Mann, Horace

views updated Jun 27 2018

Horace Mann

BORN: May 4, 1796 • Franklin, Massachusetts

DIED: August 2, 1859 • Yellow Springs, Ohio

American education reformer

Horace Mann is often described as the founder of the U.S. public school system. Through most of the 1840s he served as the secretary of education for Massachusetts and created the blueprint for a well-run, effective public school system in his state. Mann's guidelines included specific professional standards for teachers, a clearly defined academic year, and uniform curriculum, or coursework, standards. During the mid-nineteenth century, these ideas were considered innovative, or groundbreaking, but they proved effective and were copied by other educators across the United States. Mann's influence was still evident generations later throughout the U.S. public school system. He came from a humble, or modest, background and was deeply committed to the belief that public education should not only be open to all, but free to all as well. With this system, he emphasized, democracy could truly flourish in America.

"Education … is the equalizer of the conditions of men, the great balance wheel of the social machinery."

Hardship and difficulties

Mann was born on May 4, 1796, in Franklin, Massachusetts, a town in Norfolk County located in the mid-east section of the state. His family owned a farm that dated back several generations. One of his ancestors was among the first settlers of the Massachusetts town of Cambridge, which is adjacent to Boston. Despite their highly regarded family background, the Manns were poor and they struggled financially. Neither of his parents had much formal schooling, and the backbreaking farm work probably contributed to his father's death in 1809 from tuberculosis, a disease that affects the lungs. Mann was thirteen that year and was already showing signs of poor health himself by then.

A second tragedy occurred in Mann's family a year later when his older brother Stephen drowned while swimming. The town of Franklin was predominantly Congregationalist, a Protestant sect most notable as the religion of the Puritans who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. Congregationalists were strict about what they could do on a Sunday, which they believed was a day solely to honor God. As such, all work and leisure activities on that day were strictly forbidden. Stephen Mann had died while swimming on a Sunday. Instead of comforting the grieving family, the local minister used the opportunity to warn the townspeople of Franklin what could happen if church rules were disobeyed.

The same pastor also regularly delivered what are known as fire-and-brimstone sermons, speaking in graphic terms of the horrors that awaited people in the afterlife if they did not repent of their sins. Such visions terrified Mann, and he sometimes cried himself to sleep thinking of his brother and father. The negative experience caused him to leave the Congregationalist faith later in his life and avoid most organized religions.

Franklin did not have a good school, like many communities in New England. The teacher taught by fear and physical abuse, and the school term rarely lasted more than two months. As a result, what the students managed to learn was either impractical or misinformed. Franklin did have a small library with books donated by Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), one of the most famous Americans of his era and one of the country's founding figures. The town of Franklin had been named in his honor. When civic leaders asked if Franklin might like to donate a bell for the town's public square, the scientist and philosopher instead donated a number of books, mostly about history and theology, the study of religions. As a youngster, Mann spent much of his teen years reading through the collection.

School and career successes

In 1816, the year he turned twenty, Mann decided that he would like to try college. His education to date had been so poor that he needed to take accelerated courses in order to qualify for entrance, and he found a skilled traveling teacher to tutor him. He proved so talented a learner that he was able to enter Rhode Island's Brown University as a sophomore and graduated in 1819 as the class valedictorian—the student with the highest academic standing. Afterward, he planned to become a lawyer. He worked in a law office, the customary professional training at the time, but then returned to Brown to tutor students in Latin and Greek. He served for a time as a librarian at the school. In 1821 Mann entered the first law school in the United States, located in Litchfield, Connecticut. He finished the course and was admitted to the bar of Norfolk County, his birthplace, in 1823.

Mann seemed to have a promising life and career ahead of him. He practiced law in Dedham, the Norfolk County seat, for several years. He was also elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in its lower house, where he served from 1827 to 1833. In September 1830, he married Charlotte Messer, the daughter of the president of Brown University. But when she died less than two years later, Mann was devastated by the loss. He moved to Boston in 1833, the same year he took his seat in the Massachusetts State Senate, and continued to practice law. In 1835 his colleagues in the State Senate elected him as its president.

Mann had a successful law practice, but grew increasingly interested in humanitarian, or charitable, work. Humanitarianism was an informal ideology, or way of thinking, that served as the basis for many social reform movements of the nineteenth century. It centered around the belief that all human beings are deserving of respect and dignity, and such ideas played a role in the antislavery movement as well as in the campaign for better treatment of the mentally ill. Oftentimes those suffering from the mental disease schizophrenia or other disabling conditions were locked away in county jails, a practice that dated back hundreds of years. During his time in the State Senate, Mann headed a commission that urged the creation of a state psychiatric facility in Massachusetts that would research and treat mental and emotional disorders. Like others at the time who advocated reform and modern approaches to social issues, Mann believed that humane treatment and some sort of professional care might improve the health and outlook of the mentally ill. As a result of his efforts, a State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester was established.

Improving schools

In 1837 the Massachusetts state legislature made history again by voting to approve a bill that created a state board of education, the first of its kind in the nation. The board, which would be headed by a governor and lieutenant-governor, would be made up of eight citizens appointed specifically for the task. The Massachusetts legislature also approved funds to pay a state secretary of education, with a salary of $1,000 annually, whose duty it would be to collect information on public schools in Massachusetts and submit a yearly report to the state legislature.

There had been a growing movement for additional and improved free public schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the rapidly expanding nation. This emerged in the late 1820s and grew stronger over the next decade. A generation earlier, when the former British colonies became states in the new Union, some of the newly drafted state constitutions contained clauses or articles that mentioned public funding for education. Since the 1780s and 1790s, however, there had not been much effort devoted to this idea.

During Mann's time, New England communities featured some of the oldest public schools in the new United States. These were known as "common" schools. For the most part, though, such schools educated children from the poorest families. The curriculum and teaching—as Mann himself knew firsthand—was ordinary at best. Wealthy parents sent their children to private academies, which survived into the twenty-first century as the prestigious "prep" boarding schools like Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the Deerfield and Milton academies in Massachusetts.

There were some efforts to improve public education in America in the early years of the nineteenth century, thanks in part to philanthropists, individuals who donate large sums of money to various causes, and benevolent, or charitable, associations. One of these was the Free School Society of the City of New York, which later became the Public School Society of New York. There was also the Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools.

Financing the reforms

By 1830 the Massachusetts branch of the Workingmen's Party, the first labor union in the United States, had taken up the cause of education reform, urging a better public school system for its children in Boston. During Mann's years of service in the Massachusetts legislature, there was much talk about the need to find a way to finance public education. New schools were needed. The broken-down buildings of existing schools had to be repaired and renovated to ensure safety and comfort. Plus, training guidelines for teachers and regular curriculum standards needed to be developed. But many states and local communities struggled financially, and it was difficult to find funds for this purpose. Edward Everett, new governor of Massachusetts, took office in 1837. Everett recognized the need to improve the state's efforts to educate its children. A survey had found that only a third of all school-age children in the state actually attended school.

That same year, Massachusetts received a $2 million payment from the U.S. government. The money was a reimbursement for the military duties provided by Massachusetts state militia in the War of 1812. A state militia is made up of citizens who are trained for military duty and are called for service during emergencies. Some of this unexpected payout from the treasury was set aside to improve schools in the state. The Massachusetts House and Senate approved a 1837 bill that created the state board of education with this goal in mind. Mann's name suddenly appeared on the shortlist of candidates for education secretary. He agreed to take the post, though it meant giving up both his thriving law practice and his career in the state legislature.

