WELLS RECORD 10 PMSS Academic 1913-1928

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Staff/Personnel
Series 03: Histories
Series 13: Education

WELLS RECORD 10 PMSS Academic 1913-1928

Evelyn K. Wells‘ Record 10 PMSS Academic 1913-1928 describes educational activity at Pine Mountain Settlement School from 1913 until 1928.

TAGS:  Evelyn K. Wells : Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Harlan County, Kentucky ; Academics ; education ; classes ; industrial education ; Katherine Pettit ; Ethel de Long Zande ; nursing ; House in the Woods ; Masonic Lodge ; academics ; Mary Sinclair Burkham School House  ; Nora Howard ; Brit Wilder ; Virgil Smith ; Howard Burdine ; Charles Cornett ;

House in the Woods pavilion with class in session in the early days, c. 1913. [II_2_early_days_123a.jpg]

We have always been primarily a school. It is book-learning our children have come for and book-learning that has explained Pine Mountain to the countryside. The life of the school adjusted itself around lessons even in days when the most important thing in the world seemed to be to get the food cooked, the clothes washed, fires built, corn hoed, buildings built. We did not wait for a schoolhouse to begin teaching; the House in the Woods took care of the children till snowfall, until 1918, when they were distributed in the living room of various cottages; or the first three years at the Masonic Lodge over Mr. Nolan’s store. The day after the new Mary Sinclair Burkham Schoolhouse I burned to the ground, classes were resumed in any odd corner of the grounds that was available. Study hour from the very beginning was impressed upon us as a sacred thing, and insistence continued in the face of difficulties until now every house studies peacefully and comfortably every evening.

Mary Sinclair Burkham School House I. [II_12-02_burkham_0427c.jpg]

A group of kindergarten children was taught the first summer 1913, and the following winter a volunteer teacher had an irregular group with little children in the morning, older ones in the afternoon, and one big boy every evening.  The second winter there were three salaried teachers, and from then on the academic faculty grew slowly, until in 1928 there were six, not including the teachers of vocational subjects. The accompanying table shows the number of children handled each year in the school and the graduates from grades and high school.  High School was begun in the fall of 1920, with five students in the first year.

Schoolroom and students. Brit Wilder to far right, front. Katherine Pettit Album I. [pettit_41_005.jpg]

In May 1924 a drastic change was made in the policy and courses of study, in the exclusion of children not ready for the fifth grade, and younger than fourteen years of age. This was done because of a growing conviction on the part of the Executive Committee that Pine Mountain would be a better school entity with a more uniform group of children; that we could not give the younger children the hoe influences they were particularly in need of and that since we could not tell for some time whether a younger child had the mentality and character deserving of a place at Pine Mountain, we were not justified in spending the money contributed by friends who assumed that we were doing all we could with it in the training of a child during its trial years.  But perhaps the most important reason for making this change was the improvement in the district schools all around us. When Pine Mountain began, the children who came to us from the district schools knew really less than nothing since they had been so badly started that they had to unlearn the little they knew; in 1924, children could get good teaching through the fourth grade in most of the district schools from which we drew; why should we be doing the work the state was at last able to do?

The Lodge and Store up Isaac’s Creek. First location of school rooms for Pine Mountain. Selected Exhibit.[misc_exhibit_023.jpg]

When the change was made, we kept on any children to whom we were already committed, such as younger brothers and sisters who had started with us, but in a couple of years, all such hang-overs were legitimate members of the school family. A little day school was conducted for a part of each year, for small children in the neighborhood, taught whenever possible by a volunteer worker. [Beginning ofLittle School.”]

In 1925 the first booklet of information for parents and children was issued, a great step for us. We were surprised to learn how few schools of Pine Mountain’s age and character had a printed leaflet for parents and children. the booklet did much to crystallize the requirements and standards of the school.

