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Title: Moonlight Schools for the Emancipation of Adult Illiterates
Author: Stewart, Cora Wilson
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Moonlight Schools for the Emancipation of Adult Illiterates" ***

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by The Kentuckiana Digital Library.)

Transcriber’s Notes:

Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

Additional Transcriber’s Notes are at the end.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: The spelling match.]



  Chairman Illiteracy Commission, National Education Association;
  Chairman Illiteracy Committees: National Council of Education, and
  General Federation Womens’ Clubs.



       *       *       *       *       *

Copyright, 1922, By E. P. Dutton & Company

_All Rights Reserved_


       *       *       *       *       *


       *       *       *       *       *

Grateful acknowledgments are made for assistance and helpful
suggestions to the following: Mr. Erwin A. Holt, Mrs. Cornelia Steketee
Hulst, Dr. J. G. Crabbe, Miss Linda Neville, General William H. Sears,
Mr. Everett Dix, and Dr. Louise McDanell Browne.


Many requests have come for a book telling the story of the moonlight
schools. Teachers have expressed their need of such a book for their
inspiration and guidance, and the general public has evidenced a desire
to know more of the dramatic story of the origin, development and goal
of these schools.

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the
lamp of experience,” said Patrick Henry. The crying need of “the lamp
of experience” to guide the teachers who are engaged in the fight on
illiteracy impels the author to present the experience of years of
strenuous campaigning against illiteracy in book form and likewise to
show forth the achievements of adults who have passed from the darkness
of illiteracy into light through the portals of the moonlight schools.

This book is purposely written in simple language and kept free
from technical terms. It is a message to the teachers of every land
and would be as easy and accessible to those who have had little
preparation for teaching as to those who are experienced and trained.
Not for the teacher alone is it written but even those who are not
engaged in teaching will find a message, it is hoped, within its


  CHAPTER                                  PAGE

  SCHOOLS TO THE WORLD                        1



  ILLITERATES                                21



  GOAL                                       47

  STATE OF KENTUCKY                          57

  ILLITERATES                                70


  DAYS                                      106

  STATE TO STATE                            124

  SCHOOLS                                   145




  The Spelling Match                     _Frontispiece_

                                            FACING PAGE

  They Came Carrying Babes in Arms                   16

  Young Men and Women Whose Chance Had Come          18

  Arithmetic Was a Popular Study                     28

  A Man Aged 87 Entered and Put to Shame the
  Record of the Proud School Girl of 86 of the
  Year Before                                        38

  They Were Schoolmates, and That is a Tie That
  Binds                                              44

  Letter From a Home Department Pupil                45

  A Class of Moonlight School Pupils All Past 50
  Years of Age                                       48

  Letter Written After Three Lessons                 80

  Letter Written After Six Lessons                   80

  Letter From Pupil After Attending Full Session
  of Moonlight School                                80

  Letter From Man of Draft Age                       94

  Letter From a War Veteran                         108

  Letter From a Student in Prison                   118

  Letter From an Alabama Pupil                      124

  Letter From an Alabama Pupil                      125

  Letter From a North Carolina Pupil                126

  A North Carolina Moonlight School                 128

  Oklahoma Moonlight School                         130

  Letter to the State Superintendent of Schools,
  Oklahoma                                          130

  A Class of Mexican Mothers in California Learning
  to Read and Write                                 132

  Letter From New Mexico Moonlight School           132

  Letter From a Georgia Moonlight School            134

  Jewish Mothers in New York Improving Their
  Education                                         140

  Mother of Twelve Children Learns to Read and
  Write                                             190

  Alex Webb, Aged 98, Who Learned to Read and
  Write in the Moonlight Schools                    192


It has been said that every great movement for freedom originated among
mountain people. However true or untrue this may be, the movement to
emancipate the illiterates of America originated among the people of
the mountains of Kentucky. It is not something that America is doing
for the mountain people, but something which they have contributed to
the nation and to the world.

This was acknowledged by the United States Commissioner of Education in
a bulletin issued in 1913 in which he said,

“I submit herewith, for publication as a Bulletin of the Bureau of
Education, a statement showing in some detail the amount of illiteracy
in the United States among men, women and children over ten years of
age according to the Federal Census of 1910; also a brief statement
of an experiment which has been conducted for nearly two years in one
of the mountain counties in eastern Kentucky having a large number of
illiterates in its population, to ascertain if it were possible to
teach these illiterate grown-up men and women and older children to
read and write, and whether other men, women and children with very
meager education would respond to the opportunity to learn more of the
arts of the school. The success of this experiment, made under very
difficult circumstances, has been so great as to inspire the hope that,
with the cooperation of schools, churches, philanthropic societies,
cities, counties, States and the Nation, the great majority of the five
and a half million illiterates over ten years of age in the United
States may, in a few years, be taught to read and write and something

       *       *       *       *       *


       *       *       *       *       *

Moonlight Schools


In the mountains of Kentucky there has been buried a treasure of
citizenship richer far than all its vast fields of coal, its oil,
its timber or mineral wealth. Here lives a people so individual
that authors have chosen them as their theme and artists as their
subjects to interpret to the world a people with a character
distinctive, sturdy, independent and rugged. This is a stock in
which great movements can have their origin. No inferior people, no
degenerate stock can embrace and demonstrate with enthusiasm new
truths. These people are descended from the best ancestry--Virginia
and North Carolina--that traces back to England, Scotland, Ireland
and Wales. Theirs was, in the main, an educated ancestry; some of
their forefathers read Latin, and some of them Greek. Here and there
in the mountain cabin and farm-house may be found an ancient copy
of Cæsar, Virgil, Chaucer and other rare old books, useless to the
possessors save as relics of the past. They are a people of arrested
civilization, who sing the ballads sung in England three hundred years
ago and forgotten there now, and who use expressions that belong to
the centuries past. Not all by any means, but some of them live lives
such as were lived in rural England and in the hills of Scotland two
hundred years ago. They have the blood and bearing of a noble people;
they are a noble people. Possessed of a high degree of intelligence,
they have not degenerated even though deprived for years of educational
opportunities, but have preserved the sturdy traits of their
Scotch-Irish, English and Welsh ancestors.

Their capacity for learning has always been immense and their desire
for it has been equally so. Of all the authors who have chosen them
as their theme and the artists who have recently begun to present them
as a type, none have seemed to catch, or, at least, all have failed to
portray, the dominant thing in mountain life, the strongest urge of the
mountaineer’s soul--his eager, hungry, insatiable desire for knowledge.
It is this which has sent mountain girls and boys walking a hundred
miles or more to reach the school where they could work their way
through. It is the thing which has caused many a slender mountain maid
and many a frail lad to assume the work of a man when by so doing they
could earn a little money to provide for a few weeks in school. It is
the same desire that has caused many a mountaineer to give his last few
acres of land, his labor and his last dollar to found a school where
his children and his neighbor’s children might have an opportunity
to learn. But, intense as this fervor for education has been, it has
had to satisfy itself with looking back to the time when “Gran’pap
was an educated man,” and forward to the time when the children and
grand-children would have an education. There was a lack of hope for
the present and passing generation, a broad gap between the past and
the future culture, which seemed to condemn many brilliant minds to an
intellectual grave. Many of these people had never been permitted, for
reasons all too tragic, to enter school, or if enrolled, they had been
stopped at the end of a week, a month or at the close of their first
term. There were married folk, who if they could even have overcome
their embarrassment and summoned courage in later life to seek a
school, would have found none open to them. In a land where people live
long, these men and women, thirty, forty and fifty years of age, with,
perhaps, a good quarter of a century, and many of them a half century,
ahead of them--what must be done with them? Shall they be considered
the wasted citizens of a state that cares not to redeem and use them,
and of a nation that does not need such character and such brain?

These mountain people now stand at the threshold of a new civilisation,
eager and hopeful, anxious to enter in and take their part in the
work of the world. They need the world’s help, its best thought, its
modern conveniences, but not more than the world needs them. In a day
when racial groups weld themselves together in America and seek to
advance the welfare of the country from which they came rather than the
welfare of the nation which has received them into its bosom, it is
comforting to remember that in these mountains of the southern states
America has a reservoir of strength and patriotism in the millions of
pure Anglo-Saxon Americans.[1] It is a reservoir that should not be
kept walled in, nor should it be turned back when it attempts to flow
out over the land, but should be developed and permitted to send its
strength to every section to carry virility and the very essence of
Americanism to communities where these precious things are diluted or
dying out.


[1] From Roosevelt’s “Winning of the West.”

Along the western frontier of the colonies that were so soon to be the
United States, on the slopes of the wooded mountains, and in the long,
trough-like valleys that lay between the ranges, dwelt a peculiar and
characteristically American people.

These frontier folk, the people of the up-country, or back-country
who lived near and among the forest-clad mountains, far away from the
long settled district of flat coast plain and sluggish tidal river,
were known to themselves and to others as backwoodsmen. They all bore
a strong likeness to one another in their habits of thought and ways
of living and differed markedly from the people of the older and more
civilized communities to the eastward.

The backwoodsmen were Americans by birth and by parentage, and of
mixed race; but the dominant strain in their blood was that of the
Presbyterian Irish--the Scotch-Irish as they were often called. Full
credit has been awarded the Roundhead and the Cavalier for their
leadership in our history; nor have we been altogether blind to the
deeds of the Hollander and the Huguenot; but it is doubtful if we have
wholly realized the importance of the part played by that stern and
virile people, the Irish, whose preachers taught the creed of Knox and
Calvin. These Irish representatives of the Covenanters were in the
west almost what the Puritans were in the Northeast, and more than the
Cavaliers were in the South. Mingled with the descendants of many other
races, they nevertheless, formed the kernel of the distinctively and
intensely American stock who were the pioneers of our people in their
march westward, the vanguard of the army of fighting settlers, who with
axe and rifle won their way from the Alleghenies to the Rio Grande and
the Pacific.

They did not begin to come to America in any numbers till after the
opening of the eighteenth century; but by 1730 they were fairly
swarming across the ocean, for the most part in two streams, the
larger going to the port of Philadelphia, the smaller to the port of
Charleston. Pushing through the long settled lowlands of the seacoast,
they at once made their abode at the foot of the mountains, and became
the outposts of civilization. From Pennsylvania, whither the great
majority had come, they drifted south, along the foothills and down
the long valleys, till they met their brethren from Charleston who
had pushed up into the Carolina back-country. In this land of hills
covered by unbroken forests they took root and flourished, stretching
in a broad belt from north to south, a shield of sinewy men thrust
in between the people of the seacoast and the red warriors of the
wilderness. All through this region they were alike; they had as little
kinship with the Cavalier as with the Quaker; the west was won by those
who have been rightly called the Roundheads of the south, the same men
who, before any others, declared for American independence.

But indeed they were fitted to be Americans from the very start; they
were kinsfolk of the Covenanters: they deemed it a religious duty to
interpret their own Bible, and held for a divine right the election
of their clergy. For generations their whole ecclesiastical and
scholastic systems had been fundamentally democratic. In the hard life
of the frontier they lost much of their religion, and they had but
scant opportunity to give their children the schooling in which they
believed; but what few meeting-houses and school-houses there were on
the border were theirs.

A single generation, passed under the hard conditions of life in
the wilderness, was enough to weld together into one people the
representatives of these numerous and widely different races; and
the children of the next generation became indistinguishable from
one another. Long before the first Continental Congress assembled,
the backwoodsmen, whatever their blood, had become Americans, one in
speech, thought and character, clutching firmly to the land in which
their fathers and grandfathers had lived before them. They had lost
all remembrance of Europe and all sympathy with things European; they
had become as emphatically products native to the soil as were the
tough and supple hickories out of which they fashioned the handles
of their long, light axes. Their grim, harsh, narrow lives were yet
strangely fascinating and full of adventurous toil and danger; none but
natures as strong, as freedom-loving and as full of bold defiance as
theirs could have endured existence on the terms which these men found
pleasurable. Their iron surroundings made a mould which turned out all
alike in the same shape. They resembled one another, and they differed
from the rest of the world--even the world of America, and infinitely
more the world of Europe--in dress, in customs and in mode of life.


Strange impressions have prevailed in regard to the moonlight schools.
Some have imagined them to be schools where children study and play
and scamper on the green, like fairies by the moonlight; others have
supposed them to be schools where lovers stroll arm-in-arm, quote
poetry and tell the old, old story by the light of a witching moon;
others, perhaps because these schools originated in the mountains of
Kentucky, have speculated upon their being schools where moonshiners,
youthful and aged, are instructed in the best method of extracting the
juice from the corn, and, at the same time, one so secretive as to
prevent government interference.

Moonlight schools were first established in September, 1911. They had
their origin in Rowan County, Kentucky. They were designed, primarily,
to emancipate from illiteracy all those enslaved in its bondage. They
were, also, intended to afford an opportunity to those of limited
education who desired to improve their store of knowledge.

These schools grew out of the only condition that can give to any
institution permanent and substantial growth--an imperative human need.
This need was expressed, not by any theorist or group of theorists but
by the illiterates themselves.

When I was Superintendent of Rowan County schools, I acted as voluntary
secretary to several illiterate folk--a mistaken kindness--I ought
to have been teaching them to read and write. Among these folk there
was a mother whose children had all grown up without learning save
one daughter who had secured a limited education, and when grown, had
drifted away to the city of Chicago, where she profited by that one
advantage which the city possessed over the rural district--the night
school. She so improved her education and increased her efficiency
that she was enabled to engage, profitably, in a small business. Her
letters were the only joys that came into that mother’s life and the
drafts which they contained were the only means of relieving her
needs. Usually she would bring those letters to me, over the hill,
seven miles, to read and answer for her. Sometimes she would take them
to the neighbors to interpret. Once after an absence of six weeks,
an unaccustomed period, she came in one morning fondling a letter. I
noticed an unusual thing--the seal was broken.

Anticipating her mission, I inquired, “Have you a letter from your
daughter? Shall I read and answer it for you?”

She straightened up with more dignity and more pride than I have ever
seen an illiterate assume--with more dignity and more pride than an
illiterate _could_ assume as she replied, “No, I kin answer hit fer
myself. I’ve larned to read and write!”

“Learned to read and write!” I exclaimed in amazement. “Who was your
teacher, and how did you happen to learn?”

“Well, sometimes I jist couldn’t git over here to see you,” she
explained, “an’ the cricks would be up ’twixt me an’ the neighbors,
or the neighbors would be away from home an’ I couldn’t git a letter
answered fer three or four days; an’ anyway hit jist seemed like thar
was a wall ’twixt Jane an’ me all the time, an’ I wanted to read with
my own eyes what she had writ with her own hand. So, I went to the
store an’ bought me a speller, an’ I sot up at night ’til midnight an’
sometimes ’til daylight, an’ I larned to read an’ write.”

To verify her statement, she slowly spelled out the words of that
precious letter. Then she sat down, and under my direction, answered
it--wrote her first letter--an achievement which pleased her
immeasurably, and one that must have pleased the absent Jane still more.

A few days later a middle-aged man came into the office, a man
stalwart, intelligent and prepossessing in appearance. While he waited
for me to dispatch the business in hand, I handed him two books. He
turned the leaves hurriedly, like a child handling its first books,
turned them over and looked at the backs and laid them down with a
sigh. Knowing the scarcity of interesting books in his locality, I
proffered him the loan of them. He shook his head.

“I can’t read or write,” he said. Then the tears came into the eyes
of that stalwart man and he added in a tone of longing, “I would give
twenty years of my life if I could.”

A short time afterward, I was attending an entertainment in a rural
district school. A lad of twenty was the star among the performers. He
sang a beautiful ballad, partly borrowed from his English ancestors but
mostly original, displaying his rare gift as a composer of song.

When he had finished, I went over and sat down beside him. “Dennis,” I
said, “that was a beautiful ballad. It is worthy of publication. Won’t
you write a copy for me?”

His countenance, which had lighted up at my approach, suddenly fell,
and he answered in a crest-fallen tone, “I would if I could write, but
I can’t. Why, I’ve thought up a hundred of ’em that was better’n that,
but I’d fergit ’em before anybody come along to set ’em down.”

These were the three incidents that led directly to the establishment
of the moonlight schools. I interpreted them to be not merely the call
of three individuals, but the call of three different classes; the
appeal of illiterate mothers, separated from their absent children
farther than sea or land or any other condition than death had power
to divide them; the call of middle-aged men, shut out from the world
of books, and unable to read the Bible or the newspapers or to cast
their votes in secrecy and security; the call of illiterate youths
and maidens who possessed rare talents, which if developed might add
treasures to the world of art, science, literature and invention.


The opening of the day schools to them was first considered, but
the day schools were already crowded with children, and anyway,
illiterates, more than any other class, are chained to labor by day.
Then came the thought of opening the schools at night, but bad roads
with innumerable gullies, high hills and unbridged streams were
obstacles to overcome. Besides, the county had been, at one time, a
feud county and the people were not accustomed to venturing out much
after night. It was decided to have the schools on moonlight nights,
and let the moon light them on their way to school.

The teachers of the county were called together and the conditions laid
before them. They were asked to volunteer to teach at night those whom
the schools of the past had left behind. To their everlasting credit
be it said that not one of those teachers expressed a doubt or offered
an excuse, but each and every one of them, without a single exception,
volunteered to teach at night, after she had taught all day, and to
canvass her district in advance to inform the people of the purpose of
these schools and to urge them all to attend.

This preliminary canvass was made on Labor Day, September 4, 1911. The
teachers of Rowan County celebrated the holiday by going out into the
highways and byways to gather in to school all who needed to learn.
They went into every farm-house and hovel, inviting both educated and
uneducated to attend.

On September 5, the brightest moonlight night, it seemed to me, that
the world had ever known, the moonlight schools opened for their first
session. We had estimated the number that would attend, and an average
of three to each school, one hundred and fifty in the entire county was
the maximum set.

We waited with anxious hearts. The teachers had volunteered, the
schools had been opened, the people had been invited but would they
come? They had all the excuses that any toil-worn people ever had.
They had rugged roads to travel, streams without bridges to cross,
high hills to climb, children to lead and babes to carry, weariness
from the hard day’s toil; but they were not seeking excuses, they were
seeking knowledge, and so they came. They came singly or hurrying in
groups, they came walking for miles, they came carrying babes in arms,
they came bent with age and leaning on canes, they came twelve hundred

[Illustration: They came carrying babes in arms.]

There were overgrown boys who had dropped out of school at an early age
and had been ashamed to re-enter the day school and be classified with
the tiny tots. These came to catch up again. There were maidens who
had been deprived of education, through isolation, invalidism or some
other cause, but who felt that there was something better for them in
life than ignorance. There were women who had married in childhood,
practically, as is so much the wont of mountain girls--but who all
their lives had craved that which they knew to be their inherent
right--their mental development. By their sides were their husbands,
men who had been humiliated when they had made their mark in the
presence of the educated and when forced to ask the election officers
to cast a vote for them for the candidates of their choice. There were
middle-aged men who had seen a hundred golden opportunities pass them
by because of the handicap of illiteracy, whose mineral, timber and
material stores, as well as their time and labor, were in the control
of the educated men, making them but beggars, as it were, on the bounty
of those whom they enriched. There were women whose children had all
grown up and vanished from the home, some of them into the far West,
and when the spoken word and the hand-clasp had ceased there could be
no heart-to-heart communication, for the third person as an interpreter
between mother and child is but a poor medium at best. These and other
folk--some half educated and some more--made up these schools.

