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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 2000


William Holmes McGuffey

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. In 1829, he was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

McGuffey was born September 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. The Readers took leadership in the midwest and south from their first appearances. They were read in all the states of the Union, widely in thirty-seven states, and almost exclusively in many. 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 three 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. “Among the student body, he was the most discussed teacher; some feared him, many loved him, all respected and revered him. They cherished his proverbial sayings and his perennial enthusiasm.”

He was married to Harriet Spinning of Dayton, Ohio in 1827. Five children were born of this marriage. Harriet died in 1850. In 1851 he married his second wife, Miss Laura Howard, daughter of Dean Howard of the University of Virginia. One child was born of this union. She died when four years of age. His grave and that of his second wife are in the university burying grounds, Charlottesville, Virginia.

McGuffey is a member of the Scottish American Hall of Fame located in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home.

George Grant Elmslie
Someone You Should Know

One of the least celebrated Chicago architects of the twentieth century is George Grant Elmslie. He was a disciple of Louis Sullivan and did more than anyone to promote the Sullivanesque ideal in architecture. Elmslie was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, near the town of Huntly.

His formal education began in the Riggens School in Gartly and continued in the famous and highly disciplined duke of Gordon School in Huntly. In 1884, he and his mother left Scotland to join their father in Chicago who was employed by the Armour Company. After a brief period in a local business school, George Elmslie followed his parents advice and began the study of architecture.

Those of you who live in Chicago will know of the Carson Pirie Scott store on State Street and the beautiful ironwork entrance. That ironwork is the product of Elmslie who also did the interior finish. Among his other work in the Chicago area includes the People’s Gas Light and Coke Company at 4839 Irving Park Road, Healy Chapel in Aurora, and the First Congregational Church in Western Springs. His office was in the People’s Gas Company building on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute.

Perhaps the most Scottish inspired of his buildings is the Maxwelton Braes Resort Hotel in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. He also designed The Airplane House at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The house is now being restored and should be completed by 2004. Pictures of his work are now on the Internet. You can see the Airplane House, the Purcell-Cutts House in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Merchant’s Bank of Winona, Minnesota. Most of the search engines will take you to George Grant Elmslie.

There is no known evidence that Elmslie was a member of our St. Andrew society, but his office was in the same building with John Williamson and other Scots employed by the People’s Gas company. He is shown to be one of the donors to the building of The Scottish Home.

George Elmslie died in 1952 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago along with his mentor, Louis Sullivan.

Plan New Home for Aged Scots

“Plans are now underway to provide a permanent home for the old Scotch people of Illinois. John Williamson, engineer of the People’s Gas Company and President of the St. Andrew’s Society is at the head of the movement, which includes the purchase of a site near Chicago and a home to cost not less than $50,000. The present home with its fourteen inmates is located in a leased building at 43 Bryant Avenue, which is wholly inadequate for the purpose.”

“It is proposed first, to have a series of entertainments, the proceeds from which will make the nucleus of the fund, after which bonds will be issued for the remainder if not secured by contributions. The first of these entertainments will be held at Library Hall, Austin, Tuesday, April 20, and is expected to attract the Scotch people of Oak Park, Austin and the far west side. Chief Bailiff, Thomas M. Hunter of the Municipal Court will act as chairman.”1

McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader

Last July I drove from Bristol, Tennessee to Boone, North Carolina, to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Approaching Boone, I saw a sign which read “Used Books and Cigars”. It was a small store with used books and fresh cigars. Behind a locked cabinet was a McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader.

It had been given to Frances Herndon of Princeton, Kentucky on October 17, 1892. Thanks to the Don Buik book fund, I was able to purchase the edition for our museum. There are two families still living in Princeton, Kentucky, by the name of Herndon, but in a recent telephone conversation, neither family knew of Frances Herndon.

Today, the Supreme Court would declare the reader unconstitutional because of its many references to God and the Bible. There are 117 reading exercises the last one entitled “My Mother’s Bible” by G. P. Morris. One story on Page 156, entitled “the Relief of Lucknow” caught my attention. Every generation that goes to war has their memories of great battles. My generation remembers “The Longest Day” or the battle of Iwo Jima. At the turn of the last century it was the Lucknow. In 1854, Sir Colin Campbell and the 93rd Highlanders had won a great battle at Lucknow which came to be known as the “Stand of the Thin Red Line.”

