Educational Interests of Todd County, Kentucky

Under the social influence described in these pages it will be easily understood that popular education must be attended by many difficulties. Its value and importance were certainly under-rated by all classes, and it gained a foothold in Kentucky only through the strenuous exertions of a far-sighted few. Education was at first entirely in the hands of the church, which established seminaries at various points, primarily for the preparation of the clergy for ministerial work, but which were at once accepted by the wealthy portion of the church membership as a convenient means to give their children such accomplishments as their social position demanded. It was to these institutions that the State first extended its fostering aid, an act of the Legislature in 1798 granting 6,000 acres of the public lands of the Commonwealth to each of five educational institutions then in existence. In 1805 and 1808 similar acts were passed making like provision for seminaries to be established in each of the forty-six counties then formed. In 1821 an act was passed providing that one-half the net profits of the Bank of the Commonwealth should be set apart as the ” Literary Fund,” to be distributed in just proportions to the counties of the State for the support of a general system of education, under legislative direction; and that one-half of the net profits of the branch banks at Lexington, Danville and Bowling Green should be donated to Transylvania University, Center College and Southern College of Kentucky respectively. Until the failure of the old Bank of the Commonwealth, this last appropriation yielded about $60,-000 per annum.. About the same time a committee was appointed to confer with eminent educators, and report a plan of common schools to the Legislature. An able report was made, but the natural hostility to the equalizing tendency of popular education served to let the project die with the report. About this time also the Legislature requested the State

Representatives in Congress to advocate a bill for distributing the proceeds of the sale of public lands to the older States, as had been done to the newer States, ” for the purpose of education,” Kentucky claiming $1,000,-000 as her share under the proposed distribution. It was not until 1836, however, that any practical legislation resulted from this movement. At this time Congress apportioned about $15,000,000 of surplus money in the treasury to the several older States, in the form of a loan, Kentucky’s share being $1,433,757. No provision of the law imposed any obligation to devote it to educational purposes, but it had originally been demanded for such purposes, and it was generally expected that the funds would find such employment. Only $1,000,000 of this amount was devoted to this object, however, and this was subsequently further reduced to $850,-000, which by the additions of the unexpended surplus has reached the sum of $1,327,000. In 1838 the first law was enacted for the establishment of a general system of common schools in Kentucky, but for ten years the bill constituting the system was the most significant part of it. The State was financially straitened, and the general lack of interest in public education led the State officials to withhold the payment of interest on the school fund, claiming that it was a State debt which could be repudiated without disgrace. Up to 1843 but $2,504 had been paid on this account, while there was $116,375 of accrued interest unpaid. In 1845 the bonds which represented the school fund were delivered to the Governor, and burned by order of the Legislature before the Auditor and Treasurer of the State. Such unwarrantable spoliation of the school fund aroused the resentment and activity of the friends of the public school system, and under the lead of Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge a proposition to issue a new bond for all arrears of interest due, and to levy a tax of 2 cents on the $100 to aid common schools was submitted to the people and carried. Not satisfied with this success, the friends of popular education brought the subject before the Constitutional Convention of the succeeding year (1849), and secured a clause in the present Constitution declaring that the school funds for which the State had executed its bonds, together with all other funds thereafter raised for the purpose, should be kept inviolate for the use of the common schools of the State. The opponents of free schools continued their opposition, though successful only in retarding the growth of the system. In 1855 the ad valorem tax of 2 cents was increased to 5 by a large majority of the popular vote. After the war the friends of the common school sought to usher in the new era by a thorough reform of the system of public education. A bill presenting the best features of the school laws of the more advanced States was framed, advocated and passed by the Legislature in the face of a vigorous opposition. In 1870 a proposition to further increase the ad valorem tax in aid of schools to 15 cents was carried by a good majority, and the draft of a school law presented to the Legislature for enactment. This was forced to run the gantlet of a thousand conflicting prejudices, and reached the goal with life, but shorn of many of the advantages which its models possess. Since then the cause has gradually but surely progressed. Prejudices have become more amenable to reason; schools for colored pupils have been established; white and colored pupils have been placed on equal footing in relation to the advantages of the law; the ad valorem tax has been increased to 22 cents, and a new law containing more advanced methods has just been passed.