“Just to learn to read my Bible!” was the cry of many a patriarch and
many a withered dame.

“Just to write my children with my own hand, and to read their letters
with my own eyes!” was the cry of the mother’s heart.

“Just to escape from the shame of making my mark!” was the appeal of
the middle-aged man.

“Just to have a chance with the other folk--to be something and to do
something in the world!” was the expressed desire of youth and maid.

[Illustration: Young men and women whose chance had come.]

The youngest student was aged eighteen, the oldest eighty-six. It was
a scene to bring tears to the eyes, but surely one to make the heart
rejoice, to see those hoary-headed old people and those robust young
people seated at their desks studying together, or standing in a row in
class to spell, or lined up at the blackboard to solve problems or to

Many of them learned to write their names the first evening, and such
rejoicing as there was over this event! One old man on the shady side
of fifty shouted for joy when he learned to write his name. “Glory to
God!” he shouted, “I’ll never have to make my mark any more!”

Some were so intoxicated with joy that they wrote their names in
frenzied delight on trees, fences, barns, barrel staves and every
available scrap of paper; and those who possessed even meager savings,
drew the money out of its hiding place and deposited it in the bank,
wrote their checks and signed their names with pride. Soon letters
began to go from hands that had never written, before, to loved ones in
other counties and in far distant states, and usually the first letter
of each student came to the County School Superintendent. In a movement
full of romance and heroism, there is no incident more romantic or more
delightful to record than the fact that the first three letters that
ever came out of the moonlight schools came in this order: the first,
from a mother who had children absent in the West; the second, from
the man who “would give twenty years of his life if he could read and
write”; and the third from the boy who would forget his ballads “before
anybody come along to set ’em down.” This answered the anxious question
in our hearts as to whether the moonlight schools had met the need of
those who had made the appeal.


There were no readers in print for adult illiterates, so a little
weekly newspaper was published as a reading text.

  Can we win?
  Can we win what?
  Can we win the prize?
  Yes, we can win.
  See us try.
  And see us win!

This was the first lesson. It consisted of simple words, much
repetition and a content that related to the activity of the reader,
all of which, in a first lesson are essential. The lesson referred to
a contest between the moonlight schools, and the element of rivalry
thus introduced heightened the interest and produced a style of
reading that rang with the emphasis of a challenge. There was attained
immediately what had been striven for in the day schools with only
indifferent success--natural expression in reading.

In the later lessons there was a sentence which read, “The best people
on earth live in Rowan County.” Provincial though this may seem to
some and flattery to others, it had the desired effect of keeping the
interest at white heat, as perhaps a sentence like--“Foreign birds wear
pretty feathers” could not have done. One old man read the sentence and
openly expressed his approval. He leaned back in his seat and with a
hearty laugh exclaimed, “That’s the truth!”

Continuing the lesson, he found a little further along a sentence that
read like this, “The man who does not learn to read and write is not a
good citizen and would not fight for his country if it needed him.”

This was published before the World War when a vast number of
illiterate soldiers were called into the American Army, and is a
statement disproved, of course; for illiterate soldiers are courageous
and as patriotic as their understanding will permit. But the sentence
provoked students to their best possible work. The old man who
had exulted in being one of those “best people on earth,” became
very thoughtful after reading it, and then resumed his study with
grim determination, for to a Kentuckian there is no accusation so
humiliating as the one that he, under any circumstances will not fight.
To a Kentucky mountaineer it is ignominy complete.

The little newspaper had a fourfold purpose: to enable adults to learn
to read without the humiliation of reading from a child’s primer with
its lessons on kittens, dolls and toys; to give them a sense of dignity
in being, from their very first lesson, readers of a newspaper; to
stimulate their curiosity through news of their neighbor’s movements
and community occurrences and compel them to complete in quick
succession the sentences that followed; to arouse them through news
of educational and civic improvements in other districts to make like
progress in their own.

News items such as “Bill Smith is building a new barn” and “John Brown
has moved to Kansas” caused them quickly to master the next sentence to
see what the next neighbor was doing and we found that curiosity was
not confined altogether to the women.

“They are building new steps to the school-house at Slab Camp and
putting up hemstitched curtains” was the item that caused Bull Fork
moonlight school to build new steps, put up hemstitched curtains and
paint the school-house besides.

Other elementary subjects were taught by the question and answer
method--sometimes called the Socratic method. Only the minimum
essentials were included in the course. For instance, the student might
not be able to master American history in one short session; he could
not learn the principal events of each President’s term, the dates of
battles, and the flounderings of the various political parties, but
he could at least learn a limited number of important facts that every
American citizen should know.

The ignorance of some people, even native-born Americans, about
American history, shows that a few basic facts taught them would be
a blessed act of enlightenment. An illiterate old man speaking at a
patriotic meeting was heard to say, “Uncle Sam, our President of the
United States, is a grand old man.” Another during the early stages of
the World War declared, “The United States ought to go over and help
France. He helped us when we needed it and now we ought to help him.”

The drills in history attempted nothing more ambitious in the beginning
session than to clear up such wrong impressions, to open up the subject
to the students, and to give them a few essential facts that would
stand out or, if further advancement were possible, might be the
skeleton on which a thorough course could be hung.

Drills in such facts as by whom America was discovered, by whom it
was inhabited and by whom settled; the story of how our independence
was won; the name and nature of our first President, may have been
history in homeopathic doses, but was eagerly swallowed and was
wholesome knowledge for people who knew nothing of the subject. Such
cluttering-up facts as the battles we have fought, the number we
have killed and mutilated, the traitors we have had, the mistakes we
have made in passing and then repealing bad laws, the long struggle
to overcome certain glaring evils and to secure certain needed
reforms, may well be omitted from a course which requires the utmost

The drills were elective. Besides history they included civics,
English, health and sanitation, geography, home economics, agriculture,
horticulture and good roads. Four were to be chosen from these, the
four most suitable to the district’s needs.

[Illustration: Arithmetic was a popular study.]

English was one of the most popular drills, as well as one most
needed. The letter “g,” so often ignored by illiterates, in “ing” was
reinstated to its proper dignity and use through drills on such words
as “reading,” “writing,” “spelling,” “talking,” “singing,” “cooking,”
“sewing” and others with a similar ending. Words commonly mispronounced
in the community were made the subject of a drill. Such words as
“seed,” “crick,” “kiver,” “git,” “hit,” “hyeard,” “tuk,” “fust,”
“haint” and “skeered,” were pronounced repeatedly until the right habit
was formed, and the most glaring monstrosities of pronunciation were
weeded out. A language conscience was created where none had existed
before, and a beginning was thus made toward improving bad English--a
beginning which, though but a pathway blazed, was expected to lead out
into the broad highway of better, if not perfect, speech. This was long
before the crusade for better speech in America was inaugurated with
its “National Better Speech Week.”

It was surprising how readily these grown folk mastered certain
subjects. Despite the fears of some educators that violence was
being done to psychology in the attempt to teach them, the grown
folk learned, and learned with ease. One eminent psychologist, who
early gave encouragement to the movement, wrote me saying,--“In the
moonlight schools you are demonstrating what I have always believed,
that reading, writing and arithmetic are comparatively easy subjects
for the adult mind.” Some educators, however, declared preposterous
the claims we made that grown people were learning to read and write.
It was contrary to the principles of psychology, they said. While they
went around saying it couldn’t be done, we went on doing it. We asked
the doubters this question, “When a fact disputes a theory, is it not
time to discard the theory?” There was no reply.

The memory subjects were the most difficult for these adult students.
They had passed the “golden memory period,” most of them, many years
ago, and though they had memorized ballads, folk-lore and recipes to
some extent, nevertheless, memory was in them a thing practically

They were taught only a few memory gems. The first one was from
Whittier’s poem, “Our State.” It was the motto at the head of the
little newspaper which they used for a reading text:

  The riches of the Commonwealth
  Are free, strong minds and hearts of health,
  And dearer far than gold or grain
  Are cunning hand and cultured brain.

The following lines from Longfellow’s “The Ladder of St. Augustine,”
were popular as a memory gem, comparing as it did with their own ladder
of enlightenment, of which they were just mounting the first round:

  The heights by great men reached and kept
  Were not attained by sudden flight,
  But they, while their companions slept,
  Were toiling upward in the night.

Another gem precious to them was this one taught them by a Louisville
club woman, who at the age of seventy-five came and traveled over the
hills at night, inspired by a desire to see and to help these men and
women who had heroically begun their education late in life:

  He prayeth best, who loveth best
  All things both great and small;
  For the dear God who loveth us,
  He made and loveth all.

Only one complete poem was to be memorized during the session. What
should it be? With the world so full of poet lore to choose from,
should it be Burns’ “To a Mountain Daisy,” Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl,”
Lanier’s “Ballad of Trees and the Master,” Wordsworth’s “The
Daffodils,” Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” or should some other gem of
poetry be bestowed on those who possessed not even one? The one who
introduces the first poem to students like these stands on holy ground,
and should prayerfully make the choice. As literature, the selection
made might be criticised by some, but as the needed inspiration, the
choice was one that met the test.

A man who was for twenty-five years president of a normal school in the
mountains, visited the moonlight schools and on hearing the students
recite this poem, said, “If these men and women learn nothing else
besides this poem during the session it has been worth while for them
to attend.” It was Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life” and the sentiment
expressed in these two stanzas found an answering echo in their hearts:

  In the world’s broad field of battle,
  In the bivouac of life,
  Be not like dumb, driven cattle,
  Be a hero in the strife.


  Let us then be up and doing,
  With a heart for any fate,
  Still achieving, still pursuing,
  Learn to labor and to wait.


The people clamored for the moonlight schools to open the next year.
They, and not the teachers, took the initiative and pressed the matter.
The teachers responded heartily.

Prior to the opening of the second session, a moonlight school
institute was held--the first institute for night school teachers
in America, if not in the world. The methods of teaching adult
illiterates, materials to use, ways and means of reaching the stubborn
and getting them into school and other things relative to the problem
of educating adults were discussed. Teachers were not compelled by law
to attend this institute, as they were the institute for day-school
work but, nevertheless, they did attend, paying their own expenses
during the session and participating more earnestly than they had
ever been known to participate in any other institute. They compared
their experiences of the previous session, and some cases of supreme
sacrifice and rare heroism were unconsciously revealed. Most of them
had succeeded with but little effort. They had but to meet the rising
tide of eager, hungry-minded adults who came rushing to the schools in
almost overwhelming numbers. Others had been misunderstood, but had
stemmed the buffeting waves of criticism and misunderstanding and,
after being tossed about, had ridden to success. None had failed--not
one, though some had been compelled to make two or three efforts
before they finally succeeded. One had tried it alone and failed, then
enlisted the children as recruiting officers and sent them far and wide
to gather in their elders, which they did with remarkable success.

One young woman--a perfect blend of the Scotch-Irish type--who was
teaching her first school when the moonlight schools were inaugurated
told her story with a twinkle in her eye that seemed to belie any
suggestion of hardships endured.

“I went to the school-house the first evening,” she said, “and nobody
came. I went the second and there was nobody there. I went the third,
fourth and fifth and still no pupils. I said, ‘I’m going to be like
Bruce and the Spider, I’m going to try seven times,’ and on the seventh
night when I got to the school-house I was greeted by three pupils.
Before the term closed I had enrolled sixty-five in my moonlight school
and taught twenty-three illiterates to read and write.” This, like
all the stories, was modestly told. No mention was made of the day
by day visits to the homes of illiterates, the long walks, the hours
on horseback, the earnest persuasion, the chill of disappointment
when waiting at the school-house alone. The Scotch determination was
revealed in the words, “I said I’m going to be like Bruce and the
Spider, I’m going to try seven times.” The twinkle of humor in her eye
was at the recollection, no doubt, of the schemes and designs by which
she had outwitted those illiterates and brought them into the school.

One youthful teacher was inclined to apologize for the few she had
enrolled and said, “I didn’t have as large a school as the others--just
four--but they were in earnest, and I did my best with them, and told
them I would teach as long as one of them would come,” and then she
added with an evident thrill of pride, “but I taught a preacher to read
and write, and that was something, wasn’t it?”

There was no lack of interest or enthusiasm on the part of the
volunteer teachers or their pupils, but there was a pitiful lack of
suitable text-books and school material for adults, which was voiced
many times during the institute as chief of their handicaps. The
little newspaper with its reading lessons and drills, a simple copy
book, arithmetic taught from the day-school text, these, supplemented
by whatever knowledge the teacher could impart or could draw from the
community, constituted our supply.

Out of that first institute for night-school teachers we emerged with,
perhaps, a few things gained. Our position was strengthened, and we
presented a united front, if possible to bring about more unity than
had existed the year before; there was a renewed consecration, a common
knowledge of all the plans and devices used in the different districts
the year before to gain the confidence and secure the attendance of
illiterates, and a determination to excel the record of the previous
year. Back of us was a battle won; it was the convincing proof that
hundreds had been taught, a strength and stay that we had not had in
the first year, a mile-stone gained that made the next mile easier to
travel, a precedent, which to many is the most powerful argument of
any in the world. Some had learned, even the aged and infirm, the poor
of sight and dull of mind. Glory be! others could learn, or else must
admit themselves more stupid than their neighbors. Each teacher had all
the facts, the arguments and the experiences of his fellows, and they
knew his, and there was a crystallization of their enthusiasm, which
made them well-nigh irresistible.

In those days of earnest discussion and planning for helping a people
who had been abandoned by the educational forces of all time, and a
people who, themselves, until the moonlight schools burst upon them,
had abandoned hope, there was never a doubt expressed, a complaint
made or even a suggestion that this volunteer service was a sacrifice
or a hardship, or anything but a holiday joy. To them it was a high
adventure, not without its tests of endurance and sincerity, but one
whose tests they fully met, even the frailest of them, because their
faith was absolute; this faith and one other thing they possessed that
gave them victory over all hindrances and obstacles--the right spirit.
These two are well-nigh unconquerable elements in any noble endeavor.


The second session surpassed the first in every particular. We
enrolled 1,600 students, and taught 350 to read and write. A man
aged eighty-seven entered and put to shame the record of the proud
school-girl of eighty-six of the year before.

There were many evidences of individual development and achievement.
One man, foreign born, who had been working at a lumber camp at
the meager wage of $1.50 per day entered the moonlight school and
specialized in mathematics--that part of it pertaining to his business,
and at the close of the six weeks’ session, was promoted at a salary
double that which he had received before. Some of the school trustees,
who were none too well educated, found in the moonlight school their
opportunity to advance, which many of them embraced. One school
trustee who went from the moonlight school into the day school sat
in the seat with his own twelve-year-old boy and studied in the same
books and recited in the same classes. Another accompanied his wife to
the moonlight school, she being the teacher, and he was so delighted
with his progress that he enrolled, also, in the day school--and his
deportment was good, so the problem of discipline did not enter in to
cause domestic infelicity.

[Illustration: A man aged 87 entered and put to shame the record of the
proud school girl of 86 of the year before.]

We taught two postmasters to read and write, and Uncle Sam still owes
for their tuition. How they received their commissions has never been
explained, but it is a well-known fact that while the fathers had
held the commissions, their daughters had performed the services.
When the fathers were emancipated from illiteracy, the daughters were
emancipated from the post-offices and were free to follow their own
inclinations. One of them entered High School and the other got married.

We taught four Baptist preachers to read and write. While this may seem
inconceivable to some, nevertheless it is a fact that there are men in
the mountains and an occasional one in the valleys of the South, who,
when they have felt the call to the ministry, have not even permitted
the fearful handicap of illiteracy to deter them from doing that which
they conceived to be their duty. Naturally these illiterate ministers
are much handicapped. “If the blind leads the blind both shall fall
into the ditch,” is a maxim very applicable here. Illiterate ministers
must depend entirely on others to read the Bible to them, and,
unfortunately some turned out by the day school are as poor readers as
those who attempted to read for the king, according to the story told
in one of McGuffey’s school books. A reader of this type, attempting
to read to an illiterate minister one day, read the sentence, “Paul
was an austere man,” like this, “Paul was an oyster man.” The preacher
declared to his congregation the next Sabbath that Peter was a
fisherman and Paul was an oyster man, thus giving his congregation an
unusual conception of Paul. Another heard the sentence, “Jacob made
booths for his cattle,” read, “Jacob made boots for his cattle,” and
discoursed from the pulpit on “Jacob, that humane man, would not even
permit his cattle to go barefooted, but made boots for them to protect
their tender feet as they walked over the stones.”

These men realized their disadvantages, and they knew the value of the
education offered them. They knew it by the best standard by which the
value of a thing may be measured--the need of it--a need that in their
case had been many times made painfully manifest. So, they accepted the
opportunity and used their influence, which was more powerful in the
community than might be supposed, among their followers to get them to
enroll in the schools. They did more; they gave a new support to the
day schools, working for them with zeal, visiting them, speaking in
their behalf, and sounding louder than any others the cry, “Everybody,
young and old--to the books!”

Nothing better was ever given to any crusader than the privilege which
was mine one Sabbath day, that of hearing a minister recently redeemed
from illiteracy read from the Bible for the first time and preach from
this text, which I thought strangely appropriate, “Who is this that
darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”

I stood in the door of New Hope school-house one evening and watched
the throng come trooping through the moonlight to school. There were
farmers and farmers’ wives, and their grown sons and daughters; there
were former school teachers who had seized this opportunity to break
up the stagnation which had overtaken them; there was the community
carpenter, the district blacksmith, the postmaster and his wife, the
country doctor, the cross-roads merchant, the mill-owner with his
crew of illiterate men, all coming joyously, hopefully in quest of
knowledge. It was “new hope” indeed to them. Some came to learn, some
to teach, but all learned, for those who taught developed amazingly.

“Everybody in school” was the ideal, and it was caught and cherished
by children as well as parents. The children exerted a powerful
influence in getting their parents to school. The teachers would say
to them at the close of the day, “Now, children go home and send your
parents to school this evening,” and while it was a pleasantry, it was,
also, a request and one that they heeded. The children were wonderful
recruiting officers for the moonlight schools. They worked and reported
their success with the keen enthusiasm of childhood. One little fellow
listened to the others and said sorrowfully, “I talked moonlight
schools too but it didn’t do any good.” He persisted, however, and the
words, “A little child shall lead them” proved literally true, for the
following evening he came to school proudly leading his mother by one
hand and his father by the other.

A thousand seeds sown by teachers and school children this year did not
bear fruit until the next. Some who did not yield to persuasion and
come out to school were found learning in secret at home. However,
there were few who did not seek the school more earnestly than it
sought them. These few, from pride, and false pride it was, feared to
expose their illiteracy and thought to hide it by remaining at home.

