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William Holmes McGuffey

Marker #178, “William Holmes McGuffey, “High Street, on the Courthouse Square, Paris in Bourbon County.

Historical Marker #178, honors William Holmes McGuffey who was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1800. He spent his youth in that area and adjoining Ohio where he received a classic education for the time. After early schooling he attended Old Stone Academy and graduated with honors in 1826 from Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College). While attending college in Pennsylvania, McGuffey taught elementary school in Paris during breaks. In 1823 he 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 his graduation from college he was appointed to a position as professor of Languages at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, but left there to become president of Cincinnati College where he quickly became a distinguished teacher and lecturer. After serving in these positions he became president of Ohio University and then President of Woodward College in Cincinnati. In 1845, McGuffey was chosen as the professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where he spent his final years. He was buried in the university’s burial ground.

McGuffey was athletic, loved children, had a very good sense of humor and enjoyed a good joke. He was a philanthropist who was very generous with the poor. He was fond of teaching children and wanted more interesting text books for them. The readers 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. He began to create these texts in 1833. There were McGuffey Readers for grades one through six as well as a primer and speller. The series was completed by 1857.

Source:

William Holmes McGuffey’s biography is widely available, but his time in Paris with the Rev. John McFarland is chronicled in Robert S. Sanders, Presbyterianism in Paris and Bourbon County, 1786-1961, (Louisville: 1961), p. 47-48.

William McGuffey
William Holmes McGuffey; his portrait most likely painted about the time of his marriage, which was soon after his work experience in Paris, KY.

McGuffey Reader Exterior

A cover of one of the McGuffey readers. These have been widely reproduced and are available to buy, although they are not used as text books anymore.

McGuffey Reader Cover
An inside page from a McGuffey reader. Almost all children of his time lived on farms, so the text would have been familiar to them. It was a good reading-teaching technique. Reading about what you know is much easier than unfamiliar themes.