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icon-book2 Horace Mann (1796 – 1859)


Early Years

One of five children of Thomas and Rebecca (Stanley) Mann, Horace was born on the ancestral farm in the town of Franklin, Massachusetts. His parents were people of meager education but of sterling character, and imparted to their children habits of industry and high ideals. Mann’s childhood was an unhappy one passed in poverty, unremitting toil, repression, and fear. The studies and methods of the district school were stultifying, the school masters ignorant, and their discipline stern and terrifying (1).

Mann managed to overcome the limits imposed by his lack of education, reading for himself in the public library. Moreover, he took tutoring classes while working as an itinerant Latin teacher. Chiefly self-taught, Mann was 20 years old when he was admitted to the sophomore class at Brown University. There he took an interest in politics, education and social reform, and upon graduation he gave a speech on the advancement of the human race through which education, philanthropy, and republicanism could combine to benefit mankind (2).

Commitment to Education

Horace Mann, often called in the United States the Father of the Common School, began his career as a lawyer and legislator. When he was elected to act as Secretary of the newly-created Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, he used his position to enact major educational reform. He spearheaded the Common School Movement, ensuring that every child could receive a basic education funded by local taxes. His influence soon spread beyond Massachusetts as more states took up the idea of universal schooling.

Mann's commitment to the Common School sprang from his belief that political stability and social harmony depended on education: a basic level of literacy and the inculcation of common public ideals. He declared, "Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School...may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization." Mann believed that public schooling was central to good citizenship, democratic participation and societal well-being (3).

Mann's Six Principles of Education are:

1.- Citizens cannot maintain both ignorance and freedom;

2.- This education should be paid for, controlled, and maintained by the public;

3.- This education should be provided in schools that embrace children from varying backgrounds;

4.- This education must be nonsectarian;

5.- This education must be taught using tenets of a free society; 

6.- This education must be provided by well-trained, professional teachers (4).

Influence of his Work

Horace Mann was influential in the development of teacher training schools and the earliest attempts to professionalize teaching. Mann knew that the quality of rural schools had to be raised, and that teaching was the key to that improvement. He also recognized that the corps of teachers for the new Common Schools were most likely to be women, and he argued forcefully (if, by contemporary standards, sometimes insultingly) for the recruitment of women into the ranks of teachers, often through the Normal Schools. These developments were all part of Mann's driving determination to create a system of effective, secular, universal education in the United States (5).

Mann’s educational ideas were incorporated in his 12 annual reports as Secretary of Massachusetts Board of Education, in which he discussed many education-related questions: school administration, curriculum, instruction, school-building construction, child labor, school libraries, crime, Massachusetts educational history, and European education. Through lectures, he enlisted public support for education.

Mann’s work and the reforms he instituted had a lasting influence in the United States and abroad. He summed up his educational ideal with this statement: “In a republic, ignorance is a crime.” And it may be said that his entire life was dedicated to this ideal (6). Furthermore, his system for Massachusetts was widely copied as the development of common schools and high schools progressed in the rest of the nation. Calvin Stowe of Ohio, Caleb Mills in Indiana, John Pierce of Michigan, and Calvin Wiley of North Carolina followed Mann’s lead (7).


  • A Few Thoughts for a Young Man (1850)
  • Slavery: Letters and Speeches (1851)
  • Powers and Duties of Woman (1853)
  • Lectures on Education (1855)
  • Sermons (1861)
  • Life and Complete Works of Horace Mann (1869)
  • Thoughts selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1869)
  • Mann, Horace. The Life and Works of Horace Mann (1891)

1.- Dictionary of American Biography.Centenary Edition.Scribners, New York, 1946.
6.- Encyclopedia Americana.Volume 18.Scholastics.
7.- Pulliam, John D. History of Education in America. Foundations of Education Series. Chapter 4