For such as these and the stubborn, the decrepit and the disinclined,
a home department was established. Gladys Thompson, a blessed teacher,
gone to her reward, and whom these pages would memorialize, finding
two in her district who could not attend school at night, one because
of feebleness and the other because of defective sight, went to their
homes between the hours of her day school and moonlight school and
taught them to read and write. Her plan was adopted and proved a
valuable adjunct to the work of the moonlight school, especially in
dissolving the dregs of illiteracy, in teaching the last few or the
lone, difficult one.

Besides the incidents of individual development and individual
achievement, a new community spirit was born. A school trustee thus
describes the change in his community:

“I have lived in this district for fifty-five years, and I never saw
any such interest as we have here now. The school used to just drag
along and nobody seemed interested. We never had a gathering at the
school-house and nobody ever thought of visiting the school. We had
not had a night school but three weeks until we got together right. We
papered the house, put in new windows, purchased new stovepipe, made
new steps, contributed money, and bought the winter’s fuel.

“Now we have a live Sunday school, a singing school, prayer
meeting once each week, and preaching twice a month. People of all
denominations in the district meet and worship together in perfect
unity and harmony, aged people come regularly, and even people from the
adjoining county are beginning to come over to our little school-house.”

Good-roads clubs, fruit clubs, agricultural clubs, home economies
clubs and Sunday schools were organized. There was an awakened, if not
trained leadership, a whetted desire for co-operative activity where
individualism and stagnation had prevailed. Friction and factional
feeling melted away in districts where they had existed, and a new
spirit of harmony and brotherhood came to take their place. Men and
women who had hitherto been divided by contention and strife now worked
side by side in concord. They were schoolmates and that is a tie that

[Illustration: They were schoolmates and that is a tie that binds.]





To wipe illiteracy out of the county was the goal set for the following
year. First, the school trustees were induced to take a census of the
illiterates. When this was completed, an investigation was made of
each individual case. Soon we had on record, not only the name and
age of every illiterate in the county, but his history as well, his
ancestry, his home environment, his family ties, his religious faith,
his political belief, his weaknesses, tastes and peculiarities, and
the influence or combination of influences through which he might be
reached in case the teacher failed with him.

Each teacher was given the list of illiterates in her district and
told to go out and cultivate these people, like a good politician,
before the moonlight schools began. The citizens of the county were
enlisted. The slogan “Each one teach one,” was adopted and most of the
people were glad to obey. Doctors were soon teaching their convalescent
patients, ministers were teaching members of their flocks, children
were teaching their parents, stenographers were teaching waitresses in
the small town hotels, and the person in the county without a pupil
was considered a very useless sort of individual. The district with an
illiterate in it was a district in disrepute, while the child with an
illiterate parent felt that he was a child disgraced. A man redeemed
from illiteracy became at once a source of pride and admiration to
his neighbors, as well as to himself and family, and, like most new
converts to a cause, he exceeded the old adherents in loyalty and zeal.

[Illustration: A class of Moonlight School pupils all past 50 years of

Some of those who had learned were not only walking evangelists
preaching the gospel of “No illiteracy in the county,” but became
itinerant teachers, going from district to district giving lessons.
Those fresh from their first contact with the printed page imparted
what they had learned, meager though it was, with an enthusiasm, that
was possible only to the newly-learned. They were successful teachers.
They attempted to give lessons in reading and writing only and to
create that self-confidence, which, with adult illiterates, was the
first battle to be won. They had the advantage, too, of presenting
themselves as examples, as living proof that illiterates could learn.
Their visits to illiterate homes started the process of learning in
most cases, and cleared the way for the teacher who was to follow with
more complete and thorough knowledge.

Each and every district was striving to be the first to wipe out
illiteracy. One school trustee, who had been campaigning strenuously
all week against illiteracy, came in on Saturday and said with
determination, “I’ll bet I have illiteracy out of my district before
Monday morning. There’s only one illiterate over there, and he’s a
tenant on my place; I’m going to run him out over into Fleming County.”

“Oh, no,” I protested, “That’s not the way to get rid of illiteracy.
You must teach him before he goes.”

A young teacher who felt somewhat discouraged, came in for some advice.
“You gave me a list of sixteen illiterates in my district,” said he,
“and I’ve taught fifteen of them to read and write; but there’s one
stubborn old woman out there who absolutely refuses to learn. I’ve
exhausted my resources with her.”

He deserved commendation and he needed encouragement, so I said,
“A young man who has made a success as you have done in that most
difficult of all places, his home district, who has enrolled one
hundred and eleven men and women in his moonlight school and has taught
fifteen out of sixteen illiterates to read and write will get the other
one. I have no fear but that you will succeed.”

We got the illiteracy record and looked up this old woman’s history.
We found that she thought she was a physician, and felt flattered when
anyone sought her services as such.

The young man went back to his district and there developed an eruption
on his wrist. He went over and consulted this old woman. She diagnosed
his case as erysipelas and proceeded to treat him. She concluded
that one who possessed such excellent judgment in the selection of a
physician, knew enough to teach her something; so while she treated
him for erysipelas, he treated her for illiteracy, and she learned to
read and write. He sent in her first letter, enclosed in his own, and
wrote in great glee, “Tabor Hill district is freer from illiteracy
than Boston; come at once and bring the Bibles.” It was the plan at
that time to give a Bible to each one who learned to read and write.
It was an offer that was made when our vision was small and we could
not anticipate the large numbers that would take advantage of it. When
hundreds began to claim it, we tried to keep the faith, and some of us
have not yet recovered from the strain on our pocketbooks.

I drove out to Tabor Hill one bright moonlit evening to witness the
celebration which marked the banishment of illiteracy from the
district. The scene was one good for the eyes of those who delight
in a real community center, although at that time such a thing as
a community center was known in few rural districts in the United
States. But here was the highest ideal of a community center being
realized. Every person in the district was at the school-house. The
men and women, who had been in their seats bright and early, were
gaily chatting; the young people stood around the organ, singing their
gladsome songs, and around the house, peering in at the windows, was a
cordon of spectators six rows deep.

The newly learned gave an exhibition of their recently acquired
knowledge. They read and wrote, quoted history and ciphered proudly in
the presence of their world. They did it with more pride than ever high
school, college or university graduates displayed on their commencement

They were next presented with Bibles, and as they came up one by one,
some young and stalwart, some bent and gray, to receive their Bibles
with gracious words of thanks, it was an impressive scene--and when
the Jezebel of the community came forward and accepted her Bible and
pledged herself to lead a new life forevermore, there was hardly a dry
eye in the house.

Lemonade was a thing rarely seen in those parts, a treat indeed, so it
was served as the final reward, not from a punch bowl, as it is served
in most places, but from the most available thing to be found on Tabor
Hill--a lard can. As they passed in line around the receptacle to be
served, an old man rose in the back part of the house and said in a
loud voice, “Things certainly have changed in this district. It used
to be that you couldn’t hold meeting or Sunday school in this house
without the boys shooting through the windows. It used to be moonshine
and bullets; but now it’s lemonade and Bibles.”

Some teachers found obstacles in their way, such as the prolonged
absence of the illiterates from home, but they watched for their
return, and even if they came back and tarried but a short time, they
put them for the moment to the book and pen. One teacher said to me,
“I have a father and three grown sons in my district who are employed
twelve miles from home and are only at home on the Sabbath day. Do
you think there would be any harm in my going over there on Sunday
and teaching them to read and write?” Remembering those words of the
Master when he was asked in regard to healing the withered hand of a
man on the Sabbath day--and certainly these were withered hands--and
His answer, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day?” I said, “It
is a holy day and I think it would be a holy deed.” The young man went
Sunday after Sunday and taught the father and sons to read and write.

There are masterpieces of art that one would travel many miles to
see, but to me there is no picture more beautiful than the one my
imagination conjures up of that young teacher, with those four grown
men grouped about him learning to read and write on the Sabbath day.

We tried by every means, to wipe illiteracy out of the county to the
last individual. Every one was offered the opportunity and some were
offered it repeatedly. The overwhelming majority accepted it with joy
and gratitude--a few had to be coaxed. Some few, in their ignorance had
a misconception of our motives and stubbornly refused to learn.

When the campaign closed, of the 1,152 illiterates in the county,
only 23 were left, and these were classified; six were blind or had
defective sight; five were invalids languishing on beds of pain; six
were imbeciles and epileptics, two had moved in as the session closed
and four could not be induced to learn.

One of the teachers who had taught fifty-six people in her own and
other districts to read and write, went into the home of one of these
stubborn four after the campaign closed and paid her an exorbitant
price for board. She induced this old woman to teach her to knit, and
one day when they were sitting and knitting together and had become
fast and familiar friends and the time was ripe, she said to her,
“Now you’ve taught me something valuable, something, in fact, that
I’ve always wanted to know. I’m going to return the favor, I’m going
to teach you to read and write, so that you can write to your son in
Washington, and the one in Indiana and the one in Illinois. I know how
glad they’ll be to have letters from their mother’s own hand, and how
glad you’ll be to read letters from them.”

While she was speaking, she was placing the material in the old woman’s
hands, and, almost before she knew it she was copying “E” the first
letter in her name.

One morning shortly afterward, that little teacher knocked at my door;
I opened and she entered. Without a word, but with shining eyes, she
laid that old woman’s first letter on my desk.


Twenty-five other counties in the State were, by this time, having
moonlight schools, and whether it was in a Bluegrass County among the
tenant class, in the Purchase among the farmers, in the coal regions
among the miners or in mill or distillery sections, there was the
same response; men and women thronged to the schools, strove to make
up for the time they had lost, and pleaded for a longer term when the
session closed. It seemed that the State should extend its aid to these
unfortunate men and women and should support the volunteer teachers
in their patriotic efforts. So I opened up a correspondence with the
Governor on the subject of an Illiteracy Commission. The first letter
read as follows:

  Morehead, Ky.
  Dec. 16, 1913.

  Governor James B. McCreary,
    Frankfort, Ky.

  My dear Governor McCreary:--

  I am taking the liberty of addressing you upon the subject of having
  an Illiteracy Commission formed by legislative act to study the
  condition of adult illiterates in our State and to give men and women
  their freedom from this bondage; also, to place our State in a better
  light before the world. For years there has been a constant cry about
  Kentucky’s appalling percentage of illiteracy. It has been repeatedly
  declared that we are near the bottom of the literacy scale.

  The purpose of forming such a commission would be to promote
  voluntary effort on the part of the teachers and others and to
  co-operate with those who are already making an effort. Many teachers
  have already volunteered, but they need guidance and inspiration and
  other teachers need to be called upon to volunteer.

  We have taught over a thousand men and women in Rowan County during
  the past three years, and now some twenty-five counties are putting
  forth an effort along this line. I have hundreds of letters which
  demonstrate the fact that men and women can learn to read and write
  in a very short time after their interest is quickened.

  I have letters from octogenarians besides many middle-aged and
  younger men and women. What has been done in Rowan County in three
  years in reducing and almost wiping out her illiteracy, can be done
  in Kentucky during the next six years--by the time the Federal census
  is taken.

  This movement started in Kentucky, and Kentucky is the State which
  should take the initiative and form a commission to advance this
  important work. I earnestly request that you will include in your
  message to the Legislature the suggestion that such a commission be

  Hoping that you will see the expediency of this matter, and believing
  that you will stand for the enlightenment of the 208,084 benighted
  Kentuckians who cannot read or write, I am,

  Yours most respectfully,

By return mail came Governor McCreary’s answer:

  Your letter, dated December 16, 1913, was received this morning.

  I thoroughly endorse all you say on the subject of an “Illiteracy
  Commission” “formed by legislative act to study the condition of
  adult illiteracy in our State and to give men and women their freedom
  from this bondage.”

  I congratulate you on the strong points presented in your letter, and
  I will be glad to assist you and to encourage any movement which has
  for its object the elimination of illiteracy from our State and the
  education of all our people.

  I will refer in my message to an “Illiteracy Commission” and the good
  work that can be performed by such a commission.

After some further exchange of letters with the Governor on the
subject, on February 19, 1914, he wrote:

  I congratulate you heartily, on the unanimous vote of both branches
  of the General Assembly in favor of the bill providing for the
  Kentucky Illiteracy Commission. Your address and the strong arguments
  in favor of this much-needed legislation caused its passage without

  There is nothing in life more pleasant than to feel that you are
  living for the benefit of humanity and to contribute to the welfare
  of men and women.

  I respect and admire you for devoting your intellect and energies to
  your good work among adult illiterates in Kentucky.

The Governor appointed J. G. Crabbe, President of the Eastern Kentucky
State Normal, H. H. Cherry, President of the Western Kentucky State
Normal, Miss Ella Lewis, Superintendent of Grayson County schools and
myself as members of the newly created Illiteracy Commission. The State
Superintendent of Public Instruction was a member ex officio.

Here was a Commission new to the world, without chart, guide or
compass, starting to attack adult illiteracy, a thing supposed to be
invincible. Nobody had even undertaken to abolish adult illiteracy
before, so there was no precedent and no literature. The State had not
appropriated a dollar for the Commission’s work and there was not a
dollar in hand. Scoffers stood on every corner predicting dire failure.
Illiteracy statistics were challenged and disputed and much energy
that could have been used in the fight on illiteracy was used by the
opposition in trying to disprove the statistics, while the proof was
lying buried in a vault in the Federal Census Bureau at Washington.
The enlightening of public opinion, the quickening of the missionary
spirit, the arousing of state pride and the opening of pocketbooks
to finance the movement were some of the tasks which confronted this
Commission of volunteers besides the actual instruction of illiterates.

The public school teachers being already at the helm were in better
position to influence the people than any others. They must be the
soldiers in this bloodless war against illiteracy but soldiers in the
trenches must have organized and intelligent support from those back
home. It was everybody’s war and volunteers from every profession and
every walk of life must be enlisted.

The Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs led out. In recognition of the
service rendered by those pioneer teachers of Rowan County, they sent
them on a vacation trip to Niagara Falls and to visit the cities in
the northern part of the United States and Canada. It was a novel thing
to see public-school teachers traveling in a private car at the expense
of the grateful people of a State and being sung to and fêted along the
route. It served the purpose of more than a merited reward; it was a
stimulus to other teachers and inspired a large number to volunteer.

The Colonial Dames and other women’s organizations made a whirlwind
campaign for funds; editors agitated through editorials and news items
on illiteracy; ministers celebrated, “No Illiteracy Sunday” in the
churches and attacked the evil in sermon, song and prayer; bankers
were on the alert for illiterates who made their mark on checks and
made a campaign to teach each to read and write; jailers put their
prisoners to the book; traveling salesmen carried the slogan of the
crusade as stickers on their baggage and talked “no illiteracy”
as enthusiastically as they talked dry-goods, notions, boots and
shoes; college students placarded the walls of the colleges with
illiteracy statistics, used illiteracy as the theme for their finals
and each pledged to go home and teach someone to read and write. We
even enlisted the politicians and put them to some use. A galaxy of
speakers, headed by the Governor and State officials and composed of
men and women prominent in politics and in other professions, went out
over the State at their own expense fighting illiteracy and urging the
establishment of moonlight schools. What these prominent ones advocated
so openly, many great souls carried further in some quiet way, either
by organizing a moonlight school in some isolated spot, by talking for
the cause at some country store, or by going over the hill or across
the field to teach some neighbor to read and write.

The Governor had issued a proclamation against illiteracy, and much
of this activity was in response to it. As the first proclamation of
its kind in history, it is a paper of unusual interest, and is here

  At the last meeting of the General Assembly of Kentucky, I
  recommended that a Kentucky Illiteracy Commission be appointed and
  authorized to inquire into and alleviate the conditions of the adult
  illiterates in the State, and Mrs. Cora Wilson Stewart, Chairman,
  Miss Ella Lewis, Doctor J. G. Crabbe, and Doctor H. H. Cherry
  were appointed as members of the Commission. This Commission has
  inaugurated a State campaign, Mrs. Stewart being the accepted leader
  in the efforts to stamp out illiteracy through moonlight schools and
  other methods.

  Upon their call for volunteers about one thousand teachers offered
  their services and are teaching or making arrangement to teach at
  night, and others are daily offering their services.

  The aim of the Kentucky Illiteracy Commission is noble and exalted
  and of the greatest benefit, and there is no subject of more
  importance or of more far-reaching influence than the elimination of
  illiteracy from our State. We should educate all of our people, those
  under twenty-one years of age, and those upward of twenty-one years
  of age. The perpetuity of our free institutions depends upon the
  intelligence and virtue of the people.

  There are 208,084 men and women in our State who cannot read and
  write, and of whose intelligent efforts along the lines of education,
  religion and general development and advancement the State is
  deprived, and this constitutes a deplorable situation and presents a
  great and urgent need which should be promptly met and relieved.

  Instruction should be offered to the mothers for their own sake and
  for the sake of the children and the benefit of the State; it should
  be offered to the fathers for their own sake and for the sake of
  increasing their earning capacity and of promoting home comforts, and
  for the sake of a more intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage
  so as to help maintain good government for the State. Instruction
  should be offered to the young men and young women who have missed
  opportunities earlier in life, but may yet take hold of instruction
  and make achievements.

  The instruction of all the illiterates in the State will not only
  give to Kentucky a higher rank, educationally, among the states, but
  will give her a new and distinct position as the first Commonwealth
  which has ever attempted to accomplish such a great and important

  I call upon all to help in the cause of education of those under
  twenty-one years of age and those upward of twenty-one years of
  age, and I appeal to every public and private school teacher, every
  professor in our high schools, colleges and universities, all public
  officials, every representative of the press, every professional man,
  every farmer, mechanic and business man and every woman who loves the
  blessings of education, and to all who desire to promote religion,
  science, literature or art, or to advance progress or improvement in
  any line, all who desire to lessen crime, to help in the great work
  of teaching adult illiterates, both male and female, to read and
  write and spell and to encourage them to seek knowledge and to add to
  their acquirements through moonlight schools in illuminated school
  houses where education is as free as the air we breathe, and where
  all may come to edify themselves and to drink of the water of life

  In testimony whereof, I have caused these letters to be made patent
  and the seal of the Commonwealth to be hereunto affixed. Done at
  Frankfort the 21st day of September, in the year of our Lord one
  thousand nine hundred and fourteen, and in the one hundred and
  twenty-third year of the commonwealth.

    Secretary of State.


    Assistant Secretary of State.

The United States Bureau of Education, at this time, made Kentucky’s
campaign against illiteracy the occasion for a second notice to
the public. In this bulletin, which was headed “Kentucky Wars on
Illiteracy,” the Commissioner of Education said:

  It will be a part of the lasting glory of the State of Kentucky that
  it has taken the lead in this movement. It is the first state to
  offer to all the people, of whatever age, an opportunity to learn to
  read and write, and thus break away from the prison wall of sense
  and silence within which the illiterate man and woman must live.
  Whatever else Governor James B. McCreary may do for his State,
  this proclamation and his recommendation to the legislature that it
  provide for the appointment of an Illiteracy Commission must always
  be accounted among his wisest and most important acts.


Attractive and easy texts and school supplies for adults which would
enable them to learn quickly and would stimulate them to further
endeavor was a manifest need. The little newspaper had been valuable
for a county campaign, but was not so easy to carry out for the State,
with its varying conditions and its remote sections to be reached.

