Chapter 29


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 educator.

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 fellow-men.



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 State.

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 mission.

"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 fail."

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 "wouldn’t play."

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 nor-



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 children,

Horace Mann, educator, patriot, American.