Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Symbolism, Patriotism, and the Demise of the Great Plains Rural School, 1940-1970




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



The blossoming and influence of progressive modernity defined the twentieth century in the United States and was largely responsible for turning an older, more authentic American culture into our current diversified and centralized society. Nowhere was this shift and its impact more apparent than in public education, as the early twentieth century marked the onset of a decades-long push to update America's traditional system of formal learning. This system, by 1910, remained most prevalent in the north-central Great Plains, a region in which the suspected negative effects of such education were also the most visible. By 1920, the remedial efforts of modernizers seeking change threatened to substantially alter both the form and long-held meaning of rural education for local citizens. That year, however, began a two-decade period during which the rural school briefly recaptured its traditional meaning. This meaning was primarily symbolic. Regardless of such gains, it would be the advocates of change that would most deftly capitalize on the school's revitalization, co-opting its new symbolic role and expanding it in ways that made reform more certain. In the years after the Depression, enabled by war-time nationalism as well as other forces, the image and management of the rural school, this paper argues, would become more completely symbolic, robbed of their previous academic legitimacy as larger social trends helped diminish the school's educational functions and, finally, permit its destruction.

Conference Name

Missouri Valley History Conference

Conference Location

Omaha, Nebraska

This document is currently not available here.