Education Reform During the Progressive Era and the Rosenwald Schools of the American South

In this lesson, students will learn about the Julius Rosenwald Fund and study images and drawings of the Cadentown Rosenwald School in Lexington, Kentucky. The school was constructed in 1922-23, and the images were created after 1933 as part of the Library of Congress’s Historic American Building Survey. Students will analyze these sources to identify defining physical features of Rosenwald schools, develop historical research questions, and learn about the private-public partnerships that funded many Progressive Era reform efforts.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Describe the development of African American institutions such as religion, education, and benevolent organizations.
Evaluate the topic, subject, and/or theme in multiple diverse formats and media, including how the version interprets the source text.
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning supported by relevant and sufficient evidence.
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Learning objectives: 

Students will learn to evaluate primary source materials as artifacts, develop an understanding of the importance of historical inquiry based on primary sources, gain a better understanding that political, economic, and social history are connected, and recognize that private-public partnerships often funded reform efforts during the Progressive Era.

Essential and guiding questions: 

How can buildings be used as primary sources? What kind of relationship model did the Rosenwald initiative create for Progressive reform efforts? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Helpful Hints


  • Primary Source Analysis Tool
  • Analyzing Photgraphs and Prints Teachers Guide
  • Rosenwald Schools videos, courtesy of the University of Alabama Center for Public Television
  • Video Discussion Questions Handout (page 5)