Wayland, Francis (1796–1865)

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Wayland, Francis (17961865)

The Reverend Francis Wayland exerted a strong influence over generations of American youth, including not only his own students at Brown University, but also the thousands who relied on his standard textbooks, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (1835), and The Elements of Political Economy (1837). Wayland was born March 11, 1796 in New York City to English immigrant parents. He graduated from Union College in 1813 and was preparing to become a doctor when he underwent a conversion experience and enrolled at Andover Seminary. After graduating in 1816, Wayland returned as a teacher to Union, then led the First Baptist Church in Boston, before being installed as president of Brown in 1826.

Wayland's legacy is as a reformer. Brown was a troubled institution when he arrived. Wayland embarked on a vigorous program to revivify the school, through a combination of increased student discipline and liberalization of the curriculum. He compelled faculty to live on campus and pay visits to students in their quarters. He insisted that all student infractions be reported to him personally, and he used the threat of expulsion to keep order. Yet Wayland compelled an enormous respect and admiration from many students. In contrast to his restrictive approach to student behavior, Wayland advocated opening Brown's pedagogy. For colleges to be competitive in the market for students, he believed they should offer classes relevant to the new professions of the nineteenth century. Wayland rejected the standard fixed university curriculum of classics, mathematics, and philosophy. He introduced classes in the sciences and engineering. Wayland also advocated for the expansion of the public school system in Rhode Island so that a greater number of youth might be prepared for college. His ideas about education are best expressed in his books Thoughts onthe Present Collegiate System (1842), and Report to the Corporation of Brown University on Changes in the System of Collegiate Education (1850).

Wayland's approach to raising his children mirrored his treatment of students. A personal essay published anonymously in The American Baptist Magazine in 1831 testifies to his intensive disciplinary efforts. The piece describes his reaction to the willful refusal of his fifteen-month-old son, Heman, to accept a piece of bread from Wayland's hand. To subdue Heman's temper, Wayland left him alone in a room, without food or drink, for a day and a half. He visited regularly to give Heman a chance to behave compliantly, until the infant finally relented his obstinacy. Wayland's discipline, while strict, was balanced with great openness and love. Heman and his older brother, Francis, Jr., fondly remembered wrestling their imposing father on the living room floor; and both expressed absolute respect and love for him in their personal letters. Historian William G. McLoughlin has suggested that Wayland's disciplinary technique, prompted by religious fears of infantile propensities towards sin, may have been archetypal of evangelical child rearing, and likely to result in "reaction formation."

Wayland retired from Brown in 1855, afterwards devoting himself to reform movements including temperance, antislavery, peace organizing, and prison and hospital reform. He died September 30, 1865, at the age of sixty-nine.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Discipline.


Cremin, Lawrence. 1980. American Education: The National Experience, 17831876. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

McLoughlin, William G. 1975. "Evangelical Child Rearing in the Age of Jackson: Francis Wayland's Views on When and How to 9: Subdue the Willfulness of Children." Journal of Social History 2043.

Smith, Wilson. 1956. Professors and Public Ethics: Studies of Northern Moral Philosophers before the Civil War. New York: Cornell University Press.

Rachel Hope Cleves

Wayland, Francis (1796–1865)

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Francis Wayland, the American Baptist clergyman, educator, and moral philosopher, was one of the central figures in the modification of American collegiate education. As president of Brown University (18271855), he introduced proposals to ease the rigidity of the classical curriculum by an approximation of the later elective system. With his mentor, Eliphalet Nott of Union College, Schenectady, New York, Wayland approved of the substitution of modern language study for at least some of the required Greek and Latin, encouraged training in science and its practical application, and advocated a more professional faculty employed for longer terms. To some degree his interest in these reforms was the result of his Jeffersonian philosophy of democracy. He was completely in accord with Thomas Jefferson's insistence that a republican government can flourish only if the voters are well educated. He argued, too, that native talent was widely diffused and should be given the opportunity to develop through education.

