Heritage Correctness: The Significance of What Happened at Vanderbilt

Historian Karen L. Cox has reminded us exactly why the United Daughters of the Confederacy invested in George Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University) in the first place. Namely, the UDC hoped to train women teachers who would spread the Confederate gospel as the UDC saw it.

In short, one could call it a heritage indoctrination center.

I doubt that is what the founders of George Peabody College were thinking of in the first place. After all, they named the college after George Peabody, a rather well-known nineteenth-century philanthropist.  In 1867 Peabody established a fund to support educational initiatives in the South in existing institutions, although that mission soon expanded. Nevertheless, the original parameters of the fund meant that its primary beneficiaries were southern white students and elementary education, although some of the proceeds benefited the children of the freedpeople.

Here’s a look at some of the original trustees:

Peabody Education Fund

You should be able to recognize Ulysses S. Grant and David Farragut: the man standing between them is Hamilton Fish, who later served as Grant’s secretary of state.

This photograph was used to create a larger image of the entire board. Brady lacked a panoramic setting on his camera, I guess:

All Peabody TrusteesBut perhaps he knew how to use Photoshop.

The George Peabody College for Teachers was founded with support from the Peabody Education Fund as the fund’s objectives shifted from direct aid to schools to helping to train teachers.

You can consult the proceedings of the trustees from 1867 to 1875 here.

Clearly the college welcomed help, but the help the UDC offered came with strings attached. The UDC’s grant of $50,000, Cox notes, was to further the training of women teachers who would be well-versed in the UDC’s version of history, a narrative (as Kevin Levin reminds us) that tended to warm Confederate hearts.

We now know better.

In short, what goes about comes about. What was once deemed appropriate is no longer so deemed.

This fact reminds us that those folks who are whining about “political correctness” and “cultural genocide” have basically conceded that they are not interested in historical accuracy. Rather, they embrace what I call heritage correctness, which is really nothing more than history told from a Confederate perspective that sets aside the importance of slavery in an effort to parrot the interpretations of the conflict that emerged in the postwar period from Confederate apologists (note that most advocates of heritage correctness are also rather passionate Confederate apologists). That, of course, is what the UDC was trying to support: they wanted to pass off their version of events, complete with lies and distortions, as “real history.” They wanted to train teachers to indoctrinate students with that version of history (and thus they wanted to indoctrinate the teachers as well). Note that the people who are complaining about Vanderbilt’s decision omit that fact … but then they are into myth-making as well.

That’s why this whining about political correctness is simply hypocritical … because the “history” the whiners would like to espouse is nothing more that the politically-correct version of Lost Cause advocates. What was once politically correct is no longer so, and, besides, it was never historically correct, anyway.

In short, heritage correctness is political correctness, Confederate apologist style. Some folks are just a bit too upset that that is now out of style.



18 thoughts on “Heritage Correctness: The Significance of What Happened at Vanderbilt

  1. OhioGuy August 24, 2016 / 8:37 pm

    This is the only war I know of where the losers for the most part controlled the memory narrative. It’s time it stopped. Vanderbilt is doing the right thing in returning this blood money, even if they have to pay back interest. Confederate Hall needs to go. I’d rename it after former board member US Grant.

    • Mark August 24, 2016 / 10:16 pm

      I don’t know of one either, but I’ve often wondered if there is some parallel across the globe.

      • OhioGuy August 25, 2016 / 10:52 am

        I believe you can file this under the category of American exceptionalism! 😉

      • Claire Jordan August 27, 2016 / 8:17 pm

        The Covenanters in Scotland. They were religious extremists who wanted freedom of religion only for themselves and carried out terrorist attacks, but because the government of the day mistreated Covenant prisoners they are now widely thought of as martyred freedom fighters.

    • Lyle Smith August 25, 2016 / 11:42 am

      They could name it after President Andrew Johnson, and ask Professor Simpson to give the benediction for it. 🙂

      • Brooks D. Simpson August 26, 2016 / 10:06 am

        Well, it is in Tennessee. I’d name it for George H. Thomas.

  2. bob carey August 26, 2016 / 10:11 am

    In perusing through the proceedings of the Peabody Fund I was struck by a few things. First the fund and its good work throughout the South never seems to be mentioned by Southrons when they discuss the “evils” of Reconstruction. Secondly the General and the Admiral were not merely names on a Board but took and active role in the Boards’ decision making. Finally I was impressed by the Board reasoning for not endorsing mixed schools, not out of any sort of bigotry but out of concern for the black youth and their development. They felt the black youth would perform better in a segregated setting. Their reasoning might have been flawed but I think it was sincere.
    On a lighter note I noticed that President Grant hosted a least 2 White House Dinners for the Board, today he would be accused of all sorts of chicanery.

