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Horace Mann and the Rise of Public Education in America
Primary Sources

Theme: Social Change and Social Reform
Topic: Horace Mann and the Rise of Public Education in America
Date: 11 July 2006

Primary Sources from Partner Collections | Samplers | Letters and Education Common Books | By and About Horace Mann | Juvenile Literature (Historic)
Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections
Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Sources selected by Paula Richter, Curator of Textiles and Costumes at the Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem in History Staff. Annotations by Salem in History staff.

Primary Sources from Partner Collections


(A sampler is an example of embroidered cloth that exhibits different stitching used as practice or to demonstrate the sewer’s skill)

Sampler (1610-20)
by Anne Gower (d. 1629)
Gift of Captain Samuel J. Endicott, 1918
Peabody Essex Museum, 106842

This important textile came to New England in 1628 when its owner (likely its maker) sailed from England to a new colony in America. 

“The intricate needle lace demonstrates Anne Gower’s proficiency in advanced needlework techniques that were applied to clothing and fine household linens in England during the early seventeenth century... Portraits of the Jacobean and Stuart periods often depict garments featuring lace edgings on collars, cuffs, caps, and infant clothing.... In the text of colonial migration, it suggests the sophisticated lifestyle that some settlers left behind when they migrated to the New World.”

“Anne Gower was the wife of John Endicott (b. ca. 1600 – 1665), governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  On 20 June 1628, the Endicotts and fifty other settlers sailed from Weymouth, England, on board the Abigail.  After a voyage of ten weeks, the ship arrived in early September at Naumkeag (the present city of Salem), where they were greeted by Roger Conant and the few surviving members of the Dorchester Company, one of the ill-fated joint stock companies... On 16 February 1629, Ann’s cousin Matthew Craddock wrote from England to John Endicott hoping ‘to hear my good cousin, your wife were perfectly recovered of her health.’  Anne Gower died a short time after the letter was written.”  

Quoted in Paula Bradstreet Richter, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery.  (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2000): 2.


Embroidered coat of arms of the Peirce family (1797)
by Sarah Peirce (1780-1835)
Salem, Massachusetts
Silk, metallic thread, and metal spangles
Gift of the Estate of Charlotte Sanders Nichols, 1935
Peabody Essex Museum, FIC1688

“In September of 1797, Benjamin Peirce (1776-1831) wrote from Harvard College in Cambridge to his sister Sarah (Sally) Peirce to commend her on the completion of her embroidered coat of arms.  He commented on the embroidery: ‘George gives me... a very flattering account of your Arms.  However, making allowance for his partiality, I don’t hesitate to set them down for beautiful.  I congratulate you on your being set at liberty.’  The letter captures the familial pride and sense of accomplishment that a young woman and her relatives must have felt at the completion of these large and complex embroideries.”

Quoted in Paula Bradstreet Richter, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery.  (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2000): 38.


Sampler (1803)
by Anne Kimball (1791-1871)
Newburyport, Massachusetts
Silk and linen
Gift of Timothy A. Ingraham, 2000
Peaboody Essex Museum, 138077

“The verse of the sampler expresses ideas about industry, religious devotion, and the effective employment of women’s time in reading, sewing, and writing.”

How blest the Maid whom circling years improve

Her God the object of her warmest love

Whose useful hour’s successive as they glide

The book, the needle and the pen divide

Anne Kimball born June 14 1791 wrought this Sampler in The twelth year of her age Newbury Port 1803

Quoted in Paula Bradstreet Richter, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery.  (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2000): 52.


Painting and embroidered allegorical picture (1804)
by Maria Crowninshield (bap. 1789-1870)
Dorchester, Massachusetts
Silk, watercolor, metallic thread, and reverse painting on glass
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Lothrop, 1980
Peabody Essex Museum, 18627

“In August of 1804, Maria Crowninshield at the age of fifteen years wrote a letter from the Ladies’ Academy, Clifton HIll, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to her sister Hannah at home in Salem in which she described the school as ‘this delightful mansion of happiness.’ Maria attended the academy run by Mrs. Judith Saunders and Miss Clementina Beach that was renowned for the painted and embroidered pictures based on popular engravings and prints that were created by its students...

The subject of the embroidery is an allegorical scene about female education in the early nineteenth century.  It depicts a schoolmistress instructing a pupil in an architectural setting that suggests a temple of learning.”

Quoted in Paula Bradstreet Richter, Painted with Thread: The Art of American Embroidery.  (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2000): 54.

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Letters and Education Common Books



Schomberg, J. to “Madam,” n.d. (18th century?) Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.

