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Educator Elsie Ripley Clapp (November 13, 1879–July 28, 1965) in 1934 was named director of the community school in Arthurdale, an experimental federal resettlement community established for victims of the Great Depression. She was a proponent of John Dewey’s doctrine of progressive education, which held that a school is an integral part of its community and must help that community adjust to change. A basic tenet of the Arthurdale school was that the homesteaders—primarily native-born whites who had been relocated from the Scotts Run coal camps in neighboring Monongalia County—could use their own experiences and rural heritage to better their lives.

Under Clapp, the school stressed education for real-life situations. Arithmetic, for example, might be taught by showing children how lumber was measured to build a house. An effort to revive traditional music encouraged students to strengthen their reading and writing skills by making up calls for community square dances. Fiddles and guitars were built in shop classes.

Ultimately, however, this emphasis on self-reliance and traditional culture served to isolate Arthurdale residents. The school was refused accreditation because its curriculum did not meet state standards, and many thought Arthurdale attempted to recapture an agrarian ideal that was irrelevant in an urban and industrial world. Some also have speculated that residents resented the community school because it was run by outsiders. Elsie Clapp left Arthurdale in 1936, and the school became part of the Preston County public school system. Clapp authored the book, Community Schools in Action, in 1939.

This Article was written by Christine M. Kreiser

Last Revised on November 13, 2013

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Cite This Article

Kreiser, Christine M. "Elsie Clapp." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 November 2013. Web. 18 October 2017.

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