Pioneering Education of The Kentucky Wildlands

The roots of pioneering education can be traced back more than 100 years to the era when abundant coal and lumber brought many outsiders to the southern Appalachians. At the time, there was a lack of educational opportunities, as well as health care and social services. Settlement schools, mission schools and folk schools became the social institutions that delivered a wide range of services and built communities.  

The region’s settlement schools were early initiators of integrated health and social services with education from the 1900s through the 1970s. They taught trades and domestic skills, provided health exams as part of the school curriculum, and became childcare centers in the summer. Their missions were to serve the community in any way possible, so when they saw a need, they endeavored to fill it. Through the settlement schools, rural mountain communities gained electricity, water, library services, recreation, cottage industries, agricultural services, roads, meeting places and extension services. 

Several of these pioneering schools remain active, evolving with their communities. For example, Hindman Settlement School and Pine Mountain Settlement School originally taught academics and helped students develop skills in furniture making, woodworking, gardening, agriculture, mechanics, food management, music, community service and domestic arts. Today, both schools use local resources to meet local needs, such as literacy and food security, and they host events that immerse visitors in Appalachian heritage.

Alice Lloyd College and the June Buchanan School (K-12) are named after the two pioneering educators who moved to the region in the early 1900s, determined to provide opportunities in rural Appalachia. The schools continue to lay a strong academic foundation for the region’s children and young adults, instilling in their students a powerful sense of mission and dedication to serving others in Appalachia and beyond. Similarly, the internationally recognized Frontier Nursing University — founded in 1939 by the pioneering nurse-midwife Mary Breckinridge, who had a vision for bringing health care to isolated women and families — has sent out thousands of nurses holding advanced degrees to administer care in underserved communities worldwide.

These pioneering schools laid the groundwork for others to follow, such as the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Pikeville. The medical school’s guiding principle is to educate physicians to serve underserved and rural areas, with an emphasis on primary care.

Visitors to today’s pioneering education institutions in The Kentucky Wildlands will encounter the same values and missions of their forerunners: service to the community and the world, neighbors helping neighbors.

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