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Inspiring WorldEducational Reformer Horace Mann - The Father of American Public Education

Educational Reformer Horace Mann – The Father of American Public Education

“Education alone can conduct us to that enjoyment which is, at once, best in quality and infinite in quantity.”


Horace Mann was a humanitarian and American educational reformer. He is remembered for his tireless efforts in promoting and refining public education in Massachusetts and throughout the nation.

He is also remembered as the founder of the U.S. public school system that was later adopted by all nations in the world.

It is no secret that good education has the power to change a life. It provides stability in life and it is the only investment that no one can ever take away from you.

Horace Mann created the blueprints for a well-run, effective public school. With the new public school education system, he believed that democracy would flourish in America.

Educational Reformer Horace Mann - The Father of American Public Education

Quick Facts

    • Name: Horace Mann
    • Also Known As: The Father of American Public Education
    • Famous For: Inventing the modern-day Public School System
    • Born On: 4 May 1796
    • Place of Birth: Franklin, Massachusetts, United States
    • Died On: 2 August 1859
    • Education: Brown University, Litchfield Law School
    • Profession: Lawyer, Educator, College President
    • Parents: Thomas Mann (father), Rebecca Stanley Mann (mother)
    • Spouses: Charlotte Messer (m. 1830-1832), Mary Tyler Peabody Mann (m. 1843-1859)
    • Children: Horace Mann Jr., George Combe Mann, Benjamin Pickman Mann
Educational Reformer Horace Mann
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Early Life and Childhood

Horace Mann was born on May 4, 1796 in Franklin, Massachusetts. He hailed from a humble background that did not have much, he grew up in an environment ruled by poverty, hardship, and self- denial.

Mann’s father was a farmer, who owned a farm that dated back several generations. Despite their ancestors being the first settlers of Massachusetts, and having a highly regarded family background, the Manns were poor people who had financial struggles.

In 1809, Horace Mann’s father died of tuberculosis. There was a second tragedy that happened to the Mann’s family, this time sickness was not involved.

Horace Mann’s older brother Stephen drowned while swimming. In those days, Congregationalists were strict about what they could or not do on the Sabbath. To them, they believed that Sunday was a day solely dedicated to the honor of God.

The church strictly prohibited all work and forms of leisure activities, swimming being one of them. Instead of comforting the bereaved family, the local church minister used this opportunity to criticize his brother’s actions and warn the towns people of what could happen if church rules were disobeyed.

Deviation of Religion

The criticism from the church minister confirmed Horace Mann’s growing alienation from the church. The same church pastor would deliver sermons known as fire-and-brimstone that spoke in graphic terms of the horrors that awaited sinful people in the afterlife, and all those who did not repent their sins.

These visions terrified Horace Mann that he would sometimes cry himself to sleep while thinking of his dead brother and father. All these negative experiences made him leave the Congregationalist faith, and also avoid all kind of organized religions later on in life.


With his humble background, and just like many communities in New England, Franklin lacked a good school. The teachers present at that time taught by instilling fear in the children as well as use of physical abuse.

A school term rarely lasted two months and so students barely managed to learn anything and if by chance they did, it was either impractical or misinformed information.

Franklin library had a number of books that had been donated by the famous Benjamin Franklin. The scientist and philosopher had donations of books, mostly about history, theology.

As a young boy, Horace Mann spent most of his time reading through the library collection. Mann developed a great appetite for knowledge. When he turned 20, he decided to try getting into college. However, due to his poor education, he had to take accelerated courses in order to qualify for entry into college.

By the help of his skilled travelling teacher, Mann made his way into Brown University, sophomore class, in 1816. At the university, he developed a lively interest in debating, he would frequently speak in support of humanitarian causes.

Horace Mann graduated from Brown University after three years as a valedictorian with the oration theme “The Progressive Character of the Human Race”. His growing interest in public affairs led him to study law after graduating.

Horace Mann worked in a law office for some time and then decided to go back to study law. His Law studies were interrupted when he went to serve as a Latin and Greek tutor at Brown University.

In 1821, Horace Mann, joined the first law school in the United States located in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was admitted to the Bar of Norfolk County on completion of the course in 1823.

