Prior to 1870 there was no such thing as a public school in the state of Virginia, nor in most of the United States. History regards Reconstruction as a lost moment in time that failed to realize its potential to secure the full promises of freedom. Most scholarship rightly focuses on the ugly legacy of Reconstruction in a racially segregated South. Virginia’s Redeemer Democrats wrested political control from Radical Republicans before the ratification of the state’s 1870 Constitution and in her 1902 Constitution Virginia effectively disenfranchised blacks and poor whites. However, the 1870 Constitution provided education to every Virginian regardless of race and the 1902 constitution dramatically expanded access to that education. This study examines the evolution of Virginia’s public education in the form of curriculum, modernization, professionalization, and organizational reform from 1865 through 1920. Less an achievement of the Progressive Era, public education in Virginia emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War, as Virginia’s educators struggled to create a path forward to educate her people to productive citizenship amidst efforts to restrict political liberties.