Education Congressman, Education President (Part II)

Congressman Garfield’s interest in education was not confined to the common schools.  In 1868 he drafted a bill supporting military instruction in colleges, similar to today’s ROTC. It did not pass.  But two years earlier Garfield had added a provision for schools on military posts to the annual budget for the army.  That provision remained in the army appropriation each year, without much action until 1878.  Then “measures were taken at nearly all the permanent military posts toward the establishment of schools for promoting the intelligence of soldiers and affording education to their children, as well as to those of officers and civilians at the remote frontier posts.”

Garfield was ambivalent on the idea of land grant colleges. “I do not believe in a college to educate men for the profession of farming.  A liberal education almost always draws men away from farming.  But schools of science in general technology are valuable.”  As a trustee of Hampton Institute, a new school for the education of freedmen in Norfolk, Virginia, Garfield recognized the need for industrial and agricultural training to promote self-sufficiency in a previously dependent population. He hoped, however, that the curriculum at Hampton would quickly evolve past an emphasis on manual labor and subsistence farming, and strongly encouraged the normal school, which trained teachers.   In 1870 he supported an appropriation for the School for the Deaf and Dumb (now Gallaudet College) in the District of Columbia, which, he argued, was essentially a normal school for teachers of the disabled.

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James A. Garfield served as a trustee of the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a school for freedmen in Virginia.  (Image courtesy of the University of North Carolina)

From 1865 to 1873, and again from 1877 to 1880, Garfield served as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, “the most pleasant duty of my official life.”  In Congress he reminded his colleagues that the Smithsonian “is not a mere statistical establishment…supporting a corps of men whose only duty is the exhibition of the articles of a show museum; but a living, active organization that has, by its publications, researches, [and] explorations…vindicated the intelligence and good faith of the government in administrating a fund intended for the good of the whole community of civilized men.”  Two notes from his diary show the ways that the Garfield family enjoyed the museum.  Saturday, November 13, 1875: “…I took Crete, Mother and the children to the Smithsonian to examine the 16 birds I had read about from Audubon…”  Saturday, April 1, 1876: “…At half-past eight Crete and I attended the meeting of the Literary Club at the Smithsonian Institution.  A paper was read on art by Mr. Clarke, followed by a lecture on sound by Prof. Henry.  A large number of interesting people were present.”

Smithsonian

Congressman James A. Garfield spent many years as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, seen here in its early days. Garfield said this one of his most enjoyable public duties. (Smithsonian Institution)

Congressman Garfield was also an enthusiastic supporter of the US Geological Survey and the Naval Observatory.

We don’t know, of course, what kind of education President Garfield might have been, but we do have two hints, the first from his letter of acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination:

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.  Its interests are entrusted to the States, and to the voluntary action of the people.  Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools.”

He was more eloquent and more inspiring in his Inaugural Address.

“It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”

President_James_Garfield_Inauguration

James A. Garfield is inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1881.  He referenced the importance of education in his inaugural address.  (Architect of the Capitol)

These statements, while forceful and inspiring, do not explain why Garfield was so committed to the education of every American.  For that, we need to look back at a speech before the National Education Association in February, 1879. In concluding his remarks to the nation’s school superintendents, Garfield offered a warning.

“…[British historian Thomas B.]  Macaulay said that a government like ours must inevitably lead to anarchy; and I believe there is no answer to his prophecy unless the schoolhouse can give it.  If we can fill the minds of all our children who are to be voters with intelligence which will fit them wisely to vote, and fill them with the spirit of liberty, then we will have averted the fatal prophesy.  But if, on the other hand, we allow our youth to grow up in ignorance, this Republic will end in disastrous failure.  All the encouragement that the National Government can give, everything that States can do, all that good citizens everywhere can do, and most of all what the teacher himself can do, ought to be hailed as the deliverance of our country from the saddest distress.”

