Thanks to Randy Schmitt for sharing this information about early textbooks.



William H. Elson- Creator of The Elson Readers and later Fun with Dick and Jane. Elson's work was used in rural Plymouth County Schools in the 1920's and 1930's. The Fun with Dick and Jane series was used extensively in Iowa schools from the 1930's through the 1950's.

"In the early 1930s, William Harris Elson capped off a successful career as an educator and author of textbook readers by creating the “Fun with Dick and Jane” pre-primer readers with co-author William Scott Gray. Dick and Jane, their families, friends, and pets entered the popular culture as symbols of childhood, and the books themselves became synonymous with the first steps in learning to read. In 1909 The Elson Grammar School Reader, the first in a nine-volume series of school readers, appeared to immediate success. The Elson Readers were among Elson’s earliest creations and go well beyond the scope of the “Dick and Jane” books. Following a carefully planned model that stresses both improving comprehension and developing appreciation for literature, Elson organized the books in a way that built on the understanding and skills taught in earlier volumes. Assisting Elson on the series were publishing house writers Lura Runkel and Christine Keck. Runkel helped on the primer and the first and second volume, while Keck worked on the fifth through the eighth volume. Obviously both writers were schooled well in Elson’s methodology, as the series displays remarkable consistency and accuracy throughout the entire set of books. Through the eighth grade, or ages 13 to 14, each succeeding book in the Elson Readers series introduces students to increasingly complex genres and better writers. The result of using the series as intended is better reading skills and comprehension as well as a growing appreciation for good writing. But the books are so thorough that they may be used individually and still advance a student’s understanding and appreciation for the types of writing in a particular volume. Born on November 22, 1854 in Carroll County, Ohio, Elson lived through a tumultuous period, becoming an educator who helped usher in numerous innovations. Although he did not receive his A.B. degree from Indiana University until 1895, he was active as a schoolteacher and as a school administrator for many years before, beginning with his first teaching assignment in 1881. By 1907 he had established the first technical high school in the nation in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as school superintendent from 1906-12. Elson’s contributions to teaching children to read and appreciate literature included not only the Elson Readers but many other series for which he served as primary author or editor, including Good English (3 vols., 1916); Child-Library Readers (9 vols., 1923-34); and Elson Junior Literature (2 vols., 1932). By the time of his death on February 2, 1935, his books had sold over fifty million copies and were in use in 34 countries on every continent. Besides helping to create the engaging “Fun with Dick and Jane” books, William Harris Elson implemented a developmental approach to learning reading skills that still works extremely well."
~David E. Vancil, Ph.D. Indiana State University

Biographical Dictionary of American Educators. 3 Vols. Edited by John F. Ohles. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978. Alphabetical entry. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Volume 26. New York: James T. White & Co., 1937. Pp. 367-68.

Below see a sample of The Elson Reader, 1920s.