An early Yankee Educator

... an impossible dream became a reality

George Nelson Torrey

Photo from Hall's Lectures on School-Keeping, Published 10/1/1929

Concord Corner, Vermont

In this quiet Vermont town stands a tiny monument to one of the great, but forgotten, men of American education, the Reverend Samuel Read Hall. A Yankee visionary with roots in the granite earth, but with eyes always toward the sky, this pious, but determined man saw that what this country was to become depended upon the quality of the education that it could provide to its young. And so, Reverend Hall, himself largely self-educated, set out to train teachers for the American public schools.

On March 11, 1823, Samuel Read Hall opened the Columbian School at Concord, Vermont. Although unconnected with any college or university, the purpose of the school was, from its inception, designed to provide teachers with a professional education. The curriculum included most of the common school subjects, and such professional offerings as "Moral Philosophy," "Mental Philosophy," and "General Criticism." Attached to the institution was a preparatory class which served as a Model School. This Teachers' Seminary preceeded the Massachusetts State Normal School at Lexington by nearly sixteen years (1839). Not only was Hall the founder of the first American Normal School, but he was also responsible for the first Teacher Preparatory Schools in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

From 1830-1837, Hall was principal of a Teachers' Seminary at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. This was the first institution of its kind directed at the exclusive preparation of male teachers. It was at this school that Hall established the first professional placement service as part of a teachers' seminary. In 1838, Hall's school at Plymouth, New Hampshire, became the first to offer special instruction in the primary grades as part of the curriculum of the Female Department.

Hall was a prolific writer of educational texts, and in 1829, he published LECTURES ON SCHOOL-KEEPING, the first book of its kind published in English in the United States or Great Britian. While it is impossible to estimate fully the influence of this book, it was one of the two principal texts in pedagogy used in normal schools throughout most of the nineteenth century. In a similar manner, Hall's LECTURES TO FEMALE TEACHERS, published in 1832, was an important text in the education of primary teachers.

Hall joined in the agitation for the educational reform through his writings and his involvement with the School Agents Society and American Institute of Instructions. The first organization sent agents throughout New England, New York, and as far as the Mississippi Valley to promote the cause of public education. The purpose of the American Institute of Instruction was to secure a Massachusetts Superintendent of Common Schools. As a result of the work of Hall, George B. Emerson and E. A. Andrews, legislation was passed leading to both the appointment of Horace Mann as Secretary of the State Board of Eduction, and the Acts of 1837, providing for a Superintendent of Public Education.

When Horace Mann was involved in furthering the normal schools in Massachusetts, he visited Hall's Andover Seminary and studied the work being done there. The requirements for admission to the teachers' department and the three years division of classes were eventually followed by most normal schools, including that at Lexington, Massachusetts. These included standards governed age, health, morality, and academic attainments, organized into junior, middle, and senior classes. In 1832, the AMERICAN ANNALS OF EDUCATION published an article on a visit to Andover seminary, thereby disseminating information on Hall's work throughout the country.

Other ways in which Hall influenced teacher training were through his pioneering of such instructional technology as the blackboard; by providing a variety of textbooks on such innovations as geography, prose writing, geology, and history; and devoting a career of nearly four decades to the education and improvement of common school teachers.

The pioneering work of Samuel Read Hall was not forgotten even after he had left the state to continue his efforts on behalf of children elsewhere. Following the founding of the first state supported Normal School in Lexington, Massachusetts on July 3, 1839, others were quick to appear for a total of eight more.

First of these was in Barre in 1839 -- later moving to Westfield. 1840 saw the inauguration of the Bridgewater Normal School. As the need for professionally trained teachers grew, schools were established in Salem in 1854; Worcester, 1874; Hyannis, 1894; Fitchburg, 1895; North Adams, 1896; and Lowell in 1897. Eventually the Lexington Normal School found a new and valued home in Framingham.

The Normal School movement would not be denied, spreading across the nation as far as California. The "impossible dream" of Reverend Samuel Read Hall was finally a reality.

April 1, 2005

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