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Horace Mann, “The Father of American Public Education," transformed the public education system in the United States through his role as a politician and writer. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives after being elected the first Secretary of Board of Education of Massachusetts State. He founded the common school movement which argued that free universal education for children would positively impact the entire nation.

Early Years and Education

Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on May 4, 1796, to working-class parent’s Thomas Mann and Rebecca Stanley Mann. His brother, Stephen, drowned in Uncas Pond on July 20, 1810, just over a year after his father died. He enrolled at Brown University in 1816 and graduated in only three years with high honors on September 1, 1819.[1]

Mann began law studies in Wrentham, Mass. while tutoring Latin and Greek from 1820 to 1822 at Brown University. He also worked as the librarian at Brown from 1821 to 1823. He studied law at Litchfield Law School in 1822 and passed the Dedham, Mass. bar in 1823.[2]

Political Beginnings

Horace Mann began his political career when elected in 1827 to the Massachusetts legislature. He advocated throughout his term for public education and charities and laws suppressing lotteries and intemperance. He founded the Worcester lunatic asylum and served as its chairman of the board of trustees in 1833. He represented Dedham until 1833 when he moved to Boston.

Mann chaired the committee revising state statues. They asked him to edit the work as many of his suggestions were absorbed. In 1833, Mann was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate and presided as president from 1836 to 1837 where he funded many construction projects to better infrastructure.[3]

Education Reformer

In 1837, the first Board of Education in Mass. appointed Mann their secretary. He dedicated all his time to the new position and held conventions for teachers, lecturing, and instituted educational reform. Horace Mann reviewed every school in person and established the normal school system in Barre, Lexington, and Bridgewater.

Horace Mann’s interest in education only started from his appointment to the Board of Education.

He argued against corporal punishment in schools which teachers adopted after some push back.[4]

Mann formed The Common School Journal in 1838 to fix the problems he saw in the public school system. He put forth six specific principles in the publication. The first was that the general public should not be ignorant. The second stated that engaged citizens should control, fund, and sustain public education. The third was that education is most effective when shared in an environment with children from varying backgrounds. The fourth demanded the education be secular. The fifth insisted education must be provided by the methods, discipline and spirit of a free society. The sixth, and final, principal required education be taught by professionals with proper training. He also advocated for higher salaries for teachers, a broader curriculum, better school facilities, and mandatory schooling until age 16.[5]

In 1843, Mann visited schools in Europe and published his findings in the 7th edition of the journal.[6] He vigorously supported the Massachusetts school system adopting the Prussian model in 1852. New York’s governor soon began the same as a test in 12 schools. Mann wanted to use schools to educate the public not only about reading and math, but could help teach important social and moral values. These normal schools opened doors by creating a new career path for the mainly women teachers they employed.[7] Horace Mann’s revolutionary education reform earned him the title “the father of American public education.”[8]

Later Political Career and Death

Horace Mann focused on the ability of a school to create a community of learning for any person regardless of their social or economic status.

Horace Mann replaced John Quincey Adams in April 1848 as a Whig in the Eighth District of the United States House of Representatives after his death. On June 30, 1848, he gave his first speech while in Congress that strongly condemned slavery. He offered to serve as counsel for Drayton and Sayres, on trial for stealing 76 slaves in Washington, D.C in July 1848. The Eighth District re-elected Mann to Congress in November of 1850.

The Free Soil Party nominated Mann as governor of Massachusetts on September 15, 1852. The same day the Christian Connexion offers him the position as Antioch College’s president in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He accepted the second offer after losing the election. His inauguration took place on October 5, 1853, and served as president until his death. On April 20, 1859, Josiah Quincey and several other of Mann’s friends purchased Antioch College when the Christian Connexion put it up for auction.

Mann died on August 2, 1859, in Yellow Springs. [9] He was buried in Providence, Rhode Island’s North Burial Ground next to his first wife, Charlotte.[10]

Marriage and Family

Horace Mann married Charlotte Messer, his first wife, and daughter of Brown University’s president, on September 29, 1830. He received a devastating and lasting shock when she died on August 1, 1832. He then proposed to Mary Tyler Peabody on March 23, 1843, and the couple married and began a multi-country tour of Europe with Samuel G Howe and Julia Ward Howe. The couple bore three sons: Horace Mann Jr. February 24, 1844, George Combe on December 27, 1845, and Benjamin Pickman on April 30, 1848. George Combe died in August 1858.[11]

Honor and Legacy

Horace Mann is considered the most important leader of educational reform during the antebellum period.[12] Many monuments stand to honor his legacy from Massachusetts to Colorado to Illinois.

Many schools bear Mann's name in remembrance of his many contributions, including Horace Mann Elementary Schools and a Horace Man Middle School in his hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts.[13] In 1950, the Illinois Education Association Mutual Insurance Company changed their name to Horace Mann Educators Corporation.[14]



Mann, H. (2006, August). Horace Mann Collection. Massachusetts Historical Society.


  1. Mann, 2006
  2. The Litchfield Historical Society. (2010). The Ledger - Horace Mann. The Litchfield Historical Society.
  3. Mondale, S. (2002). School: The Story of American Public Education. United States: Beacon Press.
  4. Hinsdale, B. A. (2006). Horace Mann and the Common School Revival in the United States. United States: Kessinger Publishing.
  5. Mann, H. (1838). The Common School Journal, Vol. I.
  6. Mann, H. (1838). The Common School Journal, Vol. VII.
  7. Eisenmann, L. (1998). Historical Dictionary of Women’s Education in the United States. United States: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  8. Bailey, S. (2007, July 4). No Children Need Apply. The Boston Globe.
  9. Mann, 2006
  10. Find A Grave. (2001). Horace Mann (1796 - 1859). Find A Grave Memorial.
  11. Mann, 2006
  12. Groen, M. (2008). The Whig Party and the Rise of Common Schools, 1837–.1854. American Educational History Journal, 35(2), 253–255.
  13. Horace Mann Middle School.
  14. USA Coverage. Horace Mann Insurance Company.[USAcoverage.com].

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