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William Holmes McGuffey

His Moralistic Schoolbooks
Profoundly Affected Youth of the 19th Century

William Holmes McGuffey is best known for the reader textbooks he wrote. They became the virtual universal readers in the expanding public school system of 19th century America. More than 122 million copies were sold in many editions. ■ The McGuffey readers had a profound impact on the moral teaching of schoolchildren of the time because of their high ethical tone stemming from McGuffey’s strict Calvinistic faith. ■ McGuffey was born Sept. 23, 1800, in western Pennsylvania, a descendant of the Scottish pioneers who flowed into the Quaker state throughout the 18th century. With little formal schooling, he learned rapidly and by age 13 was teaching in a rural Ohio school. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Washington College in 1826. ■ McGuffey went to Miami University, Oxford, Ohio as a professor of foreign languages. During the 11 years he was at Miami, he took a great interest in public education. He assisted local teachers and set up a model elementary school.■ In 1835 he contracted with a Cincinnati publisher to write four school readers published in 1836. A fifth reader was published in 1844. A sixth was added in 1857. His brother Alexander Hamilton McGuffey, added a spelling book to the McGuffey series in 1846. The books were an astonishing success. ■ McGuffey served as president of Cincinnati College during the years 1836-39. He left Cincinnati to become president of Ohio University, staying there until 1843. ■ McGuffey was one of the founders of the common school system of Ohio. In 1845 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, a post he filled with distinction until his death May 4, 1873.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546