Horace Mann (May 4, 1796 – August 2, 1859) was an American educational reformer and Whig politician dedicated to promoting public education. A central theme of his life was that “it is the law of our nature to desire happiness. This law is not local, but universal; not temporary, but eternal. It is not a law to be proved by exceptions, for it knows no exception.”[1] He served in the Massachusetts State legislature (1827–1837). In 1848, after public service as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, Mann was elected to the United States House of Representatives (1848–1853). From September 1852 to his death, he served as President of Antioch College.

About Mann’s intellectual progressivism, the historian Ellwood P. Cubberley said:

No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of education ends.[2]

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn unruly American children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially in the Whig Party, for building public schools. Most states adopted a version of the system Mann established in Massachusetts, especially the program for normal schools to train professional teachers.[3] Educational historians credit Horace Mann as father of the Common School Movement.[4]



Horace Mann was born on May 4, 1796 in Franklin, Massachusetts.[5] His father was a farmer without much money. From ten years of age to twenty, he had no more than six weeks' schooling during any year,[6] but he made use of the town library. At the age of 20, he enrolled at Brown University and graduated in three years[7] as valedictorian (1819). The theme of his oration was "The Progressive Character of the Human Race."[6] He then studied law for a short time in Wrentham, Massachusetts and was a tutor of Latin and Greek (1820–1822) and a librarian (1821–1823) at Brown University. During 1822, he also studied at Litchfield Law School and, in 1823, was admitted to the bar in Dedham, Massachusetts.[8]

Massachusetts legislature

Mann was elected to the legislature in 1827, and in that role was active in the interests of education, public charities, and laws for the suppression of intemperance and lotteries. He established the state lunatic asylum in Worcester, and in 1833 was chairman of its board of trustees. Mann continued to be returned to the legislature as representative from Dedham until his removal to Boston in 1833. While in the legislature he was a member and part of the time chairman of the committee for the revision of the state statutes, and a large number of salutary provisions were incorporated into the code at his suggestion. After their enactment he was appointed one of the editors of the work, and prepared its marginal notes and its references to judicial decisions. He was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate from Boston in 1835, and was its president in 1836–1837. As a member of the Senate, he spent time as the majority leader, and aimed his focus at infrastructure, funding the construction of railroads and canals.[9][5]


In 1830, Mann married Charlotte Messer, who was the daughter of the president of Brown University. She died two years later on August 1, 1832, and he never fully recovered from the intense grief and shock that accompanied her death.[10] In 1843, he married Mary Tyler Peabody. Afterward, the couple accompanied Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe on a dual honeymoon to Europe. Horace and Mary had three sons: Horace Mann Jr., George Combe Mann, and Benjamin Pickman Mann.

Education reform

It was not until he was appointed secretary in 1837 of the newly created board of education of Massachusetts (the first such position in the United States) that he began the work which was to place him in the foremost rank of American educators. Previously, he had not shown any special interest in education. He was encouraged to take the job only because it was a paid office position established by the legislature. He began as secretary of the board. On entering on his duties, he withdrew from all other professional or business engagements and from politics.

This led him to become the most prominent national spokesman for that position. He held this position, and worked with a remarkable intensity, holding teachers' conventions, delivering numerous lectures and addresses, carrying on an extensive correspondence, and introducing numerous reforms.

Mann traveled to every school in the state so he could physically examine each school ground.[citation needed] He planned and inaugurated the Massachusetts normal school system in Lexington (which shortly thereafter moved to Framingham), Barre (which shortly thereafter moved to Westfield) and Bridgewater, and began preparing a series of annual reports, which had a wide circulation and were 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".[11] By his advocacy of the disuse of corporal punishment in school discipline, he was involved in a controversy with some of the Boston teachers that resulted in the adoption of his views.[12]

In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. In this journal, Mann targeted the public school and its problems. His six main principles were: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Mann worked for more and better-equipped school houses, longer school years (until 16 years old), higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.[13]

Under the auspices of the board, but at his own expense, he went to Europe in 1843 to visit schools, especially in Prussia, and his seventh annual report, published after his return, embodied the results of his tour. Many editions of this report were printed, not only in Massachusetts but in other states, in some cases by private individuals and in others by legislatures; several editions were issued in England. In 1852, he supported the decision to adopt the Prussian education system in Massachusetts. Shortly after Massachusetts adopted the Prussian system, the Governor of New York set up the same method in twelve different New York schools on a trial basis.