Life as education secretary

For the next twelve years, Mann served as Massachusetts's overseer of public education. Although he had little actual authority, he was a persuasive speaker and an effective written communicator. He managed to make vast improvements in the system. From 1837 to 1848, he compiled the annual report that was presented to the state legislature. Each report was widely read and debated both in the state and elsewhere. These documents remain highly regarded for their clarity and vision, for in each of them Mann wrote forcefully and movingly about what public education should be in the United States.

Mann began his job by visiting as many of the common schools in Massachusetts as he possibly could. He did this alone, on horseback, over a six-year period, and inspected more than a thousand schools in the state. He also began a one-person public-relations campaign to change perceptions about public education and convince others to see the short- and long-term benefits of better local schools. He held annual county information events, spoke at them himself, and introduced teachers and former students to the audience who gave their own testimonials on the subject. Mann drew upon his own background, too, as an easily influenced child in a conservative Puritan-minded community. One of the major principles of the Congregationalist belief system is that all humans are infinitely capable of being perfected, no matter how great their failings or sins. Mann used this same language to point out to his audience that human beings are capable of being perfected through education as well. Public morality and decency, he often said, were closely linked to public education.

Improvements in training and equipment

On a more practical level, Mann worked to establish three separate teacher-training schools, which were the first of their kind in the United States. His supporter in this was Edmund Dwight, a Boston philanthropist who offered a matching gift to the state if Massachusetts would approve $10,000 in funds to set these up. The trio of "normal" schools, as they were called, offered a rigorous training course and were the model for dozens of junior-college institutes in other states that followed. "Teaching is the most difficult of all arts," Mann wrote in his first annual report about the need for such professional training institutes. He added that it was also "the profoundest [most meaningful] of all sciences," according to Sybil Eakin in Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology.

In 1838 Mann founded the Common School Journal, which he edited over the next decade. He also contributed articles to the publication. The following year, he achieved one of his first major successes when the Massachusetts legislature enacted a law that set the annual school-year term at a minimum of six months. He also won approval for funds that gave schools more than $2 million in new equipment, such as desks and chairs to replace the hard, uncomfortable wooden benches and tables. For the first time, classrooms also began to feature blackboards as a teaching aid. Reading materials were standardized, too. Before this era, textbooks were virtually nonexistent in public schools, and students often brought in the few books their family might own. Some of these were of terrible quality. Mann wrote of finding a student using a geography book that claimed a giant sea serpent had once been found off the New England shoreline.

An influential and innovative reformer

Mann studied educational methods used in European countries, too. He was also convinced that a new strategy for teaching the alphabet should be used, one that gave each letter an association with a picture or image that every young child could recognize. While he supported the idea of better elementary education, he also saw the need for further schooling beyond the middle-school years. Thanks to his urging, fifty new high schools were established in Massachusetts during his time as education secretary. In his reports and speeches, he regularly argued that improved public schools would train future model citizens and workers. Regular attendance and work assignments would teach the younger generation punctuality, good work habits, and a respect for authority. All of these, he pointed out, were essential to building a prosperous nation of income-earners and active participants in democracy.

Some of Mann's ideas were controversial at the time, but survived many generations to become fundamental components of the American public education system. When school attendance became required by law in Massachusetts, he argued that it was the parents' duty to make sure their children attended school. Many new immigrant families objected strongly to this, for in some larger families children were sent to work to contribute to the struggling household's income at an early age. But Mann won that battle. Decades later, American parents were still held responsible for making sure their children attended school regularly.

On another occasion, Mann was shocked by some Irish immigrant children he saw playing during the daytime hours amid the filth of a camp that ran alongside a railroad line that was being built. The Irish American fathers took their families with them when they worked as temporary railroad laborers, and Mann urged passage of a statute that would force local school districts to provide education for all the children in the community—not just those whose parents had a permanent address there. This statute survived into the twenty-first century as federal measures that required school districts to serve homeless populations.

Mann influenced many educators and innovators who were his contemporaries. Among them were Henry Barnard, editor of American Journal of Education and commissioner of public schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island; Calvin Wiley of North Carolina; Caleb Mills in Indiana; and Ohio's Calvin Stowe. All of these activists made important contributions to both the establishment and regulation of public education in their respective states. By 1850 each of the thirty-one states in the Union had set up a permanent fund for public education.

"Education and National Welfare" (1848) was the title of Mann's last official report to the Massachusetts legislature. In the document, he warned that Massachusetts was the most densely populated state in the nation, and its thriving economy had created the most obvious extremes of wealth and poverty in the United States as well. Such conditions, he argued, at a time when social unrest was erupting across Europe between the poor and the rich, might lead to political instability in the United States, too. The remedy for this, he noted in his "Report No. 12," was public education. "[I]t gives each man the independence and the means, by which he can resist the selfishness of other men. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor."

Later achievements

Mann resigned his post as education secretary that same year in order to return to politics. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams (1767–1848; served 1825–29) had died, and Mann was named to finish out the politician's term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although Mann was affiliated with the antislavery Whig Party, there was some internal strife in the organization, which led him to join the Free Soil Party, another antislavery group. He ran for Massachusetts governor as the Free Soil Party candidate in 1852, but lost. That same year, he moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, to take a job as president of Antioch College. By this time he had wed Mary Peabody, whose sister had married famed American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), and was the father of three sons. At Antioch, he taught courses in political science and philosophy.

Antioch struggled financially. In 1859 the college had to be sold and reorganized. The ordeal exhausted Mann, whose health had never been good. He died on August 2, 1859, several weeks following what would be his last commencement address at Antioch. The speech featured one of Mann's most memorable remarks, one that was repeated often at graduation ceremonies even one hundred and fifty years later. As noted in "An Abbreviated History of Antioch College," Mann told students: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

For More Information


Compayre, Gabriel. Horace Mann and the Public School in the United States. Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2002.

Downs, Robert Bingham. Horace Mann: Champion of Public Schools. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974.

Mondale, Sarah, and Sarah B. Patton, eds. School: The Story of American Public Education. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.


Eakin, Sybil. "Giants of American Education: Horace Mann." Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology (summer 2000): p. 4.


Fallon, Daniel. "An Abbreviated History of Antioch College." Antioch College. (accessed July 5, 2006).

Mann, Horace. "Report No. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board (1848)." Interactive State House. (accessed July 5, 2006).

"School: The Story of American Public Education." Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). (accessed on July 5, 2006).

Mann, Horace

views updated May 18 2018

1: Horace Mann

Excerpt from "Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education"

    Published in 1846; available online at∼tkuroda/hi323/mann.htm

During the early nineteenth century, the American educational system was disorganized and largely private, or open only to those who paid for it. A report in the mid-1830s by the Massachusetts legislature showed that only one out of three school-aged children was attending school, that teachers were not well-trained, and that educators were poorly paid. The report led to the creation of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837. Horace Mann (1796–1859) was elected as the board's secretary. Mann was a lawyer and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1827–1833) and the Massachusetts State Senate (1833–1837).

