From the Wall Street Journal’s review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, Home:
Ms. Robinson found herself having to explain how, as she puts it, “the Middle West was intentionally civilized.” Protestant New Englanders came west to establish schools like Grinnell and Knox College — and towns like Gilead — as beacons of civilization and outposts of abolitionism intended to halt the spread of slavery. “The wealth of intellectual life that was produced out of that had everything to do with the development of American intellectual life generally,” she says.
“They were teaching Greek and Latin in the middle of nowhere, on the assumption that the most valuable quality of culture — high literacy — was something that ought to be generally available and freely available. These were people who could have lived very comfortable lives if they’d stayed [back east] — and probably some meaningful percentage of them froze to death.”