Log In

Horace Mann Edit Profile

congressman , politician , reformer

Horace Mann was an American educational reformer, politician, and congressman, who was enormously influential in promoting and refining public education in Massachusetts and throughout the nation in the 19th century.


Mann was born on May 4, 1796 in Franklin, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas and Rebecca (Stanley) Mann. He labored on the family farm, and, guided by his parents, developed an appetite for knowledge. Mann's father died in 1809, and in the following year, his older brother drowned while swimming.


Mann learned his letters at home and in the district school, supplemented by long hours in the town library. After briefly attending an academy in Wrentham and intensive tutoring by an itinerant schoolmaster, Mann entered the sophomore class of Brown University in 1816. He graduated as valedictorian in 1819.

He interrupted his legal education to serve as tutor of Latin and Greek at Brown but returned to legal study in 1821 at the famous school of Tapping Reeve in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was admitted to the bar in 1823.


Mann practiced in Dedham and Boston, acquired an admiration for Whig politics, and was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1827. Essentially an activist, he came to believe that public education, which he called "the great equalizer of the conditions of men," was more likely to yield the general social improvements he desired than piecemeal efforts in behalf of prison reform, humane treatment of the insane, and temperance.

A fellow legislator of Mann had studied educational conditions in Massachusetts and reported that barely a third of the school-age children were attending school; that teachers were ill-prepared, poorly paid, and unable to maintain discipline; and that public schools were avoided by those who could afford private education. As a result, in 1837 the assembly created the Massachusetts State Board of Education. The board was required to collect and disseminate information about public schools and, through its secretary, report annually to the legislature. First Secretary of the State Board Mann abandoned his promising political career to become secretary of the board. For 12 years he campaigned to bring educational issues before the people. He toured the state speaking on the relationship between public education and public morality, developing the theme of education as "the balance wheel of the social machinery."

During Mann's campaign, the school curriculum was broadened and related more closely to the social outcomes he admired; teaching methods, especially the teaching of reading, and the professional status and salary of teachers were improved; facilities and equipment were increased, and more than 50 new high schools were established.

In 1848 Mann resigned his secretaryship to accept election to the U. S. Congress. He now enthusiastically entered the slavery debate, opposing the extension of slavery into the territories. His stand generated such hostility that he declined to run in the 1852 election and, instead, unsuccessfully campaigned for the governorship as a Free Soil candidate.

In 1852 Mann was elected president of Antioch College in Ohio. He discharged his new duties with customary zeal, creating a curriculum, doing much of the teaching, and contending with difficult economic problems. Antioch College was founded by the Christian Connexion which later withdrew its financial support causing the college to struggle for many years with meager financial resources due to sectarian infighting. Mann himself was charged with non-adherence to sectarianism because, previously a Congregationalist by upbringing, he joined the Unitarian Church. He collapsed shortly after the 1859 commencement and died that summer.


  • Mann is credited with creating teachers' institutes to improve teaching methods and arranged public meetings to discuss educational theory. He also established and edited the Common School Journal. In Massachusetts, Mann's leadership produced dramatic change, and his influence became both national and international.


In the spring of 1848 Mann was elected to the United States Congress as a Whig, but in September 1852, he was nominated for governor of Massachusetts by the Free Soil Party.


Mann believed that social and economic distinctions, unless reduced by a common educational experience, would create communities of interest that would eventually harden into warring factions. In publicizing his cause, Mann found arguments attractive to all segments of the community, but he sometimes irritated powerful interests.


In 1830, Mann married Charlotte Messer, who was the daughter of the president of Brown University. She died two years later on August 1, 1832, and he never fully recovered from the intense grief and shock that accompanied her death. In 1843, he married Mary Tyler Peabody. Afterward, the couple accompanied Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe on a dual honeymoon to Europe. Horace and Mary had three sons.

Thomas Mann - American - farmer

Rebecca Stanley Mann - American

Charlotte Messer - American

Mary Tyler Peabody - American

Stephen Mann - American

Louise Mann - American

Horace Mann, Jr. - American

George Combe Mann - American

Benjamin Pickman Mann - American