"[A]ny community, whether national or state, that ventures to organize a government, or to administer a government already organized, without making provision for the free education of all its children, dares the certain vengeance of Heaven."

During the next twelve years, Mann was successful in enacting major educational reform. Most notably, he led the Common (Public) School Movement, based on the idea that every child should receive a basic education funded by local taxes. Tirelessly promoting public education for children, Mann toured the state, speaking on the value of education. He founded the Common School Journal as a means for sharing ideas and discussing educational matters, and he delivered annual reports on progress and issues involving education. Mann believed that a common educational experience was essential for practicing democracy and morality. Such an experience, he contended, would equip young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to make important decisions (especially in regard to voting), improve their lives, and help them become capable and productive citizens.

The Common School Movement was opposed by those who viewed universal public education as a waste of money and by groups who protested that state-run education would be based on one set of principles or standards. Because Mann believed that schools should not be based on religious beliefs and teachings, Mann was attacked as antireligious. Nevertheless, his influence spread, as other states began promoting universal education. In Massachusetts, Mann's work resulted in more and better schoolhouses, longer school terms, higher pay for teachers, the development of teacher training schools, and an expanded curriculum.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education":

  • In the report, Mann mentions "the enlightened nations of Christendom." He is referring to nations where Christianity is the dominant religion, such as the United States. Mann's report contains various references to God and religion, which shows the significant role that religion played in government and daily life during that era.
  • Mann argues that public schooling is essential: people must be informed and knowledgeable in order to participate in and contribute to society. In his "Report No. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board" in 1848, he observed "that a republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be, on a small one." When Mann talks about "a republican form of government," he is referring to a government with elected leaders.
  • According to Mann, the mission of public schools is noble: to offer opportunities for the fullest development of each individual, to secure progress through social harmony, and to guarantee that intelligent and moral citizens would guide the nation.
  • Those who argue against public education are guilty, Mann argues, of failing to fulfill their obligation to their country. Noting that those opposed most often cite the burden of increases in taxes to pay for schools, Mann claims they are "guilty of the most far-reaching injustice when they seek to resist or to evade the contribution."

Excerpt from "Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education"

The Pilgrim Fathers amid all their privations and dangers conceived the magnificent idea, not only of a universal, but of a free education for the whole people. To find the time and the means to reduce this grand conception to practice, they stinted [sacrificed things] themselves, amid all their poverty, to a still scantier pittance [small amount]; amid all their toils, they imposed upon themselves still more burdensome labors; and amid all their perils, they braved still greater dangers. Two divine ideas filled their great hearts,—their duty to God and society. For the one they built the church, for the other they opened the school. Religion and knowledge,—two attributes of the same glorious and eternal truth, and that truth the only one on which immortal or mortal happiness can be securely founded!

It is impossible for us adequately to conceive the boldness of the measure which aimed at universal education through the establishment of free schools. As a fact, it had no precedent in the world's history; and, as a theory, it could have been refuted and silenced by a more formidable array of argument and experience than was ever marshaled against any other institution of human origin. But time has ratified [confirmed] its soundness. Two centuries of successful operation now proclaim it to be as wise as it was courageous, and as beneficent [beneficial] as it was disinterested. Every community in the civilized world awards it the meed [gift] of praise; and states at home and nations abroad, in the order of their intelligence, are copying the bright example. What we call the enlightened nations of Christendom are approaching, by slow degrees, to the moral elevation which our ancestors reached at a single bound….

[The] expediency [appropriateness] of free schools is sometimes advocated on grounds of political economy. An educated people is always a more industrious and productive people. Intelligence is a primary ingredient in the wealth of nations…. The moralist, too, takes up the argument of the economist. He demonstrates that vice and crime are not only prodigals and spendthrifts of their own, but defrauders and plunderers of the means of others, that they would seize upon all the gains of honest industry and exhaust the bounties of Heaven itself without satiating [satisfying] their rapacity [greed]; and that often in the history of the world whole generations might have been trained to industry and virtue by the wealth which one enemy to his race has destroyed.

And yet, notwithstanding these views have been presented a thousand times with irrefutable logic, and with a divine eloquence of truth which it would seem that nothing but combined stolidity and depravity [evil or wickedness] could resist, there is not at the present time, with the exception of the States of New England and a few small communities elsewhere, a country or a state in Christendom which maintains a system of free schools for the education of its children.

I believe that this amazing dereliction [failure] from duty, especially in our own country, originates more in the false notions which men entertain respecting the nature of their right to property than in any thing else. In the district school meeting, in the town meeting, in legislative halls, everywhere, the advocates for a more generous education could carry their respective audiences with them in behalf of increased privileges for our children, were it not instinctively foreseen that increased privileges must be followed by increased taxation. Against this obstacle, argument falls dead. The rich man who has no children declares that the exaction [unjust demand] of a contribution from him to educate the children of his neighbor is an invasion of his rights of property. The man who has reared and educated a family of children denounces it as a double tax when he is called upon to assist in educating the children of others also; or, if he has reared in his own children without educating them, he thinks it peculiarly oppressive to be obliged to do for others what he refrained from doing even for himself. Another, having children, but disdaining [not approving] to educate them with the common mass, withdraws them from the public school, puts them under what he calls "selecter [something selected] influences," and then thinks it a grievance to be obliged to support a school which he [condemns]. Or, if these different parties so far yield to the force of traditionary [traditional] sentiment and usage, and to the public opinion around them, as to consent to do something for the cause, they soon reach the limit of expenses at which their admitted obligation or their alleged charity terminates.

It seems not irrelevant, therefore, in this connection, and for the purpose of strengthening the foundation on which our free school system reposes [rests], to inquire into the nature of a man's right to the property he possesses, and to satisfy ourselves respecting the question whether any man has such an indefeasible title to his estates or such an absolute ownership of them as renders it unjust in the government to assess upon him his share of the expenses of educating the children of the community up to such a point as the nature of the institutions under which he lives, and the well-being of society, require.

I believe in the existence of a great, immortal, immutable principle of natural law, or natural ethics,—a principle antecedent [forerunner] to all human institutions, and incapable of being abrogated [abolished] by any ordinance of man,—a principle of divine origin, clearly legible in the ways of Providence as those ways are manifested in the order of nature and in the history of the race, which proves the absolute right to an education of every human being that comes into the world, and which, of course, proves the correlative duty of every government to see that the means of that education are provided for all.

In regard to the application of this principle of natural law,—that is, in regard to the extent of the education to be provided for all at the public expense,—some difference of opinion may fairly exist under different political organizations; but, under our republican government, it seems clear that the minimum of this education can never be less than such as is sufficient to qualify each citizen for the civil and social duties he will be called to discharge,—such an education as teaches the individual the great laws of bodily health, as qualifies for the fulfillment of parental duties, as is indispensable for the civil functions of a witness or a juror, as is necessary for the voter in municipal and in national affairs, and, finally, as is requisite for the faithful and conscientious discharge of all those duties which devolve [fall] upon the inheritor of a portion of the sovereignty of this great republic…. So far is it from being a wrong or a hardship to demand of the possessors of property their respective shares for the prosecution of this divinely ordained work, that they themselves are guilty of the most far-reaching injustice when they seek to resist or to evade the contribution. The complainers are the wrong-doers. The cry, "Stop thief!" comes from the thief himself….

