« AnteriorContinuar »
By Col. HOMER B. SPRAGUE, PH. I)., OF MASSACHUSETTS.
The year 1830, in which this organization was founded, witnessed the beginning of three great movements in American civilization, industrial, moral and intellectual. The industrial movement to which I refer, is perhaps, best illustrated by the growth of the railway system. Originating in 1830, or about that time, in the granite quarries of Quincy, Mass., the slender parallel bands, like needles forming in the process of crystallization, have yearly pushed their network further and further, till now it is but the commonplace of the orator to say that the ends of the Continent have been knit together, the silver beach of Nantasket to the golden gate of San Francisco, the pines of Maine to the sequoias of the far southwest, the fresh seas that murmur on the north to the salt foods that roar on the south, the silent everglades of Florida to
“The continuous wood Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound Save his own dashings," –
a vast arterial system, through which the life-tide of the nation incessantly pulses. Best symbol of the speed and power of American industry, though perhaps soon to be superseded by a stronger, swifter, more ethereal force, the poet's fire-breathing steed of steel — outdoing the fabled Pegasus, now scaling mountains, now descending into the bowels of the earth — has not simply multiplied channels of trade, and sinews of labor, but it has built a thousand cities, where fifty years ago no centre of population nor even a thoroughfare of travel could have been foreseen. And now have come the delicate interlacing lines of wires, the nervous system of the body politic, along which shoot the lightning shuttles of thought and feeling, weaving rich robes of peace. Railroad arteries, steam muscles, electric nerves — these have made the nation an organism, all parts mutually means and ends ; so that, although the twenty-four states of 1830 have been doubled, and the thirteen millions of people have been quadrupled, the organic whole is far more closely compacted and far more vividly conscious of its unity than was possible fifty-four years ago.
But grander than any material development has been the awakening and triumph of the general conscience, best illustrated perhaps by the anti-slavery reform. Feeblest in outward appearance of all the agencies that ever undertook the destruction of a gigantic evil, one man against a nation, a solitary voice crying unheard in the wilderness -
“A motion toiling in the gloom,
The spirit of the years to come
this reform was born about the year 1830. Fifty years ago, it was the tiniest of ripples on the dead sea of American political morals. But soon the ripple became a billow, the billow gathered strength and volume, it was multiplied a millionfold, it swelled to an ocean current. “One man with God is a majority.” As sun and moon lift and swing and impel the ocean, so a power from on high roused and swayed and pushed the swelling sea of Northern liberty to battle with Southern slavery: volcanic passions and strong ambitions and selfish cross-currents were intermingled; but there was on each side a central purpose, a deadly earnestness. As the Atlantic tidal wave, augmented by furious eastern gales, meets the seemingly resistless Amazon, and with thunder voice sends it whirling back a thousand miles towards its source, so the might of Liberty met, overpowered, scattered, annihilated Slavery.
More quiet, but perhaps not less far-reaching and sublime, was the great educational awakening, beginning in the same year, 1830, typified by the American Institute of Instruction, the first of all our town, city, county, state and national educational organizations. On the ides of March, 1830, in the city of Boston, a preliminary meeting was held.* It continued four days. A committee was appointed, consisting of Ebenezer Bailey, Geo. B. Emerson, B. D. Emerson, A. Andrews, and Gideon F. Thayer of Boston, Henry K. Oliver of Salem and J. Wilder of Watertown, to take steps for the formation of a permanent body. They drafted a constitution. In August, 1830, a second meeting was held in the State House in Boston. It lasted four or five days. More than three hundred friends of education were in attendance. Eleven states were represented. The constitution was adopted. Francis Wayland of Brown University, was chosen first President. Eighteen lectures were delivered, some by the gentlemen I have named, and by Rev. John Pierpont, Professor C. C. Felton, and others hardly less dis* See Northend's History of the American Institute of Instruction. tinguished. The association was incorporated. “And thus” to use the language of one whom we all revere, and who honors us by his presence to-day,* “in full bloom and maturity, like Minerva from the head of her sire, came into existence the American Institute of Instruction.” Of that company who founded this Institute, but one survives, not the least of the illustrious throny, General Henry K. Oliver, of Salem, bright and venerable name, full of years
“And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends." I had hoped to see him here on this occasion. Yonder, in Salem he stands, cheerfully, patiently awaiting the last summons, infirm in body but with intellect unclouded and keen, fully assured that
“It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road
To be at home with God.”
There was sore need of educational reform when this Institute was started, fifty-four years ago. Up to 1830 there had been in this country no effort to make teaching a profession. The first normal school in America was established after that time. Now we have more than a hundred, each doing a most useful work. Then there were no institutions for the superior education of woman ; now we have hundreds of such colleges and universities. Then there were comparatively few institutions for the secondary instruction of girls; now we have in Massachusetts alone two hundred and twenty high schools into
* Elbridge Smith, of Dorchester.
which girls are admitted, and it is, I believe, a fact that in New England more girls than boys are getting a high education. Then there were no blackboards, no school libraries, no kindergartens, no drawing-classes, no educational journals or magazines, no school apparatus but ferules and birch-rods; no school furniture but the teacher's table and chair, a square iron box called a stove, long benches called seats, often backless and frontless, like that on which I myself sat many a weary hour in my childhood forty years and more ago. No schoolhouse had any provision for ventilation. The building itself was often a wretched shanty. One of the best was that of the public Latin school of Boston, very near where the Parker House now stands, and which gave its name to School Sriet; a rude building little prophetic of the palatial structure on Dartmouth Street dedicated a few years ago to the same school and costing more than three-quarters of a million of dollars. The requirements for admission to college have been more than doubled. Fifteen years ago in private and in the newspaper press I argued in favor of the establishment of chairs of didactics or pedagogics in colleges. To-day, two of the greatest of American Universities, Harvard and Michigan, have created such professorships, the most important, I verily believe, in their whole system of instruction. Many thousands of children were kept out of school by the odious rate-bills which set a premium upon absence. It is among my pleasant recollections that sixteen years ago, as housechairman of the Committee on Education in the legislature of Connecticut, I assisted in wiping out the last of those abominations and in making the schools of that Commonwealth for the first time absolutely free. This very year, too, Massachusetts for the first time supplies