HOW THE MAN WITH EIGHTY THOUSAND
CHILDREN BROUGHT THEM UP.
When the nineteenth century was young, there lived in
the little town of Franklin, Massachusetts, a small and sensitive boy.
Life was hard for small boys in those days. Parents
were stern and unsympathetic, and this small boy’s. home was one of
poverty and privation. If he wished a play hour, he must work for it; if
he desired a book, —even a schoolbook,—he must
work for it. With a natural love for the refined and the beautiful, he was
surrounded by influences which tended to make life hard, repressed,
narrow, and unlovely.
Yet, out of even harsher surroundings sprang Abraham
Lincoln, greatest of Americans. This small boy of Franklin grew to be a
power in the world. On the fifth day of May, 1896,
those Massachusetts boys and girls who were blind
and deaf, as well as those who could see and hear, celebrated the one
hundredth anniversary of his birth; for out of that pinched and narrow
Puritan home in Franklin came the lad who more than all others was to
become the benefactor of American boys and girls,—Horace Mann, the
It is, indeed, repression and deprivation which, in
characters naturally strong, sometimes bring out both
purpose and performance. Horace
Mann was frail in body, but strong in heart. When bright things were
denied him, he dreamed bright things. He had no desire to be rich or
famous or powerful, but he did wish to do something helpful and noble;
and his air castles, such as all thoughtful or ambitious boys love to
build, were not material, but intellectual structures; that is, he did
not dream of doing something great for himself, but rather something
that should be of benefit to mankind.
His air castles proved real; his dreams did come
true. Health, strength, and life itself he built into his work in behalf
of his race, and became alike the father and the founder of that system
of popular education which made itself a part of the very fabric of
Massachusetts, and went out into the other States of the Union as the
broad and noble public-school system of America.
There never was a harder worker. He was obliged to be
one in that pleasure-lacking home in Franklin, and he said of himself,
"Owing to these ingrained habits, work has always been to me what
water is to a fish." So, earnestly desiring learning, for
which he had but little opportunity up to the time he was fifteen years
old, he denied himself every luxury and pleasure that even his limited
wishes craved until he had saved enough to enter college, and had nearly
studied himself sick to do so.
He graduated with the highest honors; he taught
school, he studied law, and gradually he found his footing in the world.
But all the time he was trying to see what good he could do for his
He did much. People saw how
wise and strong of brain and purpose this young man, so weak in body,
really was. They gave him their respect,
esteem, and confidence. They sent him to the Great and General Court,
where he received, in 1836, the high honor of being elected president of
the Senate; they sent him to Congress in 1848, and the Free-soil party
made him their candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 1852.
He succeeded John Quincy Adams as the representative
of Massachusetts in Congress, and succeeded also to all that earnest old
patriot’s love of liberty and intense desire for equal rights.
But, in Horace Mann’s view, equal rights had their
foundation in education. "Save the children of America from
ignorance, and you save the republic," he said, "for in a
republic ignorance is a crime; . . . and
if we do not prepare children to become good citizens, then our republic
must go down to destruction, as others have gone before it."
He did not intend that this should be possible, if he
could do anything to prevent it; so all his time and thought were
devoted to working out his plans for the better education of the boys
and girls of the commonwealth.
Education in Massachusetts had gone
through many ups and downs since first the Mayflower dropped anchor in
Provincetown harbor, and Boston, in 1635, had agreed by vote that
"our brother Philemon Pormort shall be entreated to become
schoolmaster for the teaching and nurturing the children with us."
Two hundred years later, in 1835, when Horace Mann tried to put new life
into its weak body, the school
system of the Bay State was having one of its most serious downs. The
equal school rights for all, which had been the plan of the Puritan
founders of the commonwealth, had been allowed to sink into meagerly
provided and most unequal privileges. Poor schools for the poorer people
were about all that the State provided. Teachers were as poor as the
schools, and parents who desired anything like a decent education for
their children sent them to the "pay schools," or ambitious
academies, of which there were some good and some very poor ones in the
Horace Mann saw the need that existed for popular
education,—for schools that should be for all the people, rich and
poor alike, for a better class of teachers, trained by wisest methods
for their important work.
He talked and labored, and he never rested in his
labors. The imperfect and hampering system of district schools, run by
the selectmen, which had furnished but a poor excuse for instruction for
years, was attacked, a school fund created, and a Board of Education
established. That all sounds simple; but it was long and tedious, often
disheartening and thankless, labor, trying to work up public opinion to
this revival of education.