Someone had to provide the tools with which these men and women could
dig their way out of the mental dungeon in which they were imprisoned.
A reader was prepared for them and brought out as quickly as possible.
The first lesson was:

  Can you read?
  Can you write?
  Can you read and write?
  I can read.
  I can write.
  I can read and write.

This lesson contained but six words. It appealed to the ego, referring
as it did to the student himself, and related to the activity in which
he was, at the moment, engaged.

As the lessons progressed, farm improvement, good roads, civics,
health, home economics, horticulture, sanitation and thrift were
woven into them, and each lesson accomplished a double purpose, the
primary one of teaching the pupil to read, and at the same time that of
imparting instruction in the things that vitally affected him in his
daily life. It was a correlation of subjects which, in adult education
is even more necessary than in that of the child.

The lessons on the road, placed side by side, compared the advantage of
the good and the disadvantage of the bad roads. The first was:

  This is a road.
  It is a good road.
  It will save my time.
  It will save my team.
  It will save my wagon.
  The good road is my friend.
  I will work for the good road.

On the opposite page appeared this lesson:

  See this bad road.
  It will waste my time.
  It will hurt my team.
  It will hurt my wagon.
  The bad road is my foe.
  I will get rid of the bad road.

The key-note sentence in each lesson appeared in script form at the
bottom of the page and was to be copied by each student a number of

When a man has repeatedly written the sentence: “The good road is my
friend. I will work for the good road,” and “The bad road is my foe. I
will get rid of the bad road,” he becomes something of an advocate of
good roads through suggestion, if through nothing else. The copying of
the script sentences in the book pledged the student to progress and
impressed upon him certain evils with fine psychological effect. In the
reading lessons on voting, the key-note sentence to be copied was: “The
man who sells his vote sells his honor.”

This type of copy which was carried throughout the book had, like the
reading lessons, a double purpose; the necessary practice in writing
and the dwelling on and emphasizing of some vital truth. These took the
place of the axioms commonly used in the copy-books for day schools.
Instead of writing, “Many men of many minds, Many men of many kinds,”
these folk wrote, “I will build a silo,” “I will rotate my crops,” “It
is a waste of time and money to raise scrub stock,” “We must protect
the forest,” “I will take a newspaper and read it,” “I will keep my
money in the bank.”

Taxation is the cause of much unintelligent complaint, and some
enlightenment on the subject seemed worth while. One lesson read:

  I shall pay my taxes.
  I pay a tax on my home.
  I pay a tax on my land.
  I pay a tax on my cattle.
  I pay a tax on my money.
  I pay a tax on many other things.
  Where does all this money go?
  It goes to keep up the schools.
  It goes to keep up the roads.
  It goes to keep down crime.
  It goes to keep down disease.
  I am glad that I have a home to pay taxes on.

The climax of this lesson was truly as much a surprise to the readers
as any fiction. As they read of the many things on which they paid
taxes and the query, “Where does all this money go?” they expected
denunciation to follow, such as the demagogues revel in to confuse and
inflame the minds of ignorant voters. Instead they found a reminder and
an explanation of the benefits derived from wise and just taxation.

One page in the reader was consecrated to the tooth-brush, which was
pictured at the top in all its pristine beauty. This lesson was as
necessary in some places as the fire-drill is in the city schools.

One of our field workers had found on her visits to the different
homes in a certain county that brushing her teeth was a performance
viewed with wonder, and one that never failed to draw a crowd. At one
place where the children of the household gathered round watching this
performance one little girl let her curiosity get the better of her and
called to her mother indoors, “Mother, what’s she adoin’?”

The mother answered in a humiliated tone, “Oh, hush, honey, she’s a
brushin’ her teeth. When you git to be a school teacher you kin brush

The farmers were partial to the lessons on conservation of the soil
such as, “Run and tell the farmer that the brook is stealing his soil”;
the lumberman preferred the one on keeping down the forest fires, and
so the different lessons appealed to different students. I had occasion
to note their preferences when at the reading contests in various
counties each student was permitted to choose the lesson that he would

In Cumberland County in a contest among the pupils of the colored
moonlight schools, “Uncle Ike,” a great character among them, was
given the honor of being the first to read. He mounted the platform
with book open in hand and began the reading of a selection which
seemed very appropriate.

  I will take my bath every day.
  It will keep me fresh and sweet and clean.

In Clay County, another of the mountain counties, a large crowd of
men and women gathered for a contest. Among them was a tall, lank,
under-nourished man, who rose and with a look at his wife that carried
indictment read this lesson with peculiar emphasis:

  God made man.
  Woman makes bread.
  It takes the bread
  That woman makes,
  To sustain the man
  That God made.
  But the bread
  That some women make.
  Would not sustain any man
  That God ever made.

In the same contest a little woman with a baby in her arms rose to
read and in a gracious manner worthy of a Frenchwoman said, “This is
my favorite lesson,” and read the author’s letter to the pupils of the
moonlight schools:

  Frankfort, Ky.
  Nov. 5, 1915.


  This little book was written especially for the dear boys and girls
  of the moonlight schools, not the youngest perhaps, but the finest
  school children on earth.

  You have set a fine example for both young and old, and one which
  many will surely follow.

  You have been faithful and have finished the first of the series of
  the Country Life Readers. The second is now ready for you, and the
  author hopes that you will read it with profit and pleasure.

  The world has great need of men and women who read well and write
  well. These are two of the greatest arts, and remember that they can
  be acquired only by constant practice.

  The preparation of this book has been truly a labor of love. If you
  have received any benefit from it, the author is fully repaid.

  Yours sincerely,

This reader, known as the _Country Life Reader, First Book_, was
followed by others in the series, but none could do for the illiterates
what this first book did for them, and none to them would ever be so

The reader ended, as did the later ones, with appropriate Bible
selections. The climax of each book was a Thanksgiving hymn.

The Moonlight School Tablets in their outer appearance were blue with
red binding, the identical color scheme of the old “blue-back speller,”
which, to my mind, was one of the things that made that book so
popular. Its cover of heavenly blue with the rich contrasting binding
of scarlet prepossessed many a beginner in its favor before they had
even opened the book and peeped inside.

The tablet contained, first, a white sheet of blotting paper into which
the name of the student was to be written in indented letters a number
of times, that his first writing exercise might be his name, the thing
which he craved most to learn. Next, there were sheets of delicate
pink, violet, yellow and green blotting papers filled with sunken
letters which the students traced in grooves to gain form quickly,
having already acquired facility of movement in their daily duties, by
constant use of fingers for manual work. In this respect they had the
advantage of the child who must learn movement as well as form, from
the start.

These colored sheets with their sunken letters that kept the pencil in
grooves while writing had a remarkable fascination for these people,
many of whose lives were devoid of color and interest. Tracing in the
grooves permitted of no awkward or straggling letters, and this was
most encouraging to them. The remainder of this beginner’s tablet was
composed of plain, smooth paper, widely spaced, on which they wrote the
script copies from the _Country Life Reader_.

On their pencils was printed the slogan of the Illiteracy Campaign,
so even these were useful for more than one purpose. One woman wrote,
“I’ve read everything in my book and even what’s printed on my pencil.”

The moonlight schools have many lessons to teach besides reading and
writing. Their message is broad and deep and high. What they teach is
fittingly expressed in this poem of L. H. Bailey’s:

  I teach
  The earth and soil
  To them that toil;
  The hill and fen
  To common men
  Who live right here.

  The plants that grow,
  The winds that blow,
  The streams that run,
  In rain and sun,
  Throughout the year.

  And then I lead
  Through wood and mead,
  Through mold and sod,
  Out unto God,
  With love and cheer,
  I teach!








In the spring of 1917 the War came and the illiterates faced new
problems. Illiterate boys were swept, along with others, into the
army. Hitherto they had been barred from army service, but now the War
Department removed this restriction and let them in.

The first registration for army service was for men from 21 to 31
years of age, and took place on June 5, 1917. The Kentucky Illiteracy
Commission immediately turned its attention to illiterate soldiers and
concentrated its energies on helping to win the War. In three weeks’
time the names and addresses had been secured of all those in the
various counties who had registered by mark. The moonlight schools were
not scheduled to open until late in August, but a special session was
opened for these illiterate soldiers that they might learn to read
and write before they were sent to camp. This call was sent out to the
teachers through the press of the State:


  An unusual situation confronts those engaged in teaching in this
  State. It is one which will put to the test your patriotism and your
  devotion to education, as well.

  30,000 young men in Kentucky signed their registration cards on June
  5th by mark, being unable to sign their names. These are not confined
  to any locality, but are scattered throughout every county in the
  State. They are not colored, but mainly white.

  These figures must stagger every thoughtful Kentuckian. They would
  shame us to the point of concealment, but for the need of these young
  men for immediate relief. Concealment works no cure. Only prompt and
  decisive action can do that.

  These young men are not to blame for their misfortune. The
  enlightened citizens of Kentucky, who have tolerated lax compulsory
  attendance laws, and have submitted to the non-enforcement of such
  school attendance laws as are on our statute books, are mostly to
  blame. But there is no time to waste in crying “shame” or in fixing
  the blame. This is a time to atone in such measure as we may.

  It is unfair that these young men should be torn from their homes
  and dear ones and sent across the water to fight your battles and
  mine without being able to read a letter or to write a line back
  home. Next to actual engagement in battle, the most momentous event
  in the life of a soldier is the arrival of a letter from home. To
  his anxious mother a letter from her soldier boy is a comfort above
  price. No third person, however willing, can convey the sentiments
  and secrets of these two to each other.

  The Y. M. C. A. provides an abundance of reading and writing
  material, but these boys can only gaze upon it hungrily as a thing
  they crave to use, but cannot. Such printed reminders, posted about
  the Y. M. C. A. camp, as “Write home,” “Have you written to mother
  today?” are unintelligible to them.

  A Committee hands to each boy a pocket testament as he passes through
  the port of New York to embark for the war zone. 30,000 Kentucky boys
  can get no comfort from the Bible, even when it is given to them.

  These young men may be called into camp September 1st. Beginning
  July 23rd, we can give them a six weeks elementary course in the
  moonlight schools, such as will enable them to read and write their
  own letters, and to peruse elementary books and to read most items in
  the newspapers. Such as cannot attend the moonlight schools can be
  taught individually at home. Public school teachers, who are already
  in their schools have the best opportunity. Every one of these I
  am sure will gladly serve, but in counties where the schools are
  not in session and where the teacher is not on the ground, former
  teachers and educated citizens can start night classes in the public

  There may have been a time when these young men were sensitive about
  this affliction, or when they were indifferent, but that time is
  past. It is an hour of crisis with them, and they will be seeking
  teachers as earnestly as teachers could, possibly, seek them.

  It is the duty of every public school teacher in Kentucky to
  volunteer. Some have already done so on the mere suggestion of
  such a call. Some even who are not teachers have volunteered. It
  is a high privilege to render to these unfortunate ones and to our
  State and Nation this service. We may have been unable to invest
  in Liberty Loan Bonds. It may not be ours to follow the boys to
  France to minister to them under the Red Cross, but we can add to
  their comfort, their self-respect and efficiency by giving them this
  training before they go.

  forbid! Why should she send any? Hasn’t she an Illiteracy Commission,
  11,000 public school teachers and as patriotic people as ever the
  sun shone on? To the guns, yes, every man of them--even though with
  their affliction they might well be exempt from military duty, I
  believe--but to the books first, and then they’ll go to the guns more
  content and with less embarrassment and less handicap.

  Let the lights burn for the soldier boys on the evening of July 23rd
  in every rural, village and city school-house in the State! Write or
  wire that you will volunteer and let us provide you with books and

  Yours sincerely,
  President Kentucky Illiteracy Commission.
  Frankfort, Ky.

Those who had attended the moonlight schools had always been provided
with free books, both as an inducement and as a provision to insure
success. Certainly the same generous treatment must be accorded the
soldier students.

A campaign for funds was organized, and in keeping with the spirit of
the times this was military in form. Eleven men of prominence from
the eleven congressional districts in the state were summoned to
Louisville to take the lead and the responsibility in the campaign to
provide illiterate soldiers with books. Not one refused. Leaving their
law offices, the courts, their banks and corporations they came. They
became the eleven division commanders, and with their county captains,
precinct lieutenants and numerous faithful privates, made the speediest
finance campaign on record, and carried their part of the enterprise
through with success.

Teachers volunteered faster than we could assign and equip them. Some
were out of the state, it being their vacation time, and from their
retreats up in the mountains, on the lakes and even from Canada they
came hurrying home.

New text-books were written to meet the need and to partake of the
spirit of the times. The peaceful lessons on building roads, spraying
fruit trees, rotating crops and conserving soil were not for men like
these who were putting such things behind them. Theirs must be lessons
martial in tone, so some were prepared centering around “men and guns,
flags, camps, tents, kaisers and kings.” To make their training as much
an inspiration as possible their books and school supplies were given
the appearance of war. Their covers were gay in patriotic colors, even
the pencils being in red, white and blue. A soldier with his gun was
the cover design, and he appeared in all his glory, wreathed about with
a border of flags. _The Soldier’s First Book_ and _Soldier’s Tablet_
were the names given to their readers and writing books.

Brave though our countrymen are, there is no question but that many an
American boy was hesitant in the early days of the War about going to
fight on foreign soil. The first lesson in the _Soldier’s First Book_
had in it a trace of psychology, as well as a content through which men
were supposed to master timely words and sentences:

  I go.
  I go to war.
  Do you go?
  Do you go to war?
  Yes, I go to war.
  Yes, we go to war.

There was considerable debate at first as to the part which the United
States should play in the War, some believing that her remoteness from
the theatre of action would practically prohibit her sending anything
but money, munitions and food. “The man with the hoe” was acclaimed a
patriot, so a lesson that delicately suggested a preference for the
gun was produced:

  The war is on.
  Some will fight with gun.
  Some will fight with hoe.
  All will fight with gun or hoe.
  I will fight with gun.
  You may fight with hoe.

To inspire something of enthusiasm for the approaching life in camp,
about which there were many rumors, some distressing and some vague,
this lesson was prepared:

  Is this the camp?
  Yes, this is the camp.
  See the flag!
  See the tents!
  See the men!
  See the guns!
  This is fine!

The wisdom and justice of our nation’s course was being disputed in
those early days before sentiment for the War had crystallized, and the
first reasons ever given some of the fighting men for our being at war
with Germany were learned in a simple lesson like this in the moonlight

  Why are we at war?
  To keep our country free.
  To keep other peoples free.
  To make the world safe to live in.
  To stop the rule of kings.
  To put an end to war.

The purpose of the next lesson is obvious:

  See the flag!
  It is our flag!
  Our flag never knew defeat!
  Why did our flag never know defeat?
  Because our flag has always stood for right.

Camp life with its crowds and complexities would need some introduction
to them, especially the features which would immediately affect them.
Each man would have an early interest in the orders of the day, posted
up around the camp on bulletin boards, so this lesson referring to
their duties was thought applicable.

  Let us read this.
  What is it?
  It is the bulletin board.
  What is it about?
  It tells when one is on detail.
  What is that?
  It is one’s duty for the day.
  Am I on duty today?
  Yes, you are on guard duty.
  Are you on?
  Yes, I am on kitchen police.

Undoubtedly, there would be situations in camp requiring a sense of
humor. A lesson which prepared them somewhat for the blunders and jests
of their rookie days was this:

  Let us play a joke on a rookie.
  All right, what shall it be?
  Send him after a key.
  A key to what?
  A key to the parade ground.
  Would that be a joke?
  Can’t you see it?
  No, I cannot.
  Did you ever see a key to a field?
  No, I see. The joke is on me.

On the hot summer evenings of July and August, 1917, Kentucky boys,
subject to army service, wended their way to the moonlight schools.
These men had a new and powerful incentive. Many of them had never
known a week’s absence from home, and some had journeyed no farther
away than the county seat, to return to their own roof-trees at night.
They now faced separation from all who were dear, separation by a
distance of three thousand miles, and in a situation of constant danger
which would stir every emotion of the heart and demand some connection
with the ones at home. Their extremity was great, and they realized it.
This was evident by the numbers that came, the grim determination with
which they attacked their books and their unconcealed joy over a simple
lesson learned. Their teachers had a feeling of tenderness toward them
and a desire to help them that amounted to exaltation equal to that, no
doubt, felt by any who served and sacrificed during the War. Knowledge
was never so glorified as it was those nights in the moonlight
schools, when the soldiers clutched at it as hungry men for bread and
the teachers bestowed it as manna with heavenly grace.

New speed records were made in the time required to learn to read
and write. The men in the first draft who had missed the moonlight
schools were met by teachers at the station where they entrained and
rendered “first aid” in reading and writing for a day or an hour as the
time would permit. It was in one of these first-aid classes that the
champion record was made. A bridegroom, torn from the arms of his bride
whom he had married but the day before, sought to learn in one day’s
time that he might write a love letter back to her. Not the next week
nor on the morrow did he desire to write her, but it must be done that
very day. According to the poet,

  Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s aid,
  Some banished lover or some captive maid,

so surely it would not fail him now. From early morning until his
train left that night he strove to master script, and not in vain.
Before his train left, he wrote the letter, beginning it “Dear
Darling,” and his exultant joy must have been equalled by her happiness
and surprise when the letter arrived.

In spite of the vigorous campaign waged, some were missed, and it was
no uncommon thing during the late summer of 1917 for men to be arrested
for their failure to register and brought before Federal officials.
It was then disclosed that they were illiterate and did not know of
the registration or the draft, and some of them did not even know that
the country was at war. This added to the expense of the Government
and to the burdens and annoyance of officials, but these were nothing
in comparison with the humiliation and the anguish suffered by the
innocent victims and their families at home.

The exemption boards found difficulty in testing the eyes of illiterate
soldiers. No provision having been made they invented devices of
their own. Some boards substituted pictures for the lettered cards
customarily used by oculists. Stalwart, finely developed men stood up
before draft boards and answered questions like these: “Do you see this
little dog or can you see best the larger dog above?” “Do you see the
cat in this line best or the one below?”


A second and third session of the moonlight schools for illiterate
soldiers followed the first. Nowhere else in America were
illiterate registrants being taught. The camps were in process of
construction. The time between the registration of soldiers and their
encampment--some three months or more--could profitably have been
employed by illiterates of draft age in every State in learning to read
and write. The records revealed that there were 700,000 men between the
ages of 21 and 31 in the United States who registered by mark.

Kentucky men entered Camp Taylor at Louisville with books in their
hands and determination to learn burning in their hearts. Many of
them had had a taste, at least, of knowledge, and even when they had
learned no more at the first aid stations than to write their names,
had been provided with school supplies, pledged to continue their
lessons, and placed under the instruction of some educated member of
their group who promised to continue the teaching when they reached
camp. In many cases they were accompanied by their moonlight school
teachers, who had, themselves, been drafted out of their schools.

