The 42-year career of M. A. Cassidy exemplifies the transition of public school leadership in Kentucky from non-educators who held religious-political ideologies to professional progressive educators who sought to make Kentucky schools more efficient through expertise and scientific management. This concept was fully adopted in Section 183 of the Kentucky Constitution (1891) which required the General Assembly to “provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state.”
Confident that professional educators were best suited to devise solutions to social problems, and justified by the twin notions of equality of educational opportunity and meritocracy, Cassidy was part of a new breed of progressive educators who joined with the business community to declare that a modest amount of schooling would prepare all for a life of equality, not by restructuring society, but by making each individual better. Cassidy belonged to that class of Southern accommodationist progressive educators who saw themselves as the teachers and guardians of subordinate African Americans in whom they would cultivate “some measure of collaboration and consent.”
Cassidy presents as a Southern-style reformer working in a border state, but one who held conservative and progressive ideals in equal measure. Like most white Southerners, Cassidy believed that blacks were inherently inferior to whites. But unlike his Southern peers--and despite being part of a community that did not embrace social mobility for blacks--Cassidy was an early adopter of educational equality that included blacks, albeit, in a separate system under Jim Crow. His attention to physical and operational improvements to black schools, including enhanced teacher training and the addition of innovative programs for students, was remarkable for its place and time. But apparent philosophical conflicts fall into place once we see Cassidy for who he was: a public official who necessarily had to work closely with his constituency to achieve his goals; a change agent who used the bully pulpit to extol the virtues of literacy and a proper education; a Christian in the Social Gospel tradition who saw a duty to the least among us; and a personable superintendent who used his sense of Southern gentility to attract more citizens to the enterprise.
Richard E. Day and Lindsey N. DeVries. (2012) A southern progressive: M. A. Cassidy and the Lexington schools, 1886-1928. American Educational History Journal, 39 (1): 107-125.