“The Ideals of Pine Mountain”: Gender, Progressive Thought, and the Built Environment at Pine Mountain Settlement School

Photograph of the Mary Sinclair Burkham Memorial School House II by Marion Post Wolcott. Library of Congress

My history honors thesis evaluates the influences of Progressive thought, gender built environment of Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky. Progressive educators Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long founded the Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1913 as part of the growth of the rural settlement school movement in Appalachia. Pettit and de Long commissioned early female architect Mary Rockwell Hook to work with them to create a comprehensive plan for the construction of the campus. While Hook was not an educator, her educated, middle-class background led her to share Pettit’s and de Long’s mission to preserve what they saw as the best aspects of Appalachian culture while uplifting the Appalachian people by introducing a practical Progressive education and middle-class values.

Photograph of the Draper Industrial Arts Building by Wolcott. Library of Congress

Hook’s landscape and architectural plans reflected the three women’s idealized views of the school’s physical and cultural setting. In her plans, Hook tried to preserve the natural mountain valley landscape and extant vernacular log buildings, as well as to design new buildings that fit into the setting to act as a physical manifestation of the school’s mission to preserve mountain culture and uplift the people. In actuality, Hook enhanced the landscape to create a picturesque setting that reflected the women’s romanticized ideals. Likewise, her architectural designs were heavily influenced by the concept of the bungalow which romanticized the exoticism and simplicity of Appalachian life. In addition, Hook’s designs of the interior space sought to impose middle-class gendered divisions of labor on the students, reflecting the women’s middle-class, Progressive understandings of domesticity and gender norms.