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Who was Horace Mann?

Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro

Managing Editor

Photo by Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro

The newest building on campus, Horace Mann, was named after one of the most accomplished educators in Massachusetts. His name is seen on many college campuses, as quite a few colleges and universities have buildings named after him, including, but not limited to, the Horace Mann Theater at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.


But who exactly is Horace Mann? Ironically, our journey into discovering more about this man takes us back to Bridgewater State University, and beyond, long before the university was renamed.


Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts in 1796. He was a self-taught student, but that never stopped him. At the age of 20, he was admitted as a sophomore to Brown University. During his academic career at Brown, Mann took an interest in politics, education and social reform. Also during his tenure at Brown, he gave a speech on the advancement of humans through education.


After graduation, he practiced law and was even elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving from 1827 to 1833. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he became a state senator in 1835, eventually becoming senate president. During this time frame, Mann worked hard to improve infrastructure for the railway industry and founded a mental health facility, though more commonly in his time called an asylum, in Worcester, Massachusetts.


The school system in America was, up until this time, in a bit of an uproar. Since the 1600s, when schooling was established, there really was no formula to follow. In 1837, the state of Massachusetts founded a board of education, one of the first in the country, to oversee educational reform. Of course, Mann was the secretary of this board.


During this time, and well into 1838, Mann founded a journal called The Common School Journal, published biweekly, for educators discussing education. He also traveled extensively throughout Europe, learning about different schooling systems and taking a liking to the Prussian system specifically.


During this time period of research, Mann developed his main principles regarding public education. Though hugely influential to this day, these principles did not come without controversy. His principles state that: Citizens cannot be both ignorant and have freedom, education should be paid for, controlled and maintained by the public, schools should embrace children from various backgrounds, education must be nonsectarian, meaning that education should not involve one specific political standpoint or religion, education must be taught using tenets of free society and that education must be taught by trained professionals.


These principles, especially the last principle, lead to the development of “normal schools,” which are schools that specifically trained teachers, the first of which opened in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839. The second normal school opened on Sept. 9, 1840, and is the oldest standing, permanently located normal school. This school was called Bridgewater Normal School, now Bridgewater State University, and is still known as a “teaching school.”


Mann opened the Rhode Island Normal School, located on Francis Street in Providence, in 1854. Somewhere around the 1920s, it became known as Rhode Island College of Education. Then during the 1950s, another name change led to a school we are all familiar with: Rhode Island College. The original Rhode Island Normal School building sat vacant for years after the campus moved. In 1990, it became another popular attraction which we all know and love: The Providence Place Mall.


Mann’s methods and principles and methods angered quite a few people across both social and political spectrums. Religious people objected to a lesser role of religion in classrooms and politicians were appalled at the amount of authority that was now being poured into school systems. Eventually, as is now evident, Mann prevailed and successfully transformed the public education system for the entire country.


Mann went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1848 to 1853. After his tenure he became the president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.


Mann passed away in 1859, two months after that year’s commencement. His words during his final commencement speech echo within all professions. Mann said to his students, “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.”


As you can see, dear reader, there is no better person in the history of U.S. education to name a building after than Horace Mann.


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