Some, in spite of all precautions, escaped the moonlight schools and
entered camp illiterate. Soldiers from Indiana and Illinois were
quartered at Camp Taylor, also, many of whom were unable to read and
write. The experiences of illiterate soldiers at Camp Taylor were
identical, no doubt, with those in all the other training camps. It
was a story of humiliation, handicap and discouragement and in many
cases black and bitter despair. Their utter bewilderment added to
the difficulties of an already complex situation, and so reduced
the efficiency of the company or the squad that their presence was
resented by some officers, who at every opportunity and upon the
slightest pretext shifted the illiterates from their own to another

The tables in the Y. M. C. A. hut spread with sheets upon sheets of
white paper and envelopes were to the illiterate soldiers as a feast
to which they had not been bidden. One soldier approached another
timidly at a Y. M. C. A. writing table and said, “Will you back a dozen
envelopes for me to my mother, please?”

“Certainly,” replied the other, “but why a dozen? Are you planning to
write her every day? You must be a dutiful son.”

“No, these are to last me a year,” the soldier confessed. “I promised
my mother that I’d get some envelopes backed and that once a month I’d
slip a dollar bill in one and mail it to her and by that she’d know
that I was still alive.”

Some were too proud to confess their illiteracy or to ask for help,
and their difficulties were multiplied. Some carried letters in their
pockets for days before they could overcome their pride sufficiently
to ask someone to read them. One soldier was sent to the guard house
for disobeying orders, and after he had served his sentence, it was
disclosed that he had disobeyed his orders only because he could not
read them.

Meanwhile, the moonlight schools and first aid classes were “leavening
the whole,” and an illiteracy campaign was finally in progress at
Camp Taylor under government auspices, with the Kentucky Illiteracy
Commission as the base of supplies. The war against illiteracy in this
camp was the inspiration for others which soon followed its example.
Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Kentucky troops were
being shifted from time to time, was the next to organize, and though
no preparation had been made by the Government in the beginning for
this educational emergency, the most pressing of the War, the need was
being realized in every camp, and soon illiterate negroes were being
taught at Camp Lee in Virginia, illiterate foreigners at Camp Dix,
New Jersey, and illiterates of every race and class in the other camps
throughout the nation, and even overseas.

A Bible was presented to each American soldier by certain organizations
as they embarked for France, and as the first troops began to move
overseas, the President sent them this message:


  You are undertaking a great duty. The heart of the whole country is
  with you. Everything that you do will be watched with the deepest
  interest and with the deepest solicitude not only by those near and
  dear to you, but by the whole nation besides. For this great war
  draws us all together, makes us all comrades and brothers, as all
  true Americans felt themselves to be when we first made good our
  national independence. The eyes of all the world will be upon you,
  because you are in some special sense the soldiers of freedom.

  Let it be your pride, therefore, to show all men everywhere not
  only what good soldiers you are, but also what good men you are,
  keeping yourselves fit and straight in everything, and pure and clean
  through and through. Let us set for ourselves a standard so high
  that it will be a glory to live up to it, and then let us live up
  to it and add a new laurel to the crown of America. My affectionate
  confidence goes with you in every battle and every test. God keep and
  guide you!

  The White House,
  Washington. WOODROW WILSON.

But, alas, there were many among them who could not read the Word of
God or the President’s benediction.

By the spring of 1918, America had many men overseas, and homesickness
was reported to be acute, and in some cases even fatal among them.
General Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces,
realized that there was something more essential in keeping up the
morale of these boys than the socks, sweaters, candy and tobacco with
which the American people showered them and so he issued this order to
the women at home:

  The women of America must regard themselves as thoroughly
  militarized. They must consider themselves as real soldiers and take
  orders from their officers here and obey them without question. Any
  woman who has a husband, brother, sweetheart, or relative in foreign
  service should write, write, write long, cheerful letters telling
  everything that happens in the old home town. The men are hungry for
  news and the things which seem like trivial happenings at home will
  be of the greatest interest to the men.

  The order which I would send to the women of America is to work and

All who returned from the War Zone, lecturers, propagandists and
others, brought the same message--“The boys need letters, letters;
write, write, write.” The sad news came of boys dying of homesickness
in the army overseas. It was not indifference or negligence on the part
of the soldiers’ families that caused them to withhold letters, but in
many cases it was the inability to write.

Here was a work for the moonlight schools scarcely less urgent than
that of teaching the boys themselves, so sessions were begun for the
wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts of soldiers, and for the men
over thirty-one who were subject to the next draft. The main purpose
of these sessions was to teach those who enrolled to write to the boys
in France, so they came with that expectation and all the training
was to that end. Not only were they taught as quickly as possible to
write letters, but they were instructed as to the kind to write and the
sort to withhold. Letters such as “Mrs. Wiggs” and “Pollyanna” would
write--radiating enthusiasm and cheer, were placed, for comparison,
on the blackboard beside one of exaggerated woes, which rendered the
latter so absurd that none would care to even faintly imitate it.

Boys in France wrote joyfully on receipt of these letters. The fact
that they were written by those who were illiterate when they left home
gave them a happy surprise. One boy wrote, and his was a typical letter.

  You couldn’t imagine how pleased I was to get a letter from my dear
  mother. Ma I wouldn’t take the world for that letter. You certainly
  did well. I could read your letter a whole lot better than I could

A war course of study was prepared and issued for use in these
sessions. The drills of peace time gave way to the more pressing ones
of food conservation, the Red Cross, Liberty Loans and lessons on the
history of the War and the geography of the warring countries, all of
which were designed to bring isolated people into co-operation with the
agencies that were striving to win the War.

The _Soldier’s First Book_ was revised and elaborated and contributed
to the Y. M. C. A., the educational arm of the Government, for
publication by their press and for use in the camps. It was turned over
to them on the one condition that it be provided to every illiterate
soldier free, as had been done in Kentucky, in the early days of the

By the fall of 1918 an elaborate educational program had been mapped
out by the Government and was being applied in places, but the signing
of the Armistice called for a complete reversal of these plans, and
for a program that would quickly turn the minds of the men to the
things of peace and reconstruction. The plans were immediately shifted,
and the Government sent 50,000 _Country Life Readers_ overseas for
illiterate soldiers detained on foreign soil. The lessons on the clean
ballot, just taxation, soil conservation and cultivation, good roads
and the prevention of disease were all part of the reconstruction
program, which would require no less courage, energy and patriotism
than even the War itself.

It is a far cry from the school-houses of Kentucky to the army
occupation camps in Germany, but the moonlight schools had trailed the
illiterate soldier through the camps, across the seas, through England
and France to the army of occupation on the Rhine. Letters came from
many soldiers. This one from a lieutenant in the army--a Kentucky
boy--was the last received and made a fitting close to the part the
moonlight schools had played in the War:


  I suppose it will come somewhat as a surprise to learn that we are
  conducting moonlight schools according to your plans in far-off
  Germany. I’m now on outpost duty, and your book is in use in the
  point furthermost from Coblenz in the American area. Six months ago I
  don’t suppose many people expected the moonlight school movement to
  reach beyond the Rhine.

  I have a fine class, mostly Italians. They’re all anxious to learn,
  and I get as much pleasure from teaching as I did when I opened the
  first moonlight school in Camp Shelby. I wrote you about that.

  The teaching of illiterates is being carried on throughout our
  division, and I suppose in other units also. We keep records of their
  work and submit reports from time to time in the same manner that
  other work is being done in the army.

  Good luck to the moonlight schools and I hope that every American boy
  when he returns from overseas will be able to read and write.


Soldiers returned from France talking education, urging a better school
system, and a provision for everybody, young and old, to improve
themselves. It was the burden of almost every soldier’s heart. Alvin
York, acclaimed the greatest hero of the World War because of his
remarkable feat of capturing 132 Germans single handed, came home and
started raising money to build a school for the people of his native
hills, and Sergeant Sandlin, the Kentucky mountaineer, whose record as
a war hero was second only to that of York, returned to Kentucky, and,
enlisting under the Illiteracy Commission, joined in the illiteracy
crusade. None who listened to York’s earnest plea for the people of the
mountains of Tennessee, or heard Sandlin tell of the army commissions
offered him in France which, because of his limited education he could
not accept, will forget the crude but eloquent appeal they made. Like
other soldiers returned from overseas, they came back preaching the
gospel of education. It was a universal feeling among soldiers of the
Allies, even of those from India, a country where few women are taught
to read and write. The illiterate soldier in Kipling’s story, “Eyes of
Asia,” dictated this letter to be written home from France. “We must
cause our children to be educated in the future. This is the opinion of
all the regiment, for by education even women accomplish marvels, like
the women of Franceville. Get the boys and girls taught to read and
write well. Here teaching is done by government order.”

Most of the boys who came back wanted to enter school themselves.
Theirs was a new dignity, as veterans of the War, and their illiteracy
was more humiliating to them and more shocking to the spectator
than before. To those who possessed some education, the colleges
and universities opened wide their doors, but the illiterate and
near-illiterate boys were subjects for the kindly ministrations of the
moonlight schools.

Girls who had offered their services for patriotic duty of various
kinds during the War and had been rejected because of their limited
education, had not gone home to content themselves with their lot,
but the rude awakening to their condition had sent them seeking
opportunities to learn. Middle-aged men and women and older ones whose
illiteracy had been revealed to them during the War in all its ugliness
were nursing a divine discontent. These were ready, as never before,
for school.

There was another reason for educating the illiterates which might
well have been considered urgent from the Government’s point of view.
The unrest following the War and the spread of radicalism, made a
situation scarcely less critical than the War itself. The propaganda of
these discontented ones found in the mass of illiterates, native and
foreign-born, its most fertile soil. The day schools would instill
their lessons of loyalty and patriotism, but the crisis to be met was
one of the immediate future, and would be decided, not by the children,
but by the adults.



Reconstruction gave a new motive and a new urge to the moonlight
schools. There was much besides reading, writing, spelling, and
arithmetic to be taught in those days, and an unusual opportunity for
correlation of those subjects with timely ones. There was the habit of
waste and extravagance to be corrected, and the Nation’s war debt to be
paid, which called for training in thrift, and intensive training at
that; there were forests to be conserved, soil to be reclaimed; loyalty
to the country to be instilled, the “Own your own home” movement to be
emphasized, the better use of the English language to be secured, a
higher appreciation developed of the benefits of American citizenship,
disease to be stamped out and human life conserved. After the most
destructive war in history all of these had their claim to importance
in any school curriculum and in the one for adults could not be
ignored. They had their place in the reconstruction course of study for
the moonlight schools. They were taught in the reading, writing and
composition lessons and in the drills.

The cover of the new course of study told its own story of what
the moonlight schools would try to do in reconstruction days. The
school-house pictured there in the moonlight with many roads running
from it, with signboards pointing to “Education,” “Sanitation,”
and “Health,” “Good Roads,” “Thrift,” “Better Speech” and “Better
Citizenship,” would undertake, wherever it could spread its light, to
meet the emergency which followed the War.

As the moonlight school session started the Governor of Kentucky issued
this message:

  While the countries of Europe rebuild their ruined cities and
  rehabilitate their industries, it is our privilege in the United
  States to rehabilitate the lives of our fellow citizens. One of the
  most necessary and most noble of reconstruction tasks is to teach all
  those who are unable to read and write. We must do this before the
  commonwealth and the nation can make great advancement.

  The teachers and citizens of Kentucky are pioneers in the movement,
  which has now become nation-wide and has even been adopted in other
  countries. The movement which they have so unselfishly fostered
  demands the best that is in us all at this time when the last battle
  in the crusade against illiteracy in Kentucky is being waged.

  I honor the moonlight school teachers and set a high value upon the
  service which they are volunteering to render to humanity and to the
  state. May that service enrich their own lives as much as it will
  their fellow-men and the great commonwealth of Kentucky.


The moonlight school teachers were aided and supervised by the county
illiteracy agents. These field forces had gradually increased in number
since the first experiment was tried out with them in three mountain
counties in 1915. Kentucky meanwhile had made two appropriations,
$10,000 in 1916, and this had been increased to $75,000 in 1918. The
field agents of the Illiteracy Commission now numbered seventy-five.
An institute was held for these county agents at the State Capitol,
where they were gathered for training at the state’s expense. After a
week’s deliberation and discussion of the problem of illiteracy and the
methods of attack, they went into the field with an enthusiasm that was
contagious and well-nigh irresistible. These county agents were men and
women of professional training and high attainments. Many of them were
college and university graduates. They were practically volunteers,
their salaries being only about sufficient to cover their traveling
expenses. What the teacher attempted in her district, they attempted
in the county in a larger way. The story of the campaign made by these
agents, their daily and nightly travel on horseback or afoot, their
valiant efforts to reach illiterates, their ready arguments, their
tact and diplomacy, their enthusiasm and pluck would fill a volume in
itself. The spirit of these leaders and the scope of their operations
are revealed in the following report of a young woman who was one of
this corps of earnest workers:

  I am sending you the final report of the work done in Pulaski County.

  First, I desire to thank the Illiteracy Commission for extending me
  the privilege of serving the best cause in Kentucky, the effort to
  teach the illiterates, the most unfortunate people in the world, and
  to prevent illiteracy by enforcing the compulsory attendance law.

  I am happy to report forty-eight moonlight schools organized and two
  hundred and fifty illiterates taught to read and write. Besides this,
  one hundred or more are being taught at home.

  The people have shown a co-operative spirit and in many districts
  volunteered to teach in the moonlight schools. They are anxious to
  have this curse erased, as they realize it is a menace and prevents
  progress in every community where it exists.

  The illiteracy work has had excellent results, many too numerous to
  mention, but,

  First. It has shown the need of a new educational system where the
  unfortunates can be given a chance to learn and advance.

  Second. It has increased community spirit, and a willingness to
  co-operate in any progressive movement.

  Third. It has increased day school attendance by a large percent.
  School reports show an increase of twenty percent.

  Fourth. Last, but not least, to those taught it means better
  sanitation and living conditions, better citizens to Pulaski County
  and the State of Kentucky.

The state had been districted and seven district agents were put in
charge. These went from county to county aiding and spurring the
county agents and organizing every class and group of citizens to
co-operate. Among these seven were four war veterans just returned from
France--three war heroes and a Red Cross nurse. The other three were
veterans no less, for they had served for years in that great defense
line--the public schools of the state. One page from their “Day by
Day” Books with its record of conferences and meetings held, the calls
on school people, editors, ministers, bankers, club women, public
officials, fraternal organizations and commercial bodies would show
something of their activities, but no mere record of daily duties could
set forth the spirit of patriotism that animated them or the zeal with
which they labored day and night.

This was a time for the rehabilitation of lives, as Governor Black
had said in his message, and those misguided men and women who had
chosen error’s way and were paying the penalty within prison walls
could not be overlooked. Teaching prisoners began in the early days
of the illiteracy crusade, but in this time of reconstruction, this
part of the work was strengthened and extended. Often the teaching was
done by the jailer and his wife, sometimes it was done by the jailer’s
school-teacher daughter, sometimes it was by some other member of the
official family, frequently the county school superintendent.

At one time classes and individuals were learning in about a hundred
jails, and the letters that came out of these schools were filled
with mingled gratitude and regret--gratitude for the belated chance
and regret that it had not come sooner, when it might possibly have
diverted them from the mistaken course which led them into prison walls.

The moonlight schools in the state reformatory and penitentiary found
a rare opportunity. Here illiteracy was grouped. Hundreds of men had
made their mark on the prison record and many had signed their names
in scrawling, illegible letters but could do no more in the way of
writing. Some of these had but a year or two to serve. They would soon
go forth into their communities and whatever education they might
acquire would doubtless serve as a deterrent from future crime and as
an inspiration toward some worth-while achievement. These illiterates
were easy to reach, for most of them preferred an evening in class to
one spent in the cell. However, for those who might be indifferent, a
spur was provided in this resolution passed by the State Prison Board:

  WHEREAS, Kentucky is now engaged in an effort to stamp illiteracy
  out of the state, and INASMUCH, as instructors and facilities for
  teaching are now furnished the inmates of penal institutions under
  the control of this Board, and all are given the opportunity to read
  and write, it is therefore ordered by the State Board of Control,
  that one of the essential prerequisites to a parole should be that
  a prisoner shall be able to read and write, and the Board therefore
  adopts the rule that hereafter all inmates shall be able to read and
  write, before their application for parole will be considered.

This act making the prisoner’s ability to read and write a condition of
parole, proved a great incentive to the illiterates to learn.

Some of the prisoners when their terms expired went back home and
became educational evangelists in their communities. It was said of
one man who had returned from the State reformatory and joined in
the illiteracy crusade, “He talks like one who had returned from a
university rather than from the ‘pen.’”

His conversation was all of teachers, schools, books and “everybody
learning to read and write.”

The Warden of the Kentucky State Reformatory in his report at the
close of 1919 made the following statement:

  Many of our prisoners who were supposed to be able to read and
  write when they entered the institution were actually found to be
  illiterate. The total number taught to read and write during my three
  and a half years as Warden, is 1,300 as nearly as I can sum it up
  from the records. The improvement in the discipline of the men who
  learned to read and write was most noticeable. I gave the work my
  personal attention and feel that it was one of the most important
  duties of my office.

The Warden of the State Penitentiary reported to the Illiteracy
Commission as follows:

  It will always be a greater source of gratification to me that nearly
  1,400 adults have been taught to read and write during my seven and
  a half years as the head of this Institution than everything else I
  have accomplished. I will state that every prisoner is permitted to
  come out to the school session and we have all illiterates attending
  except a few very old ones whose eyesight is too defective, possibly
  five or six.


According to these wardens’ reports, 2,700 prisoners in the State
Reformatory and Penitentiary had been redeemed from illiteracy during a
period of seven years, an average of about 385 each year. The prisoners
had been provided with free books, had been encouraged by the wardens
and others in official life, even the Governor appearing on occasion to
present them with the diplomas which were conferred for the completion
of the course in these schools.

Many of these men, by their own confession, had gone wrong simply
because they had had so little to fill their lives. In a class of
beginners one evening, the men were requested to stand and tell why
they had not secured an education. When all had finished, the story
they told could have been summed up in these few words, “I never had no

The illiteracy campaign was being waged for the removal of illiteracy
which already existed but it was, also, creating sentiment for the
prevention of illiteracy in the future. Those who led the fight to
remove illiteracy had never doubted that “it is better to build a
fence around the precipice than to wait with the ambulance below,”
but so many had already gone over the precipice that in mercy’s name
they must be succored. The very act of rescue had attracted sufficient
attention to the calamity, it was hoped, to insure the building of the
fence--the creation of school attendance officers who would enforce
the compulsory attendance law. The county illiteracy agents had been
given permissive power by the Legislature of 1918 to act as attendance
officers and had pioneered such a measure and created sentiment for
regular attendance officers with full power. This sentiment must be
crystallized before the approaching Legislature convened. To this
end two thousand speakers went into the field to urge the people to
their utmost efforts in teaching all to read and write and also to
advocate two kindred educational reforms--the attendance officer
as a preventive of another crop of illiterates, and a living wage
for those who had “borne the heat and burden” of the campaign--the
public school teachers of the state. When the Legislature convened the
following January the sentiment was overwhelmingly favorable and it was
a mere matter of phrasing the laws, creating attendance officers and
increasing teachers’ salaries, which were promptly passed.