[If] the mind is as real and substantive a part of human existence as the body, then mental attributes, during the period of infancy and childhood, demand provision [food] at least as imperatively [necessarily] as bodily appetites. The time when these respective obligations attach corresponds with the periods when the nurture, whether physical or mental, is needed. As the right of sustenance is of equal date with birth, so the right of intellectual and moral training begins at least as early as when children are ordinarily sent to school. At that time, then, by the irrepealable law of Nature, every child succeeds to so much more of the property of the community as is necessary for his education. He is to receive this, not in the form of lands, or of gold and silver, but in the form of knowledge and a training to good habits. This is one of the steps in the transfer of property from a present to a succeeding generation. Human sagacity [wisdom] may be at fault in fixing the amount of property to be transferred or the time when the transfer should be made to a dollar or to an hour; but certainly, in a republican government, the obligation of the predecessors, and the right of the successors, extend to and embrace the means of such an amount of education as will prepare each individual to perform all the duties which devolve upon him as a man and a citizen. It may go farther than this point: certainly, it cannot fall short of it.

Under our political organization the places and the processes where this transfer is to be provided for, and its amount determined, are the district school meeting, the town meeting, legislative halls, and conventions for establishing or revising the fundamental laws of the State. If it be not done there, society is false to its high trusts; and any community, whether national or state, that ventures to organize a government, or to administer a government already organized, without making provision for the free education of all its children, dares the certain vengeance of Heaven; and in the squalid [dirty and wretched] forms of poverty and destitution, in the scourges of violence and misdebauchery [bad behavior], and in political profligacy [wastefulness] and legalized perfidy [deceit], in all the blended and mutually aggravated crimes of civilization and barbarism, will be sure to feel the terrible retributions of its delinquency …

From her earliest colonial history the policy of Massachusetts has been to develop the minds of all her people, and to imbue [fill] them with the principles of duty. To do this work most effectually, she has begun it with the young. If she would continue to mount higher and higher toward the summit of prosperity, she must continue the means by which her present elevation has been gained. In doing this, she will not only exercise the noblest prerogative of government, but will cooperate with the Almighty in one of his sublimest [awesome] works.

What happened next …

Mann's assertion in his "Tenth Annual Report" that education was a natural right for every child was fulfilled in 1852 when Massachusetts became the first state to require all children to attend school. He created the first American institutes for teacher training, and more than fifty new high schools were established in the state. The public school movement caught on in other states: Connecticut, for example, adopted a similar system in 1849. It was not until 1918, however, that every state required students to at least complete elementary school.

Secondary education progressed at a slower pace. In 1870 only 2 percent of students went on to graduate from high school. Growing acceptance of higher education after the turn of the century in general led all states to pass laws increasing the age for mandatory school attendance to 16.

Mann resigned as secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1848 to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his five years there, he championed education nationally. In 1853 Mann became the first president of Antioch College in Ohio, a position he held until his death in 1859.

Did you know …

  • Mann was a brother-in-law of acclaimed American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864): they married sisters.
  • Mann was elected in 1848 to the U.S. Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848; served as U.S. president from 1825–29). Adams had been nicknamed "Old Man Eloquent" for his speeches, many of which argued against slavery. Mann continued the antislavery cause, an issue that was dividing the nation. The question of whether or not slavery should expand to new states in the West was particularly intense. Mann generated such hostility as a result of his support for the end of slavery, or abolition, that he declined to run for reelection in 1852. That year his brother-in-law Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote campaign literature for presidential candidate Franklin Pierce (1804–1869; served 1853–57), who favored allowing new states to decide for themselves whether or not to permit slavery.

Consider the following …

  • Research recent debates in your community concerning taxes used for education. Have there been recent tax increases or decreases for education? Write about how the arguments for and against taxes for education compare with Mann's views.
  • What were schools like one hundred years ago in the state where you live? Ask your teacher, school librarian, or media specialist for leads to sources that will help you write about a typical school day for someone your age one hundred years ago.

For More Information


Compayre, Gabriel. Horace Mann and the Public School in the United States. Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2002.

Downs, Robert Bingham. Horace Mann: Champion of Public Schools. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974.

Pierce, Edith Gray. Horace Mann: Our Nation's First Educator. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Co., 1972.


Mann, Horace. "Report No. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board" (1848). USINFO.STATE.GOV, U.S. Department of State. (accessed on June 6, 2006).

Mann, Horace. "Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education" (1846). Professor Tadahisa (Tad) Kuroda, Skidmore College.∼tkuroda/hi323/mann.htm (accessed on June 6, 2006).

"School: The Story of American Public Education." Public Broadcasting System (PBS). (accessed on June 6, 2006).

Privations: Lacking basic necessities.

Marshaled: Bringing forces together.

Disinterested: Uninfluenced by emotions or prejudices.

Political economy: That which benefits a government.

Moralist: One concerned with issues of right and wrong.

Prodigals and spendthrifts: Those who spend money recklessly.

Defrauders and plunderers: Cheaters and robbers.

Stolidity: Having little use or sense.

Indefeasible: That which cannot be taken away.

Immutable: Not able to be overturned.

Natural law: Law based on man's basic sense of justice.

Ways of Providence: Divine direction.

Conscientious: Done with care.

Nurture: Whatever is needed to nourish or feed.

Irrepealable: That which cannot be taken back.

Noblest prerogative: Most dignified or honorable right.

Mann, Horace (1796–1859)

views updated Jun 08 2018

MANN, HORACE (17961859)

Principal advocate of the nineteenth-century common school movement, Horace Mann became the catalyst for tuition-free public education and established the concept of state-sponsored free schools. The zeal with which Mann executed his plan for free schools was in keeping with the intellectual climate of Boston in the early days of the republic. The Mann contribution, state government sponsored education unfettered by sectarian control, made possible a democratic society rather than a government by elites. The atmosphere of early-nineteenth-century Boston stimulated keen minds to correct social disharmonies caused by ignorance, intemperance, and human bondage. Reform that emanated from the Lockean notion that human nature may be improved by the actions of government motivated these New Englanders, who shaped social and political thought for generations.

Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts, to Thomas Mann and Rebecca Stanley Mann. His parents lacked the means to educate their children beyond rudimentary ciphering and elementary reading. Therefore Mann's education consisted of no more than eight or ten weeks a year of sitting in tight rows on slab benches, learning from a schoolmaster barely out of his teens. Of his early schooling, Mann recalled, "Of all our faculties, the memory for words was the only one specially appealed to." A small lending library in Franklin circulated such books as John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. School days were minimal as the majority of the year was spent in haying, planting, and plowing. When Horace's father died of tuberculosis in 1809, the farm was left to an older son, Stanley Mann. The modest sum of $200 was left to each child. Horace saved tuition by teaching his sister, Lydia, to read and write, instead of her attending school.

Education and Training

Part of the bequest of Thomas Mann to Horace was spent on his tuition at Barrett's school. Horace was twenty in 1816, and his education to that point amounted to several dozen weeks scattered over nine years. At Barrett School under an exacting but sometimes intemperate schoolmaster, Mann first conjugated Latin verbs.

