The settlement school movement of the early twentieth century was a reform movement that sought to directly improve underserved communities by providing education and social services. The Hindman Settlement School, founded in 1902 in Hindman, Kentucky, was the first of these institutions to be located in a rural area and to serve the needs of Appalachians. Though the Settlement no longer operates as a full-time school, it retains its original mission of meeting people’s cultural, artistic, and academic needs. NEH funding, including a 2020 NEH CARES grant, has allowed the Settlement to develop programming that provides education and cultural enrichment while maintaining Appalachian heritage.
The NEH has supported the Settlement’s commitment to preserving and celebrating Appalachian culture in many ways. For example, a preservation assistance grant in 2017 ensured that the institution’s historical archives and special collections will remain in good condition for years to come. The archive, which contains over 31,000 items, is a vital record of the history and culture of central Appalachia. A challenge grant in 2017 allowed the Settlement to raise an additional $30,000 to put toward the Eastern Kentucky Food & Dance Trail, an asset map that will catalogue and highlight traditional Appalachian dances and foods. The project also includes the development of an Appalachian dance curriculum for students in public schools.
During the 2020 pandemic, the NEH provided the Settlement with the funding necessary to continue its path-breaking work. This includes Fireside Industries, the Hindman’s literary imprint, which publishes contemporary Appalachian voices as well as classic works that have not stayed in print. Without NEH support, the imprint’s publication schedule would have been put on hold indefinitely. The NEH also funded Agrilachia, a series of virtual conversations that paired local and national experts to discuss traditional Appalachian cultivars such as sorghum. “Settlement schools are a place of convening voices,” said Josh Mullins, the Settlement’s director of advancement. “A vital part of our work is to engage the community in place-based conversations about our history and our traditions.” Thanks to the NEH, these conversations were able to flourish.