  3. Michael Bradley August 26, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    why not name it Farragut Hall? He was from Tennessee while Thomas was from Virginia. Thomas had an excellent war record in Tennessee but Farragut is the “local guy.”

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 26, 2016 / 1:01 pm

      Understood (although, like Johnson, Farragut was from East Tennessee; Thomas fought his battle at Nashville.

      I didn’t suggest that it be called Brownlow Hall, after all.

      • Mark Snell August 26, 2016 / 2:49 pm

        How about John Bell Hood Hall? After all, he did more to ensure Union victory than any general besides Grant and Sherman. Plus, there is the Nashville connection. 😉

  4. James F. Epperson August 26, 2016 / 9:25 pm

    I suspect this will be an aspect of our September CWRT meeting in Ann Arbor.

  5. Lynne August 27, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    I graduated from Peabody and lived in Confederate Hall in the late sixties. I survived, even though I’m from Wiscosin and had no Confederate ansestors. The Daughters of the Confederacy donated the money and the dorm was named as a memorial. There was an earlier court ruling over this case that the University would have to pay back the funds in today’s money, if they removed the name. I haven’t heard anything indicating a different ruling. I’m sure the Daughters of the Confederacy will enjoy the big bucks they get from Vandy.

  6. Noma August 27, 2016 / 7:14 pm

    Peripheral question: I think this is the only photo of Ulysses S. Grant and Hamilton Fish together. Are there any others?

  7. Noma August 27, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    As of June 2015, the Creed of the UDC was this:


    Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those enlisted in the Confederate Services, and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united in an organization called the “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm and love of justice can exert its influence.

    We, therefore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals; to honor the memory of our beloved Veterans;

    to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is, that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery),

    and always to act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors…”

    However, by July of 2015, one no longer finds that “CREED” listed at



    One fascinating element of its 1970’s efforts was to establish at least 2 scholarship awards “The Jefferson Davis award for Excellence in Constitutional Studies” — one at Bowdoin College, and the other at (I believe) Wisconsin. (Note that the CREED above lists the important “underlying truth” that the “War Between the States was not a rebellion.”)

    Bowdoin’s president, Clayton Rose, encouraged its Board of Overseers to return the scholarship funds to the UDC, one week after his inauguration in 2015. Not sure whether Wisconsin still maintains its “Jefferson Davis” award or not.

  8. bonita August 28, 2016 / 10:41 am

    Americans had a huge fight , it’s over, thier all dead now, lots of folks died injured, lots lost, , it’s over, we have had other wars since we all americans fought as Americans, admitting defeat and admitting slavery was wrong and apologizing for it , is ok, I had confederate relatives, and although I’m not responsible for thier choices and for the war, I know it was wrong, my heart tells me so, and although I’m proud of my ancesters and what was passed to me thru generations like southern food and family values, thru research and learning I learned that cousins were fighting cousins, not all men in confederate uniform agreed with the war or even owned slaves , I learned that some whete Spys for the union, I earned that just as today propaganda was used to rally poor farmers , I learned thete was a draft , I learned that things were very different than from today , I learned churches reached false doctrine , I learned there was no internet TV etc, and I have also learned the very wealthy plantation owners who wanted free labor to make lots of money created a mess , it’s all to sad, I just pray that we Americans never fall for that mess again, and come to understand that we are truly one nation , one people with Liberty and justice for all

  9. David Hollingsworth August 28, 2016 / 10:43 am

    Regarding separation of races, Dunbar HS, an all Black school in the 1920s had the best academic achievement of all four high schools in Washington, DC at that time. Apropos Confederate apologists, CSA was like post WW 2 Japan: lost the war but won the peace. Just about every president was afraid to upset the Southern Congressmen and Senators while the South was an oligarchy and their reps in DC had all kinds of seniority and clout. Truman made a few ventures into these deep waters but for the most part —– and even he backed off on a few occasions. We need to be a bit like the Federal Republic of Germany – own up to our history and do what we can to turn it around.

  10. Jerry Greenfield September 20, 2016 / 4:13 pm

    My mom graduated from Peabody College — probably 85 yrs ago. Dad was from New York. I grew up in So. California. I never heard anti-black sentiment in my house. In fact, until I was around 10 there were more Hispanics in my class than whites. I got along with ‘most everyone. My first exposure to racial issues was when I went to college in New England.

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