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In the early twentieth century, the national spotlight shone on the Columbus school system and its experimental educational activities, including primary and secondary industrial education. G. Gunby Jordan (President of the Columbus School Board and textile mill owner) and George Foster Peabody’s (Columbus native and Wall Street Banker) desire to provide a practical education for the children of Columbus factored significantly in the system’s distinction and success.

Columbus owed its economic prosperity to the Chattahoochee River that flowed along the city’s border, supporting numerous textile mills in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. Civic and industrial leaders in Columbus believed that the city’s youth were its greatest asset; cultivating these children’s economic worth through industrial education was a necessity to ensure the sustainability of Columbus’ economic success (Jordan 1905; Jordan 1906). To remain economically competitive Columbus’ industrialists and philanthropists, such as G. Gunby Jordan and George Foster Peabody, campaigned to create a secondary industrial school for white pupils. In 1906, the Columbus Industrial High School opened its doors with the promise to bolster Columbus’ economic prowess by providing its white students opportunities to receive specialized labor and career training (Jordan 1905; Jordan 1906; Telfair 1927; Daniel 1913).

Education for African Americans living in Columbus also owed its development to economic motivations. Widespread and discriminatory practices of disenfranchisement of African Americans dominated southern society, and the question of how and where to find suitable employment for the large population of African Americans propelled many civic leaders and philanthropists to support industrial education. To further the economic value of African Americans in Columbus, the city opened William H. Spencer Industrial High School for African American pupils in 1930 (Spencer n.d).

While there has been considerable scholarship concerning the inequities involved in the construction of African American industrial schools (Anderson 1988; Anderson and Moss 1999), this research examines the establishment of both the coeducational white and black industrial schools in Columbus, with particular attention given to their purposes and processes of formation. Utilizing Columbus, Georgia, as a case study, I will illustrate how the issues of funding, philanthropy, and southern politics influenced the creation of industrial education in the early twentieth century.


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  • Subject
    • Education

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

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    • Author Biography:

      Dr. Lauren Yarnell Bradshaw graduated from Georgia State University in May 2016 with a PhD in Social Studies Education. She is a veteran teacher, with ten years experience in public schools in the Atlanta area, and a historian of education. She has a keen interest in international social studies policies and courses, and has received fellowships to travel to both Japan and Germany to support her research. Additionally, Dr. Bradshaw has presented and published several pieces of scholarship relating to educational biography, industrial education, textile mills, and the desegregation of schools in Georgia. Dr. Bradshaw is currently working on several research projects involving the potential removal of confederate monuments from public spaces, teaching controversial topics in social studies courses, and textbook biases in southern "Mint Julep" textbooks. Dr. Bradshaw is the mother of Madeline Irene (six years old) and Emmett Yarnell Bradshaw (two months old), and lives with her husband and two dogs (Napoleon and Josephine) in Marietta. She enjoys drinking large cups of chai lattes, making frequent references to the film Steel Magnolias, and traveling anywhere her feet will take her.