A half year at Barrett School fitted Mann for admission to the sophomore class at Brown University, where penury remained a constant problem for Mann. Mann graduated first in his class (1819) two years after arriving at the university. His oration, entitled "The Gradual Advancement of the Human Species in Dignity and Happiness," linked the success of the American political experiment directly to the development of its educational system. No valedictory speech has ever been more prophetic. Brown University president Asa Messer honored Mann by making him an instructor soon after his graduation. From 1820 until 1822 he taught Latin classics. Nine years later, Mann married Messer's daughter, Charlotte.

Mann's ambition was to train in the law at Judge Tapping Reeve's prestigious law school in Litchfield, Connecticut. At the time there was no better preparation for legal and political careers than Reeve's plain, free-standing law library located in the yard of his stately home in Litchfield. Meanwhile, Mann clerked in the office of Judge Fiske for thirteen months to earn tuition money. Mann arrived in Litchfield in 1822 for the course of study that took a year and a half and cost $160. Then Mann became a clerk for Judge James Richardson in Dedham, Massachusetts, for several months until he was admitted to practice before the bar of the State of Massachusetts in 1823.

Career and Contribution

Intemperance and the humane treatment of criminals were topics debated in polite society around Dedham, and Mann championed reforms ranging from temperance to religious toleration. He realized that through proper educating of the public, lasting change could be effected.

The positions of trust Mann achieved in Dedham in the 1820s made him confident to offer for the legislature in Massachusetts. The same year he was elected to the Dedham School Commission, he was also elected to the state's general assembly. Mann added the title legal counsel to the state supreme court, as well as commissioner to the new mental hospital, to his growing list of responsibilities.

After the death of his wife Charlotte in 1832, Mann liquidated his estate and resigned all offices, including his seat in the legislature. To those around him, it was apparent he planned to immerse himself in his work. Taking lodging at a boarding house in Boston, Mann joined the law firm of his old friend, Edward Loring. Boarders there were Boston notables such as Elizabeth Peabody, social crusader, and Reverend William Ellery Channing, the voice of Unitarianism in Boston. Elizabeth Peabody's sister, Mary, was there as well.

Friends persuaded him that he should stand for the Massachusetts senate in 1834 as a Whig. Mann had never competed politically at this level, and campaigns for senate races brought vitriolic debates not seen in his career before. As he celebrated his forty-first birthday, he contemplated his newest responsibility, president of the Massachusetts senate. This honor as a junior senator typifies the trust and respect colleagues placed in his judgment. One issue that the senate wrestled with for several years prior to Mann's election was how public education could better prepare people for citizenship in this expanding young republic. As senate president, Horace signed into law the bill creating the Massachusetts State Board of Education, unique for its time and designed to disseminate education information statewide and to improve curriculum, method, and facilities.

Educating the masses was also the concern of James G. Carter of Boston, and he published in 1825 the Outline for an Institute for the Education of Teachers. He wrote on the necessity of training teachers in the art of teaching. Normal schools were an outgrowth of this important early work in educational thought. Carter, a legislator, and Mann, president of the senate, maneuvered a revolutionary bill through both houses and to the desk of Governor Edward Everett.

The members of the board of the newly created State Department of Education selected Mann as its first secretary. Mann resigned his seat in the state senate. Mann, like many Bostonians, believed that the emphasis on public education held more promise than either government or religion for yielding lasting social reform. He accepted a 50 percent cut in pay, from $3,000 a year to $1,500. His personal journal records, "I have faith in the improvability of the race, in their accelerating improvability. "

The struggle for common schools in Massachusetts defined the parameters of the free school movement for decades to come. Though Mann engaged in reforms such as temperance and the treatment of the insane, the perfection of the common school concept occupied his waking hours for the rest of his life. Mann argued that all citizens, regardless of race or economic status, should have equal access to a tuition-free, tax-supported public school system. Such a system must be responsive to all races and nonsectarian if society is to achieve the unshackled status of a true democracy.

Mann knew he had to convince the entire state that the common school system was desirable and worth the increased tax revenue. He conducted town meetings across the state, giving a speech "The Means and Objects of Common School Education." The obstacle was a populace that did not care whether more schooling was offered.

Mann's tour of the state's schools concluded with Salem, the town where Mary Peabody was teaching. Once more, he pleaded for a statewide system of tuition-free education that would, he claimed, break down the troubling hierarchy of class in American society. Mann had spent months on tour, and much of what he had encountered discouraged him. Revenue would have to be raised to build adequate schools and staff them with learned teachers. There was the problem of poor versus wealthy districts; and that of the poor counties' being able to offer an education comparable to that of wealthy counties. Inadequate instruction troubled Mann as much as broken-down school buildings. He contemplated teacher training academies, called normal schools, as a solution.

Required by state law to make an annual report to the legislature on the condition of the state's school districts and programs, Mann turned the legal mandate into a yearly treatise on educational philosophy and methods. His annual reports became his platform for launching new programs and educating the public on new ideas in pedagogy. He explored new ideas in school design and the teaching of reading by words rather than by alphabet letters. Simple instruction in daily hygiene was emphasized along with more interesting ways of teaching science. Mann saw education as the uniting force to bring understanding and toleration between factions of the populace, as well as between the various states themselves. One novel idea Mann put forth was that teachers should gather together periodically to share ideas.

Mann developed the special teacher training colleges that he called normal schools. Instruction expertise rose yearly because the normal schools graduated capable teachers and eliminated the unfit. With teaching skills garnered from the normal school programs, teachers looked forward to a higher pay scale. Horace Mann was certain that better schools coupled with compulsory education would cure the ills of society. Traditional education did not vanish quickly in Massachusetts, however. Many found that curriculum and instruction varied little from content and materials of their grandparents' time.

Mann recalled the small library he had known while growing up. He believed that every child should have that advantage, so he set up a library expansion program. Mann also liked the German kindergarten idea that his confidant, Mary Peabody, espoused. Horace married Mary Peabody in 1843 in the bookstore that her sister, Elizabeth, ran on West Street, a store that was a gathering place for William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Mary's sister, Sophia, had wed Nathaniel Hawthorne there a few months earlier. Horace wished to take a trip to Europe to visit common schools, so they settled upon that idea as their honeymoon.

One person Mann wanted to meet in England was Charles Dickens, the social reformer and novelist. Dickens gave Mann and his wife a tour of London's wretched east side. The squalor was worse by far than anything Mann had seen in America. The English schools did not impress Mann, either. Recitation and Anglican dogma dulled the student's appetite for intellectual stimulation. He was amazed that teachers talked in monotone voices and stood transfixed during lecture. The Manns traveled widely in England and on the continent. While touring the University of Berlin, Horace learned that Alexander von Humboldt had implemented a state certification process and written examinations for teachers. Horace realized that this is what he must do in Massachusetts to eliminate the problem of incompetent teachers.

Mann's seventh annual report to the board was written partly on the voyage home. The comparisons he made with European schools, especially German schools, offended school administrators. Critics questioned Mann's credentials to lead school reform. Mann stood his ground for five more years and continued to bring uniformity to programs and quality of instruction.

Mann saw revenue for education rise precipitously over the twelve years of his tenure (18361848). He popularized the idea of a centralized bureaucracy to manage primary and secondary education. He advised the legislature on fiscal responsibility in implementing equal programs throughout the state. He standardized the requirements for the diploma.