Mann hoped that by bringing all children of all classes together, they could have a common learning experience. This would also give an opportunity to the less fortunate to advance in the social scale and education would "equalize the conditions of men." Moreover, it was viewed also as a road to social advancement by the early labor movement and as a goal of having common schools. Mann also suggested that by having schools it would help those students who did not have appropriate discipline in the home. Building a person's character was just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment. Mann faced some resistance from parents who did not want to give up the moral education to teachers and bureaucrats. The normal schools trained mostly women, giving them new career opportunities as teachers.[14]

The practical result of Mann's work was a revolution in the approach used in the common school system of Massachusetts, which in turn influenced the direction of other states. In carrying out his work, Mann met with bitter opposition by some Boston schoolmasters who strongly disapproved of his innovative pedagogical ideas,[15] and by various religious sectarians, who contended against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction from the schools. Mann is often called "the father of American public education."[16]

Secular nature

As the Old Deluder Satan Act and other Massachusetts School Laws attest, early education even under state control in Massachusetts had a clear religious intent. However, by the time of Mann's leadership in education, various developments (including a vibrant populist Protestant faith and increased religious diversity) fostered a secular school system with a religiously passive stance.[17]

While Mann affirmed that "our Public Schools are not Theological Seminaries" and that they were "debarred by law from inculcating the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of any one religious denomination amongst us ... or all that is essential to religion or to salvation," he assured those who objected to this secular nature that "our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals; it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible; and, in receiving the Bible, it allows it to do what it is allowed to do in no other system—to speak for itself. But here it stops, not because it claims to have compassed all truth; but because it disclaims to act as an umpire between hostile religious opinions."

Mann stated that this position resulted in a near-universal use of the Bible in the schools of Massachusetts and that this served as an argument against the assertion by some that Christianity was excluded from his schools, or that they were anti-Christian.[18]

Mann also once stated that "it may not be easy theoretically, to draw the line between those views of religious truth and of Christian faith which is common to all, and may, therefore, with propriety be inculcated in schools, and those which, being peculiar to individual sects, are therefore by law excluded; still it is believed that no practical difficulty occurs in the conduct of our schools in this regard."

Rather than sanctioning a particular church as was often the norm in many states, the Legislature proscribed books "calculated to favor the tenets of any particular set of Christians.[19]

U.S. Congress

In the spring of 1848 he was elected to the United States Congress as a Whig to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Quincy Adams. His first speech in that role was in advocacy of its right and duty to exclude slavery from the territories, and in a letter in December of that year he said: "I think the country is to experience serious times. Interference with slavery will excite civil commotion in the South. But it is best to interfere. Now is the time to see whether the Union is a rope of sand or a band of steel." Again he said: "I consider no evil as great as slavery, and I would pass the Wilmot Proviso whether the South rebel or not."[citation needed] During the first session, he volunteered as counsel for Drayton and Sayres, who were indicted for stealing 76 slaves in the District of Columbia, and at the trial was engaged for 21 successive days in their defense. In 1850, he was engaged in a controversy with Daniel Webster in regard to the extension of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law, calling Webster's support for the Compromise of 1850 a "vile catastrophe", and comparing him to "Lucifer descending from Heaven".[20][21] Mann was defeated by a single vote at the ensuing nominating convention by Webster's supporters; but, on appealing to the people as an independent anti-slavery candidate, he was re-elected, serving from April 1848 until March 1853.

Leadership of Antioch College and last years

Original daguerreotype of Rep. Mann (Mass.) from Mathew Brady's studio, c. 1849.

In September 1852, he was nominated for governor of Massachusetts by the Free Soil Party, and the same day was chosen president of the newly established Antioch College at Yellow Springs, Ohio. Failing in the election for governor, he accepted the presidency of the college, in which he continued until his death. There he taught economics, philosophy, and theology; he was popular with students and with lay audiences across the Midwest who attended his lectures promoting public schools. Mann also employed the first woman faculty member to be paid on an equal basis with her male colleagues, Rebecca Pennell, his niece. His commencement message to the class of 1859 was to "be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity".[22]

Antioch College was founded by the Christian Connexion which later withdrew its financial support causing the college to struggle for many years with meager financial resources due to sectarian infighting. Mann himself was charged with nonadherence to sectarianism because, previously a Congregationalist by upbringing, he joined the Unitarian Church.

He collapsed shortly after the 1859 commencement and died that summer. Antioch historian Robert Straker wrote that Mann had been "crucified by crusading sectarians." Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented "what seems the fatal waste of labor and life at Antioch." Mann's wife, who wrote in anguish that "the blood of martyrdom waters the spot," later disinterred his body from Yellow Springs.[23] He is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island,[24] next to his first wife, Charlotte Messer Mann. (Charlotte Messer Mann was the daughter of Asa Messer, an early president of Brown University.)


Most historians treat Mann as the most important and beneficial leader of education reform in the antebellum period.[3][25][26][27]

~ Horace Mann ~
Issue of 1940

He has many places, including schools, around the world that are named after him.

Horace Mann's statue stands in front of the Massachusetts State House along with that of Daniel Webster.

At Antioch College a monument carries his quote, which has been recently adopted as the college motto: "Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity."

The University of Northern Colorado named the gates to their campus in his dedication, a gift of the Class of 1910.[28]

The Springfield, Illinois-based Illinois Education Association Mutual Insurance Company, was renamed in honor of Mann in 1950 as the Horace Mann Educators Corporation.

There are a number of school buildings in the United States named after Mann, listed below as follows:

Pittsburg State University, in Pittsburg, Kansas, has a building named: Horace Mann School. It currently houses the Student Welcoming Center.

In Massachusetts, public charter schools that are authorized by local school districts are known as Horace Mann charters.

