William Holmes McGuffey

Historical Marker #178 in Paris honors William Holmes McGuffey, creator of the famous "McGuffey Readers" textbooks.

William H. McGuffey was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1800. He spent his youth in that area, and adjoining Ohio, where he received a classical education common to the time. After early schooling he attended Old Stone Academy. McGuffey graduated with honors in 1826 from Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania).

While attending college in Pennsylvania, McGuffey taught elementary school in Paris, Kentucky, during breaks. In 1823 McGuffey set up a school in the dining room of Reverend John McFarland, a Presbyterian minister, where he taught for three years. In 1827, McGuffey married Harriet Spinning. Shortly after his marriage he was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

Upon graduating from college, McGuffey was appointed as professor of languages at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. However, soon he left to become president of Cincinnati College, where he quickly became a distinguished teacher and lecturer.

McGuffey was fond of teaching children and desired students to have better textbooks than were then available. The reading books that he authored included selections depicting rural life on the frontier and contained selections to instill a complete code of ethics and good behavior, attitudes he developed from his early religious training. His books were first published in 1836. Later there were McGuffey primer, spelling, and reading books for several different school grades. McGuffey's books outsold all other textbooks for much of the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century.

McGuffey later became president of Ohio University and then president of Woodward College in Cincinnati. In 1845, McGuffey was selected to be the professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he spent the final years of his life. He died in 1873 and was buried in the university's cemetery.

Images

William Holmes McGuffey

William Holmes McGuffey

This portrait of McGuffey was most likely painted about the time of his marriage, which was soon after his three year stay in Paris, Kentucky. Courtesy of Hopewell Museum. View File Details Page

McGuffey's Reader

McGuffey's Reader

McGuffey's series of textbooks became the most popular for students across America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Courtesy of Hopewell Museum. View File Details Page

McGuffey's Reader

McGuffey's Reader

Since a majority of the children and students in McGuffey's time came from rural environments his textbook examples drew on things that would have been familiar to them. Learning to read about things one already knows is usually easier than examining unfamiliar entities. Courtesy of Hopewell Museum. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Hopewell Museum, “William Holmes McGuffey,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 24, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/448.

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