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

 

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Education Congressman, Education President (Part I)

In his Inaugural Address James Garfield said, “It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”

James Garfield thought about education all his life—as a student, a teacher, a father, and public official.  He used his positions of public trust to encourage and promote education for as many people, and in as many ways as he was able.

At age twenty-six, Garfield earned his degree from Williams College and returned to Ohio to teach at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where his higher education began. He was soon named Principal.  “Chapel lectures” or morning lectures were a well-established part of the school curriculum, and Garfield presented hundreds of them on a variety of topics, including education and teaching, books, methods of study and reading, physical geography, geology, history, the Bible, morals, current topics and life questions.  In a letter to a friend, Garfield described the ways he reorganized the school, “We have remodeled the government, published rules, published a new catalogue, and have…250 students (no primary), as orderly as clock-work, and all hard at work.”  Garfield was listed in the catalog of Western Reserve Eclectic Institute as “Professor and Principal and Lecturer” from 1856 to 1866.

WREI - Wikipedia Hiram College Archives

An early look at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College).  James Garfield was a student here and later a teacher and the school’s principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

During the years Garfield’s name appeared at the top of the Eclectic’s catalog, he also married Lucretia Rudolph and started a family, served in the Ohio legislature, passed the state bar, and, when the Civil War began in 1861, raised the 42nd Ohio Infantry.  He served in the Union army until late 1863, when he took a seat in the U.S. House, representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District.

Engagement pic cropped

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  Lucretia’s father, Zeb, was one of the founders of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where the couple became close.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Garfield’s goal in leading the Eclectic Institute was to expand its offerings and elevate its standards, laying the foundations for it to become a fully accredited college.  That objective was achieved in 1867, when the school was chartered by the state as Hiram College.  Speaking to the last group of graduates of the Eclectic, Garfield identified five kinds of knowledge that he believed every student needed, and every college should help them master.

In order of importance, he said that first was “that knowledge necessary for the full development of our bodies and the preservation of our health.”  Second was an understanding of the principles of arts and industry (how things work). Third on the list was the knowledge necessary to a full comprehension of one’s rights and duties as a citizen.  Fourth was understanding the intellectual, moral, religious and aesthetic nature of man, and his relations to nature and civilization.  Finally, a complete education should provide the special and thorough knowledge required for a particular chosen profession.  Garfield had obviously thought deeply about what an education ought to be; his list of five kinds of knowledge stands up well to the test of time.  The order of importance he assigns, however, deviates significantly from the goals of modern education.

James Garfield’s papers reveal some of his very specific and firmly held ideas about teaching and learning.  Here are a few.

“I, for one, declare that no child of mine shall ever be compelled to study one hour, or to learn even the English alphabet, before he has deposited under his skin at least seven years of muscle and bone.”

Garfield children Brady portrait

James and Lucretia Garfield’s five surviving children: Mollie; James R.; Harry; Irvin; and Abram.  All four of the boys received fantastic educations at St. Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire and their father’s alma mater, William College, in Massachusetts.  Mollie attending something along the lines of a “finishing school”before marrying Joseph Stanley-Brown when she was 21.  (Library of Congress)

“School committees would summarily dismiss the teacher who should have the good sense and courage to spend three days of each week with her pupils in the fields and woods, teaching them the names, peculiarities, and uses of rocks, trees, plants, and flowers, and the beautiful story of the animals, birds, and insects which fill the world with life and beauty.  They will applaud her for continuing to perpetrate that undefended and indefensible outrage upon the laws of physical and intellectual life which keeps little children sitting in silence, in a vain attempt to hold its [sic]mind to the words of a printed page, for six hours in a day…This practice kills by the savagery of slow torture.”

“I am well aware of the current notion that…a finished education is supposed to consist mainly of literary culture…This generation is beginning to understand that education should not be forever divorced from industry,–that the highest results can be reached only when science guides the hand of labor…Machinery is the chief implement with which civilization does its work; but the science of mechanics is impossible without mathematics.”

