Buncombe County Literacy

Buncombe County led the state in the early 1920s in fighting adult illiteracy. Its adult literacy program was copied throughout the south and even received national recognition. From 1917 to 1920 Buncombe County adult community schools, often called night schools, taught over 3000 adults to read and write. However, a newspaper article from February 1925 said that Asheville had 1486 illiterate adults with a county total of 3,893. Literacy classes were often held in schools and churches, and one class for factory workers was held in a railroad car. Instructor Della Day stands at the chalk board.

“Continuation Class/Railroad School,” 1923.

One Community School contest was held on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. In the photograph below Mrs. Edith Dresser Vanderbilt is shown welcoming several hundred of the Community Night School members on the Biltmore Estate on 6/24/1923. Other teachers in the program are standing below the platform.



From the same event, Miss Cornelia Vanderbilt is shown standing on the left with others at the welcoming of several hundred of the Community Night School members on the Biltmore Estate; Della Day standing front right. Students hold signs from their community.


How is the state of literacy faring in Buncombe County today? The Literacy Council of Buncombe County reports these Buncombe County facts:

  • 1 in 10 adults in Buncombe County cannot read at a basic level, according to a U.S. Department of Education literacy study (2003).
  • Approximately 8% of county residents do not speak English at home.
  • 12% of Buncombe County residents lack a high school diploma.
  • 24% of Buncombe County children live in poverty

Post by Zoe Rhine

1 Comment

  1. The statistics at the end of the post are truly distressing. 1 in 10!? Good heavens, so sad…And then the other numbers, ugh….

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