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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Maids of Athens : tradition and modernity in the interwar education of southern women Anderson, Jennifer Louise


In the southern United States the interwar years were a period of significant economic and social change. Agriculture failures in the 1920s, intensified by the Depression of the 1930s, led to the collapse of southern cotton markets which in turn destabilized the traditional plantation economy of the region. As the economic downturn worsened, institutions associated with the old South could no longer survive in their present forms. Just as farmers in the South were forced to modernize to keep pace with new economic structures associated with the New Deal, so too were institutions of higher education forced to accommodate these same pressures. Threatened with declining enrollments, colleges in the South closed or changed their educational focus. For Athens College, steeped in cultural traditions dating from the antebellum period, it was necessary to accommodate progressive modern reforms if it was to maintain the traditional values upon which the College was founded. Through an examination of Athens College it is possible to identify how tradition and modernity could be reconciled in the interwar South. In the 1930s, college administrators continued to prioritize the classical southern model of women's education while at the same time approving progressive reforms such as the admission of men to the College and the construction of a textile mill where students could work to earn their tuition. Not only did these developments combine elements of traditional southern values and the need for modernizing reforms, a fuller examination of these developments also challenges current historiographical assumptions concerning gender and class in the interwar South. Rather than understanding these categories of analysis as uniform and consistent, historians must reconsider the importance of individual experiences of gender and class in the period.

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