“I insist that it should be made an indispensable condition of graduation in every American college, that the student must understand the history of this continent since its discovery by Europeans; the origin and history of the United States, its constitution of government, the struggles through which it has passed, and the rights and duties of citizens who are to determine its destiny and share its glory.”

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The modern U.S. Department of Education owes much to James A. Garfield, who introduced an April 1866 bill in the House of Representatives to created a Federal Bureau of Education.  (U.S. Department of Education)

As a member of Congress, Garfield’s most significant achievement was passing a bill that created the first Federal Bureau of Education, a piece of legislation he introduced in April, 1866.  It provided for a Commissioner of Education who would be charged with collecting and disseminating information about education in the United States.  In arguing for this Bureau Garfield said, “In 1860 there were in the United States 115,224 common schools, 500,000 school officers, 150,241 teachers and 5,477,037 scholars; thus showing that more than six million people of the United States are directly engaged in the work of education.  Not only has this large proportion of our population been thus engaged, but the Congress of the United States has given fifty-three million acres of public lands to fourteen States and Territories of the Union for the support of schools.”  He made it clear that the purpose of the bureau was to gather information and statistics about schools across the nation, and share it with local and state educators.  It should discover the quality and effectiveness of schools for blacks and immigrants as compared to those for native-born whites. The Bureau was not involved in curriculum development or school management.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

Harry Garfield and the Spirit of Cooperation

In reading and learning about James Garfield, I have wondered what his attitude toward the concerns of laborers would have been as clashes between labor and capital increased in the late nineteenth century. Looking through his published diaries, one can only speculate about how his views about the relationship between labor and capital might have evolved. This article will attempt to look broadly at the interplay of business, labor, and social order, and how James Garfield and his son Harry responded to those concerns.

Certainly, James Garfield was aware of “labor” as a political cause. In 1873, he noted having “made a call on [former North Carolina Republican] Senator [John] Pool, who is organizing a national workingmen’s association…I think it means a new party, based on the labor question.”  With the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery there was talk in some quarters of the Republican Party that its purpose had come to an end. Garfield believed that economic issues were coming to the fore, and his comment above affirms that understanding.

James A. Garfield became very interested in economic issues during this many years in the House of Representatives.  He recognized that economic and labor issues were growing in importanct to the public and the Republican Party.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield became very interested in economic issues during his many years in the House of Representatives. He recognized that economic and labor issues were growing in importance to the public and the Republican Party. (Library of Congress)

When the Railroad Strike of July 1877 erupted into violence in the cities of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and elsewhere in the country, James Garfield saw the two sides of the labor-capital divide: “I have no doubt the RR men have been unjust and oppressive to their employees; but the form in which the contest presents itself leaves us no choice between suppressing the rioters, and the rule of the mob.” Like many of his contemporaries, who had already experienced the disruptions of the Civil War, Garfield saw social upheaval as something to be averted. Social disturbances were associated with the less educated, immigrants, and communist influence. It was a commonly held belief that capitalists had the right to control their businesses without interference from their workers.

In one more observation that may have echoes in today’s political debates, Garfield wrote, “Isn’t the strike the legitimate offspring of the paternal theory of government? If we raise up a generation of men to believe that the object of protection [a high tariff to protect American industries and jobs] is to give laborers better wages, don’t they feel when times are hard that they have a right to take good wages by force? Studentum est. [It must be studied.]”

The destruction of the Union Depot in Pittsburgh, Penn., July 21-22, 1877.  This event took place during the Railroad Stike of 1877, which began in Martinsburg, West Virginia and soon spread to other industrial cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and more.  (Harper's Weekly)

The destruction of the Union Depot in Pittsburgh, Penn., July 21-22, 1877. This event took place during the Railroad Stike of 1877, which began in Martinsburg, West Virginia and soon spread to other industrial cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and more. (Harper’s Weekly)

In the later 1880s and 1890s, would James Garfield have supported rights of capital and the use of military force against striking workers, or would he have favored the laboring masses, among whom he found himself in earlier chapters of his life? Would he have remained steadfast to an unregulated form of laissez faire capitalism, or would he have agreed to regulation of the market? Or was there some other model for solving the capital-labor issues of his day?

