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McGuffey's Readers


McGUFFEY'S READERS formed a series of textbooks that molded American literary taste and morality, particularly in the Middle West, from 1836 until the early twentieth century. The total sales reached 122 million copies by 1920. Only the Bible and Webster's Spelling Book have enjoyed equal acceptance in the United States.

William Holmes McGuffey prepared the Eclectic Series of school readers at the request of a Cincinnati publisher interested in books adapted to the western schools. The books followed the conventional pattern of readers, teaching the principles of religion, morality, and patriotism through literary samples and pictures. They included considerable lore about nature, games and sports, manners, and attitudes toward God, relatives, teachers, companions, unfortunates, and animals. The lessons simplified complex problems so that, in the end, right always conquered and sin or wrong was always punished.

The earlier editions of McGuffey's Readers were intended for primary school students. Later readers, for older pupils, completed the series. These contained fewer pictures and focused more on British and American literature and skills in oral reading and presentation. In 1879 the books were completely remade, and in 1901 and 1920 the series was recopyrighted with slight changes. During this time, the McGuffey's Readers' popularity extended far beyond their intended frontier audience, and they eventually had a considerable impact on curricula throughout the country.


McClellan, B. Edward. Moral Education in America: Schools and the Shaping of Character from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.

Westerhoff, John H. McGuffey and His Readers: Piety, Morality, and Education in Nineteenth-Century America. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1978.

Harry R. Warfel / s. b.

See also Curriculum ; Education ; Literature, Children's ; Publishing Industry .

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