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Cora Wilson Stewart and Kentucky's Moonlight Schools

Cora Wilson Stewart and Kentucky's Moonlight Schools: Fighting for Literacy in America

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Cora Wilson Stewart and Kentucky's Moonlight Schools
    Book Description:

    The first woman elected superintendent of schools in Rowan County, Kentucky, Cora Wilson Stewart (1875--1958) realized that a major key to overcoming the illiteracy that plagued her community was to educate adult illiterates. To combat this problem, Stewart opened up her schools to adults during moonlit evenings in the winter of 1911. The result was the creation of the Moonlight Schools, a grassroots movement dedicated to eliminating illiteracy in one generation. Following Stewart's lead, educators across the nation began to develop similar literacy programs; within a few years, Moonlight Schools had emerged in Minnesota, South Carolina, and other states. Cora Wilson Stewart and Kentucky's Moonlight Schools examines these institutions and analyzes Stewart's role in shaping education at the state and national levels. To improve their literacy, Moonlight students learned first to write their names and then advanced to practical lessons about everyday life. Stewart wrote reading primers for classroom use, designing them for rural people, soldiers, Native Americans, prisoners, and mothers. Each set of readers focused on the knowledge that individuals in the target group needed to acquire to be better citizens within their community. The reading lessons also emphasized the importance of patriotism, civic responsibility, Christian morality, heath, and social progress. Yvonne Honeycutt Baldwin explores the "elusive line between myth and reality" that existed in the rhetoric Stewart employed in order to accomplish her crusade. As did many educators engaged in benevolent work during the Progressive Era, Stewart sometimes romanticized the plight of her pupils and overstated her successes. As she traveled to lecture about the program in other states interested in addressing the problem of illiteracy, she often reported that the Moonlight Schools took one mountain community in Kentucky "from moonshine and bullets to lemonade and Bibles." All rhetoric aside, the inclusive Moonlight Schools ultimately taught thousands of Americans in many under-served communities across the nation how to read and write. Despite the many successes of her programs, when Stewart retired in 1932, the crusade against adult illiteracy had yet to be won. Cora Wilson Stewart presents the story of a true pioneer in adult literacy and an outspoken advocate of women's political and professional participation and leadership. Her methods continue to influence literacy programs and adult education policy and practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7165-4
    Subjects: History, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Creating “Miss Cora”
    (pp. 1-6)

    Cora Wilson was born in 1875 in rural eastern Kentucky. The daughter of a schoolteacher and a physician, she grew up in fairly modest circumstances. In an era when education and economic or social status largely defined what a woman could and could not do, Cora attended normal school rather than a finishing school, and instead of completing a university degree, she took a job in a one-room school. Dictated by economic necessity and the realities of her life and family circumstances, these decisions later may have limited her ability to bring about change within her chosen profession, but they...

  5. ONE The Making of a Reformer
    (pp. 7-36)

    Born on 17 January 1875, on a small farm on the banks of Sycamore Creek in rural Montgomery County, the sturdy, dark-eyed third child of Jeremiah Wilson and his twenty-five-year-old wife, Ann Halley Wilson, was said to be like her mother, although perhaps more headstrong.¹ Cora remembered her parents fondly, noting that they encouraged her love of reading and, despite modest financial circumstances, kept her supplied with books and magazines. Family stories describe Cora as a responsible and serious child whose mother trusted her with much of the care of her younger siblings, a responsibility she carried into adulthood.² Perhaps...

  6. TWO The Moonlight Campaign
    (pp. 37-69)

    When Cora Wilson Stewart celebrated her thirty-sixth birthday in January 1911, her only child was dead and her marriage was over, but she believed she had found the work God intended her to do, and with characteristic determination, she began. Having given the issue of illiteracy a lot of thought, like many of her contemporaries in mountain mission work, she agreed with Berea College president William Goodell Frost and others in their interpretation of the mountaineers as “a people of arrested civilization,” living much as their ancestors had generations earlier. In her speeches and in her bookMoonlight Schools for...

  7. THREE Moonlight Schools and Progressivism
    (pp. 70-101)

    Kentucky lawmakers had created the Kentucky Illiteracy Commission in 1914 largely because of Stewart’s emphasis on voluntarism and the relatively few demands her plan to eliminate illiteracy made on the state. Many of the legislators also supported the ideals of self-improvement, expanded literacy, and its promised economic benefits, although they remained reluctant to finance such gains with public dollars. Therefore, when the KIC opened its doors in Frankfort, it did so with a very small budget. State-authorized fundraising brought in donations a few dollars at a time, and the state picked up the tab for small expenses.

    But fighting illiteracy...

  8. FOUR Nationalizing the Illiteracy Campaign
    (pp. 102-132)

    In 1917 the escalating conflict in Europe and U.S. preparedness provided a new focus for the illiteracy work and gave Stewart renewed hope for legislative appropriations in her home state. She turned her attention to the creation of programs for the state’s draftage men, whom she numbered at 30,000, and the patriotic tone of the campaign escalated.¹ In April of that year, when the United States committed itself to war, the federal government called for a general registration of the nation’s young men for military service. The nation raised an army of more than 4.5 million men, with just under...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE The National Crusade against Illiteracy
    (pp. 133-162)

    Progressive Era reformers often began their campaigns in their own communities, frequently through voluntary associations, and public roles for women enlarged as these groups consolidated, federated, and became increasingly adept at influencing politics at local, state, and national levels. Through their organizational networks, women could spread a policy idea quickly across the states and down to local communities, thus influencing the formulation of legislation at all levels. Using national organizations such as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Women’s Trade Union League, the National Consumers’ League, the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee, the League of Women Voters, and hundreds of...

  11. SIX A New Vision
    (pp. 163-183)

    Suspicious of the motives and methods of the adult education “technique people” whose power and influence in the U.S. Department of Education and the NEA were beginning to exceed her own, and disillusioned and angered by attacks on her leadership of the literacy work, Cora Wilson Stewart decided to create a new organization to wipe out illiteracy. Domineering personalities like Olive Jones, of the NEA, and Alice Winter, of the GFWC, had tried her patience. In addition to the philosophical difference with Jones, the bureaucratic red tape and cumbersome operating procedures of both groups slowed progress and weighted Stewart down...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 184-193)

    In a 1910 letter, Mattie Dalton wrote to her dear friend Cora Wilson Stewart, “Tell me the character of a man’s God, and you tell me the character of the man.”¹ Certainly Stewart’s perception of God and his mission for her on earth shaped her life and work and determined her character as a reformer. It made her an idealist whose faith in education and the symbolic rebirth that it afforded turned her campaign against illiteracy into a crusade and her work into a calling. It also convinced her that she served as an instrument of God’s will and was...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 194-232)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-244)
  15. Index
    (pp. 245-248)