Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Kopelson, Karen Lynn

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

Horner, Bruce

Committee Member

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Enoch, Jessica


High schools--Kentucky--Louisville--History; Education--Kentucky--Louisville--History


This archival project investigates the first public high schools in Louisville as they negotiated the means and ends of providing higher education to an increasingly diverse and expanding body of learners. Drawing on primary documents from the schools’ first four decades of operation—particularly school board reports, newspapers, and student writing—I foreground the interplay and overlap between regional and institutional identities and histories, which contribute to a rich and complex picture of “higher education” in the nineteenth-century US. Each chapter of the dissertation explores a distinct but overlapping aspect of the curriculum—including “practical” education, women’s education, and manual or industrial education—that contributes to a rich ecological perspective on the political, social, economic, and gendered aspects of rhetorical education being negotiated for learners across the last half of the century. Together, the arguments forwarded in each chapter demonstrate the value of examining high schools as sites of pedagogical innovation, rhetorical opportunity, and citizenship training of significance both to our rhetorical histories and to the ways we address reform efforts in higher education today. In “The Idea(l) of the High School,” I begin by introducing the high schools as collegiate institutions serving the higher education needs of the city’s students, outlining the general justifications for establishing these schools—which included training teachers for the lower schools and providing access to higher education in the student’s home community to develop citizens and workers. Here, I outline key terms of the project and the historiographic conversations to which it contributes. My next chapter, “The Practical and Practice: William N. Hailmann and the Louisville High Schools,” focuses on the first decade of the schools’ operation, during which European educational philosophies of the “New Education” were introduced to Louisville’s schools by science professor William N. Hailmann. Under his influence, educational theories associated with the lower schools (particularly “object teaching”) were applied to a collegiate learning context, replacing traditional disciplinary values of memorization and recitation with student-centered methods emphasizing self-activity, hands-on practice, and a “pedagogy of interest” as the basis for a “practical” education. Following Linda Adler-Kassner’s “Liberal Learning, Professional Training and Disciplinarity” and Min Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner’s “Composing Careers in Global Local Context,” I argue that this notion of practical education, as grounded in meaningful student-centered practice and learning across one’s lifetime, provides an alternative definition and purpose for a “practical” liberal arts education that can be drawn on to counter reductively career-oriented appeals circulating in current educational reform discourse. Chapter Three, “The Flower of Democracy: Female High School,” focuses specifically on opportunities for young women. Building on the student-centered academic focus provided by the new education, women at Female High School were afforded remarkable opportunities to develop as rhetors and teachers, and to pursue both high academic standards and professionalization opportunities at a time when these two aims were seldom combined for women. In this chapter, I argue that the construction of these young women as “high school girls” (even though they were as old as 21) alleviated concerns about their rhetorical performances, while their role as future teachers provided a frame for their civic participation and professionalization. In particular, I focus on the opportunities for women’s rhetorical engagement from within the seemingly contained but very much public school ceremonies. I analyze three student essays from the 1860 commencement ceremonies to demonstrate the ways students used this traditionally epideictic context as a venue for deliberative rhetoric that commented on their own experiences as women and students. The perceived innocuousness of the “high school girl” and her public service role as a future teacher enabled remarkable opportunities for rhetorical development and civic participation that have been overlooked in our emphasis on colleges, providing insights into how we might conceive of publicly engaged students and pedagogies today. Chapter Four, “The Mind and Body of Higher Learning,” traces the constriction of opportunities for rhetorical education through the development of differentiated programs in the final decades of the nineteenth century. These programs were increasingly focused on preparing students for particular career outcomes, and led to the construction of students as gendered and classed learners. In particular, I argue that the emerging attention to students’ material needs and embodiment served as a warrant for developing curricular programs that confirmed social class positions and available gender roles rather than affording opportunities for students to transcend them. The emphasis on embodiment coincides with the emergence of race as an important signifier, as Louisville’s first public school for African Americans was opened in 1873, when these reforms began to catch on in the city. The account of embodied vocational education helps us to understand the ongoing devaluation of manual education and careers, and has explanatory power for understanding the eclipse of what Graves calls the “female scholar” by the “domesticated citizen” by the end of the century. In my final chapter, I summarize the historical and historiographic insights provided by a study of the Louisville high schools. I link my account to national educational trends and discourse to show how Louisville helps us to frame a shared sense of history between Rhetoric and Composition and Education in order to rethink the utility of our origin stories and the disciplinary boundaries they are used to uphold.