Date of Award

8-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

History

Major Professor

Daniel Feller

Committee Members

Lynn Sacco, Robert Morrissey

Abstract

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reformers, intellectuals and travel writers drew the attention of the American public to Southern Appalachia. Although the region had previously not been viewed as distinct from other parts of the rural South, a mythology about mountain deviance emerged after the Civil War. Commentators identified mountaineers as aberrant based on exaggerated accounts of violence, poverty and ignorance. As the urban middle class became identified as the core of American society, efforts to “Americanize” other groups brought organizations such as the Pi Beta Phi into the Mountain South.

Founded in 1867 at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, Pi Beta Phi Women's Fraternity decided to embark upon its first national philanthropy in 1910. The growing national focus on Appalachia led them to plan a settlement school in the region. An investigation of the most educationally needy areas of the Mountain South brought them to the village of Gatlinburg, Tennessee where the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School would become the center of a partnership whose legacy lives on in the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

An examination of the school's history requires an attendant investigation of the interactions between Appalachian people and those who perceived themselves as the main stream of American society. This analysis brings Appalachia from the periphery to the center of discussions about American identity building. Another goal of this thesis is to provide mountaineers with agency beyond the usual stock characterizations that many histories of the region have assigned them. Rather than passive recipients of philanthropy, Gatlinburg's residents displayed their desire for a school from the outset and assisted the Pi Phis whenever possible. The primary purpose of this thesis is to interpret the bilateral relationship between the fraternity women and the subjects of their reform by giving a voice to the local people.

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