On East Central Street along Massachusetts Route 140 in Franklin, there is a historical marker that is easy to miss. Nestled among several small bushes and under a tree, lies a stone marker dedicated to the “Father of American Education,” Horace Mann.
Mann was born on May 4, 1796, in Franklin, Massachusetts, to a relatively poor farming family. As a teenager, he usually received no more than six weeks of schooling per year. However, he made extensive use of the Franklin Public Library, the oldest in the nation, and enrolled in Brown University graduating in three years in 1819 as a valedictorian. He practiced and studied law in the area and was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1827. He was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1835 and spent considerable effort focusing on infrastructure and the construction of railroads and canals.
He was appointed to be secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 and quickly began work to become one of America’s most influential educational reformers. He withdrew from all other engagements and commitments to focus on his school work and gave speeches, lectures, and visited every school in Massachusetts to inspect its conditions.
He founded and wrote for The Common School Journal in which he outlined his six main principles: 1. The public should no longer remain ignorant; 2. Education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; 3. Education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; 4. Education must be non-sectarian; 5. Education must be taught using the tenets of a free society; and 6. Education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.
As the years went, by numerous states began to adopt Mann’s style of education and he spent his later years in Congress promoting abolitionism and later became president of Antioch College in Ohio. His commencement message to the graduating class of 1859 was “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” He collapsed shortly after the commencement and died that summer of typhoid fever.
The marker indicating that this site is the birthplace of Horace Mann may be small and modest, but his legacy is still felt today by tens of millions of schoolchildren and students across the country. Over 50 public schools are named after him and his goal of providing quality education to children of all backgrounds continues with educators aiming to strengthen, enhance, and expand his principles every day.
Know Before You Go
It is located very close to a liquor store and there is a large shopping plaza right behind the marker with plenty of space and parking.