President Garfield did not live to witness the increasing economic tensions of the last quarter of the nineteenth century – but his sons did. Might there be any clues about how he saw the economics of the new industrial age in the careers of his sons? Such an approach is tenuous, certainly, but it might shed some “reflected” light.

Unlike his father, Harry Garfield was not a diligent student in his younger years. However, in time, he did improve, and like his father and brothers, he attended Williams College, in Massachusetts (in time becoming its president). He was involved in student government, football, and baseball. After Williams, he became a successful Cleveland lawyer, practicing jointly with his brother James R. for several years.

In 1903, Princeton president Woodrow Wilson invited Harry Garfield to join the faculty, to teach government and political science. Garfield was completely taken with Wilson’s personality and his plans for Princeton. According to Professor Robert Cuff, Garfield was so impressed with Wilson that he left the Republican Party for the Democrats. When Wilson, as president, took the United States into the Great War, he asked Harry Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration, which was tasked with insuring a steady supply of coal for military and civilian needs, and with conserving the use of oil.

Harry A. Garfield, eldest son of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield, had known President Woodrow Wilson since the latter was President of Princeton University and invited Garfield to teach there.  In the early days of World War I, President Wilson tapped Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration.  (Williams College)

Harry A. Garfield, eldest son of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield, had known Woodrow Wilson since the latter was President of Princeton University and invited Garfield to teach there. In the early days of U.S. involvement in World War I, President Wilson tapped Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration. (Williams College)

According to Cuff, Wilson and Garfield shared a commitment to liberal academic culture and to the belief in an organic, evolutionary process of social change. They both believed that “cultivated” men should promote the cause of civilization. They did not believe that social progress would be achieved by “starting over from scratch.” Harry Garfield’s way was to “remodel, renovate, improve rather than start with a new plan…”

And, like many of his contemporaries, Garfield subscribed to the Progressive idea of “efficiency.” He was greatly influenced by Charles Steinmetz’s “America and the New Epoch,” in which the author argued that solutions to modern problems could be found not in the Federal government, but in the efficiency, competence, and responsibility of corporate administration. Cooperation, not competition, would create a better world. “We… have come to a time when the old individualistic principle of competition must be set aside and we must boldly embark upon the new principle of cooperation and combination.”

When Garfield came to Washington in August 1917, to head the newly formed Fuel Administration, he had to deal with both the owners of coal mines and the United Mine Workers. He meant to deal justly with the owners and the workers. A case in point concerns the price of coal set by the federal government in the wake of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson made Harry A. Garfield head of the Federal Fuel Administration.  Garfield's dedication to Wilson's brand of progressivism led to President Garfield's son leaving the Republican party to become a Wilsonian Democrat.  (Library of Congress)

President Woodrow Wilson made Harry A. Garfield head of the Federal Fuel Administration. Garfield’s dedication to Wilson’s brand of progressivism led to President Garfield’s son leaving the Republican party to become a Wilsonian Democrat. (Library of Congress)

Just prior to the creation of the Fuel Administration, President Wilson imposed a price for coal that was lower than the price offered by the coal industry. This dissatisfied the mine owners, so Garfield adjusted the price of coal more to their liking. At the same time, he negotiated wage agreements with the United Mine Workers that would keep the mine operating. He invited representatives of the owners and of the miners to become part of the Fuel Administration, ushering in what Professor Cuff called “something of a golden age in the [coal] industry’s history.”