After Graduating from law school, Horace Mann seemed to have a promising life and career ahead of him. His career started blossoming, he practised law in Dedham, the Norfolk County seat for a couple of years.

He also got elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in its lower house, where he served from 1827-1833.


In September 1830, Horace Mann, married the daughter of the president of Brown University, Charlotte Messer. Their love did not last long, as his wife died two years later.

Devastated about the loss of his wife, Horace Mann moved to Boston in 1833 where he took his seat in Massachusetts State Senate, and also continued practicing law.

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Improving Education and Schools

In 1837, the Massachusetts State legislature voted to approve a bill that created a state board of education, the first of its kind in the nation. The board was to be headed by a governor and lieutenant-governor. The board would also consist of eight citizens appointed specifically for the task.

The Massachusetts legislature also approved funds that would be used to pay a state secretary of education, whose duties would be to collect information and submit annual reports to the state Legislature on a salary of $1000.

In the early 1780s and 1790s, there had been growing movements for additional and improved free public schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the United States. There existed some clauses or articles that mentioned public funding for education.

These movements emerged in the late 1820s and grew stronger over the next decade. During Horace Mann’s time in the legislature New England communities featured some of the oldest public schools in the United States.

“Common schools” was the name used to refer to schools that educated children from poor families while wealthy parents sent their children to private academies.


In 1835, his colleagues in the state senate elected him as their president. However, despite his successful law practice, Mann was more interested in humanitarian work. He grew increasingly interested in charitable work.

Humanitarian work was an informal ideology that served the basis for many social reform movements of the 19th century. Humanitarianism centered around the belief that all human beings are deserving of respect and dignity.

Humanitarian services played a role in antislavery movements as well as in the campaign for better treatment of people with mental health issues.

During his time, people who suffered from mental diseases like schizophrenia or other disabling conditions were locked up in county jails – an inhuman practise that dated back hundreds of years.

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Addressing Mental Illness

During his time in the state Senate, Horace Mann headed a commission that urged and advocated for the creation of a state psychiatric facility in Massachusetts that would research and treat people with mental and emotional disorders.

Just like many other humanitarians of his time, Horace Mann believed that humane treatment and professional care could help improve the health and outlook of the mentally ill.

His tireless efforts led to the establishment of a State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester.

Financing Public Education

By 1830, the first labour union in the United States had taken up the cause of education reforms in efforts of wanting a better public school system for its children in Boston.

During Horace Mann’s time as a legislature, there was much talk about the need to find a way to finance public education, and the need for new schools as well.

The broken-down buildings of existing schools had to be repaired to ensure safety and comfort of the children. Despite all these reforms, many states and local communities struggled financially as it became difficult to source for funds.

In 1837, Edward Everett took office as the new governor of Massachusetts. The new governor recognized the need to improve the state’s efforts to educate its children, after a previous survey that revealed only a third of all school-aged children in the state actually attended school.

In the same year, Massachusetts received a $2 million payment from the U.S. government. Some of this pay-out was set aside to improve the schools in the state, while the rest was reimbursed for the military duties provided by Massachusetts state militia in the war.

Soon, the Massachusetts house and senate approved a 1837 bill that created the state board of education.

Horace Mann was a shortlisted candidate for the position of the education secretary. Knowing his thirst for education as a child from a poor background, Horace Mann agreed to take up the post, although it meant giving up both his thriving law practise and his career in the state legislature.

Horace Mann - The Founder of the U.S. Public School System
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Working as the Education Secretary

Horace Mann served as Massachusetts’s overseer of public education for the next 12 years. During his tenure, he managed to make vast improvements in the education system.

He compiled annual reports that would be presented before the state Legislature. Each annual report done by him was widely read and debated both in the state and the entire nation.

Horace Mann wrote forcefully and movingly about what public education should be in the United States.

Horace Mann started his job by visiting as many common schools as he could in Massachusetts, he did all this errands along and on horseback, over a period of six years. During his tours, he inspected more than 1000 schools in the state.

Horace Mann went a step further to begin a one-on-one person public relation campaign to change the perception about public education, and also to convince others to see the long term benefits of better local schools.