This letter is entitled, “The Method of Reading for Female Improvement,” and it suggests that women could improve their minds by reading history, poetry, and moral texts.  The author’s handwriting, which uses the “f-like” character for the letter s, is consistent with script in use in America before the 19th century.


Thatcher, George, Portland, to his Father, 19 May 1805. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (MSS 313)

This series of letters describes George Thatcher’s studies and observations while at school. 

Thatcher, George, Gorham, to his Brother, 9 November 1806. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (MSS 313)

Thatcher, George, Gorham, to his Father, 7 December 1806. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (MSS 313)

Thatcher, George, Gorham, to his Father, 4 April 1807. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (MSS 313)

Thatcher, George, Gorham, to his Father, 2 May 1807. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (MSS 313)


Choate, David.  Commonplace-book, ca. 1820s-30s.  [excerpts] David Choate (1796-1872) Collection. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.  (FAM MSS)

Choate was an Essex, Massachusetts teacher.  His commonplace book contains notes on education, local history, schools, and many other topics.  (very fragile condition)

Transcription contains notes from (or copy of printed text of) a lecture regarding the education of farmers’ sons and daughters.  Also interesting is a small excerpt from his classroom notes, where students receive a series of merits or demerits for their work.


Marshall, John P., Richmond, to John Marshall [grandson], Mont Blanc near Oak Hill [now in Peabody, Massachusetts], 7 November 1834.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (MSS 0.335)

John Marshall (1755-1835) served as Chief Justice in the U.S. Supreme Court.  His letter described courses of study and his thoughts on education.  He encourages his grandson to study history and composition. 

The Oak Hill area where his grandson lives is currently the location of the Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA.  The landscape and economic transformation of the area was addressed in the Summer 2005 topic, “Consumer Culture and Consumption Landscapes in Post-War America.”


Low, Obediah B.  Notebook #2, 1836-1837.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (MSS 0.355)

This notebook was kept by a student in the Essex Central School District.  Entries vary widely, from “the Sagacity of the Partridge,” to geography, to economics and to morality tales.

Wood, Rebecca T., Notebook, 1843-1850 [excerpt]. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (MSS 0.411)

Wood kept this notebook while a student at Bradford Academy (Bradford, MA).  It includes notes on geography, history, politics, geology, the Bible, grammar, and astronomy.  The selection transcribed is a topic in Ancient History from the 1843 Bradford Academy Fall Term.

Mary P. Ropes.  School Composition Notebooks, Cincinnati, ca 1860.  Ropes Family Collection.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (MSS B15F4)

This is Mary Ropes’s schoolbook for chemistry.  She carefully copied explanations and discussions about particular elements and, in some cases, their uses.  There is also some poetry interspersed among the entries. In the reverse of the notebook, she appears to have later interests in literature, mythology, and other sciences.  In this section there are also some household accounts and information about stocks held.

The primary date for this notebook is based on another document in the collection, which is a report of the merits and demerits received by Mary Ropes at the Mount Auburn Young Ladies’ Institute of Cincinnati, which is dated May 25, 1860.

Abstract of the Merit and Demerit Marks of Miss Mary P. Roes for the Month ending May 25, 1860. Ropes Family Collection.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

Mary Ropes’s report indicates that she was evaluated in “Deportment,” “Reading, spelling, etc.” “Phisiology,” “Latin,” and “Algebra.”  The reverse of the report explains the schools system of making and school rules. 

Ropes, Mary P.  “A Metaphor,” ca. 1860. Ropes Family Collection.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

This appears to be a school essay assignment where Ropes compares the human heart to a garden.

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By and About Horace Mann


























The Salem State College Archives Education Collection consists of rare textbooks ranging from the 18th to the early 20th century, early juvenile periodicals such as Parley's Magazine, and materials relating to Horace Mann, such as his Board of Education reports and The Common School Journal, an important early education periodical that he edited.  Also falling under the umbrella of the Education Collection are the records of the Plummer Farm Reform School, a 19th reform school in Salem, the Lowell Mason Collection, which documents the life of the man who helped bring music into the public school system, and the records of the Horace Mann School and its training school predecessor, which date back to 1897.

Mann, Horace, ed. "Prospectus." The Common School Journal 1(1) November 1838: 1-4. Education Collection, Salem State College Archives, Salem State College.

In the first pages of the first edition of Horace Mann's The Common School Journal, the secretary of the MA Board of Education lays out the purpose of the journal and his belief in the importance of improving public schools in America. The journal was intended to be read by students, teachers and parents and to be free from sectarian religion or politics.