There were controversies, to be sure. Railroads used the availability of cars to force bidding wars among rival coal companies for the lowest transportation price. Garfield ordered periodic work stoppages to prevent supply from outstripping demand, and in 1918, he resisted a wage hike for miners. He ordered conservation measures that angered parts of the general public He caught a lot of heat for such measures.

What Garfield was aiming at was cooperative administration between government, industry, and labor that would serve society not only in times of war, but also in times of peace. In this effort, he was praised by the Coal Trade Journal, for a “steadfastness of purpose… that is reminiscent of his father’s resolute spirit.” For Harry Garfield, it was the community interest, not the interest group, whose needs mattered most.

Under Harry Garfield's leadership, the Fuel Administration ensured a steady supply of coal to support military operations as well as to produce energy for the American public.  (Wikepedia)

Under Harry Garfield’s leadership, the Fuel Administration ensured a steady supply of coal to support military operations as well as to produce energy for the American public. (Wikipedia)

Perhaps the old saying, “like father, like son,” applies. In a “time of peace,” James Garfield saw the injustices that the owners of railroad committed, but believed that strikes, and the violence that attended them, were not a solution to the disputes of the day. During the emergency of war in 1917-1918, Harry Garfield attempted to satisfy the concerns of capital, labor, and the general public by encouraging cooperation with the goal of maintaining social order.

The competition of “interests” in James Garfield’s America, and the need to seek justice and maintain order was no less a phenomenon in Harry Garfield’s America forty years later – and nearly a century since Harry Garfield’s work as Fuel Administrator, what has changed?

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“The Rough and Tumble of a Public School”

In March, I noticed two articles about Franklin School in Washington, DC. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, stands vacant at the corner of 13th and K Streets, NW. It is being considered as the site of a new museum in the capital. The news stories caught my eye because Franklin School is just a block from the site of James and Lucretia Garfield’s Washington, DC home at 13th and I Street.

The Garfield home at 13th and I Streets in Washington, D.C. was just around the corner from the Franklin School.  (Bundy)

The Garfield home at 13th and I Streets in Washington, D.C. was just down the street from the Franklin School. (Bundy)

When Franklin School was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996, its significance was explained:

“The Franklin School was the flagship building of a group of seven modern urban public school buildings constructed between 1862-1875 to house, for the first time, a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the capital of the Republic. It was hoped that this new public school system would serve as a model for the nation as the need to provide equal educational opportunities for all Americans was finally recognized as essential to the survival of a democratic society.”

The building was designed by Adolf Cluss, and built in 1869. It had a bust of Benjamin Franklin on the façade, large windows, airy spaces, and an auditorium that seated 1,000. With its location in a prominent neighborhood, and its offices for the Superintendent and the Board of Education, Franklin School was a symbol of the new graded system of classes for boys and girls. Were the Garfield children among its students?

It is clear from Garfield’s diaries that the older boys, Harry and Jim, attended public school in Washington, DC for some time in the 1870s. Confirmation comes from Lucretia Garfield Comer, daughter of Harry and granddaughter of President Garfield. In her biography of her father, Harry Garfield’s First Forty Years: Man of Action in a Troubled World, she writes about Hal’s early schooling:

“In the fall of 1869, Harry was entered in the Primary Department of the Franklin Union School, and there he continued through the spring of his ninth year…The parents tried Jim there too, but scarlet fever intervened; and after the weeks of quarantine were over they put the younger boy in a small private school.”

It seems that Hal attended the Franklin School for the 1869-70 through 1873-74 school years; Jim’s time there is less clear.

The Franklin School is now vacant but is the proposed location for a new Washington, D.C. museum.  (Author photo)

The Franklin School is now vacant but is the proposed location for a new Washington, D.C. museum. (Author photo)

As a father and an educator, Garfield thought seriously about the boys’ school experience. His diary entry for Tuesday, February 13, 1872 indicates concern: “…Am troubled about Harry’s school. Scholars are a rough set. Must try to find a private school though the rough and tumble of a public school is good for a boy.” In November, 1873 he was still worried about “the most difficult question I have ever confronted, namely what shall I do with my children in the matter of education. I believe that the mind naturally hungers and thirsts for knowledge. I cannot doubt that something is wrong with our system of education which has made both my boys hate the sight of a school book.”