When the eighth congressional seat became vacant due to the death of John Quincy Adams, Mann ran for the office and was successful in his first federal election. The two terms he spent in Washington were neither satisfactory nor productive. He had disagreements with his loyal political friends Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner. Against a backdrop of the rising tension over slavery, Horace sought a way out after his second term.

In 1852 Mann heard of a new college being built in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with support from a liberal Christian denomination. He decided that if the college presidency were offered, he would accept and resign from Congress. The post was offered, and Mann became the first president of Antioch College. The Ohio churchmen were so liberal in their doctrinal beliefs that they accepted Mann, a Unitarian. Antioch was a sectarian foundation and chapel attendance was not compulsory. Antioch College opened its doors to eight young men in 1850.

The Ohio frontier proved a different world from the East. Money was a problem from the start, grand illusions in the minds of the trustees never bore fruit, and paydays were missed regularly. Mann never compromised his expectations in scholarship. The financial problems at Antioch began before the buildings went up, and they steadily got worse.

The curriculum and methodology had all been Mann's development, and it was a creditable program. A preparatory school was added to accept the less qualified and was open to all no matter what race or gender. The mood of the populace, however, turned against Mann due to his Unitarian belief.

Mann turned his attention to the idea of publicly funded universities. He believed that church-sponsored colleges and universities undid the work of the free-school movement. The fight for the publicly funded university would be someone else's battle as Mann had developed a form of debilitating cancer. Mann's last educational act was to salvage the bankrupt Antioch College with a syndicate of New England investors. Mann died August 2, 1859. He could not have realized that he would become part of the legend of democracy built upon the foundation of a tuition-free public school system. Mann's last professional statement concluded the commencement address at Antioch College: "I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words: Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

See also: Common School Movement.


Cremin, Lawrence A. 1980. American Education: The National Experience: 1783-1876. New York: Harper and Row.

Kendell, Kathleen Edgerton. 1968. "Education as 'the Balance Wheel of Social Machinery': Horace Mann's Arguments and Proofs." Quarterly Journal of Speech and Education 54:1321.

Mann, Horace. 1891. Life and Works of Horace Mann, 5 vols. Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Mann, Mary Peabody. 1891. Life of Horace Mann. Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Messerli, Jonathan. 1972. Horace Mann: A Biography. New York: Knopf.

Tharp, Louise Hall. 1950. The Peabody Sisters of Salem. Boston: Little, Brown.

Treichler, Jessie. 1962. Horace Mann. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Press.

Vinovskis, Maris A. 1970. "Horace Mann on the Economic Productivity of Education." New England Quarterly 43:550571.

Thomas B. Horton

Mann, Horace (1796–1859)

views updated May 29 2018

Mann, Horace (17961859)

A prominent statesman, Horace Mann is best remembered as a preCivil War educational reformer who was instrumental in the creation of the Massachusetts system of public education. A statue of Mann stands before that state's capitol today as evidence of his importance. Mann was also a successful lawyer, a member of both the Massachusetts General Court and the U.S. Congress, the president of a fledgling college, and a humanitarian reformer.

Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts, and he grew up in a poor and puritanical environment. He received the typical schooling of the time, consisting of brief periods in the district school under ill-equipped teachers, but he seems to have devoured the town library's collection. He was admitted to nearby Brown College in 1816 at the age of twenty (which was older than customary) as a sophomore. He graduated as valedictorian of his class and returned to the college a year later to serve several terms as a tutor. He read law intermittently with a local barrister, attended the Litchfield (Connecticut) Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1823. Four years later, in 1827, he was elected to the lower house of the state legislature from Dedham, where he had set up his practice, commencing a thirty-year career devoted, as he put it, to the "benefit of mankind." In 1830 he married Charlotte Messer, the daughter of Asa Messer, president of Brown and Mann's early mentor. After his wife's death two years later Mann resigned his seat and moved from Dedham to Boston to continue to practice law. He was elected to the state senate in 1834 as a representative of Boston.

Although he had been born in modest circumstances, Mann became a member of the Massachusetts establishment. His second wife, whom he married in 1843, was Mary Peabody, sister of Elizabeth Peabody, an inveterate reformer. Mann had initially stood for office as a National Republican, and he later became a Whig. In the legislature his stances were those of a moralistic reformer. His maiden address was a defense of religious freedom, while his next argued that the support of railroads would lead to prosperity, which in turn would lead to the intellectual and moral betterment of the populace. He was an ardent supporter of the temperance movement, was instrumental in the establishment of the first state institution for the mentally ill, and was a moderate abolitionist. It was for his efforts on the behalf of common schools, however, that he is most remembered today.

Massachusetts had, as early as 1647, mandated the support of schooling by local communities, but by the nineteenth century the state's schools, dependent on local sources, were in a sorry state. Inspired by reports of educational reform in Europe and a growing national movement, and prodded by eminent citizens such as Edmund Dwight, James G. Carter, Josiah Quincy, Charles Brooks, and the governor, Edward Everett, the legislature passed a bill on April 20, 1837, authorizing the creation of a state board of education. Mann accepted the secretaryship a month later, vowing that from that moment to "let the next generation be my client." For the next twelve years he served that client with dedication.

The board, in actual fact, had virtually no power; its role was the collection and dissemination of information about the state of the schools. Mann lectured widely on educational topics to citizens and teachers, and he utilized his twelve annual reports to publicize and advance his cause. His first report, in 1837, served to introduce the reformist agenda, including the need for good schoolhouses, competent teachers, committed school boards, and widespread public support. His twelfth and final report, in 1848, was by far the most thoughtful, and it provided his valedictoryan anthem in support of public education. Other reports addressed issues such as language instruction, teacher training, music and health education, compulsory attendance, the necessity of school libraries (as well as free public ones), and the economic benefits of better schools. In his seventh report (1843), Mann summarized his observations of schools in Europe, lauding especially the Pestalozzian techniques he had seen demonstrated in the schools of Prussia, but the angered response of an association of Boston schoolmasters led to a lengthy and acrimonious exchange.

To Mann, good, publicly financed common schools would never succeed without an informed and concerned citizen body and without good teachers. Local authorities had to rekindle their commitment under the supervision and urging of the central government. Good teachers had to be trained in the newest pedagogical techniques that emphasized motivation and encouragement, rather than discipline, and recognized the individuality of each child. The curriculum had to be designed for every child in the commonwealth, and it should encompass all that was necessary for the creation of upright, responsible citizens. Mann believed that schools were vested with intellectual, political, and, most importantly, moral authoritythe morality of the liberal, nonsectarian, Protestant elite of the day.

In 1839 the first public normal school (for training teachers) was opened in Lexington, Massachusetts, and two others soon followed. However, partisan politics threatened the board's existence when the democratic governor, preaching economy, advocated returning control of the schools to the localities. But the board survived, and Mann continued as its secretary until he resigned in 1848, when he was appointed to John Quincy Adams's seat in Congress. He was elected in his own right later the same year, and was re-elected as a Free Soil advocate. He served in Congress until 1852, the year in which he was defeated in the race for the governorship of Massachusetts.

