Henry Barnard

American educator Henry Barnard (1811-1900) was influential in improving public schools and in promoting an educational literature in the United States.

Henry Barnard was born in Hartford, Conn., on Jan. 24, 1811. He graduated from Yale in 1830, taught briefly in Pennsylvania, and returned to Yale to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1833-1834. Barnard's tours of the South and West and, in 1835, of Europe nourished growing interests in education and in politics that were finally combined when he was elected to the Connecticut Legislature in 1837. He secured passage of a bill creating a board of commissioners to supervise the state's faltering common schools, was appointed to the board, and in 1838 became its executive secretary.

Barnard, who found the schools poorly maintained and attended, wanted public education "good enough for the best and cheap enough for the poorest." He believed that thorough moral training in the common schools was the surest safeguard of the community's happiness. An intensive campaign featuring public meetings and teachers' institutes, the creation of the Connecticut Common School Journal, which he edited, and a series of annual reports describing school conditions and suggesting remedies yielded legislation reorganizing the schools. But in 1842 a hostile assembly disbanded the board as "a useless expense."

Barnard accepted a similar position in Rhode Island, where, employing techniques developed in Connecticut, he energetically canvassed the state to express his belief that social unity and stability could be achieved through education. The result, in 1845, was an act creating the state's first school system.

In poor health, Barnard resigned in 1849 to return to Connecticut as head of the state normal school, a post which also included superintendency of the state's common schools. He tirelessly sought to keep educational issues before the people. His annual reports covered a vast array of educational topics and exerted a wide influence. Barnard's report for 1853 was later published as a history of Connecticut education; in 1854 he wrote an authoritative book on school architecture. Trips to Europe in 1852 and 1854 disclosed that his fame had become international. But, again in uncertain health, he resigned in 1855 to develop a new project, the American Journal of Education.

For 25 years the Journal provided a unique professional literature, disseminating all types of educational information at precisely the time that the nation was striving to establish public schooling on a secure footing. Carefully edited and frequently published by Barnard at his own expense, the Journal came to overshadow his other achievements. From 1858 to 1860 he served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and in 1866-1867 as president of St. John's College in Maryland. As the nation's outstanding educator, he was appointed the first U.S. commissioner of education in 1867, resigning three years later. He continued to edit the Journal, eventually producing thirty-two 800-page volumes, until his retirement in 1880. He died in Hartford on July 5, 1900.


Further Reading on Henry Barnard

John S. Brubacher, ed., Henry Barnard on Education (1931), contains selections from Barnard's Journal. Bernard C. Steiner, Life of Henry Barnard (1919), although old, is complete and thoroughly documented. Richard Emmons Thursfield, Henry Barnard's American Journal of Education (1945), analyzes the content and impact of the Journal.

Additional Biography Sources

Downs, Robert Bingham, Henry Barnard, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.

MacMullen, Edith Nye, In the cause of true education: Henry Barnard & nineteenth-century school reform, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.