The booklet has been Pine Mountain’s only attempt to standardize. Its ideal has been to open the way for the children to offer them intellectual food that was real mountain fare to fit them for life in a locality that was rapidly changing rather than to fit them into a school system by conforming to what other schools were doing. Much of our work has been of an individual, emergency nature, and you will often find among our graduates young people who do not fall in line with eighth graders and high school students from other schools. With the improvement of schools all through the south, there has been a growing tendency towards standardization, which we have tried to avoid because we felt its deadening effects. Pine Mountain, at the sacrifice of not being accredited, has stayed free. 

It has been hard to teach a school so far away from the source of supply of good progressive teachers, and we have suffered from the comings and goings of good teachers who could not afford to work at Pine Mountain, or could not manage the conditions We have lost many who put in a couple of years of solid work with our children, and really took hold of their minds. We have sought the progressively minded and trained, but we have valued the work of experienced teachers who knew how to drill the children in the old ways.

The first use of Antioch [Exchange] students by shifts was in 1925, and since then we have had one and sometimes two pairs of them working cooperatively, most of them particularly successful and a distinct addition to our staff, bringing us in contact with that remarkably interesting college and its new ideas, and contributing to our own morale.

Pine Mountain has run the gamut of intelligence tests, like the rest of the world, but until very recently there have been none really suited to our children with their different experience and vocabulary. The best information on the subject seems to have proved that the Pine Mountain child, while far from lacking in mentality, is not intellectual, making a better craftsman than student; and that our best service must be available for the young person whose mind is the adjunct of his hands and not for development per se.  Our young people go on to more advanced schools, but few of them go to college. Nursing, farming marriage work in shops claim most of them. Even the teachers are not the “born” variety and soon marry.


1913- 1928

1913 4 2 4
1914 28 33 6 21 7
1915 77 50 26 50 27
1916 93 70 27 71 22
1917 100 70 36 71 29
1918 102 74 30 73 29
1919 103 85 42 72 31 11
1920 92 94 44 64 28 7
1921 138 94 37 81 57 8
1922 105 94 19 74 31 9
1923 108 100 37 64 42 10 2
1924 100 12
1925 137 100 40 76 61 7 2
1926 138 100 59 42 89 16 4
1927 138 100 63 62 77 18

The figures for “turn-over” include all students leaving during or at the end of any year for any reason whatever.

Full figures for the year 1924 were not available.

Total number of students who have passed through the school 666+ those in 1924.

Total graduates for eighth grade 94.

Total High School graduates 6.

1924 Graduates, Kitty Ritchie, who has since completed her college course at Berea. Elva Lewis, who married during her high school course and completed it after marriage.

1926 Graduates, Elsie Creech, now in college at Berea.  Becky May Huff, who specialized in weaving first at Berea and is now teaching weaving at Olive Hill.

1927 Graduates, Nora Howard, now at Berea. Virgil Smith, now at Berea. Charles Cornett, no further study. Howard Burdine, No further study. [In Miss Pettit’s writing on copy] — “Now at Berea, June 1935.”








[22 sections of early in-depth history of Pine Mountain Settlement School gathered by Evelyn K. Wells from 1913 to 1928]


2.        Introductory

3.          Year by Year [Construction, Workers, Gifts, Children, Events, etc.]

4.          Physical Growth

5.          Support and Budget

6.          Some Interesting Gifts

7.          Industrial and Vocational

8.          Farm – Dairy – Poultry

9.          The Country Cottage

10.        Academic

11.        Health

12.        Extension Work

13.        The Fireside Industries

14.        Folk Songs and Dance

15.        Athletics

16.        Dramatics

17.        Some Contributions to the Outside World

18.        Religious Life

19.        The Road

20.        Various Happenings

21.        Policies – General

22.        List of Workers


Wells, Evelyn K. The Ballad Tree: A Study of British and American Ballads, Their Folklore, Verse and Music, Together with Sixty Traditional Ballads and Their Tunes. New York: Ronald Press, 1950. Print.

[See Bibliography below for a listing  of additional publications.]

EVELYN K. WELLS “A Little True Blue American,” Over Sea and Land: Our Southern Mountains, November 1920, p. 140.


EVELYN K. WELLS PMSS Harvard University talk, on Folk Music. July 21, 1955