County Schools

The history of public education in Todd County is but a minimized repetition of that of the State. Common schools were rejected here by the class most largely to be benefited with contempt. They looked upon the district schoolhouse as an educational poor-house, and believed that to patronize them was to affix the stigma of a pauper to their children. The aristocracy, largely of the slaveholding class, disliked its tendency to bring all upon an educational level, and feared its influence upon the ” domestic institution.” Up to 1856, therefore, the cause made little progress in the county. About this time Elder Mobley was made County Commissioner of Schools, who took active measures to give the law its fullest efficiency in the county. Districts were formed and a few schools established under its provisions. The war succeeded, and society was in such an unsettled state here that but Iittle progress was made. After the war a new element was added to the question which strengthened the opposition. Negro-phobia, which possessed the people for a time, led them to reject apparent advantages lest it should open the door for equal privileges to the freedman, and the overcoming of this prejudice has been a slow, tedious process, not yet entirely accomplished. The recent law, approved May 12, 1884, marks an advance in administration of the public school interests, and represents the system of Kentucky in its best estate. The County Commissioner of Schools is now termed Superintendent, and is required to ” visit each district school of his county, and investigate and direct the operations of the school system, and promote, by addresses or otherwise, the cause of common school education.” In addition to this he is to form one of three examiners to issue teachers’ certificates to examine school buildings and see that improper buildings are condemned; to organize and attend teachers’ institutes, and disburse all school moneys of the county. The Trustees are required to ” employ a qualified teacher and agree with him as to compensation; ” when a school begins, one of the trustees, within five days thereafter, shall visit the school, and thereafter once a month; ” to take an exact census of the children of school age in the district, and take charge of the work of erecting new schoolhouses, repairs, etc. Teachers are required to obtain certificates from the County or State Board of Examiners, and to attend the full session of the County Institute, which shall be not less than four days. Districts are to be laid off when necessary by a board consisting of the County Superintendent, County Surveyor, and a ” discreet and suitable citizen ” appointed by the County Judge. No district is to contain an area of more than nine square miles, unless it be to secure the minimum number of children of the school age; no district is to contain over 100 children of school age, and not less than forty; save in cases of extreme necessity, and none with less than twenty. When necessary to build a schoolhouse, it is provided that the trustees shall order a per capita tax not exceeding $1 on each male in the district over twenty-one years of age, and a tax not exceeding 25 cents on each $100 of taxable property. Where such a tax is not adequate to the building of a schoolhouse, or where it would be oppressive, it is the duty of the trustees ” to warn in the hands liable to work on the public highways in such district to meet at the place selected for the schoolhouse, with such tools as they are directed to bring.” The house maybe “built of logs, stone, brick or plank, but must be of sufficient size to accommodate the children of the district * * * * and have a property value of not less than $100.” The instruction shall embrace spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, English composition, geography, United States history, and laws of health: Provided, however, that when there are as many as one-third in number of the pupils of any district who are the children of other than English-speaking parents, their respective languages may be added to the fore-going course of study.” It is provided that indigent orphan children may be supplied with text-books by the County Judge not to exceed the value of $100 in any county per annum. No publications of a sectarian, infidel or immoral character shall be used or distributed, or said. doctrines taught in the schools. No school shall be deemed a common school ” or be entitled to State support, unless the same has been “actually kept by a qualified teacher for three months in districts having thirty-five pupils, or less; for four months, in districts having more than thirty-five and less than forty-five pupils, and for five months for districts having forty-five or more.” The support of the common school is derived from the funds mentioned in the preceding pages, from certain fines and forfeitures, and from local taxation. The recent law provides that a county may vote a tax, or a school district alone may do so.

Colored Schools

In 1874 a system of schools for colored children was established, similar to that provided for white children. The law provided that the trustees, teachers and scholars should be colored; that the schoolhouse for colored children should not be erected within one mile

of the one occupied by white children, save in a town where they should be separated by a distance of 600 feet at least. The support of these schools was derived: 1st, from so much of the annual ad valorem State tax, and the State school tax as is paid by colored people; 2d, a capitation tax of $1 on each male colored person above the age of twenty-one (repealed in 1882); 3d, all taxes levied and collected on dogs owned or kept by colored persons; 4th, all State taxes on deeds, suits, or on any license collected from colored persons; 5th, all the fines, penalties and forfeitures imposed upon and collected from’ colored persons due the State, except the amount thereof allowed by law to Attorneys for the Common-wealth. In 1882 the two school funds were united in a common fund, to which both races are entitled in the same proportion. In Todd County the whites have fifty districts and forty-one schoolhouses. The Negroes have eighteen districts and ten schoolhouses. These buildings are log, box, frame or brick structures. The ” box ” is made of planks and constructed without a regular frame. Teachers accept schools for the ” per capita,” which affords a revenue of $12.56 to $48.47 per month. There is no local taxation, and some teachers are obliged to rent a room in which to conduct the public school. This is the case in Elkton. Some excel-lent private schools are maintained in the county, but they do not supply the place of public education, which has not yet attained such development in Todd as to be of the greatest efficiency.


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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