The busy congressman had time to be involved with his sons’ school. On May 19, 1873: “…In the evening took Crete and Mother to the Franklin School concert, and staid till half-past nine.” Perhaps in an effort to understand the “system of education,” on May 15 “…In the Evening Miss Perkins and Miss McCall took dinner with us. They are the teachers, respectively of Jimmy and Harry, and I am glad to talk of late methods, and see how the teaching world has been going since I left it…” And on June 4th that year: “…Attended Harry’s examination at the Franklin School Building. Harry did very well; though I think he is like me in this, that he does better under pressure than on ordinary occasions. Some of the nervous boys did not do themselves justice. I am persuaded that our public schools are overworking their scholars. I saw many signs of nervous exhaustion among the little fellows in Miss McMahon’s class…”

James and Lucretia Garfield were very involved in their childrens' educations.  Despite President Garfield's early death, all of the Garfield children went on to academic success.  (Library of Congress)

James and Lucretia Garfield were very involved in their childrens’ educations. Despite President Garfield’s early death, all of the Garfield children went on to academic success. (Library of Congress)

The next school year Hal, Jim and Mollie Garfield attended a local “kindergarten.” In May, 1874, Garfield wrote, “I am troubled to know what to do with the children next in regard to their education. They do not seem to have that hunger and thirst after knowledge that I always felt when I was a child.”

That fall the Garfields ended their experiment with public school. October 26, 1874: “Crete and I started out early to settle Harry and Jimmy in school. We have determined to keep Mollie at home this Winter and teach her a little of housekeeping and something of books. Harry and Jimmy need the hand of a master at school and after much discussion of the subject, we concluded to send them to Mr. Young’s private school on the west side of Franklin Square. Terms, twenty dollars each for ten weeks…” Mr. Young’s school was the Emerson Institute, established in 1853 as “a select, classical, and mathematical school for boys.” The school was on 14th Street, between I and K streets. Harry Garfield was ten years old, and Jimmy was eight when they were enrolled there.

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

James A. Garfield in Muskingum County, Ohio

When I was a kid and we would drive down Back Run Road, just a few miles from our home, someone would always point out that the old shack across the creek was the log cabin where President Garfield had taught school. This announcement was intended to make an impression upon us, and I remember being duly impressed with our neighborhood’s brush with fame.

This fall when back home in Ohio for a visit, I began thinking about the Garfield school house again. Was there any truth to the legend? If so, why was Garfield in Muskingum County? What could I find out about this special moment of history?

As I began digging among the sources, I quickly struck a gold mine of information. James Garfield began writing a diary at the age of 16 and continued it throughout his life. The diary has been published in four volumes.

James A. Garfield kept a regular diary for much of his life.  This page shows his handwritten entry for March 4, 1881-the day he became the 20th President of the United States.  Harry James Brown and Frederick D. Williams edited the Garfield diaries for publication for Michigan State University Press in 1981.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield kept a regular diary for much of his life. This page shows his handwritten entry for March 4, 1881-the day he became the 20th President of the United States. Harry James Brown and Frederick D. Williams edited the Garfield diaries for publication for Michigan State University Press in 1981. (Library of Congress)

Throughout Garfield’s life, from his birth in 1831 until his assassination as President in 1881, his life was grounded in his northeastern Ohio origins. However, he had roots in southeastern Ohio as well, in Muskingum County, both in Zanesville and in the southern part of the county. His parents were married in Zanesville. Both Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou had recently immigrated to Zanesville from the east coast with their families. The two had known each other as children and were reunited in Ohio. They were married February 3, 1820, and headed north to establish their common life in northeastern Ohio.