Emulation of the Prussian education system in the United States

American educators were fascinated by German educational trends. In 1818, John Griscom gave a favorable report of Prussian education. Beginning in 1830, English translations were made of French philosopher Victor Cousin's work, "Report on the State of Public Education in Prussia." Calvin E. Stowe, Henry Barnard, Horace Mann, George Bancroft and Joseph Cogswell all had a vigorous interest in German education. In 1843, Mann traveled to Germany to investigate how the educational process worked. Upon his return to the United States, he lobbied heavily to have the "Prussian model" adopted.

Mann persuaded his fellow modernizers, especially those in the Whig Party, to legislate tax-supported elementary public education in their states. Indeed, most northern states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for "normal schools" to train professional teachers.[3] In 1852, Mann was instrumental in the decision to adopt an Prussian-style education system in Massachusetts.



  1. ^ Mann, Horace (1853). A Few Thoughts for a Young Man: A Lecture, Delivered Before the Boston Mercantile Library Association, on Its 29th Anniversary. p. 9. 
  2. ^ Cubberley, Ellwood P. (1919). Public Education in the United States. p. 167. 
  3. ^ a b c Groen, Mark (Spring–Summer 2008). "The Whig Party and the Rise of Common Schools, 1837–1854". American Educational History Journal. 35 (1/2): 251–260. 
  4. ^ Good, Thomas L. (2008). 21st century education: a reference handbook. p. 267. 
  5. ^ a b "Horace Mann American educator". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Tarbell, Isa Arlington (1900). "Mann, Horace". In Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  7. ^ McFarland, Philip (2004). Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7. 
  8. ^ Catalogue of the Litchfield Law School. Hartford, CT: Press of Case, Tiffany and Company. 1849. 
  9. ^ Mondale, Sarah (2001). School: The Story of American Public Education. New York: Beacon. 
  10. ^ McFarland, Philip (2004). Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7. 
  11. ^ Hinsdale (1898).
  12. ^ Mintz, S.; McNeil, S. (2016). "The Struggle for Public Schools". Digital History. 
  13. ^ https://www.biography.com/people/horace-mann-9397522
  14. ^ Eisenmann, Linda (1988). Historical dictionary of women's education in the United States. p. 259. 
  15. ^ Glenn, Myra (1984). Campaigns Against Corporal Punishment. pp. 104–6. ISBN 0-87395-813-6. 
  16. ^ Baily, Steve (July 4, 2007). "No children need apply". Boston Globe. 
  17. ^ Monsma, Stephen V.; Soper, J. Christopher (September 5, 2008). "2. The United States". The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies. pp. 18–22. ISBN 9780742557406. 
  18. ^ Mann, Horace (1849). Twelfth Annual Report for 1848 of the Secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts. pp. 116, 177, 121, 122. 
  19. ^ Massachusetts Board of Education (1838) [Covering the year 1837]. Annual Report of the Board of Education. pp. 14, 15. 
  20. ^ https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Speech_Costs_Senator_His_Seat.htm
  21. ^ Kennedy (2004). Profiles in Courage. pp. 69–70. 
  22. ^ "Antioch College Announced the Horace Mann Fellowship for First Class". Antioch College. February 3, 2011. 
  23. ^ Clark, Burton R. (1970). The Distinctive College. Adline Publishing Co. p. 16. 
  24. ^ Horace Mann at Find a Grave
  25. ^ Finkelstein, Barbara (Winter 1990). "Perfecting Childhood: Horace Mann and the Origins of Public Education in the United States". Biography: an Interdisciplinary Quarterly. 13 (1): 6–20. 
  26. ^ Hunt, Thomas C. (2005). Moral Education in America's Schools. pp. 31–48. 
  27. ^ Downs, R. B. (1974). Horace Mann: Champion of the Public Schools. 
  28. ^ "University History: A Photographic History of UNC". University of Northern Colorado. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. 
  29. ^ "Horace Mann Elementary". Hominy Public Schools. Archived from the original on April 15, 2017. Retrieved April 14, 2017. 


Further reading

  • Cremin, Lawrence A. American Education: The National Experience (1982).
  • Curti, Merle. The Social Ideas of American Educators (1935) pp. 101–38
  • Downs, R. B. Horace Mann: Champion of the Public Schools (1974)
  • Finkelstein, Barbara. "Perfecting Childhood: Horace Mann and the Origins of Public Education in the United States," Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, Winter 1990, Vol. 13#1 pp. 6–20
  • Hinsdale, Burke A. Horace Mann and the Common School Revival in the United States (New York, 1898), in the Great Educators series online
  • Hubbell, George A. Life of Horace Mann, Educator, Patriot and Reformer (Philadelphia, 1910)
  • Messerli, Jonathan. Horace Mann; a biography (1972)
  • Peterson, Paul E. Saving schools: From Horace Mann to virtual learning (Harvard University Press, 2010)
  • Taylor, Bob Pepperman. Horace Mann's Troubling Legacy: The Education of Democratic Citizens (University Press of Kansas; 2010).

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th congressional district

April 3, 1848 – March 3, 1853
Succeeded by
Tappan Wentworth