When, in 1837, the
State Board of Education was appointed "to revise and reorganize
the common-school system of the State of Massachusetts," Horace
Mann was appointed secretary.
His friends told him he was foolish. He would never
get rich at that business, they declared. But their selfish advice was
unheeded. Horace Mann felt that
he had a mission in the world,
and no money could tempt, no honors could lure him to neglect that
"I have accepted the office," he wrote to a
friend. "If I do not succeed in it, I will lay claim at least to
the benefit of the saying that in great attempts it is glorious to
But he did not fail. He succeeded gloriously. For
twelve years he served as secretary of the Board of Education; indeed,
he was the
Board of Education. To do its work he gave up his profession of the law,
he resigned his seat in the Massachusetts legislature. His duty was
to enlighten the people, and arouse in them a
desire for better teachers, better schools, and, therefore, better men
and women to be developed from the children that teachers and schools
would bend and train.
He was tireless in his energy; he was exhaustless in
his plans. During those twelve years he worked fifteen hours every day.
He talked, he wrote, he lectured, he held teachers’ conventions, he
started a school journal for the better diffusion of his ideas, and he
published annual reports which were the best statements and advocates of
the cause of popular education that America had ever seen, and which,
since his day, have rarely been surpassed..
He started the State normal schools for the education
of teachers; he aroused, in the face of constant opposition and
criticism, a new public spirit that turned the indifference of the
people into interest, and led them finally to recognize and appreciate
the valuable work which this earnest and tireless man had done.
It was not easy work. It was hard, uphill work. Even
the children for whom he labored rebelled, while
the teachers he sought to improve grumbled or
But nothing ever daunted this determined man. Once,
when he went off to Pittsfield, among the Berkshire Hills, to hold
a" teachers’ institute," or convention, he reached the
town, in the morning, only to find that no arrangements had been made,
and that the schoolhouse in which the institute was to be held was in
no presentable condition.
governor saw in what condition was the schoolhouse,
and how dull was the
interest in the wise plans of Horace Mann, both he and Mr. Mann were
determined to conquer what the secretary called "the arctic regions
of Pittsfield" (because of its lack of interest); so, while the
secretary was "putting things to rights," the governor made a
raid on the nearest dwelling house, borrowed two brooms, and when the
aroused and curious inhabitants strolled into the schoolhouse, they
stood open-eyed with wonder to see the governor of the commonwealth of
Massachusetts and the secretary of the State Board of Education sweeping
and dusting the schoolroom, so that everything might be presentable when
the hour for the institute arrived.
Horace Mann felt very tender and loving toward the
school children of Massachusetts whom he was trying to improve. "My
eighty thousand children," he called them, and he labored
persistently to bring them up so that they should be an honor to the
State and power for good in the republic whose citizens they were to be.
How well he succeeded the patriotism of Massachusetts in the war days
that so tried and tested it was to prove, while the work he did for them
was to bear fruit, even beyond his own expectations, in the position
which Massachusetts assumed, and still holds, in the van alike of
popular education and of higher education in America.
There are in the State of Massachusetts ten thousand
public schools and thirteen thousand teachers. Horace Mann’s eighty
thousand children have increased to more than four hundred thousand. Of
the thirteen thousand teachers nearly five thousand are graduates of the
mal schools started by Horace
Mann. The support of the public schools of Massachusetts costs the State
over eleven millions of dollars, but this is the one item of taxation
and expenditure at which the citizens of the Bay State never grumble.
For the education of the children is the salvation of the State. Besides
this public-school census, there are also in Massachusetts more than
sixty thousand scholars taught in one hundred academies and three
hundred and sixty private and parochial schools, at a cost of nearly
seven hundred thousand dollars, while a dozen chartered colleges, headed
by the great Harvard University, with special schools devoted to
industrial, technical, art, business, musical, and professional
instruction, complete the roster of the educational facilities of
Massachusetts at the close of the nineteenth century.
And this advance is due very largely to the patience,
the persistence, the determination, and the courage of the man who, in
spite of all obstacles,—indifference, parsimony, "old-fogyism,"
and political antagonisms,— worked steadily on to accomplish a purpose
which had become at once the plan and dream of his life since first in
that poor home in Franklin a repressed small boy made up his mind to do
some good in the world.
He did it; and the visitor to Boston sees, in front
of the Statehouse, in the shadow of the gilded dome, placed there by the
school-children and school-teachers of Massachusetts, for whom his life
was spent, a bronze statue of the loving father of eighty thousand
— Horace Mann, educator,