It was there that their children were born. James was the last child arriving, born on November 19, 1831. His mother had a heavy burden placed upon her when Abram died. James was 18 months old at the time. Even though he was recognized as a precocious learner, James’s early formal education was sporadic. Only after a brief stint towing boats on the Erie Canal was he able to begin a serious pursuit of an education.

Eliza Ballou Garfield raised her youngest son, James, and his older siblings alone after her husband died in 1833.  She was a strong influence on all of her children, and she encouraged the future President of the United States to pursue an education.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Eliza Ballou Garfield raised her youngest son, James, and his older siblings alone after her husband died in 1833. She was a strong influence on all of her children, and she encouraged the future President of the United States to pursue an education. (Western Reserve Historical Society)

In March 1849 James enrolled in Geauga Seminary, a Free Will Baptist school in Chester, Ohio. For the next two years he alternated between attending school and teaching school, presumably to pay for school costs.

At the end of his second teaching stint, we have the first mention of two different locations that become important to him. The February 24, 1851, diary entry includes, “I have given up going to Hiram and am going to Zanesville with Mother.” His mention of Hiram indicates almost certainly that he was considering enrolling in the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, a school in Hiram that later became Hiram College. He delayed beginning his studies at the Institute until August. In the meantime he accompanied his mother to Zanesville.

On February 27 the pair began their journey, traveling first to Cleveland, then taking the train to Columbus, the stage to Zanesville, and finally a skiff down the Muskingum River to Gaysport, arriving March 1.

Their destination was the home of Henry Ballou, brother of Eliza, where they would stay while in Muskingum County. However, there is no indication in the diary as to the location of the house. Garfield simply writes that he and his mother walked to the home from the river. Then he returned to the river with his cousin Orrin to retrieve their trunks.

Because there is no indication of the location of the home, most Garfield biographers have simply referred to Muskingum County as the location of the visit. However, Brown and Williams, the editors of the Garfield diary, in an attempt to be more specific, write in their introduction that it was at “Blue Rock in the Muskingum Valley where he and his mother had gone to visit her brother”. (page XVIII)

However, the evidence is decisively clear that neither Uncle Henry’s house nor the school where Garfield taught was in Blue Rock. The name Blue Rock is derived from the bluish tint of the stone in the area. Blue Rock Township lies east of the Muskingum River. Gaysport, the town where the Garfields disembarked, as well as the town of Blue Rock is in Blue Rock Township. Today, Gaysport is a tiny unincorporated village clustered near the bridge that crosses the river. However, there is one present day reminder of a more illustrious past. The newly built North Star Restaurant stands on the location of the former North Star Hotel, a prominent landmark that operated when the steamer ships hauled passengers and freight up and down the river and when Gaysport really was a port. The biographers apparently located Garfield in Blue Rock because it is the name of the area around Gaysport and Gaysport is the geographical locator in the diary.

However, the local tradition is that the house where the Garfields stayed is a brick house on Virginia Ridge Road which is west of the Muskingum River in Harrison Township. The two-story brick house is a classy home, typical of the kind of houses built by the well-to-do in the 19th century. The present owners, who are well informed about the Garfield saga, say that the house was built in 1849.

A modern view of the home built by Henry Ballou in which James A. Garfield and his mother, Eliza, stayed while James taught at Back Run School.  (Author photo)

A modern view of the home built by Henry Ballou in which James A. Garfield and his mother, Eliza, stayed while James taught at Back Run School. (Author photo)

In order to confirm that the house is “the Garfield house”, I did some research in the Muskingum County Recorder’s Office. I found that on January 22, 1839, Henry Ballou was granted the deed to 160 acres of land at the location where the house is today. With this information I am able to conclude that Henry Ballou did not live in Blue Rock, even though Brown and Williams placed him there. However, I was unable to determine a date for the construction of the house. Garfield’s May 26 diary entry suggests that the house has been built but is not completed. He writes, “Working nights and morning on the house and appurtenances.”

