Asheville Archives: Calls for a more informed and engaged citizenry, 1923

POLITICALLY DISENGAGED: “Except as impelled by the rising temperature of a political campaign, how small is the minority that gives regular and serious study to the public business!” lamented The Asheville Citizen in a Jan. 22, 1923, editorial. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Special Collections; image altered by Xpress

Concern over the future of American democracy lined the editorial page in the Jan. 22, 1923, edition of The Asheville Citizen. The paper posited that the public, by and large, neglected its duties to be informed and engaged citizens.

“Except as impelled by the rising temperature of a political campaign, how small is the minority that gives regular and serious study to the public business!” the editorial exclaimed.

And while the pulpit, press and other agencies played vital roles in awakening civic responsibilities, the paper continued, “it is to the schools, colleges and universities that we must look for the creation of a new type of citizen, one that lays primary emphasis on intelligent service to society.”

In the same issue, the paper ran a letter by E.H. Stillwater, a professor of history and social sciences at Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School (today’s Western Carolina University). In it, the professor argued for a new approach to schooling.

“The ultimate end and aim of all education is, or should be, the making of good citizens,” Stillwater wrote. “In the past we have aimed at making a good lawyer first and then a good citizen. In the future we shall reverse the order and strive to make a good citizen and then a good lawyer.”

The impetus, Stillwater continued, was the republic itself. “In this new and rapidly moving age when so many theories and radical experiments are being tried out, both in church and state, we stand in need of a larger social intelligence,” he asserted. “Democracy itself is on trial; and if it is to stand the test we must educate the masses for democracy.”

The professor pointed to a course on citizenship he led at Cullowhee Normal. In it, his students studied “history in the making,” by reading and discussing current events as reported in the papers.

Along with his description of the course, Stillwater included an excerpt from an article written by his student Lucile Leggette, published in the September 1922 issue of North Carolina Journal of Education.

“Interesting discussions and various views expressed by members of the class, skillfully guided by professor Stillwater, resulted in a greater familiarity with present-day affairs and a better understanding of the correct attitude teachers should take in matters of vital interest to community, state, and nation,” Leggette wrote. “We hope that by next summer other schools will be able to offer just such a course to their students.”

Stillwater concluded his letter by emphasizing that the course’s popularity attested to the interest and need of the study.

The Asheville Citizen’s editorial, previously quoted above, agreed.

“Men and women of today have many calls upon their personal and civic interests,” the paper wrote. “The task of making a living is strenuous for the majority; the multiplicity of public questions is sometimes confusing; and yet the absolute failure of the American experiment in democracy can only be prevented by the intelligent and persevering interest of men and women in public issues.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Asheville Archives: Calls for a more informed and engaged citizenry, 1923

  1. Grant Millin

    Good starting point for local 2024 and 2026 elections. The past can often have vital lessons learned.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.