Although he had given scant attention to higher education previously, Mann was intrigued, during a lecture tour through the West, at the descriptions of a projected nonsectarian, coeducational college in Ohio, and in 1853 he accepted the presidency of the not-yet-completed Antioch College in Yellow Springs. Despite near financial disaster, faculty opposition, and an innovative honor code, the college survived, and the first class of sixteen students (including three women) graduated in 1857. Mann declined offers to become the head of other institutions of higher learning and remained at Antioch until his death in August, 1859. His final address to that year's graduating class was both a challenge to them and a summary of his life: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

See also: Compulsory School Attendance; Pestalozzi, Johann Heinrich; Urban School Systems, The Rise of.


Cremin, Lawrence A., ed. 1957. The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men. New York: Teachers College Press.

Mann, Mary Peabody. 1867. Life of Horace Mann, By His Wife Boston: Walker, Fuller.

Messerli, Jonathan. 1972. Horace Mann: A Biography. New York: Knopf.

Edith Nye MacMullen

Mann, Horace (1796-1859)

views updated May 17 2018

Horace Mann (1796-1859)


Public school crusader

Lawyer and Legislator. Born and raised in Franklin, Massachusetts, Horace Mann graduated from Brown University in 1819. He served as a tutor at Brown for the next three years while simultaneously studying law. In 1823 he was admitted to the bar of Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Mann practiced law at various places throughout the state from 1823 to 1837 and served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1827 to 1833 and the Massachusetts Senate from 1833 to 1837. As a legislator he was instrumental in the creation of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, of which he served as secretary for nearly twelve years. Mann began his task as secretary with exuberance, exclaiming on 2 July 1837: My lawbooks are for sale. My office is to let! The bar is no longer my forum. My jurisdiction has changed. I have abandoned jurisprudence, and betaken myself to the larger sphere of mind and morals. Such enthusiasm and urgency rarely slackened for the remainder of his life. In 1848 he resigned as secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education to succeed John Quincy Adams in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he stayed for five productive years, championing the cause of education nationally. Later in life Antioch College in Ohio appointed Mann its first president, a position he held until his death. At each stop he remained committed to education reform.

Public School Reform. Mann stood at the center of the movement for a tax-supported common school system. In the debate between those who hoped public schools would guarantee civic virtue, national loyalty, and industrious workers and those who feared state-sponsored autocracy, Mann remained committed to his cause. Constantly opposed by contemporaries who viewed universal public education as a waste of money and local groups who detested the homogenizing effects of state-run education, Mann utilized the popular American lyceum movement to generate mass support for public education. In addition to lecturing throughout the East, in 1838 he founded the Common School Journal as an organ for reformers ideas. As secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education he campaigned effectively for more and better schoolhouses, longer school terms, higher pay for teachers, and an expanded curriculum. He traveled from town to town, gathering information, propagandizing for improved schools, and encouraging school committees and citizens to commit themselves to greater efforts for the education of their children. From his modest power base Mann proceeded not only to transform the educational system of his home state but also to become the foremost leader of the common school movement in the nation.

Loyalty and Social Order. Manns lectures and writings preached universal public education as the only means to transform Americas disorderly masses into a disciplined, law-abiding, republican citizenry, which he believed would eliminate the risk of anarchy and class conflict. Concerned about the additional thousands of voters every year crossing the line of manhood to decree the destiny of the nation, Mann explained in 1842 that without additional knowledge and morality, things must accelerate from worse to worse. Two dangers awaited the nation if it failed to extend the most basic of educational opportunities to immigrants and the poor: the danger of ignorance which does not know its duty, and the danger of vice, which knowing, condemns it. At the same time Mann wanted to prevent a sort of industrial feudalism from emerging, with a small group of wealthy capitalists dominating the growing factory system. If one class possesses all the wealth and education, while the residue of society is ignorant and poor, it matters not by what name the relation between them may be called: the latter, in fact and in truth, will be the servile dependents and subjects of the former. Mann envisioned a society of order and opportunity, a system that rewarded righteous behavior and honest work with material well-being and the responsibilities of leadership.

Influence. Horace Mann symbolized the Yankee reformer of the era, completely convinced of the righteousness of his cause and willing to spare no effort to attain his goals. Imbued with a Puritan sense on the necessity for society to be governed by a strict moral code, Mann was also a humanitarian who regarded education as the starting point for universal reform. For Mann the mission of the public school was to be nothing less than to offer opportunities for the fullest development of each individual, to secure progress through social harmony, and to guarantee that intelligent and moral citizens would guide the new republic. He was not original in his advocacy of such goals, but no predecessor or contemporary had presented them so convincingly, expressed so eloquently their importance, or described in such detail how the nation could best attain them. He was certain that schools would accomplish wonders if they could first gather the nations children under educations roof. Manns deep conviction in the nearly limitless potential of education to resolve Americas problems set in motion a national faith whose power still guides reformers today.


Robert E. Downs, Horace Mann: Champion of Public Schools (New York: Twayne, 1974);

Jonathan Messerli, Horace Mann: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1972).

Mann, Horace

views updated Jun 27 2018


Attorney, politician, and reformer of U.S. public education Horace Mann transformed the nation's schools. Mann was a gust of wind blowing through the doldrums of nineteenth-century teaching. In 1837, he left a promising career in law and politics to become Massachusetts's first secretary of education. In this capacity, he rebuilt shoddy schools, instituted teacher

training, and ensured widespread access to education for children and adults. These reforms not only revived the state system but also inspired great national progress. The spirit of opportunity and the duty of citizenship guided Mann: "In a republic," he said, "ignorance is a crime." Later, he served in the U.S. Congress before becoming a professor at and the president of Antioch College. Besides these contributions, his legacy to U.S. education is still felt in the contemporary debate over school prayer. He helped wean education from its religious origins in order to create a truly public system.

Mann was born in poverty on May 4, 1796, in Franklin, Massachusetts. His father, Thomas Mann, was a farmer in Franklin. Neither his father nor his mother, Rebecca Mann, received much formal education, which was not widely available in the years following the American Revolution. Little opportunity existed for Mann, a sensitive boy driven to tears by hellfire-and-brimstone sermons on Sundays. Although an avid reader, Mann never attended school for more than ten weeks of the year. His extraordinary mind might have gone no further than the family's ancestral farm were it not for a traveling Latin teacher who tutored him when Mann was twenty. Provided with decent instruction, Mann's gifts were revealed: he qualified for entrance as a sophomore to Brown University. He graduated with high honors in 1819; remained briefly as a tutor in Latin and Greek; enrolled in litchfield law school, in Connecticut, two years later; and was admitted to the bar of Norfolk County in 1823.

Mann practiced law for fourteen years while making his name in politics. He first won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1827; election to the state senate, where he served as president, followed in 1833. He left his mark on the legislature in two ways: by seeking state help for mentally ill persons and by passing the landmark education bill of 1837. The law created a board of education at a time when Massachusetts's public schools were barely limping along. Buildings were crumbling, teachers underpaid, and teaching methods erratic. Much the same could be said of the nation's public schools. In Massachusetts, moreover, one-third of the children did not attend school at all, and one-sixth of all students attended private schools. To clean up this mess, the 1837 law called for the appointment of a state secretary of education. Mann, despite the promise of further success as a lawyer and politician, took the job.

