Antebellum Education Reforms

Context: In America, there was a need for order and control in order to fulfill Romantic Ideals. Many believed that wide-spread opportunity for free education would allow more people to become contributing citizens of the American democracy. Some also thought that equal educational opportunity would also lead to less distinctive separations between different social classes.

Problems: Education was inconsistent among American citizens. Children were often schooled at home by parents with varying intellectual backgrounds. Only the most privileged white upper-class Northerners had access to private academies with skilled tutors. Many schools were funded by Church programs or run as charities. In 1860, only 1/3 of white children were enrolled in school. Many students attended class for less than three months out of the year because the other parts of the year were in conflict with farming patterns.

Goals: Education reformers wanted there to be regulated and mandatory schooling for common people. They also hoped to provide more education opportunity for women and African Americans. It was even envisioned that education would cut down crime rate and poverty in America because moral standards would be raised. Having a uniform system in the United States' new democracy would also ensure that voters and the future of the democracy would be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

Tactics: Horace Mann traveled across the world to observe different schooling systems. He came to realize that for a school to be successful, teachers must be qualified and educated in multiple fields. Teachers must also represent high moral standards so that they can positively influence their students. The invention of the Common School brought about the idea of a focussed and regulated curriculum. Mann tactfully used his Annual Reports on education in Massachusetts to convince resistant groups why schooling would be beneficial to their children.

Leaders & Followers: Horace Mann lead the movement when he became the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, the first of its kind. Henry Barnard and Governor William Seward also had a great impact on the movement. Congress quickly followed the popular view of society and supported the reforms.

Quotes: "Individuals who, without the aid of knowledge, would have been condemned to perpetual inferiority of condition and subjected to all the evils of want and poverty, rise to competence and independence by the uplifting power of education." Mann

"He who is apt to teach is acquainted, not only with common methods for common minds but with peculiar methods for pupils of peculiar dispositions and temperaments; and he is acquainted with the principles of all methods whereby he can vary his plan according to any difference of circumstances." Mann

Outcomes: By the the beginning of the Civil War 94% of the population in the North was literate and 83% of the population in the South was literate. Mann was able to expand schooling in Massachusetts and it soon caught on in all other states in America. The school year was changed to a mandatory six month period. Education was no longer limited to only white and upper-class citizens.

This was a relatively radical reform movement. It was widespread and it affected a large number of Americans.

This is the cover of the Seventh Annual Report Mann gave as the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education.



Winslow, Barbara. “Education Reform in Antebellum America”. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Picture of insignia.

Picture of children comic.

Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey (13th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.


Mann, Horace. “The Pecuniary Value of Education.” Annals of American History.

Mann, Horace. “On the Art of Teaching.” Annals of American History.

Mann, Horace. “Twelfth Annual Report.” Annals of American History.

“Education.” Britannica School High.

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