Horace Mann, American education reformer and abolitionist, was born
in Franklin, Massachusetts. He was brother-in-law to author Nathaniel
Hawthorne since their wives were sisters.
childhood and youth were passed in poverty, and his health was
early impaired by hard manual labor. His only means for gratifying
his eager desire for books was the small library founded in his
native town by Benjamin Franklin and consisting principally of
histories and treatises on theology.
graduated with highest honors from Brown University in 1819. He
then studied law for a short time at Wrentham, Massachusetts;
was tutor in Latin and Greek (1820-1822) and librarian (1821-1823)
at Brown University; studied during 1821-1823 in the famous law
school conducted by Judge James Gould at Litchfield, Connecticut;
and in 1823 was admitted to the Norfolk, Massachusetts bar.
fourteen years, first at Dedham, Massachusetts, and after 1833
at Boston, he devoted himself, with great success, to his profession.
Meanwhile he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives
from 1827 to 1833 and in the Massachusetts Senate from 1833 to
1837, for the last two years as president.
It was not until he became secretary (1837) of the newly created
board of education of Massachusetts, that he began the work which
was soon to place him in the foremost rank of American educationists.
He held this position and worked with a remarkable intensity,
holding teachers’ conventions, delivering numerous lectures
and addresses, carrying on an extensive correspondence, introducing
numerous reforms, planning and inaugurating the Massachusetts
normal school system in Lexington and Bridgewater, founding and
editing The Common School Journal (1838), and preparing a series
of Annual Reports, which had a wide circulation and are still
considered as being "among the best expositions, if, indeed,
they are not the very best ones, of the practical benefits of
a common school education both to the individual and to the state"
(Hinsdale). Most importantly, he worked effectively for more and
better equipped school houses, longer school years, higher pay
for teachers and a wider curriculum.
practical result of his work was the virtual revolutionizing of
the common school system of Massachusetts, and indirectly of the
common school systems of other states. In carrying out his work,
Mann was met with bitter opposition, attacked particularly by
certain schoolmasters of Boston who strongly disapproved of his
pedagogy and innovations, and by various religious sectarians,
who contended against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction
from the schools.
He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in
1848 as an anti-slavery Whig to succeed John Quincy Adams, and
was re-elected in 1849, and, as an independent candidate, in 1850,
serving until March 1853. In 1852 he was the candidate of the
Free Soilers for the governorship of Massachusetts, but was defeated.
In Congress he was one of the ablest opponents of slavery, contending
particularly against the Compromise Measures of 1850. However,
he was never technically an Abolitionist and he disapproved of
the Radicalism of Garrison and his followers.
From 1853 until his death in 1859, he was president of the newly
established Antioch College at Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he
taught political economy, intellectual and moral philosophy, and
natural theology. The college received insufficient financial
support and suffered from the attacks of religious sectaries--he
himself was charged with insincerity because, previously a Unitarian,
he joined the Christian Connexion, by which the college was founded--but
he earned the love of his students, and by his many addresses
exerted a beneficial influence upon education in the Midwest.
collected edition of Mann’s writings, together with a memoir
by his second wife, Mary Peabody Mann, was published as The Life
and Works of Horace Mann. Of subsequent biographies the best is
probably Burke A. Hinsdale’s Horace Mann and the Common
School Revival in the United States (New York, 1898), in the "Great
Educators" series. Among other biographies O. H. Lang’s
Horace Mann, his Life and Work (New York, 1893), Albert E. Winship’s
Horace Mann, the Educator (Boston, 1896), and George A. Hubbell’s
Life of Horace Mann, Educator, Patriot and Reformer (Philadelphia,
1910), may be mentioned. In vol. I. of the Report for 1895-1896
of the United States commissioner of education there is a detailed
Bibliography of Horace Mann, containing more than 700 titles.