Over the next twelve years, Mann's success was stunning. His efforts rebuilt Massachusetts's education system from the ground up: he centralized control of its schools, invested in better facilities, established institutes for teacher training, revamped the curriculum, discouraged physical punishment, and held annual education conventions for teachers and the public. Educators nationwide sought out his ideas, published in a bimonthly magazine that he founded, called the Common School Journal, as well as in annual reports. In 1843, pursuing new ideas for improving the quality of Massachusetts's system, he toured schools in eight European countries. His praise for the rigors of the German model brought him into open conflict with schoolteachers back home, who thought him critical of their work. Mann stood his ground; he had not spent five months abroad only to be bullied by the status quo.

"Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men,—the balance wheel of the social machinery."
Horace Mann

Even more controversial was Mann's position on Bible reading in public schools. In the mid-nineteenth century, the practice remained a leftover from the colonial period, when schools were each run by a church of an individual sect, or group. Mann thought Bible reading useful for teaching moral instruction, and he promoted it, but only so long as it was done without comment. As a Unitarian, he did not want teachers imposing views on students of different faiths; this had often led to bitter disagreements. (In the early 1840s, disputes over classroom Bible reading would cause Catholic-Protestant riots in New York and Philadelphia.) Under Mann's influence, Massachusetts adhered to the law it had passed in 1827 banning sectarian instruction (instruction specific to or characteristic of a particular religious group) from public schools. Orthodox church leaders sharply attacked Mann, one calling his policy "a grand instrument in the hands of free thinkers, atheists and infidels." History was on Mann's side, however. The sectarian influence would continue to die out over the next half century, a historical trend culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark rulings banning school prayer in 1962 (engel v. vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 82 S. Ct. 1261, 8 L. Ed. 2d 601 [1962]) and Bible reading in 1963 (abington school district v. schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 [1963]).

Ironically, the prayer ban arose from an attempt by administrators of education in New York to compose a bland, inoffensive prayer in the spirit of Mann's anti-sectarianism.

Mann spent the last decade of his life in public service and education. Resigning the education secretary's post in 1848, he won election to the U.S. Congress and served there four years. A run for governor of Massachusetts failed in 1852, and he accepted the offer of the presidency of newly founded Antioch College, a multiracial school for men and women, where he also taught courses in philosophy and theology. The college suffered financially. Mann's health failed, and he died August 2, 1859, at the age of sixty-three. Shortly before his death, at a commencement ceremony, he left the graduating class to ponder this sterling ideal: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

further readings

Blanshard, Paul. 1963. Religion and the Schools: The Great Controversy. Boston: Beacon Press.


Education Law; Schools and School Districts.

Horace Mann

views updated May 29 2018

Horace Mann

The American educational reformer and humanitarian Horace Mann (1796-1859) was enormously influential in promoting and refining public education in Massachusetts and throughout the nation in the 19th century.

Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Mass., on May 4, 1796. He labored on the family farm and learned his letters at home and in the district school, supplemented by long hours in the town library. Guided by his parents, he developed an appetite for knowledge. Mann's father died in 1809. The next year, when his older brother drowned while swimming on a Sunday, the local Congregational minister elaborated on the dangers of breaking the Sabbath, instead of consoling the family. This confirmed Mann's growing alienation from the Church.

After briefly attending an academy in Wrentham and intensive tutoring by an itinerant schoolmaster, Mann entered the sophomore class of Brown University in 1816. He developed a lively interest in debating, frequently speaking in support of humanitarian causes. He graduated as valedictorian in 1819. A growing interest in public affairs led him to study law after graduation. He interrupted his legal education to serve as tutor of Latin and Greek at Brown but returned to legal study in 1821 at the famous school of Tapping Reeve in Litchfield, Conn. He was admitted to the bar in 1823.

Mann practiced in Dedham and Boston, acquired an admiration for Whig politics, and was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1827. Essentially an activist, Mann came to believe that public education, which he called "the great equalizer of the conditions of men," was more likely to yield the general social improvements he desired than piecemeal efforts in behalf of prison reform, humane treatment of the insane, and temperance. A fellow legislator had studied educational conditions in Massachusetts and reported that barely a third of the school-age children were attending school; that teachers were ill-prepared, poorly paid, and unable to maintain discipline; and that public schools were avoided by those who could afford private education. As a result, in 1837 the assembly created the Massachusetts State Board of Education. The board was required to collect and disseminate information about public schools and, through its secretary, report annually to the legislature.

First Secretary of the State Board

Mann abandoned his promising political career to become secretary of the board. For 12 years he campaigned to bring educational issues before the people. He toured the state speaking on the relationship between public education and public morality, developing the theme of education as "the balance wheel of the social machinery." He believed that social and economic distinctions, unless reduced by a common educational experience, would create communities of interest that would eventually harden into warring factions.

In publicizing his cause, Mann found arguments attractive to all segments of the community, but he sometimes irritated powerful interests. Because he admired the Prussian system of education, his loyalty to democratic institutions was questioned. Because he believed the schools should be nonsectarian, he was attacked as antireligious. His advocacy of state supervision antagonized local politicians. His criticism of corporal punishment angered the influential Boston schoolmasters.

All the reform impulses of the American 1830s and 1840s converged in Mann's devotion to the cause of the common schools. He created teachers' institutes to improve teaching methods and arranged public meetings to discuss educational theory. He established and edited the Common School Journal. With private benefaction and state support he established three state normal schools for teacher education, the first in the country. His annual reports were lucid examinations of educational issues. Widely distributed and discussed, they exerted a powerful influence on public opinion in Massachusetts and the nation.

In Massachusetts, Mann's leadership produced dramatic change. The school curriculum was broadened and related more closely to the social outcomes he admired. Teaching methods, especially the teaching of reading, and the professional status and salary of teachers were improved. Facilities and equipment were increased, and more than 50 new high schools were established. Mann's influence became national and international.

Later Years

In 1848 Mann resigned his secretaryship to accept election to the U.S. Congress. He now enthusiastically entered the slavery debate, opposing the extension of slavery into the territories. His stand generated such hostility that he declined to run in the 1852 election and, instead, unsuccessfully campaigned for the governorship as a Free Soil candidate.

In 1852 Mann was elected president of Antioch College in Ohio. He discharged his new duties with customary zeal, creating a curriculum, doing much of the teaching, and contending with difficult economic problems. But the work proved too much for Mann, in ill health since boyhood. He died on Aug. 2, 1859, 2 weeks after telling the graduating class to "be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

Further Reading

The Republic and the School: The Education of Free Men (1957), edited by Lawrence A. Cremin, contains a thorough analysis of Mann's educational positions and extracts from his annual reports. E. I. F. Williams, Horace Mann: Educational Statesman (1937), is somewhat eulogistic but complete and well documented. Louise Hall Tharp, Until Victory: Horace Mann and Mary Peabody (1953), is a popular treatment, well written and rich in background but sometimes casual in documentation. Jonathan Messerli, Horace Mann (1972), is a perceptive and revealing biography, particularly informative on Mann's 12 years as secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.

Additional Sources

Downs, Robert Bingham, Horace Mann: champion of public schools, New York, Twayne Publishers 1974.

Sawyer, Kem Knapp, Horace Mann, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1993.

Tharp, Louise Hall, Until victory: Horace Mann and Mary Peabody, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. □

Mann, Horace

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mann, Horace (1796–1859) US educational reformer. As secretary of the Massachusetts board of education (1837–48), he established teacher-training schools, increased teachers' salaries, and improved teaching practices. He served in Congress (1848–52) as an anti-slavery Whig.