Photo: Horace Mann statue
Courtesy of WGBH Gavel-to-Gavel

Sculptor: Emma Stebbins

Installed: 1865

Horace Mann was a reformer. He did more than perhaps any person to advance the cause of improving public education. Yet he came to the cause not as an educational expert, but as a political leader who believed in the perfectibility of humanity through naturally revealed moral laws.

Born in 1796 in Franklin, Massachusetts, Mann was raised in poverty. As a youth he farmed with his family and attended school during the three months each year it was available. He read voraciously at the town library, and received tutoring before gaining admission to Brown University, where he graduated as valedictorian.

Though he briefly practiced law, Mann committed his life to social reform. He was a leader of the temperance movement, and served as a state representative. He was an early advocate for the construction of hospitals for the mentally ill.

Mann enjoyed a brilliant political career, and was recognized as a powerful orator and tireless worker. He was elected to the Senate, and became Senate President. Yet in 1837, he left political life and devoted himself to advancing education as the first Secretary of the Massachusetts Commission to Improve Education (later the State Board of Education).

The position carried little intrinsic authority or budget, but Mann used his visible post and oratorical skill to unify disparate school districts. Mann argued the schools were the logical place to inculcate democratic idealism, and gained the support of business to fund education. State aid to education and teacher salaries doubled during his tenure, as did the school year in many towns. He established training programs for teachers, district libraries and enacted the first compulsory school attendance laws in America.

Mann wrote twelve annual reports which became blueprints for the organization of education around the country. In 1848 he resigned to take the seat of John Quincy Adams in the US House, where he was a fierce opponent of slavery. In 1851, he became the first President of Antioch College, a co-educational nonsectarian college in Ohio.