Confronting the Modern Era
Confront Better Schools 12 Goal Line Stand Confront Better Schools 07 Grad Cent Confront Better Schools 08 Vandy Students Confront Better Schools 09 Caruthres Hall Confront Better Schools 10 Fisk U Calculus Confront Better Schools 11 ETS Bball team


Shocked by the condition of schools in the South, George Peabody, a wealthy northern banker established the Peabody Education Fund in 1967.

The fund's agent, Barnas Sears, urged the state to establish a state normal school or teacher-training school, but the legislature failed to pass the funds.

Finally, after Sears threaten to build the school in Georgia, the legislature agreed to allow the school to be placed on the University of the South's campus. In 1880 Nashville citizens agreed to contribute $6,000 in order to match Peabody’s contribution.

Finally enough money was collected to finance the construction of a school building along with salaries and a library for Peabody Normal College at Nashville. This college is still there today as part of Vanderbilt University.

In 1902 the General Education Board was created by John D. Rockefeller in order to improve state education departments. Over the next 62 years the fund contributed over $324 million to Tennessee educational programs.

These funds often supplemented state funds for colleges such as the University of Tennessee in 1904, and Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School (a school for African Americans that was later renamed Tennessee State University) in 1912.

The General Education Board also sponsored medical schools at Vanderbilt and Meharry, contributed to scholarship programs for African American students, funded agricultural clubs for youths, and continued to give gifts to Tennessee colleges and universities.

It also helped finance the “Summer School of the South,” which ran from 1902 to 1911. It was organized by Charles Dabney at the University of Tennessee,. The program, which was run by Philander Claxton, was attended by more than 20,000 teachers and gained national acclaim. Teachers from this school often went back to their counties and called for school reform.

Philander Claxton, who was born in a log cabin in Bedford County, was an advocate for improving public education in the South. Along with Dabney and others he campaigned throughout Tennessee for better schools, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people. They would gather stacks of resolutions, signed by people at the rallies, calling for better schools and present them to the legislators.

These campaigns are credited with helping pass laws that established county school boards, increased state money for education, made education mandatory, and required teacher to have teaching certificates.


For more information about Charles Dabney, click here.

For more information about Philander Claxton, click here. 

Picture Credits:
  • Photograph showing the “graduation at Centenary Female College.” This photo was taken in 1890 in Cleveland, Tennessee. Cleveland Public Library.
  • Photograph of Vanderbilt University students. This photo was taken in Nashville in 1900 and features thirteen female students. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph showing students at the Caruthers Hall Law Library at Cumberland University. This photo was taken in 1928 in Lebanon, Tennessee. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph of the Fisk University calculus class. This photo was taken in 1899 and features four African American students on the outdoor steps of Fisk University in Nashville. Library of Congress.
  • A photograph of the 1917-18 East Tennessee State Normal School women's basketball team, Johnson City.  Photograph from "Women in Tennessee History:  A Bibliography," Middle Tennessee State University
  • Photograph of George Peabody.  This photo was taken in 1867. Library of Congress.
  • Photograph of Charles Dabney.  New York Public Library.
  • Photograph of Philander P. Claxton.  This photo was taken sometime between 1900 and 1920. Library of Congress.
  • Photograph of the ”University of Tennessee.” This photo was taken in 1900 and shows one of the campus’ main buildings. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph of  “Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial University.”  This photo shows the Main and Academic building, which was completed in 1912. Tennessee State University.
  • Photograph of a "gallant goal line stand" by Vanderbilt football players against the University of Michigan.  The game was played in 1922 at the dedication game for Dudley Field.  The game ended in a 0-0 tie.  Courtesy Photographic Archives, Vanderbilt University

   Confronting the Modern Era >>  Life in Tennessee >>  Making Life Better >>  Colleges

Sponsored by: National Endowment for the Humanities
Website developed and maintained by: The Tennessee State Museum.
Contact us:
Web Design and Hosting by: Icglink

: :