Arts & Culture

Mountain Educators: The Dougherty Family and the First Fifty Years of Appalachian by Doris Perry Stam

  • By John Murawski
  • Photography by Bert Vanderveen

Mountain Educators

In our era of giant land-grant universities, it’s worth remembering that 17,000-student Appalachian State University started as a country schoolhouse framed from Blue Ridge Mountains timber. The mission of what was originally called Watauga Academy in Boone was to train teachers for North Carolina’s “lost provinces,” the state’s isolated mountain communities.

The institution’s founding brethren, Dauphin Disco Dougherty and Blanford Barnard Dougherty, were progressive visionaries whose tireless campaigning for universal education helped shape today’s state public policy. Early advocates of state-funded schooling and equal opportunity for the poor, the Doughertys’ social mission was tinctured with a Baptist suspicion of dancing, a ban on card playing, a strict separation of the sexes, and mandatory chapel attendance.

More than a century ago, when Blan first lobbied the Legislature for financial support, he faced opposition from political Goliaths in Raleigh. But as the school’s leader became a miracle worker with the dollar, the Legislature bestowed the state’s munificence on the institution for many years thereafter. Time magazine hailed Blan, the institution’s superintendent and president for 52 years, as “a history maker in education.”

The book’s sepia-toned photographs of Dauph and Blan Dougherty, along with students, teachers, and relatives, epitomize the Depression-era mountain family. The scrapbook-like collection implies Doris Perry Stam’s appreciation of her family forebears.

Decades before his retirement at age 85, Blan Dougherty, the trailblazer, was seen by some on the increasingly sophisticated Boone campus as an impediment to progress. In the 1930s and 1940s, student protests against the strict regimen resulted in the right to organize student-elected offices. Student grievances led to permission for female and male students to leave the cafeteria together. It’s fair to say that the Dougherty brothers would barely recognize the university today.

Watauga Press. 2010, 216 pages, paperback, $24.95.

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