction to the nation's entry into the First World War. Drawing from local newspapers and other primary sources from around the region, Morelock offers a comprehensive look at early town-gown dynamics in a city of contradictions. He illuminates Lexington's identity by investigating the lives of some influential personalities from the era, including Margaret Preston and Joseph Tanner. Focusing on literary societies and dramatic clubs, the author inspects the impact of social and educational university organizations on the town's popular culture from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era. Morelock's work is an enlightening analysis of the intersection between student and citizen intellectual life in the Bluegrass city during an era of profound change and progress. Taking the Town explores an overlooked aspect of Lexington's history during a time in which the city was establishing its cultural and intellectual identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7305-4
    Subjects: Education, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    Lexington, Kentucky, was a much smaller place a century ago (the population was only 26,000 in 1900), the proportion of African Americans was larger (39 percent), and the color line ran deep. But more to the point, the landscape of learning was profoundly different from our own, and not just because the revolutionary impact of new information technologies and the modern movement for civil rights were still a long way off. For most people in the 1880s or 1890s—whether they were rich or poor, white or black, male or female—the prolonged school career that would become the norm...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. PROLOGUE: Panning for Gold
    (pp. 1-12)

    This is an account of turn-of-the-century southern intellectual life flourishing in a local and regional social environment of considerable turmoil, violence, and change. More specifically, it is the story of an evolving intersection of community and collegiate life in a small city in the upper South, a story of extracurricular activities that played a vital role not only in the intellectual lives of the undergraduates but also in the middle- and upper-class white community as a whole. Why tell this story at all? Why try to unearth and examine this interplay of town and gown cultural aspirations in Lexington, Kentucky,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Lexington in the Gilded Age: Public Voices
    (pp. 13-48)

    On 2 April 1879 George W. Ranck, educator, newspaper editor, and historian, stood before his audience in Morrison Chapel on the campus of Kentucky University in Lexington to deliver a historical address during the centennial celebration of the city’s founding. Reconstruction, and the federal military occupation of the South, had ended only two years before. Lexington and other Kentucky towns and cities had sustained some damage during the Civil War, but Kentucky had generally been spared the worst of the physical destruction and desolation visited on the South. Nevertheless, the war had left the state’s economy, infrastructure, political institutions, and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “Put Me in Class with the Widow Who Gave the Mite”: Lexington’s Joseph Tanner in the Gilded Age
    (pp. 49-70)

    In February 1884, thirty-eight-year-old attorney Joseph Tanner, the incumbent Democratic city treasurer for Lexington, Kentucky, entered the race for reelection to that office. He appeared to be an ambitious and rapidly rising politician with many of the right credentials for success: central Kentucky native, white, Protestant (Presbyterian), graduate of Princeton and of Kentucky University College of Law, and a practicing attorney in Lexington since 1873. Tanner occupied a law office in partnership with Stephen G. Sharp at 16 North Upper Street, and he maintained a residence at 48 Drake Street with his wife, Lizzie, and their daughters Bessie, age seven,...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Campus Prominence: Collegiate Literary Societies in Nineteenth-Century Lexington
    (pp. 71-108)

    On the morning of Friday, 3 April 1896, attorney Joseph Tanner might well have paused by the window of his office in the Northern Bank Building on Short Street to look down Cheapside, toward Main Street, where a growing crowd of youthful collegiate revelers paraded up and down the city’s thoroughfares, shouting college yells as they went. Perhaps Tanner, remembering his own college days, heard them chanting the yell of his alma mater, Kentucky University: “Hoo Gah Hah! Hoo Gah Hah! K.U. K.U.! Rah! Rah! Rah!” TheLexington Daily Leaderreported that the city was “full of college boys” and...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Community Presence: Collegiate Literary Societies in Gilded Age Lexington
    (pp. 109-142)

    On the afternoon of Friday, 5 April 1889, the streets and hotel rotundas of the city were filled with college students and their friends and well-wishers who had gathered from throughout central Kentucky for the second annual intercollegiate state oratorical contest to be held that evening at the Lexington Opera House. Every seat in the house was filled that night, and hundreds of people reportedly stood in the aisles and lobbies while many others milled around outside, unable to get in. The audience, consisting of students, townspeople, and “distinguished box parties” from Richmond and elsewhere, was described as being “as...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE “This City’s Never Dull”: Public Culture in Progressive Era Lexington
    (pp. 143-194)

    Lexington’s collegiate literary societies retreated from the community’s cultural stage and from the campus spotlight during a period when the Bluegrass city was rapidly evolving from a Victorian to a “progressive” city. Yet all the while, it remained firmly rooted in the New South—a vibrant, ambitious, optimistic, reformist, fervidly intellectual and yet virulently racist and often quite violent cultural climate.

    On the night of 10 January 1917, forty-nine-year-old Governor A. O. (Augustus Owsley) Stanley and three friends left Louisville hurriedly aboard a chartered train to travel overnight toward Murray in far western Kentucky. A successful, “progressive” politician and a...

  11. CHAPTER SIX “In Her Most Charming, Characteristic Way”: Lexington’s Margaret Preston in the Progressive Era
    (pp. 195-242)

    As thirty-year-old Margaret Wickliffe Preston stood on the reviewing stand representing Columbia at Lexington’s preparedness parade on 14 June 1916, her thoughts might have turned for a moment to her absent father, Robert Wickliffe (“Wick”) Preston, who had died, at age sixty-three, two years earlier, on 13 June 1914. Having initially survived a paralyzing stroke, he had been confined for some time to Lexington’s St. Joseph’s Hospital before suffering a fatal heart attack. Margaret had been at a luncheon bridge party when she received word, by telephone, of her father’s death, and in her diary she expressed regret that she...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Dramatic Clubs Take the Stage: An Extracurricular Succession in Prewar Lexington
    (pp. 243-274)

    When Margaret Preston exercised her taste for the theatrical arts during the prewar years, she was, on an individual level, expressive of broad cultural trends. These trends would bring change to student life on campus and beyond. This change, in turn, would ensure that although the collegiate extracurriculum would continue to play a role in the community’s intellectual life, the literary societies would no longer be the major players. Nineteenth-century oratorical culture, the sine qua non of the Gilded Age literary societies, which were defined and nurtured by it, had collapsed before the onslaught of the new culture of professionalism...

  13. EPILOGUE: Postwar Lexington—So Long, Gilded Age
    (pp. 275-284)

    Lexington’s collegiate literary societies, like those everywhere, ultimately lost the struggle to retain relevance and student loyalty, and in so doing, their fate was sealed. In the years immediately following World War I the literary societies in Lexington had declined to the point that—if not already defunct—they were small, obscure clubs lost in a sea of campus organizations. This situation was not without its mourners, however. At Transylvania University, near the end of the spring semester in 1919, the student weekly newspaper theCrimson Rambler, lamenting the serious lack of student interest in and patronage of the campus...

  14. Appendixes
    (pp. 285-302)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 303-382)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 383-394)
  17. Index
    (pp. 395-422)