He would organize annual county informative events where he would speak and introduce teachers and former students to the audience who would give their own testimonials on the subject.

Horace Mann would use his disadvantaged background to influence a child in a conservative puritan-minded community to get educated and build a better life for themselves.

Horace Mann would use a major principle of the Congregationalist belief system that all human were infinitely capable of being perfected. He used this same language to educate his audience on the possibility of being perfected through education.

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Training and Teaching Equipment in Classrooms

Horace Mann worked so hard to establish three separate teachers’ training schools, which were the first of their kinds in the United States. These schools offered a rigorous training course and were the model for dozens of junior college institutes in other states who followed suit.

“Teaching is the most difficult of all arts and the profoundest of all sciences.”
― Horace Mann

In 1838, Horace Mann founded the Common School Journal which he would edit over the next decade. The following year, he had his greatest success when the state legislature passed a law that set the annual school year term at a maximum of six months.

Horace Mann also won approval for funds that would give schools more than $2 million for purchase of new equipment such as desks and chairs to replace the hard uncomfortable wooden benches and tables.

For the first time, classrooms also began to feature blackboards as a teaching aid. Reading materials were standardized and textbooks were introduced in public schools.

Innovative Reforms

Horace Mann studied educational methods, and was convinced that a new strategy for teaching the alphabet should be used, one that would give each letter an association with a picture or image that would be easily recognized by every young child.

Horace Mann saw the need for further schooling beyond middle school years. During his time as education secretary, fifty new high schools were established in Massachusetts. Mann would argue that improved public schools would train future model citizens and workers.

Horace Mann introduced regular attendance and assignments that would teach the younger generation punctuality, good work habits, and respect for the authority.

Mann had a great influence on many great educators, innovators, and activists who made important contribution to both the establishment and regulation of public education in their respective state.

Due to his endless efforts, each of the 31 states in the Union had set up a permanent fund for public education.

Horace Mann Postage Stamp - Issued on 1940
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Illness and Death

Horace Mann was elected president of Antioch College in Ohio. However, the work proved too much considering his poor health right from childhood.

On August 2 1859, Horace Mann succumbed to death.

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

These were his last words, two weeks before his death.

It is no secret that good education has the power to change a life. It provides stability in life and it is the only investment that no one can ever take away from you.

Lesser-Known Facts about Horace Mann

    • He is known as the “the father of American public education”.
    • He attended formal education only six times in a year.
    • He was the father of the teaching profession.
    • He tried to recreate the German schooling system in the U.S.
    • He was an abolitionist who advocated for equal rights among men and women.
Famous Quotes by Horace Mann
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Famous Quotes by Horace Mann

“The most ignorant are the most conceited.”

“It is well to think well. It is divine to act well.”

“Manners easily and rapidly mature into morals.”

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.”

“Genius may conceive but patient labor must consummate.”

“We do ourselves the most good doing something for others.”

“Every addition to true knowledge is an addition to human power.”

“Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge.”

A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.”

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.

“We must purposely be kind and generous, or we miss the best part of existence.

“From the prevalent state of the mind, actions proceed, as water rises from a fountain.”

“If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he will find both.”

“Books are not made for furniture but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.”

“Education alone can conduct us to that enjoyment which is, at once, best in quality and infinite in quantity.”

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.”

“Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up all the vacuities of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge.”

“Teachers teach because they care. Teaching young people is what they do best. It requires long hours, patience, and care.”

“Unfaithfulness in the keeping of an appointment is an act of clear dishonesty. You may as well borrow a person’s money as his time.”

“Scientific truth is marvellous, but moral truth is divine; and whoever breathes its air and walks by its light, has found the lost paradise.”

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, — the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

“A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.”

“Generosity during life is a very different thing from generosity in the hour of death; one proceeds from genuine liberality and benevolence, the other from pride or fear.”

“To know how much there is that we do not know, is one of the most valuable parts of our attainments; for such knowledge becomes both a lesson of humility and a stimulus to exertion.”

“Whether a young man shall reap pleasure or pain from winning the objects of his choice, depends, not only upon his wisdom or folly in selecting those objects, but upon the right or wrong methods by which he pursues them.”



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