U.S. History and American West

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Prep School Cowboys: Ranch Schools in the American West

Melissa Bingmann

Ranch schools in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Wyoming in the 1920s and 1930s portrayed that the West embodied the moral attributes believed to be lacking in urban America. Advocates of character education saw the courage and self-reliance of the Old West as the qualities necessary to preserve the nation through the next generation. Bingmann uses ranch schools, designed to counteract the problems of inherited wealth, as a lens through which to examine citizenship, class, gender, and region during this era while illustrating that these schools, in transmitting such values to American youth, created a network of elite private schools that gave pampered boys from the urban centers of the Atlantic Seaboard and Great Lakes region the opportunity to grow into gentlemen cowboys ready to take the reins of power in family businesses and government.


Melissa Bingmann is an assistant professor of history at West Virginia University.


“Bingmann does a fine job of reconstructing the elite cultural disquiet and parental anxieties of the 1920s and ’30s that made these schools, for a moment in time, seem both natural and necessary.”



“An engaging and well-researched study. . . . Anyone interested in education will find this book an informative and groundbreaking contribution to history of the West and American education.”


Mexia Daily News

“Bingmann has done a commendable job of bringing together widely disparate sources. . . . The resulting impressive book adds to our understanding of a chapter in western education, the concerns of successful Americans about their children, ideals of masculinity among prominent Americans of the early twentieth century, and the ways many Americans imagined the West during the interwar period.”


Journal of American History

“An absorbing history. . . . Eloquently written and rich in empirical detail.”


American Historical Review

Prep School Cowboys provides sources, analysis, and most importantly, historical and social context to this oft-ignored part of western history.”


The Journal of Arizona History

“Bingmann’s study expands our understanding of the many manifestations of education in the American West, the construction and maintenance of mythical western identities, and the ongoing institutional connections between the West and the East.”


History of Education Quarterly

“In this fascinating study of a little-known phenomenon, Melissa Bingmann . . . presents a picture of the emergence and heyday of the ranch schools.”


Curled Up With a Good Book

6 x 9 in. 256 pages 18 halftones