IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



Iowa Historical Record Quarterly

Published Quarterly by the State Historical Society, Iowa City, Iowa


VOL. V. APRIL, 1889. No. 2.


     "I will find where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed within the center.—Shakespeare.
     "Truth crushed to earth shall rise again."—

     In a previous paper we both asked and answered "Who taught the First School in Iowa?" Berryman Jennings, October to December, 1830, at Nashville, Lee County.

     We shall in this article discuss the query, "Who is the Founder of the Iowa School System?" or, as another writer puts it, "Who is the Father of Free Schools in Iowa?" Rather we shall not essay to answer who, but prove that the Hon. Horace Mann, whom both writers claim is, is not. In that paper we transcribed one of the articles which has run the gauntlet of all our leading papers of the state, for the purpose of putting in a denial of all the essential points stated, as we wished to reach the public ear at an early date. Now we will present our proof.

     The IOWA HISTORICAL RECORD is the official organ of the Iowa Historical Society, and therefore the proper place for both the history in whole or part of Iowa when written, and also the preservation of proper data of that history, to be written some future time. The points presented by his injudicious admirers,—we say "injudicious" because we are a sincere and honest admirer of the man and work, are:
     1. That Horace Mann "was selected by a committee of the legislature,"
     2. "To prepare a law embodying
his ideas of a public school system; which he did,"
     3. "Providing for the township as a unit in school administration;"
     4. For "Teachers Institutes;" and
     5. "Normal Schools for Teachers;" and
"County Superintendents;"
     7. And that he "was the founder of the Iowa public school system."

     (1). At the special session of the General Assembly held at Iowa City, July 3d, 1856, Gov. Grimes in his message "recommended that three competent persons be selected to REVISE all the laws on the subject of "Schools and School Lands." Thus the General Assembly approved but did not originate the idea. It passed a law July 14th providing that "there shall be three commissioners appointed by the Governor, whose duty it shall be to revise and improve the school laws of Iowa;" not as asserted to ignore existing laws, and present a new law "embodying the views" of any one man, nor yet of three men.

     In his succeeding, and last, message, Gov. Grimes reports December 3d, 1856, that he "had in compliance with law, appointed Hon. Horace Mann, of Ohio; Mr. Amos Dean, of New York, president (chancellor) of the State University, and F. S. Bissell, Esq., of Dubuque, commissioners to revise the school laws of Iowa. Here the first statement is proved wholly incorrect and unfounded, and here we might rest upon the law maxim—Falsum in uno, falsum in omni. But we will proceed with number

     (2). The commissioners were; 1—under the governor's recommendations; 2—under the law providing for their appointment; 3—under the governor's commission, only to "revise and improve" the existing school laws of Iowa, and not prepare a new law,—new system, "embodying the ideas" of Mr. Mann, one of the commissioners, nor based upon the ideas of all the three. 1—The governor in his message July 3d, says to "revise all the laws on the subject of schools." 2—The law reads: "It shall be the duty of the commissioners to revise and improve the school laws,"—of what? not Mr. Mann's ideas, but "of Iowa." 3—The governor reported that "commissioners had been appointed," how and for what ? "under the law, to revise the school laws, etc." Nay more. The commissioners in their report, December, 1856, say in the first sentence: 4—"The undersigned,"—two of the commissioners, Mr. Mann and Amos Dean— "appointed to revise the school laws of Iowa." Again they say: "They found the previous legislation of this state, upon this great subject, in the main, judicious in its provisions, etc."

     Clearly then Iowa had already a school system, and some man or set of men must have been its "founder" unless like Topsy, it had no maker. Neither Mr. Mann nor Mr. Dean ever claimed to have created a new system but only to "revise" the old. The revised law, not new one, presented by the two commissioners it is claimed contained Hon. Horace Mann's "ideas of a public school system" in that the two, not one, commissioners embodied in that law—

     (3). "The township system as a unit of school administration.      4.—Teachers Institutes. 5.— Normal Schools for Teachers.
     Each and all of these three had been recommended and two of them practiced in the Iowa School System for years. Gov. Lucas, Iowa's first executive, in his first (and indeed subsequent) message recommended this wise provision and in language quite as plain and unmistakable as that used by the two commissioners. Hear ye him. Message, November 12, 1838, the Governor says, and it was the first "subject" he treated upon, "The subject of providing by law for the organization of townships * * * I consider to be of the first importance. Without proper township regulations it will be extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to establish a regular school system." Again further on he "emphatically calls the attention of the legislature at the commencement of our political existence to a well digested system of common schools, and as a preparatory step toward effecting this important object. * * * I urge," he repeats, "upon your considerations the necessity of providing by law for the organization of townships." Bear in mind that he, Lucas not Mann, did this in November, 1838, and not December, 1856, or almost two decades later. Horace Mann and Amos Dean recommended and so did Lucas, and so did several governors and superintendents of public instruction, between the years 1838 and 1856, recommend "the township system as the unit of school administration." All they did, all they could do, was to recommend, for both in 1838 and 1856 the legislature neglected, to use a mild term, to enact into an act their wise, wholesome and important suggestions, upon this and other topics also. It would take too much space to follow up this, the first, with other later recommendations of the successors of Gov. Lucas and the several superintendents upon this vital —as we regard it—point. It has not even yet been made universally the unit of administration, because the old and imperfect district system still prevails and obtains among us. Moreover, "Teachers Institutes" had been held, both county and state, since 1849, April, and June, 1856. So the law was the outgrowth of, and engrafted upon the system in use and not the reverse—better keep the horse before the cart. They had been held every where, and became bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of our system; only the state from the beginning had not provided the means to defray the expenses of holding the same till after Superintendent Benton had recommended and urged the measure.