Mann, Horace, ed. "Management of Disobedient Children." The Common School Journal 2(11) June 1840: 161-165. Education Collection, Salem State College Archives, Salem State College.

In this article, the author offers guidance on how teachers should handle disobedient children. He urges compassion, patience and restraint in discipline. There is also discussion about the hereditary nature of bad behavior, and the idea that parents are to blame for disobedient children.

Mann, Horace, ed. "Definition of a Good School, no. 1." The Common School Journal 8(2) January 1846: 17-20. Education Collection, Salem State College Archives, Salem State College.

Written by an unnamed author "P," this article describes what was considered to be a "good school" in terms of location, size, architecture, furnishings, textbooks, etc.

Mann, Horace, ed. "List of printed questions prepared for the examination of candidates for teachers at Columbus, Ohio." The Common School Journal 9(23) December 1847: 364-366. Education Collection, Salem State College Archives, Salem State College.

This exam, given to aspiring teachers at a teachers college in Ohio, is an illustration of the content and educational material teachers were expected to know in the 1840s. Unfortunately, we do not have the answer key!

Kelly, Marcella Rose. "Yon Golden Keys." Horace Mann Centennial, 1837-1937 306(5): 1937. Education Collection, Salem State College Archives, Salem State College.

This pamphlet was issued by the State Department of Education on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the department. Inside were a variety of recommended exercises to use in the classroom to celebrate the anniversary. One was a pageant for students to enact about Horace Mann's life. Although, strictly speaking, this is an early 20th century (rather than a mid-19th century) primary source, we thought you'd find it interesting.

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Juvenile Literature (Historic)

The Phillips Library holds a substantial collection of nineteenth century juvenile literature. Books published specifically for children began to appear in the mid-eighteenth century.  In the nineteenth century, however, the quality and variety of material proliferated.  Books directed t children recorded and imparted the values and social concerns of society at large.  Children learned about morals, social issues, and life skills through these beloved books.  For the historian, they provide a wealth of information about what adults believed were important issues of the time, and what they believed children needed to learn in order to become good citizens of adult society.


The Youthful Enquirer or the Story of Joseph Careful. Newburyport, 1805.  (Phillips Library Call # E / N11-I1 / 1805)

"Joseph Careful" demonstrates good moral behavior after which a young reader might model his own conduct.

The booklet has several illustrations and its twelve pages are divided into three parts.  The first section is “The Youthful Enquirer, or The Story of Joseph Careful,” concerning the very pious Mr. Careful and his young son, Joseph, who, to the delight of his father, shows a strong inclination for piety as well.  The two engage in an earnest discussion on how one may find redemption and salvation, complete with supporting Biblical anecdotes and quotes.  The concluding note is an encouragement to the reader to imitate Joseph in his interest and sincerity.

The second part is “Answer to the Question, ‘How Can A Man Be Born When He Is Old?’ John iii.4.”  This brief story similarly treats the issue of salvation, in this case featuring an old man on his deathbed who has lived “in a careless worldly spirit.” Lessons are pointed out at the end such as “pious persons” should strive to convert “sinners” and a warning against what might lead to doubt in God.

The last page is given over to a hymn titled “The Change.”



The Child’s Companion ca. 1780s.
(Phillips Library Call # J / C537.10 / 178-)

The booklet contains numerous reading and spelling exercises though no illustrations. The letter “s” is printed as the old-fashioned “f-like” character.  Many pages are missing, but the remainder of the book is given to succinct stories of people or animals that impart moralistic lessons.

Ten of the first fourteen tables are lists of words grouped according totheir number of syllables and their accentuation.  These are interspersed with four tables that consist of multiple short “Lessons,” meant “for Reading,” though the first table is titled “Easy Lessons, consisting of Monosyllables, to be read without spelling.”  Indeed, “Lesson” is the only non-monosyllabic word!  Their content consistently puts forthreligious teachings and urges the reader to devote himself to God.


The Child’s Scriptural Alphabet. Worchester, MA: Henry J. Howland, n.d.  (Phillips Call # J C537.44)

This  accordion-fold book features religious examples for each letter of the alphabet. The pages turn like a book as well as unfold into a long panel.  Each page has a letter of the alphabet, a rhyming poem about a Biblical word that begins with the given letter, and a finely detailed black and white illustration.



Hewins, Caroline M. A Mid-Century Child and Her Books.  NY: MacMillan Co., 1926. (Phillips Library Call # 028.5 / H59)

An woman looks back at her childhood in the Boston area and describes her educational experience, such as lessons, games, celebrations.


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Primary Sources from Other Local Archives and Collections



-- none currently selected --

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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions



-- none currently selected --


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