Philosophically, Wayland was a naive realist of the Scottish school of philosophy. His theory of knowledge was basically Lockean sensationalism supported by a faculty psychology. Knowledge is gained by a combination of experience and intuition, leading to inductive generalizations whose certainty he did not question. Ultimately Wayland's epistemology rests upon a theistic assumption, that there is a correspondence between what man finds in the universe and what God put there for man to find. However, Wayland's most important contribution to American philosophic development was moral rather than epistemological. His textbook, The Elements of Moral Science, first published in 1835, was very widely used and served as a model for many imitators. In this book Wayland departed from the William Paley form of utilitarian ethics that had been taught in the colleges and introduced an ethical position more dependent upon the deontological position characteristic of Bishop Butler. The Enlightenment emphasis on the rights of man was subordinated to a philosophicoreligious stress upon ethics as a system of duties. The moral quality of an action is declared to reside in its intention rather than in its consequences.

Wayland's moral theory led him to an increasing rejection of the institution of slavery. At first he found intolerable only the thought of being himself a slave owner; later he came to feel that all property in human beings was intolerable. From a mildly antislavery position in 1835, he moved to vigorous abolitionism and support of the Union cause in the Civil War. To at least some of the Southern defenders of slavery, Wayland became the archenemy, particularly because of his insistence that the Scriptures cannot be used to support the institution of slavery. Wayland's exchange of letters with Richard Fuller, a Southern clergyman, published as Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution (New York and Boston, 1845), presents the arguments on both sides most effectively.

See also Butler, Joseph; Enlightenment; Jefferson, Thomas; Paley, William; Philosophy of Education, History of; Realism.


Wayland's The Elements of Moral Science has appeared in the John Harvard Library (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963) with an extended introduction by the editor, J. L. Blau. Wayland's other major works are The Elements of Political Economy (New York: Leavitt Lord, 1837), Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System in the United States (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), and The Elements of Intellectual Philosophy (Boston and New York, 1854). For discussions of Wayland see J. L. Blau, Men and Movements in American Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1952) and Wilson Smith, Professors and Public Ethics (Ithaca, NY: American Historical Association and Cornell University Press, 1956).

J. L. Blau (1967)

Francis Wayland

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Francis Wayland

Francis Wayland (1796-1865), American educator and clergyman, was in the forefront among educators who urged reforms in American collegiate education.

Francis Wayland was born in New York City on March 11, 1796, to a Baptist family recently emigrated from England. He entered Union College, Schenectady, at the age of 15. After his graduation in 1813, he began studying medicine with doctors in Troy. He received his license to practice medicine but decided to study theology and went to Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts in 1816.

Financial difficulties interrupted Wayland's theological studies. He accepted a tutorship at Union, where he associated with the president of the college, Eliphalet Nott. After 4 years in teaching, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston in 1821. In 1825 he married Lucy L. Lincoln, and the next year he resigned his pastorate to become a professor of moral philosophy at Union. In 1827 he became president of Brown University.

At this time Brown was suffering from a decline in applicants, faculty dissension, and a breakdown in student discipline. To correct the abuses, Wayland called for more faculty responsibility in teaching and in the supervision of student life and for greater student discipline.

Wayland also tackled the problems of declining enrollments and financial crises. In 1842 his "Thoughts on the present Collegiate System in the United States" cast him nationwide as a critic of higher education who urged drastic reforms. He charged that college education did not meet the needs of an American public with increasing diversity of backgrounds and educational needs. His reforms stressed an expanded curriculum, including science; a student's election of his own course of study; flexibility in the required residence for a degree; thoroughness in teaching; increased fees; and better library facilities. In 1850 his report to the Brown board of trustees called for an overhaul of the college's educational program in order to attract more students and improve the college's usefulness to society.

Wayland's proposals ultimately won disfavor, and he resigned in 1855. After his first wife's death in 1834, he had married again in 1838. His later years were spent in writing and as pastor of a Baptist church in Providence, R.I. He died on Sept. 30, 1865.

Further Reading

The standard biography is James O. Murray, Francis Wayland (1891). For background see Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764-1914 (1914); R. Freeman Butts, The College Charts Its Course (1939); H.G. Good, A History of American Education (1956); and Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University (1962). □

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