Kentucky in a few years time taught 130,000 to read and write. This
record of the number taught is based on letters of pupils, who stated
that they had learned, together with the reports of teachers and county
superintendents. The names of the illiterates had been obtained from
the United States Census Bureau early in the campaign to be used in
locating them and checking off their names as they were taught. Though
assured by the United States Commissioner of Education that these were
records that would not be divulged, we had invaded the Census Bureau
and secured the names of Rowan County’s illiterates. It was only a
step that led to the divulging of the names of all the illiterates in
Kentucky, though some pressure had to be put on before the complete
record was obtained. It was the first time in history that the Census
Bureau had ever been approached with such a request. The names of
illiterates formed a record hitherto unavailable to the states. This
Bureau has since been flooded with demands and some states have paid
thousands of dollars to have the names of their illiterates copied.
Kentucky had secured this information, not easily, but free of cost
to the state and in so doing was carrying out the mandate of the
Legislature which had charged the Commission “to make research, collect
data and statistics and procure surveys of any and all communities,
districts or vicinities of the state, looking to the obtaining of
a more detailed, definite and particular knowledge as to the true
conditions of the state with regard to its adult illiteracy.”

Kentucky through an effective attendance officer law, one of the fruits
of her illiteracy crusade, has secured herself against a recurrence of
illiteracy in future. The thousands of illiterates she has redeemed
have demonstrated both their ability and their desire to learn. There
lies before her the task of redeeming the others and of providing
opportunities for the newly-learned to advance through, at least, the
elementary grades. This will be done in time by following her crusade
with the establishment of an extensive system of evening schools, with
teachers paid and a State school for adults where those younger men and
women who can leave home may complete their education quickly and enter
upon intelligent and useful careers.


The crusade against illiteracy had extended rapidly to other states.
Moonlight schools were organized in the fall of 1913 in Bradley County,
Tennessee, to teach the mountaineers; in Spartanburg County, South
Carolina, to teach the people in mill villages, and in Grant County,
Washington, to teach some German farmers to read and write the English

Alabama was the second state to wage a state-wide crusade against
illiteracy. In 1914, Honorable William F. Feagin, State Superintendent
of Education of Alabama, sent out this call:

  It is my opinion that there are a number of people in this state
  who are patriotic enough to give themselves over to the task of
  making a crusade against illiteracy in their communities, if we only
  knew how to find them. For such as these, this pamphlet is being
  sent out and in the belief that any soul who gives himself to a task
  like this, namely that of bringing light and help and cheer to those
  who have never learned to know the independence, the self-respect,
  the information and the delight of the printed page, is worthy of
  honorable mention whenever we call to mind those true patriots who
  serve humanity and glorify the state.



In 1915 the Alabama Illiteracy Commission, the second illiteracy
commission in the world, was created and the Governor of Alabama issued
a proclamation against illiteracy, which was, also, the second of its
kind. The Alabama Illiteracy Commission was organized with former
Governor William D. Jelks as Chairman and Honorable William F. Feagin
as Secretary. With the slogan, “Illiteracy in Alabama--Let’s remove
it,” this Commission began the task of extending to every illiterate in
Alabama the opportunity of the moonlight schools.

Late in the year of 1914, Doctor J. Y. Joyner, State Superintendent of
Public Instruction of North Carolina, began to organize the forces
for an illiteracy campaign in that state. What was accomplished in this
initial campaign was reported by him to the editors of North Carolina
assembled at Montreat, July 1, 1915, when he appeared before them to
enlist them in a state-wide crusade against illiteracy. In summarizing
the results he said:

  The moonlight schools have proved successful in dealing with this
  problem of adult illiteracy in other places, notably in Rowan County,
  Kentucky, where they were first inaugurated about three years ago.
  The story of the movement in that state is inspiring and the results
  have been marvelous. Largely as a result of the discussion of this
  subject at the annual meeting of the State Association of County
  Superintendents at the Teacher’s Assembly last November eighty-two
  moonlight schools were conducted in twenty-nine counties in this
  state last year enrolling sixteen hundred illiterates of an average
  age of forty-five, most of whom learned to read and write.

Seven thousand North Carolina teachers volunteered the following year
to teach moonlight schools. At the close of the session Dr. Joyner

  A partial report from fifty of the one hundred counties show 638
  moonlight schools with 5,530 illiterates enrolled, most of whom have
  been taught. It is safe to estimate that the reports from other
  counties will show at least 10,000 have been reached through the
  moonlight schools and taught to read and write.


When such reports were in as could be collected--and many schools
known to be successful were never reported--9,698 illiterates had been
taught. Doctor Joyner then rallied his forces for a more heroic effort
with this war-cry:

  Outstrip Kentucky! What Kentucky has done and is doing North Carolina
  can and must do for the need is greater. Adult illiteracy in the
  United States is doomed. A few more years and there will not be a
  vestige of it left. Kentucky, led on by the spirit of inspiration of
  a woman, has preempted the first place in this glorious work. North
  Carolina may be second; indeed there is a chance that she may even
  outstrip Kentucky and be the first to reach the coveted goal.

The North Carolina Legislature of 1917 appropriated $25,000 annually
for moonlight schools and in 1919 the work was made a part of the
public school system of the state.

[Illustration: A North Carolina Moonlight School.]

Minnesota’s first moonlight schools were organized in 1915 in response
to a call from her State Superintendent of Education, Honorable C. G.
Shulz, who, in October, 1914, issued this call through the press of the

  I hesitate to accept the figures on Minnesota’s illiteracy. They
  would seem rather larger than we would expect even though at that
  they show Minnesota as being among the states having the least
  illiteracy. But, we have to recognize that there is some illiteracy
  here and the recognition carries with it the admission that there
  shouldn’t be any. Minnesota should stamp out illiteracy absolutely.

  Mrs. Stewart’s message to us makes this a fitting time to inaugurate
  a study of the subject here at home. I think that Minnesota’s
  illiteracy is centred mainly in urban rather than in rural
  communities. School heads would do well to make an immediate
  survey of their neighborhoods and to ascertain who the illiterates
  are and how to reach them.

Superintendent E. A. Freeman, of Itasca County, was the first of Mr.
Shulz’s lieutenants to respond. Mr. Freeman organized his teachers
in November, 1914, and conducted moonlight schools for illiterates,
mainly those of foreign birth. This pioneer work in Minnesota was the
inspiration of the Naturalization Bureau which adopted the plan and
promoted it in other localities. The Examiner of the Naturalization
Bureau for Minnesota in one of his official bulletins said:

  The National Government Bureau of Naturalization is anxious to help
  the foreign-born to learn to read and write the English language and
  to better understand our form of government. In the rural districts
  where the need is greatest, little has been done, but Professor E. A.
  Freeman, of Itasca County, introduced an entering wedge last year in
  his schools and met with much success.

Oklahoma had several moonlight schools in 1914 through the influence
of the Literacy League organized at the State Normal School at Edmond
by Moses E. Wood, head of the Departments of Pedagogy and Psychology.
In 1915 Honorable R. H. Wilson, State Superintendent of Education,
launched a state-wide campaign in which he enlisted several thousand
teachers besides organizing the press and the people of his state to
aid. A sweeping campaign was made by Mr. Wilson and the patriotic
men and women who enlisted with him. In an official report in 1916
Superintendent Wilson gave the results of the first year’s work as

  Probably more than five thousand persons were reached by the
  moonlight schools in Oklahoma during the school year 1915-16. This
  is indeed a good beginning. During the next school year 1916-17, we
  should reach 25,000 illiterates and as many adult literates. The
  black cloud of illiteracy can be dispelled by the united efforts of
  county superintendents and teachers. This is a call to service and
  an appeal to the state pride of every teacher employed in our
  common schools. By concerted effort we can make Oklahoma the most
  literate state in the union.

[Illustration: Oklahoma Moonlight School.]


Oklahoma was the first state whose normal schools offered credits for
moonlight school work, an example followed by Kentucky and some of the
other states.

“Illiteracy in New Mexico must go,” was the slogan sounded by the
school forces in New Mexico during 1915. Honorable Alvin N. White,
State Superintendent of Education, inaugurated the campaign, and the
slogan was caught up with enthusiasm by leaders throughout the state.
This appeal was made by Superintendent White:

  The purpose of this is to call attention of the people of the state
  to the alarming and excessive percentage of illiteracy; to have the
  educated forces of the state realize more fully that illiteracy is
  a curse, a menace and a disgrace; that it must be destroyed and
  the state elevated; that by the united efforts of the teachers and
  citizens of the state everybody must read and write in New Mexico by

Santa Fé County, under the leadership of Superintendent John V. Conway,
led the state. Superintendent Conway and his corps of teachers made the
record of establishing a moonlight school in every district with 1,549
adults enrolled. This county had a large Mexican population, some of
whom could read and write in Spanish, but came to the moonlight schools
to learn to read and write English. The majority of Mexicans enrolled,
however, were illiterate, and these were taught in English. The record
of this pioneer county inspired the entire state and has been the
foundation upon which New Mexico’s work among adult illiterates has
been built. It led to the enactment by the New Mexico Legislature
of several laws, for the benefit of illiterate adults, one of them
providing compensation for those who would teach a moonlight school
with as many as ten illiterates enrolled.

[Illustration: A class of Mexican mothers in California learning to
read and write.]


The illiteracy crusade spirit was abroad in California and
found concrete expression in 1915 when the State Department of
Education, the Immigration Commission and the California
Federation of Women’s Clubs jointly launched a state-wide campaign. The
Federation announced its plans as follows:

  The Education Committee is asked to center its efforts upon the
  eradication of illiteracy and the Kentucky plan is recommended. The
  program is to vitalize the state into educational responsibility and
  activity in behalf of a considerable part of our population and to
  raise California to the first place in the literacy column.

California passed the “home teacher” law in the same year. The law
provides an itinerant teacher to go from house to house and instruct
illiterates and others. To this has been added other wise legislation
in behalf of the illiterates, at the instance of Honorable Will C.
Wood, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a comprehensive
program for the elimination of illiteracy from California has been
adopted and is being carried on under the State Department of
Education. Los Angeles is one of the cities in the United States that
has made great progress in redeeming illiterates. Kate Douglas Wiggin
wrote a story--“The Girl and the Kingdom”--and gave it to the teachers
of this, her home city, to be sold and the money used to defray the
expenses of the local illiteracy campaign.

The moonlight schools were begun in Georgia in 1915 under the
leadership of Honorable M. L. Brittain, State Superintendent of
Schools, who tells of its progress in the following report:

  The first notable instance of training illiterates under State
  auspices originated in Kentucky several years ago. The work attracted
  attention throughout the country and several states organized
  somewhat similar classes.

  As State Superintendent of Education, I called the attention of
  our Legislature to this subject four years ago, but met with no
  encouragement, the belief being expressed that these illiterate
  grown-ups could not be taught with any degree of success. To prove
  that this feeling was erroneous, our five state rural school
  supervisors were directed to see what could be done with these
  classes and five counties were selected for the purpose. Very good
  results were obtained by these supervisors. The best work in the
  state, however, was accomplished by Mr. I. S. Smith, an educator,
  who was then Superintendent of Tattnall County schools, who had more
  than six hundred adults taught to read and write. Fortified with
  these facts and the proof that it could be done successfully, the
  Legislature was again requested to authorize the work and to give
  financial aid for its support.

In compliance with Mr. Brittain’s request, the Georgia Legislature
created an Illiteracy Commission in 1919. Governor Hugh Dorsey became
the President and Mr. Brittain was made Secretary and Director of this
Commission. Seven state organizers were employed, six white and one
colored, and the five regular state school supervisors were directed to
give much of their time to the illiteracy campaign.

In his official report of 1920 Mr. Brittain says:

  Another 1919 law that reflects credit upon the legislature is that
  of teaching the illiterates. Our records show that we have, since
  August, enrolled 31,545 illiterates and taught 17,982 to read and



The State of Washington, under the leadership of Mrs. Josephine Corliss
Preston, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, enacted a law in
1915 which enabled all school districts to have night schools. Finding
that the illiteracy campaign was necessary to arouse the illiterates
to their opportunity and the public to co-operate, an Illiteracy
Commission has since been created with the State Superintendent of
Public Instruction as Chairman and with members chosen from the various
state organizations. This Commission has appointed county illiteracy
commissions and is engaged in a campaign to remove illiteracy from the

The illiteracy movement, which was started in South Carolina in 1913
by Miss Julia Selden, a patriotic Southern woman, took the form of a
crusade in Laurens and Newberry Counties in 1914 and blossomed into an
Illiteracy Commission in 1916. The Legislature appropriated $10,000
for the work in 1918 and increased the appropriation to $25,000 in
1910, when it became a branch of the State Department of Education,
the Illiteracy Commission assuming the position of aid and ally. South
Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil
War, chose as her slogan in the illiteracy crusade, “Let South Carolina
secede from Illiteracy.”

The Mississippi Legislature created an Illiteracy Commission in 1916
and began a state-wide campaign with the slogan, “Illiteracy in
Mississippi--Blot it out.”

At the request of Governor Charles H. Brough, an Illiteracy Commission
was created by the Arkansas Legislature in 1917. The expense of the
illiteracy crusade in that state was met, at first, by the bankers,
together with other patriotic organizations and individuals. The
Legislature of 1920 made an annual appropriation of $13,000 which
was supplemented by private subscriptions, and Arkansas entered upon
an intensive campaign. The slogan, “Let’s sweep illiteracy out of
Arkansas,” has met with a hearty response by the whole people of the
state. Arkansas has apportioned a certain number of her illiterates to
be reached within a definite time. One-fourth of them will be taught
each year until the task is done. Governor Thomas C. McRae in the
following proclamation declared “illiteracy is the greatest stain upon
the state”:

  Because I believe that the best way to reduce crime and poverty is
  through education of adults as well as children,

  Because I believe that every man and woman in Arkansas has a right to
  an education,

  Because I believe that the greatest stain upon our state is the
  condition of adult illiteracy. Nearly 100,000 men and women in
  Arkansas cannot write their names,

  Because I believe that united effort on the part of the citizens of
  Arkansas will speedily eradicate this evil,

  I hereby designate the week beginning February 5 and ending February
  12, as “Illiteracy Week” to be known as such throughout the entire

  I call upon the bankers, the lawyers, the merchants and the men of
  all stations in life to lend their efforts toward encouraging people
  to learn to read and write.

  I call upon Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Lions Clubs, Civitan Clubs,
  Chambers of Commerce, Y. M. C. A.’s, Y. W. C. A.’s, K. of C.’s, S. I.
  A.’s, fraternal societies and lodges and all other organizations, be
  they small or great, to volunteer moral and financial aid in driving
  out our enemy, ignorance.

  I call upon the ministers of Arkansas to set aside one Sunday within
  the period designated as a day to be devoted to preaching adult

  I call upon the teachers and pupils of our public schools to take the
  message as planned by the Illiteracy Commission, into every community.

  I call upon every citizen in the State to assist in this movement
  by teaching at least one person who wants some education or more

  Given under my hand and the great seal of the State at the Capitol at
  Little Rock this 21st day of January, A.D. 1922.

Dr. John H. Finley, Commissioner of Education of New York State,
launched a state-wide campaign against illiteracy in that state in
1917. Only $3,200 was appropriated at first, but interest in the work
so increased that $140,000 was appropriated in 1919. Governor Alfred G.
Smith in signing the bill said in a memorandum:

  The purpose of this bill is to obliterate adult illiteracy from the
  State. This subject is one in which I have long been interested. The
  plan proposed through this measure appears to be so practicable and
  reasonable that its operations may, in my judgment, be made effective
  in accomplishing the desired purpose.

New York appropriated $200,000 the following year, and within four
years after starting the movement, had expended a half million dollars
from her state and local treasuries on educating illiterate native and
foreign-born adults. The State Department reports some two hundred
thousand taught to read and write. It was the first state to secure
the illiteracy census of 1920 from the Federal Census Bureau. This was
placed in the hands of the school authorities by Dr. Finley, who
wrote to his lieutenants:

  I hope that we shall immediately and vigorously take advantage of
  this census of 1920 which has, through special effort and provision,
  been put so promptly at our disposal, to clear the state of adult
  illiteracy as you have practically done for child illiteracy.

[Illustration: Jewish mothers in New York improving their education.]

Dr. Thomas E. Finegan, State Superintendent of Public Instruction of
Pennsylvania, is a well-known champion of the illiterates of the nation
and their cause and the State of Pennsylvania is making great strides
in reducing illiteracy under his leadership. An extensive program of
instruction for the illiterates and the Americanization of foreigners
has been carried on in the state since 1918. The State Department of
Education reported 20,378 taught during the year 1919 alone. The name
of every illiterate taken by the census enumerators in 1920 is on
record in Pennsylvania, having been obtained from the Federal Census
Bureau. With the stimulus of achievement back of her and with splendid
organization, plans and leadership, Pennsylvania bids fair to realize
her slogan--“Pennsylvania a literate state in ten years.”

Ohio is engaged in the fight on illiteracy. Much skirmishing has been
done by the State Department of Education and by Dr. S. K. Mardis,
of Ohio University, a pioneer crusader in that state, and in 1922 a
State Illiteracy Commission was created and the work among illiterates
started as a state-wide campaign.

Maine, under the leadership of Dr. Augustus O. Thomas, State
Superintendent of Schools, has a five-year program for wiping out
illiteracy. Maine has 20,240 illiterates and this five-year program
will include the teaching of some four thousand each year, a thing
easily possible of accomplishment. Maine thus expects to free herself
from illiteracy by 1926. The politicians watch Maine closely in
election times and have a saying, “As goes Maine, so goes America.” If
the Nation can afford to follow Maine in things political, it can well
afford to emulate her in the emancipation of its illiterates.

North Dakota wages war on illiteracy in a determined fashion and with
the avowed intention to surpass all of the other states. “No illiteracy
in 1924” is her goal. She has 9,937 to teach and practically her whole
population has entered into the crusade in a plucky spirit, resolved
to get at least half of them taught before the end of the year, 1922.
The spirit of these North Dakota crusaders was illustrated by two young
teachers who were asked, “Have you any illiterates in your districts!”
and replied with eagerness, “Oh, we hope we have.” They, like all of
North Dakota, want to play their part in making their state the first
literate state in the Union.

Massachusetts and the other New England states, New Hampshire,
Connecticut and Rhode Island, have extended the opportunity to their
adult illiterates under certain ages and conditions.

Virginia has had moonlight schools in her remote sections, West
Virginia in her coves, Texas on her ranches, Louisiana in her parishes,
Michigan in her lumber camps and the Dakotas on their plains. Moonlight
schools have ministered to illiterate fishermen on the coast of
Maryland, illiterate immigrants on the coast of California, illiterate
Swedes in Minnesota, illiterate Indians in Oklahoma, illiterate
Mexicans in New Mexico and illiterate white and colored people through
the mountains and valleys of the South.