     Again "Normal Schools for Teachers," no more than Teachers Institutes, originated with Mr. Mann or Mr. Dean, for the State of Iowa had by law provided, in 1849, for the establishment, and did establish "Normal Schools for Teachers" at Andrew and other places. And again in 1855, the state opened a distinct "Normal Department for Teachers" in connection with the State University; which was free to all, largely attended, and made most efficacious in the work of education in the state. These two measures—"Teachers Institutes" and "Normal Schools" were seven years older than Mr. Mann's appointment, recommendation or bill, and had already become one, and inseparable from the Iowa school system.

     (6). Here is a new, and the only new feature, as claimed by these false claimants in the bill reported by Messrs. Mann and Dean—County Superintendents. And we italicized it in our enumeration of the several points because it was theirs not "his," nor indeed ours before. It was and is a most "important addition" to the school system of Iowa; and most gladly do we acknowledge its merits and give to them, not him, all credit for its recommendation and incorporation into our system.

     (7). A few words as to whether Mr. Mann alone or Messrs. Mann and Dean are the founders of the "Iowa Public School System." It was a joint commission; the two labored together; the two submitted their report; the General Assembly praises them alike for their service. Is there a man in his senses who would assert that Amos Dean, chancellor of the State University of Iowa, would share with Horace Mann equally in the compensation if he had not equally shared in the labor? Thus why and wherefore ignore Dean and give all the credit to Mann for their joint labors. Yet more, Hon. J. B. Grinnell, who was the chairman of the committee in the Senate—a warm personal and political friend of Hon. Horace Mann; selected for that work by Gov. Grimes, himself to have in special charge the bill of the commissioners, says distinctly personally to the writer at the recent State Teachers' Association in December, 1888, and by letter dated January, 1889, that the Hon. Amos Dean was entitled to share (half and half indeed) the honors of that report, and the authorship of the bill reported. Moreover, he writes that in later years when in Congress, Mr. Mann was his colleague, and in a conversation had at Washington with him upon this subject he (Mann) generously gave to Mr. Dean full credit for his share of the work. Why then, in view of these facts, omit the name of Mr. Dean in all reference to that "Revision?"

     Iowa became a state in December, 1846. The constitution provided for the office of superintendent of public instruction. Hon. Thomas H. Benton, Jr., a classical teacher of experience, was elected and served in that capacity six full years before the revision of the school laws by Messrs. Mann and Dean. Is it presumable, on the contrary is it not the absurdity of folly, to suppose for a moment that the great and growing state of Iowa, full of people and legislators born, raised and educated in the older and earlier states with school systems of long date, and with such an educator as Benton could and would remain all the ten years without a school system? That it would "watch and wait" 'till Mr. Mann should come along and give our people the bread of life—an educational system, without which no state can grow into greatness or even exist as a government? It is time, high time, that these libelers of men, and of truth, be silenced and made to hide their brazen faces in shame.

     The Iowa school system has no one or even two men for its "founders." It was not created at one time, nor did it have an author at one period. It is a growth; a development from the beginning in 1838 and through all the years 'til 1858; a period of a full score of years. It has grown much since, and will continue to grow, improve and develop with the years, and the wants and the demands of the people and the age.

     To Messrs. Mann and Dean great credit and honor is due, and we who knew them and were in office in the state at the time of their appointment and labors, most gladly give to them the credit their due of a most thorough "revision" and improvement of the previous school legislation of our state. But to others, especially to Hon. Thomas H. Benton, Jr., is due in a larger measure and a greater degree, the honor of having left the impress of his educated mind and experience and character upon the school system of Iowa.

     Neither Hon. Horace Mann, nor Amos Dean, nor the two jointly "were the founder of the Iowa public school system," nor are they or he (Mann) "the father of free schools in Iowa." "The truth makes us free" and there is no truth in the claim so absurdly and falsely set forth by these writers that to Horace Mann belongs this honor.

     In conclusion we will quote from an address delivered by Hon. Geo. G. Wright, ex-chief justice and ex-U. S. Senator, October 13th, 1886, before the Tri-State Old Settlers' Association, at Keokuk, who knew whereof he affirmed, being an old settler himself: "The pioneer lawyers, farmers, merchants, ministers, men of business from all the eastern states, and from the lakes to the gulf, made our laws, framed our constitutions, * * * organized our school system, * * * and what we are to-day is largely due to them. We owe them a debt of gratitude, which grows with the years and without the possibility of liquidation."


back to History Index