Rosenwald Schools in Kentucky Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky

Public education in Kentucky traces its roots to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1837 to establish a state-wide system of schools as well as the State Board of Education. Using monies provided by the federal government, the goal was to provide an education to all white children between the ages of seven and seventeen. It wasn't until after the end of the Civil War that the concept of public education for black children was formally addressed. In 1874, the General Assembly created a separate system of public schools to serve the African-American community. This concept was reinforced in 1891 when Kentucky's revised constitution legalized a segregated school system. While the system functioned until the United States Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the segregated school systems were not equally funded. Thus, the concept of "separate but equal" was never realized. The existence of these conditions for over a century established the need for outside assistance in the African American community.

The later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century saw a rise in the number of individuals and organizations that sought to address social ills between the races. One such individual was Julius Rosenwald (1862 - 1932). Born in Springfield, Illinois of German parents, Rosenwald grew up only one block from the home of Abraham Lincoln who was a close friend of the family. His father was well-established in the clothing industry both during and after the Civil War. After finishing two years of high school, he was sent to New York to learn more about the clothing business from his uncles. Ultimately, in 1884, he and his brother opened their first clothing store in Chicago. In the 1890s, Rosenwald became a manager of Sears, Roebuck and Company. It was through his urging that Richard Sears, president of the company, introduced the use of the mail-order catalog that was a hallmark for many decades. In 1909, Rosenwald took over as president with the resignation of Richard Sears.

While Rosenwald had always been interested and supportive of the needs of the Jewish community, it was his wife who introduced him to the social causes for less fortunates. As a result of this, he became active in efforts to address these needs, especially in the African-American community. In 1911, Rosenwald had the opportunity to meet Booker T. Washington while he was in Chicago raising funds for the Tuskegee Institute. A bond developed between the two as they found that they shared a common philosophy. They both believed that help should be provided to those working to raise themselves up, provided that help did not destroy the individual's self-reliance. They both believed education to be a key component of self-help.

Prior to meeting Rosenwald, Washington was able to convince Standard Oil to share in his dream of providing schools for rural African-Americans. Working through the General Education Board headed by John D. Rockefeller, Henry H. Rogers of Standard Oil agreed in 1904 to aid in building schools in three Alabama counties. Both men felt it important that the black community should contribute to this work so that it would not be purely a gift. This stipulation would instill a sense of ownership and pride within the community. Over the next five years, forty-six schools were built in select counties of Alabama. However, with the death of Rogers in 1909, the work was discontinued.

In 1912, Rosenwald saw the importance of Washington's efforts and began providing financial support. These funds were distributed as matching grants for the construction of additional schools. The oversight and planning for this program was handled by the Extension Department at Tuskegee Institute. By the time of Washington's death in 1915, the collaboration had created over 300 African-American schools in three different states.

The work begun by these two men not only continued but expanded on a larger scale than either had dared dream. Working together, Rosenwald, the General Education Board, the Slater and Jeanes Funds and Tuskegee Institute developed a plan for rural schools throughout the south. This new plan included provisions for the housing and training of teachers. To this end, Rosenwald agreed to provide a portion of the cost of building schools where the local African-American community exhibited a strong financial and social commitment to education. In addition, each community had to guarantee to equip, furnish and maintain the schools after they were built. It was Rosenwald's intent to gradually reduce his contributions and increase public support, with the hope that eventually the entire process of funding black education would be undertaken using public monies.

As the project grew and expanded, so did the requirements of its management. In 1917, Rosenwald incorporated the Julius Rosenwald Fund as a non-profit corporation having as its primary purpose the promotion of "the well-being of mankind." From 1917 until 1928, Rosenwald personally maintained control over the Fund while the building program was administered in Tuskegee. By 1920, these administrative functions had been moved to Nashville, Tennessee. For the first time, construction was put under the management of a white man, Samuel L. Smith, who was named director of the Rosenwald Fund Southern Office. Smith's responsibilities included cooperating with the departments of public instruction in fourteen southern states. Under Rosenwald's plan, Smith would see that African-American State Building Agents were hired with half of their salaries being paid by the Fund and half by the states desiring new schools. These state agents would inspect and supervise the construction of schools and teachers' homes in their respective states.

As Rosenwald's health began to decline, a major reorganization of the Fund was undertaken in 1928. This reorganization saw the Fund transitioning from private to corporate giving and the establishment of a board of trustees. In addition, Rosenwald was replaced as president of the Fund by Edwin R. Embree. The programs of the Fund, which had originally focused on building rural African-American schools, expanded to include aid to colleges for teacher training, black leadership development, fellowships for promising black and white students, research on African-American health and medical services, subsidies for county and school libraries, appropriations for specific social studies and contributions to agencies and individuals working in the field of race relations.

By the time of Rosenwald's death in 1932, the Julius Rosenwald Fund had helped construct over 5,300 public schools, shops and teacher's homes in fifteen southern states. The total cost of all of these projects was an impressive $28,408,520. This figure includes $4,364,869 (15.36%) in Rosenwald funds, $18,105,805 (63.73%) in tax funds, $4,725,891 (16.64%) from African-Americans and $1,211,975 (4.27%) from the white community.

It was Rosenwald's firm belief that the generation which contributed to the making of wealth should be the one to benefit from it. Therefore, he stipulated the Fund should expend its principal and interest within twenty-five years after his death. In keeping with these wishes, Embree discontinued building Rosenwald Schools in 1937 and closed the Fund completely in 1948.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky was one of the fifteen states that benefited from the efforts of Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and other forward thinkers. Between 1917 and 1932, the Julius Rosenwald Fund assisted in the construction of 158 schools and other buildings across the Bluegrass state. Fayette County benefited from these funds with the construction of five schools and one shop. Of these six structures, Cadentown School is the only surviving Rosenwald Fund School.

An overview of the Fayette County Schools constructed by this fund include:

• Uttingertown School - originally a two-room, two teacher facility that was funded in 1917-1920. It was demolished after 2000.
• Coletown School - a two-teacher facility that was funded in 1920-1921. It was demolished at an unknown date.
• Avon School - a one-teacher facility built 1922-1923 . Its demolition date is unknown.
• Cadentown School - a one-teacher facility built 1922-1923.
• Ft. Springs School - built 1922-1923. Its demolition date is unknown.
• Douglas School - an eight-teacher facility built 1929-1930 and demolished at an unknown date.
• Douglas School Shop - an addition to Douglas School from 1931-1932. Its demolition date is unknown.