With the slogans, “Illiteracy in Alabama--Let’s remove it,” “No
illiteracy in New York State,” “Pennsylvania a literate state in ten
years,” “No illiteracy in North Dakota in 1924,” “Let South Carolina
secede from illiteracy,” “Let’s sweep illiteracy out of Arkansas,”
“Illiteracy in Mississippi--Blot it out,” “Illiteracy in New Mexico
must go,” the states have sounded a battle-cry which means the
death-knell of illiteracy in the Nation.


In all the decades prior to the one ushered in by 1910, there was not
a state, county, city or school district which had as its purpose the
absolute removal of illiteracy. When the startling announcement was
made by the census-takers at the beginning of the new decade that five
and a half million men and women in the Nation had confessed that they
could not read or write, there was nowhere an expression of shame or
pity or even of surprise. It was accepted as a thing inevitable--the
waste product of an inefficient school system. Even the press, usually
alert and looking for unusual conditions to exploit, found nothing
worth featuring in these tragic figures.

There was a vagueness and confusion in the public mind as to the term
illiteracy and what constituted it, where the boundary line between
literacy and illiteracy was fixed. Not one person out of ten in the
United States could define illiteracy. Few had thought of it at all
or had taken occasion to familiarize themselves with the term. It was
such an unfamiliar one that the first Illiteracy Commission had to
impress itself, to explain itself--its very name, repeatedly. Forestry
commissions and fish and game commissions were familiar enough but
one which had as its purpose to redeem men and women from illiteracy
was a foreign and unintelligible thing. The public, in general, knew
little of the baneful effects of illiteracy on the individual or the
community. Searching the files of educational reports we find no
addresses on this subject, and on the shelves of the public libraries
there was nothing to be found save a few statistical reports in
scientific journals. The man who made his mark aroused no more concern
than the one who wrote his signature. Nowhere in all history is there a
record of more general apathy having settled down on a crying need or
a worthy cause.

The example of a few states leading out in the early part of the
decade in a crusade against illiteracy without federal oversight or
aid, without funds from the state and with but little public sentiment
aroused, and the readiness with which state after state recognized the
need, sought the remedy and fell into line, is one of the most hopeful
chapters in educational history.

The moonlight school has as its avowed purpose the removal of
illiteracy. It has its secondary aims and its indirect results, but
until illiteracy is banished it must remain devoted to the one idea of
redeeming illiterates--of freeing them from their bondage.

This purpose was being fulfilled when the first three illiterates in
Rowan County learned to read and write and when the first district
banished illiteracy and it is being fulfilled today wherever, through
its influence and example, adult illiterates are being emancipated.
When the first three illiterates learned to read and write, the
representatives of those three classes--the illiterate mother, the man
in his prime and the youth with all of life opening out before him--it
was an evidence that all illiterates of normal mentality could be
redeemed. The first few who learned served to show the possibility, the
practicability and the ease with which knowledge could be imparted to
all the rest.

To con over the fascinating figures of illiterates redeemed in the
various counties of some states in their initial campaigns is an
inspiring thing, and is an earnest of what a few more years of effort
with more means, trained leaders and better methods will bring about.
Leslie County, Kentucky, in its initial campaign in 1915, taught 600 to
read and write; Tattnall County, Georgia, emancipated 600 in a campaign
of two years. Santa Fé County, New Mexico, taught 1,549, the majority
of them being illiterates. All three were pioneering. What more hopeful
record of educational progress can one contemplate than is to be found
in the report of the Georgia Illiteracy Commission, prepared by its
Secretary, State Superintendent M. L. Brittain, a few months after the
illiteracy campaign began in that state.

  Number of illiterates taught to read and write:

  Tellfair County, 500; Washington County, 555; Fulton County, 632;
  Muscogee County, 638; Bibb County, 665.

One turns to the record in Kentucky to the reports of county school
superintendents, and these are some of the figures that give assurance
that the moonlight school is fulfilling its purpose.

  Number taught to read and write during a period of four years prior
  to 1920:

  Bath County, 750; Clay County, 900; Bell County, 1,000; Magoffin
  County, 1,400; Floyd County, 1,600.

How much more fruitful could one expect any campaign to be than that
which was started to teach the illiterates of North Carolina in 1914,
and shortly afterward reported 10,000 taught to read and write? The
purpose of the moonlight schools was fulfilled in this 10,000 redeemed
from illiteracy, in the 17,892 taught in Georgia’s opening campaign,
in the 25,000 that Alabama taught in a few years’ time and in the
thousands emancipated by other states. In all these the moonlight
school was achieving its purpose and pointing the way to the ultimate
goal--the elimination of illiteracy from the Nation.

Not in all the states have the schools for illiterates borne the name
of moonlight schools. Some after successfully launching the movement
under this name adopted names suited to their peculiar conditions, such
as the “The Lay-By Schools” of South Carolina, “The Adult Schools” of
Alabama, “The Community Schools” of North Carolina and the “Schools
for Grown-ups” of Georgia. In some of the states the plan and purpose
were adopted but not the name. Eventually when these schools are firmly
wedded to the public-school system they may all take the prosaic name
of evening schools, just as the “Old Field Schools of the South” and
other pioneers of the day school system became known as the public or
common schools.

In their first wave of enthusiasm, some of the states set a high goal.
No less than six of them had as their aim to wipe out illiteracy by
1920. This would have been easily possible with some had funds been
promptly provided and the co-operation of the whole people given in
fullest measure. As it was, it was possible to set many illiterates
free and to place before the people the ideal of removing illiteracy
from a definite place within a given time. A worthy goal is a great
inspiration, and none who strove to wipe illiteracy out of a definite
section by 1920 will give up in despair because they arrived only half
or one-third of the way. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” says
Browning. “Or what’s a Heaven for?” Those who realized even a portion
of their aim now see how humane, patriotic and practical it is to
redeem the adult illiterates and will simply set their mark ahead and
“run their race with patience,” expecting to make the finish before
the next decade. North Dakota, which has but a few thousands to
redeem, has well set the year 1924 as the time when it will be clear of
illiteracy, while Pennsylvania, with tremendous numbers, wisely gives
herself ten years to finish the task.

Victor Hugo says, “There is something that is mightier than armies,
and that is an idea whose time has come.” The moonlight school in
1911 advanced the idea that illiteracy could be wiped out of a given
locality within a given time. It is an idea that has taken such firm
hold on the public mind that nothing less than the emancipation of
every illiterate will satisfy the public conscience. The removal of
illiteracy is now the fixed purpose of the Nation.

The National Educational Association, the greatest influence in
educational affairs of the United States, has accepted the idea and has
made the removal of illiteracy the first provision in its educational
program for America. This association now has its illiteracy
commission, the National Council of Education, the General Federation
of Women’s Clubs and other great national organizations have their
illiteracy committees, appointed for one purpose--to wipe illiteracy
out of the Nation. Many of the Governors have urged in their messages
to the Legislature or in their inaugural addresses that the state
will undertake to immediately redeem all of its illiterates. In the
presidential campaign of 1920 the eradication of illiteracy was a
reform written into the platform of one of the two major parties and
urged by the candidates of both parties as one of the tasks to which
the Nation must apply itself.

The idea of eradicating illiteracy has taken firm hold of the Nation’s
leaders. Congressman Horace M. Towner, of Iowa, in making the report of
the Committee on Education to the National House of Representatives,
said of the first county that had attacked illiteracy: “This experiment
conclusively shows that it is possible to bring help to illiterate men
and women even under the most adverse circumstances. It demonstrates
the fact that under proper leadership and under proper direction adult
illiteracy is easily and quickly wiped out.”

Champ Clark and Ollie James, both former Kentucky school teachers,
had the spirit of comradeship with the moonlight school teachers and
found many ways of aiding and encouraging them in their gallant fight
on illiteracy, while William Jennings Bryan crowned the teachers with
these words spoken in an address at Raleigh, North Carolina: “If
there are any who have ever realized these words of the Master, ‘It
is more blessed to give than to receive,’ it must be the teachers of
the moonlight schools.” President Wilson stopped his work one busy day
to write and commend a Kentucky moonlight school teacher who had won
a Congressman’s prize for teaching the best moonlight school in his
Congressional district. This letter, accompanied by the President’s
picture, was a commendation of all moonlight school teachers and the
idea for which they stood just as President Lincoln’s letter to Mrs.
Bixby was a letter glorifying all mothers who had given sons in the
Civil War.

All of the agitation against adult illiteracy, in which the moonlight
school has been the pioneer and dramatic factor, has made illiteracy
appear as a disgraceful and unpopular thing. There is an odium attached
to it to-day that was lacking in the years gone by. Illiteracy has been
stigmatized where the crusade against it has been waged and made to
seem a thing to flee from as from leprosy. One who makes his mark is
not now ignored or overlooked, but in many communities and in most of
the states he is a subject of deep concern. His act will scarcely be
passed by without discussion. Those who observe him in this act will
relate his story with all its pathos and the disgrace connected with
it and will not fail to apply the moral. The result is usually the
supplying of the unfortunate with books and teaching him to read and

There are communities to-day that feel a sense of responsibility for
teaching every illiterate, and for doing it within a brief and definite
time. There are some districts that feel illiteracy to be a reproach
under which they cannot rest. Governor Henry J. Allen, of Kansas, who
made an investigation of the moonlight schools, wrote in a magazine
article as follows:

  Two men met on a mountain pathway, and began to talk about how soon
  their county would be “Cleared up.” They were not referring to weeds
  or underbrush or timber, to insects, reptiles or malarial fever.
  They were referring to the elimination of illiteracy. Nothing just
  like it has found expression in any educational system, in any
  age; the sureness of faith of those who teach, the simplicity of
  their efforts, the general response. I have seen three generations
  studying the same books in one moonlight school. “There are 2,442
  illiterates in the county,” said a man to me in one of the counties
  in the Cumberland Mountains. “It will take two years to wipe out
  illiteracy.” Think of the calm faith of it! I believe that the story
  of the moonlight schools is the most exalted and sacrificial that has
  been told in the educational effort of America.

The newspapers now find a fertile field in illiteracy statistics and
have come to devote space and headlines to them, giving them ranking
interest with the most vital things of the day. The purpose of the
moonlight school is so outstanding that it has captured the pens of
cartoonists. These have vividly pictured illiteracy in all its evil,
its weakness and its disgrace. It is only a matter of time until poets,
sculptors and artists will here find a theme for their art.

The change of attitude toward adult illiteracy has not come about
without some resistance, some opposition, of course. Where such
indifference and such ignorance prevailed in regard to a subject
it could hardly be expected that reform could move forward without
some interference and obstacles. Some educated people had no more
intelligent idea, at the outset, about removing illiteracy, than
had a certain old colored professor in Mississippi when the crusade
was started in that state. The teachers in their examinations were
asked the question, “How rid the state of adult illiteracy?” and the
professor wrote this answer: “The only way to rid the state of adult
illiteracy is to get rid of the adults. You should not have adults
around your place or anywhere. As long as you have adults around,
you’ll always have illiteracy.”

The education of the educated to the problem of illiteracy has been no
small part of the crusade. The pioneers had to educate themselves as to
the nature and scope of the problem and the plan of attack, to educate
the public to co-operate--some to contribute funds, a larger group
to give service, and the whole public to give their moral support.
The public had to be brought under indictment for the illiteracy
statistics, which, viewed in bulk for state and Nation, had seemed
too stupendous to arouse a feeling of responsibility in community or
individual, but when analyzed and presented for counties and local
communities produced an entirely different effect. The right of adult
illiterates to learn had been challenged, their ability to do so had
been questioned, the advisability of having teachers assume the extra
duty of teaching them had been doubted, the statistics, when analyzed
and brought close to home had been disputed and resented; demagogues
had assumed that any reference to the illiteracy of the state or
community meant to traduce it, professional politicians had gloried in
holding the purse-strings of the public treasury as tight as possible
against any invasion for such a cause, and a few educators so violently
opposed illiterates being taught to read and write that it brought
forth from a layman the caustic comment, “The greatest trouble with
some educators is that they are so opposed to education.”

The illiterates themselves had to be educated to an understanding of
their opportunity. Not everyone came rushing out to school in every
district when the schools first opened. An institution so new as a
school where illiterate adults could learn to read and write may easily
be misunderstood, criticized and even resented by those who need it
most. Considering the mistaken attitude of the educated for generations
past on the question of teaching them, it is not at all strange
that some of the illiterates, themselves, with minds so befogged and
darkened, should have had doubts and misconceptions of the school
and what it would do for them. My father, himself a former school
teacher, but later a physician, greeted me once in the early days of
the movement with the remark, “What fool thing is this you are doing?
I hear that you have old Jimmie Thomas and old Dicie Carter going to

His was the viewpoint, at the time, of the average educated man. That
illiterates could overcome their fears and their pride with such
sentiments being expressed around them is a credit both to them and to
the teachers who persuaded them that it was within their power to learn
to read and write.

The change in the public attitude toward illiteracy in the states that
have had campaigns has been eminently worth while. Alabama realized
this when her progressive program of school legislation passed so
readily due to the awakened public sentiment brought about by her
crusade; Kentucky was in no mood to provide special officers to
enforce her lax and inadequate compulsory attendance laws until the
illiteracy campaign had swept over the state and shown her how foul and
frightful a thing was illiteracy in either child or adult. Arkansas
and other states that wage war on illiteracy talk of it “awakening an
educational conscience.” This is one of the purposes of the moonlight
school--to awaken the educated to their responsibility, to create in
them a desire to redeem the illiterates, as well as to arouse the
illiterates to seek their freedom. All of this means more than freeing
a state from illiteracy. It means a new appreciation of education, a
devotion to it which will not cease with the illiteracy crusade, but
will affect the public school system from the elementary school to the
university. You cannot teach the illiterates of the district to read
and write without increasing the educational spirit of the community
and improving the school advantages of the children. You cannot start
the educated out on a crusade to redeem their illiterate neighbors
without arousing in them a sentiment for better education for their own
and their neighbors’ children and for better educational conditions
throughout the system for future generations.

The moonlight school movement does not assume to be an educational
regeneration. It assumes but one duty and that is to redeem the
illiterates. Its by-products, however, are increased attendance in the
day schools, increased interest in school improvement, intelligent
support of progressive legislation and other things that vitalize and
help the schools. Some who have no vision of a community redeemed
from illiteracy and no sympathy with the illiterates are often heard
to remark, “The best result of the moonlight school is its effect on
day-school attendance.” A thing must first have a good direct effect
before it can produce a good indirect one. Teachers declare that the
moonlight schools increase day-school attendance all the way from ten
to thirty per cent, but the moonlight schools could not accomplish
this did they not achieve their primary purpose, that of teaching the
illiterates to read and write.

In 1910 there was not a law on the statute books of any of the states
referring to adult illiteracy. In 1920 there were laws providing for
the teaching of adult illiterates; laws providing salaries for teachers
to teach them; laws providing for training of teachers of adult
illiterates; laws compelling illiterates of certain ages to learn, and
laws providing for their instruction at home or in factory, mill or

The spirit behind these laws could not and never will be fully
translated into legislative acts. The determination of the illiteracy
crusaders in the different states is like that of the colonists in
the American Revolution. When the English Secretary urged an increase
of troops in Boston until their guns outnumbered the Americans, Pitt
declared, “We must reckon not so much with their guns as with their
sentiments of liberty.” The emancipation of all the illiterates in
the United States is not a dream of the far future. The challenge to
liberate them has been answered by leaders all over the nation with
the slogan, “No illiteracy in the United States in 1930.”

The secondary purpose of the moonlight school--to afford an opportunity
to the near-illiterate and the half-uneducated--may, when illiteracy
is vanquished, become its primary and most practical one. All over the
land there are many who dream of completing their education some time,
and even the well-educated will not scorn the opportunity to improve. A
Kentucky woman of forty who was a graduate of a well-known college, was
asked this question, “If you had your choice of all the good things of
life, what would it be?” “I’d rather go to school,” she said. She lived
in one of the most cultured communities, but she expressed the wish
for a moonlight school to be established, saying, “I’d like to review
my American history and if nobody will teach the class I’ll teach it
myself for the sake of the review.” There are many like this woman
who would choose a term in school to every other blessing. While they
have paid school taxes and hungered for educational opportunities,
the school plant has remained closed for all but six hours of the day
during a brief school term in many communities. There are 8,760 hours
in a year and the school plant is open only 960 of these hours in some
districts, where only six-months schools are conducted, a tremendous
waste in the school plant, but a greater one in human intellect and

A day school in every community! Once it was a doubtful experiment, but
now it is an established institution and forever so. It has come up
through trials, tribulations and struggles innumerable. A night school
in every community! If it is an educated community, a night school
for more education, for culture and specialization; if an illiterate
community, for the emancipation of the illiterates and their new birth
into the realms of knowledge and power!

The public school should be as liberal in its policy as is in the
church. It has no right to say to men and women, “If you embrace me
not before a certain age or before a certain hour in the day I will
close my doors to you forever.” The hour of a man’s opportunity should
be any hour in which he awakens to his need whether it be at the age of
six or a hundred and six.


The time has passed when intelligent men dispute the need of everyone
to be able to read and write.

There was a time in the dark ages when learning first began to lift
its head, that the proud knight boasted that he could not read or
write--mere priest-craft much beneath him. Quite late in English
history it was held derogatory for the nobility to spell well. These
baser arts were for their inferiors. Their attitude was that of
Douglas, in Scott’s poem “Marmion,” who exclaimed:

  Thanks to Saint Bothan, son of mine,
  Save Gawain ne’er could pen a line.

Royal Governor Berkeley, writing home to England in the seventeenth
century, “thanked God that no public schools nor printing presses
existed in the colony,” and added his hope that none would be
introduced for a hundred years “since learning brings irreligion and
disobedience into the world and the printing press disseminates them
and fights against the best intentions of the government.”

George Washington and the other founders of our Nation held views just
the opposite of those expressed by Lord Berkeley and they, almost
without exception, left their message urging that the people be
enlightened. Washington made a provision in his will that his negro
slaves under twenty-five years of age should be taught to read and
write. This is significant. It shows that the Father of our Country
believed that even those who were physically enslaved should be
mentally free and, also, that he considered learning to read and write
a process not necessarily confined to childhood.

The Chinese have a tradition that when the art of writing was born all
nature was moved, Heaven rained millet, demons wailed in the night and
dragons hid in the depths. One can well believe that its appearance on
the earth created this commotion when it is realized that with writing
came the mightiest power for combating error and removing all manner of
evil. How strange it seems that men have not poured out this power more
freely on their fellow men!

Life itself is more or less dependent upon the ability to read and
write. In no place is disease so prevalent or life so menaced as in
illiterate sections. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, doctors
and nurses found themselves helpless in communities where illiteracy
prevailed. The death-rate is high where illiteracy exists and infant
mortality mounts to the topmost round. Here the precautions of
sanitation are little known and practised, and innocent children pay
the penalty with their lives. “You say you have six children,” said
an illiterate mother to an educated one, “That’s nothing. I’ve buried

After the most destructive war in all history the conservation of human
life is naturally receiving much attention, but illiteracy offers a
serious handicap to this noble enterprise. A health car was sent out in
one of the states to demonstrate facts concerning preventable diseases,
and in a few weeks the director of the car wrote in, “The car will
have to be brought in and overhauled. So many people come on it who
cannot read and write, the printed charts are not practical.” The car
was brought back and glass jars, filled to certain depths with marbles
of different sizes and colors to illustrate the mortality of various
diseases, were substituted for the charts of letters and figures. This
was in the United States--not in Russia, though it reminds one of the
system in use in illiterate sections of that country--the placing of
pictures over the shops instead of lettered signs, the ringing of bells
to indicate the time of trains, and other devices used in a land where
illiteracy has long reigned supreme.