Lucknow, a city in India, was part of the British Empire. In 1857, the native troops mutinied and Lucknow with a garrison of 1700 men was besieged by 10,000 mutineers. After a siege of twelve weeks, British troops forced an entrance and the town was held until relieved three weeks later by the arrival of the 93rd Highlanders led by Sir Colin Campbell.

McGuffey tells of Jessie Brown, the wife of a corporal, who along with the other women had expected to die. They were all weary from the long siege and Jessie was having periods of delusion. She suddenly began to shout “Dinna ye hear it? Dinna ye hear it? Ay. I’m no dreaming: it’s the slogan o’ the Highlanders!” And, sure enough, in the distance “That shrill, penetrating, ceaseless sound, which rose above all other sounds...the blast of the Scottish bagpipes.” They were playing “the well-known strain that moves every Scot to tears, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot.’” The inhabitants of Lucknow were saved!

Sir Colin Campbell is buried at Westminster Abbey. McGuffey, on page 158, defines Pi’broch as a “wild, irregular species of music belonging to the Highlands of Scotland; it is performed on a bagpipe.”

Poem "The Relif of Lucknow"
More information is available from the Defence Journal

Clippings from the British American


Mr. William F. Dickson appointed John McLachlan, “well-known Pullman Scot” chairman of the 1923 Banquet committee. “This will be the 78th annual feast of the Chicago Society which is the oldest organization of its kind in the state. The Marshals this year will be Gen. James E. Stuart and John J. Badenoch.” Five separate committees were appointed. Samuel Insull  (see July 2000) was to respond to the toast, “The Land We Live in.”


Attendance at the “banquet” was 1,200. The speaker was Gen. Charles H. Mitchell, University of Toronto, Ont., Canada. The toastmaster was Col. George B. Buckingham. Music was provided by the Chicago Highlanders Pipe Band, Ambrose Wyrick, Chicago tenor, and Cameron McLean, baritone, of Detroit, Michigan. It was announced that the endowment fund of the Scottish Old People’s Home had reached $175,000. Among those active on committees were James B. Forgan, Jr., Douglas Stuart, Luke Grant, James R. Glass, William Cameron, James B. Campbell, John McLachlan, Dr. W. F. Dickinson, and James B. McDougal. A picture of the speaker’s table shows Mrs. James B. Mcdougal and Mrs. W. A. Craigie.


The pigboat is a unique type of vessel designed for the Great Lakes. These vessels, no longer in existence, once traveled in the oceans of the world. "The life of Alexander McDougal is one to be upheld in history. He was born in Scotland in 1845 to a very poor family.” He had little education but lots of ambition. His family moved to Canada when he was 13 and at 16 he ran away from home to become a deck hand on the Lakes. His determination made him a Captain while still in his early 20s.

After marriage he settled in Duluth, Minnesota. “All this time, he had dreams of building an iron ship that would be fast, seaworthy, cheap to build and efficient to operate. Wood ships were still the thing.” His dream ship was unorthodox and brought him a great deal of ridicule. “His whaleback design, with its snout bow and cigar-like hull was said to look like a pig.” However, they became very popular because of their speed and ease of loading, and efficient cost to build.

Over a ten year period, Alexander McDougal would build 43 whaleback vessels at his shipyard. His finest ship was the Christopher Columbus, his only passenger vessel, built in 1891. It was 362 feet long, with three decks above the hull, a 3,000 horsepower coal-fired steam engine with a capacity of 7,500 passengers. “Over its lifetime of 46 years, it would carry more passengers than any other ship on the Great Lakes and probably the world. It was scrapped in 1936.”

The last of the whalebacks is the Meteor. It is now a museum on Barkers Island, Superior, Wisconsin. Alexander McDougal was a highly inventive man and held patents on 40 inventions for ship construction and items connected to the shipping trade. “But for all his ventures and inventions, he will always be most known for his whaleback and they were all built in a ten-year period, 1888 to 1898.

Pictured:  The Meteor


1.    This newspaper article was sent by Dorothy B. Stewart of Chicago. It was found in her mother’s Bible.

2.    Information taken from “The Superior Signal”, a quarterly newsletter of the Keweenow County Historical Society of Eagle Harbor, Michigan. My thanks to Mrs. Hy Fish of Chicago who sent this article

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