Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Fred W. Anderson

Second Advisor

Peter H. Wood

Third Advisor

Ruben Donato


If speaking of universal public education is problematic in the United States today, historically it was even more so. This work explores how regional attributes affected and were reflected in American schooling regimes from the colonial era through the end of the nineteenth century. Throughout, America’s governing classes strategically molded schools to promote social stability and political order in their communities. Colonists in ethnically homogeneous New England built schools and created school systems to reinforce communal norms; leaders in the heterogeneous Middle Colonies supported schools but not unifying systems, while the Southern planter gentry rejected schools as dangerous, destabilizing influences. After Independence, Northerners embraced universal education; Southern leaders, invested in slavery, claimed schooling as their own exclusive province. Southern elites resisted attempts to impose universal schooling in their region during Reconstruction and ultimately coopted Northern reformers’ efforts to foster order through public education in an increasingly diverse nation.