Law is less respected and law violations are more common where
illiteracy flourishes, and the court costs are heavy in such
communities as compared with those of education and culture. An
investigation made in seventeen typical states in one year showed that
the number of convicted criminals from the illiterate portions of those
states was seven times as large as from the educated portions.

In the most lawless district in Rowan County, I approached the
school-house one evening during the third term of the moonlight schools
and stopped at the threshold overawed by the unusual scene. The house
was filled with men and women and every head was bent over the Bible
intently studying. It was indicative of the change which had come
over the district with the education of the adults. In the years that
followed, the court records, once filled with the misdeeds committed in
that district, were left blank.

Illiteracy of parents is depriving more children of school advantages
than any other one thing. The most illiterate counties in the United
States, according to the census of 1910 had an illiteracy of 60.5
percent and 63.1 percent respectively. The former had an average
school attendance of 21.2 percent, the latter 24.7 percent--an average
in these two counties of less than three out of every ten children in
school. Compared with other counties in the same states one with 11.5
percent illiteracy and 63.2 percent school attendance and another with
10.7 percent illiteracy and 67.8 percent school attendance--nearly
seven out of every ten children in school--the result of illiteracy on
school attendance is striking.

Illiteracy begets illiteracy. An examination of the census reveals this
clearly. The names of parents and grandparents on the illiteracy list
are usually followed by the names of most of their progeny. A family
name is duplicated many times on the list. As a measure for insuring
the education of the coming generation, the illiterate adults should be
taught, for even where compulsory attendance laws are well enforced,
public sentiment back of them is the only thing that can make them
completely effective.

Education is a great cause and needs the millions of illiterates as
its converts and its friends. Even if they did not need the book and
pen, or would not use the power to read and write, after it had been
conferred upon them, but became friends and advocates of the school
instead of remaining indifferent or antagonistic, as some of them
undoubtedly are, this alone would justify their being taught.

Uncle Martin Sloan walked sixteen miles to have a talk with me after he
had learned to read and write. He said, “My learning may never do me
much good. My hands are stiff and I can’t write much; my eyes are bad
and I can’t see to read a great deal, but I see now what I’ve missed in
life, and I want to tell you what I’m going to do--I’m going ’round to
every home in my district just before school begins each year, as long
as I live, and urge the parents to send their children to school.” A
friend of education! Oh, that every one of the five million illiterates
in America might become as this old man and others redeemed from
illiteracy, who will not tolerate the crime of keeping children out of

Some used to say that laboring men worked better and were more
contented, if illiterate. There never was a greater fallacy. Illiteracy
never plowed a furrow straighter nor produced an extra bushel to the
acre. It never turned out a better product from factory, field or
mine. It handicaps the laborer, making his task more difficult, his
position less secure and his life less safe. Not only is he handicapped
in carrying out the instructions of his employer, but, also, in the
safe and skillful handling of machinery and tools. Illiterate and
coarse workmen cannot be trusted with the delicate tools and, as a
rule, are given the clumsy sort that will endure the rough handling
without breakage. This hampers them, at the outset, burdening them as
with ball and chain and giving the educated laborer every advantage.
In a Southern city illiterate and educated laborers worked side by
side cleaning the streets. The illiterate laborers used clumsy hoes
with rough, heavy handles, weighing twelve pounds, and the educated
workmen used light and graceful ones weighing but two. Each laborer
pulled twenty pounds on the average, at each stroke. The illiterate
laborers pulled twelve pounds of hoe and eight pounds of mud while
their educated companions pulled two pounds of hoe and eighteen
pounds of mud. The result was more than twice as great when guided by
intelligence as when guided by physical power alone.

Man’s daily bread is, in a measure, dependent upon his ability to read
and write, which not only increases but creates earning power. Many a
man has started out searching for work and found himself barred from
one position after another because he could not read or write. Prior to
the World War illiterate men were losing their jobs and being replaced
by the educated, a tendency which is constantly on the increase.

Uncle Jeff, an illiterate darky of the old-time Southern type, had
been drayman for years for a large manufacturing company and had come
to consider himself a fixture when an order of the Illinois Central
Railway company struck him like a thunderbolt. It was to the effect
that no freight should be delivered to anyone who could not read and
sign the freight receipts. The company felt obliged, of course, to part
with Uncle Jeff. “Aunt Sally,” his wife, blamed this calamity on the
schools and rushed to the nearest member of the school board to protest
against the outrage, “Hit’s jist a gittin’ so a man cain’t do nothin’
’thout he kin read and write,” she wailed. “Ef hit keeps on hit’ll
soon be so a man cain’t even plow his cawn ’thout he kin read what’s
printed on the plow beam.” The poor old colored woman spoke more truth,
in her resentment than she knew. It is becoming next to impossible in
this complex and highly specialized age for a man to hold any sort of
position unless he can read and write.

The lives of laboring men are endangered by illiteracy. The “Safety
First” movement is designed to instruct the people in care and
watchfulness on every hand to prevent the destruction of life and
property, but the first precaution of safety for the millions of
illiterates is to teach them to read and write. All the danger signs
put up before them might as well be held before the eyes of the blind,
and yet the legal responsibility of employers in some states ceases
with the posting of such signs. How much the removal of illiteracy
contributes to the safety of the laboring man is indicated by this
report from Henry Ford’s plant where educational work is carried
on, “Accidents in this plant have decreased fifty-four percent
since employees have been able to read factory notices and other

Commerce is stifled by illiteracy to a degree little suspected by the
average business man. The illiterates, being unable to sign their
checks, usually hold their money out of the bank; being unable to read
newspapers and magazines, they seldom put their names on subscription
lists; realizing that their predicament is made more awkward by
travel, they remain off of trains, as a rule, and the railroads lose
the passenger receipts. Having no appreciation of luxuries and their
earnings being too limited to buy, they restrict trade, in illiterate
communities, to the coarsest commodities.

In a county where one-third of the population was illiterate according
to the census of 1910 the assessor’s list showed less than $1,000
invested in household furniture, less than $500 in agricultural
implements, although it was an agricultural county, less than $43 in
watches and clocks, not a dollar in gold, silver or plated ware or
jewelry, and only one diamond ring in the whole county and it was the
property of a bride who had moved in. Lace curtains, china, rugs, and
paintings had no market here, and chiffon, georgette and other delicate
fabrics of feminine wear were things unknown. If there were but one
such county in the United States it might not be a matter of concern
to the tradesman, but with many such in existence and some with even
forty and fifty and sixty percent who cannot read or write, illiteracy
is something for the enterprising business man to consider when he is
figuring profit and loss.

While waiting in a railway station in Mississippi in June, 1917,
I noticed that every available foot of space was plastered with
advertising asserting the superiority of certain products. Familiar
brands of grape juice, soda, baking powder, flour, soap and cleansers
were emblazoned there in all the well-known effectiveness of the
American advertiser. Thirty to forty percent of the population of the
six surrounding counties could not read, so thirty to forty cents of
every dollar spent in advertising was wasted here.

The State collects no revenue save poll tax from ninety percent of its
illiterate citizens. Uncle Sam has overlooked an important source of
revenue which if streaming into his coffers from five million pockets
would soon pay his enormous war debt. If all the illiterates in this
country were taught to read and write, even did they average no more
than one letter each month, they would pay into the treasury annually,
at the present rate of postage, more than a million dollars.

The Surgeon General’s report on illiteracy in the American Army showed
that out of a million and a half registrants examined, one man out of
every four was unable to read and understand a newspaper or to write
a letter home. The exact percentage of illiteracy among these men, he
stated, was 24.9 percent and ran as high as 49.5 percent in men sent
from one of the states. This seems most startling in any light that it
may be viewed, but it appears all the more significant when compared
with illiteracy in the ranks of our allies--France having only three
illiterates out of every hundred in the army and England with only one
out of every hundred. Most of all does it stagger us to compare our
illiteracy figures with those of our recent enemy--only one out of
every five thousand in the German army was unable to read and write.

The bravery of illiterate soldiers who served in the late war is
unquestioned. In individual cases and single handed where they could
employ pioneer methods of warfare they, undoubtedly, did well but
when it was a case for concerted action, of obeying orders and of
co-operation with the troops, their lack of education told on them most

One lieutenant said during the War, “I have three men in my company
who cannot count up to four.” In one of the training camps where
foreign-born soldiers were stationed, there were men who did not know
the right hand from the left. Consequently, they were drilled, with
a piece of rope in one hand a hammer in the other, to the command of
“squads rope” and “squads hammer” instead of “squads right” and “squads
left.” A woman who was teaching a man of draft age said, “I could teach
Ben just anything and it would be something he didn’t know. He didn’t
even know how many months there are in a year.”

This sort of ignorance in the army in even a small proportion of the
men would have constituted a weakness which, in a long drawn out
contest, would have told mightily in the final results. There were
1,023,000 soldiers in the American Army who were illiterate according
to the statistics branch of the general staff. This was an army within
an army. They must have hindered their comrades oftentimes, besides
being at a fearful disadvantage always themselves. The seriousness
of this situation could not be overestimated. Next to the actual
casualties, it was America’s supreme tragedy of the War.

Illiterates are nowhere at a greater disadvantage than at the ballot
box, where corrupt men often purchase their birthright for a mess of
pottage or cheat them out of it entirely. Henry Van Dyke says, “To
place the ballot in the hands of illiterate persons is like hanging
a diamond around the neck of a little child and sending it out into
the crowded street.” The ballot has not only been placed in the hands
of 2,273,603 illiterate male voters but since the enfranchisement of
women, the number of illiterate voters in America has been augmented
by, perhaps, two millions more. With over four million voters who
cannot read their ballots, is the body politic sound, healthy, or even

In a republic, society rests upon the intelligence of the people and
only in universal education is democracy safe and liberty securely
enthroned. A nation which has over four million illiterate voters
is not strongly fortified to uphold any principle, and society is
undermined and weakened at its very source. Since universal education
is so essential to the success of a democracy it is a wonder that a
provision was not written into the Constitution of the United States
similar to the one once proposed by Cortez for the constitution of
Spain, “That no person born after this day shall acquire the right of
citizenship until he can read and write.” Thomas Jefferson said of
this, “It is impossible to sufficiently estimate the wisdom of this
provision. Of all that have been thought of for securing fidelity in
the administration of government and progressive advancement of the
human mind or changes in human affairs, it is the most effectual.
Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppression of body and
mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Nearly a hundred years later President Grant in his recommendations
to Congress wrote as follows, “The compulsory support of free schools
and the disfranchisement of all who cannot read and write the English
language, after a fixed probation, would meet with my hearty approval.”
Had this recommendation been carried out and its execution accompanied
with the opportunity for every man and woman, as well as every child,
to learn to read and write, there would be no army of illiterate voters
in this country marching to the polls on election day.

Illiterates, even though blind to books and helpless to ameliorate
their own condition, are not without certain power to weaken, harass
and damage a nation. Pancho Villa, the illiterate Mexican outlaw,
disturbed the peace of two nations. During the period of unrest
following the War our Government faced a critical situation. While
we struggled with bomb plots on the east coast and with strife and
disturbance on the west, the danger from anarchist, Bolshevist and
anti-American sources was greater than the general public ever knew.
The poison spread by them could be neutralized among the educated
classes through government bulletins and newspapers and magazine
articles but was not so easily counteracted among the illiterate
masses. Here walking delegates found fertile soil for their pernicious
doctrines. Not only in time of war or in reconstruction but at all
times are the illiterate masses easily influenced and misled.

  There is a poor blind Samson in this land,
  Shorn of his strength and bound with bands of steel,
  Who may, in some grim revel raise his hands
  And shake the pillars of the Commonweal.

Would that it could be said of the United States as a certain citizen
of Copenhagen said of his country when touring America in 1919,
“Bolshevism would make no headway in Denmark, as there is not a person
in that country who cannot read or write his name, in fact write a
letter. Where there is education, there is little chance of Bolshevism
gaining a foothold.”

The majority of America’s illiterate millions, though born upon her
soil, are as ignorant of the principles and traditions of their own
country as they are of those of Italy or Spain. They have never
realized or claimed their heritage of citizenship, never felt the
thrill of intelligent patriotism that others have known. To teach them
would not only enrich them as citizens but in the words of the prophet
Isaiah would, “increase the nation and extend all the borders of the

Illiteracy is one of the great handicaps to religion. In its centers
churches and Sunday schools cannot thrive. The most literate county in
the State of Kentucky has numerous churches while the most illiterate
county has but one, and that is in the county seat. The number of
Sunday schools in Rowan County doubled after the illiteracy campaign.
Men need mental development to put them into intelligent relation with
their Creator, to give them an understanding of the Divine Being. “I
cannot give an illiterate man even an intelligent conception of God,”
said a woman who attempted to teach a Sunday school class of illiterate
men in prison.

If the Christian world could realize how illiterates yearn to read
the Bible, the followers of the Master would hasten with swift feet
to unlock its pages to them. Had it not been the will of our Heavenly
Father that all should be taught to read and write, He would not have
given His Word to the world in the form of a book.

A woman in Louisa, Kentucky, prayed for ten years for a Bible and the
power to read it. She was presented with one by her sons, but it was
in the days before the illiteracy crusade and they did not think of
teaching her to read it. She learned, however, by having a neighbor’s
children teach her the letters on box cars switched off on a railway
siding near her milk-gap. She lived to enjoy her Bible for ten years
after it had become to her an open book and she marked the passages
which comforted her most. These were read at her funeral where this
story of her triumph over illiteracy was publicly told.

Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood prayer was not for wealth or fame or the high
position of Chief Executive. It was,

  God help mother, help father, help sister,
  Help everybody. _Teach me to read and write._
  Watch over Honey and make him a good dog;
  And keep us all from getting lost in the wilderness. Amen.

How many illiterates are praying today, “Teach me to read and write?”
How many hunger and thirst after knowledge but know not how to secure
it? “_Give me knowledge or I shall die_, has been the prayer of
countless millions,” says David Swing, the great American divine.


Plato said, “I believe that every immortal soul is the offspring of a
divine thought, of a divine purpose, and that God has in His mind a
picture like unto which He would have everyone of us to become.” It
cannot be that God so just, so merciful, ever had it in His mind that
any human being should be ultimately and forever illiterate. It is not
the will of our Heavenly Father that millions remain in ignorance or
that thousands have filled illiterate graves, that

  Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
  Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll,

nor is it by the will of the illiterates themselves but through the
shortsightedness and selfishness of educated men.

The illiterate is more to be pitied than the blind, the deaf, the dumb,
the lame, and he has an affliction, in a measure, equal to that of the
insane. The illiterate can see, but is blind to all the lore over which
the masters have striven and left to bless the world; he can hear, he
can distinguish sound, but cannot appreciate music; he can talk, but is
powerless to express the sweetest combinations of his native language
or the highest emotions of his soul; he can walk, not with the upright,
independent step of the educated man, but even in his shambling gait
he reveals the burden that he bears; he has a mind, not muddled as
the insane, but dwarfed, undeveloped and unacquainted with all the
beautiful things for which it was created. “Short-armed ignorance,”
says Shakespeare. Short-armed indeed! Unable to reach the book on the
shelves of yonder public library; unable to reach the magazine on that
news-stand and to enjoy its contents or to reach the newspaper and keep
himself informed of the progress of events and the movements of his
fellow men; unable to reach the absent one with a message from his own
heart; unable to reach the Sunday school lesson or church hymnal;
unable to reach the Lord’s prayer, the Twenty-third Psalm or Christ’s
Sermon on the Mount.


Those who would keep the illiterates out of their chance or who claim
that they do not want to learn do them a great injustice. Undoubtedly
there has long been a striving upward among the mass of illiterates
which has needed but a helping hand to turn into actual achievement.
Since many have been taught in the past decade it has given new hope
and the urge to others, and has started them out seeking their sight.
Like blind Bartimeus who sat by the roadside crying, “Thou son of
David have mercy on me” the illiterates cry from everywhere. “Give me
sight--have mercy on me.” They call from the deep forests where brawny
woodsmen with stunted brain fell the trees to build America’s homes,
its ships and bridges, they call from the pit of the mine where men,
bent and blackened, dig the precious ore which sends a gleam athwart
a million hearth-stones, they call from the noise and hum of the
factory where men slave and women toil to conserve the food and to
produce the fabric which feeds and clothes their fellow-men, they call
from the mountain fastnesses where men, walled in, have preserved the
blood of a noble race to pour like the elixir of life into the nation’s
blood-stream, they call from the Southern cotton fields where Lincoln’s
black brother toils and knows no real emancipation--the emancipation
of the mind--but waits for us to come and set him free. They call from
the Western plains where dwell the sons of pioneers who braved the
loneliness and dangers of a vast wilderness that they might advance the
outposts of civilization.

[Illustration: Alex Webb, aged 98, who learned to read and write in the
Moonlight Schools.]

Hasten the day when the rural as well as the city dweller, no matter
where he may be, whether in the Southern cotton fields or on the
Western plains, in the mountains, or by the sea, shall have a school
which is not only open to his children and his grand-children by day,
but one which is open to his father, his mother, his wife, his hired
man and himself at night. Hasten the day when there shall be no men
and women in this country of ours who have eyes to see and yet see not
the splendid truths which have been written in books, and who have
hands to write but write not the thoughts which, if recorded, might
stamp with genius someone whom in its urgent need the world is seeking

  But why do you ask me should this tale be told
  To men grown old, or who are growing old?
  It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
  Till the tired heart has ceased to palpitate.
  Cato learned Greek at eighty. Sophocles
  Wrote his grand Œdipus, and Simonides
  Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers
  When each had numbered more than fourscore years.


  Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the last,
  Completed Faust when eighty years were past.
  These were exceptions, but they show
  How far the gulf stream of our youth may flow
  Into the arctic regions of our lives
  When little else than life itself survives.
  What then! Shall we sit idly down and say,
  “The night has come; it is no longer day?”
  The night has not yet come; we are not quite
  Cut off from labor by the failing light.
  Something remains for us to do or dare,
  Even the oldest tree may some fruit bear.
  Not Œdipus Coloneus, or Greek ode,
  Or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode
  Out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn,
  But other something could we but begin,
  For age is opportunity no less
  Than youth itself, though in another dress.
  And as the evening twilight fades away,
  The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

The one footnote has been moved to the end of its chapter.

Illustrations have been moved to paragraph breaks near where they are

Variations in spelling, punctuation, and hyphenation were retained
as they appear in the original publication, except that obvious
typographical errors have been corrected.

p. 137: 1910 in the original publication, which cannot be correct based
on the context (in 1910, when)

p. 193: Poem is an extract from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Morituri

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