The skiff carrying the Garfields would have docked at Gaysport, and they would have disembarked there. Then they would have caught a ride across the river to Harrison Township and begun walking up the hill on Virginia Ridge Road, continuing for a mile to what is now 785 Virginia Ridge Road.

I was able to learn additional information about Henry Ballou in the 1892 edition of Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Muskingum County, Ohio. He and his sister Eliza Garfield were born in Cheshire County, New Hampshire. They immigrated to Muskingum County with their mother and three siblings in 1814. Henry eventually married and settled in Harrison Township and built a “permanent home”. He is listed as an outstanding citizen of Harrison Township where he was a farmer and township officer. He and his wife Phoebe had three sons – Jacob, Ellis, and Orrin. All three, along with their father, are mentioned in the Garfield diary. Most of James’s activities and travels during his Muskingum County stay, which include such things as working on the farm, traveling to McConnellsville, and going to meetings (church services), were done with his cousins.

However, the main activity of Garfield during his stay in Muskingum County was teaching school. On March 13 James wrote that he went with Uncle Henry “to see about getting the school in this place.” He writes that he “has a contract to teach school for three months. He will be paid $16 2/3 per month and will begin on March 19. First he must have a teaching certificate, and so he and Ellis take the team to Zanesville where he is examined and certified for two years to teach ‘the common branches and algebra.’”

On the first day of class he identifies the school as “the log schoolhouse on ‘backrun’.” The schoolhouse, which still exists today, is only a 5-10 minute walk from the house. That is apparently why he refers to it as “this school”.

The two structures are less than a half mile apart; however, they are separated by a very steep hill. The return walk back up to the house requires approximately twice as much time as walking downhill to the school. This hill and those nearby obviously made an impression upon the flatlander from northern Ohio as he writes that the schoolhouse is “on the bank of a rock-girt stream and surrounded by the everlasting hills of Muskingum Valley.”

There are two roads in the area today just as there were in the 19th century. They both run east and west and are relatively parallel. The house is on Virginia Ridge Road which follows the top of the ridge. The school house is on Back Run Road which follows along Back Run Creek in the valley. Even though the two buildings are in close proximity, it is an almost three-mile drive from one to the other.

The map below shows the relative location of the town site of Gaysport on the east side of the Muskingum River, the contemporary bridge crossing the river, and the two roads leading west from the river bottom, one along Back Run and the other rising to the top of Virginia Ridge. The location of the school and house are denoted. The slightly skewed red grid lines on the map provide a scale of distance as they demark one-mile by one-mile township sections.

This map denotes the locations of the home in which James and Eliza Garfield stayed and the school in which James taught during their stay in Muskingum County.  (Author image)

This map denotes the locations of the home in which James and Eliza Garfield stayed and the school in which James taught during their stay in Muskingum County. (Author image)

 

The school house is a small log structure approximately 18 feet long and 15 feet wide. There is no information concerning its date of construction, but it was apparently in poor condition even in 1851. In private correspondence Garfield refers to it as a “miserable old log school-house … as smutty as a blacksmith shop.” (Garfield – Allan Peskin, page 21) After its school-house life ended, it was converted into a home. Currently a new owner, John Coler, is restoring it back to its original form as a school. It has been stripped of all additions, and the owner is planning on replacing some foundation stones, some of the logs, and the roof.

Garfield’s diary reveals that his stint at Back Run School was neither easy nor pleasant. On March 14, even before he began to teach, he wrote, “It will not be a very pleasant school, the scholars will be so small.” They were few in number as well. He started with seven students, but gradually attendance increased to a maximum of 23. There are several entries referring to conflicts with parents. The parents objected to the way he conducted his classroom, and he grumbled about their efforts to override his leadership of the school.

Garfield’s journal entries are full of interesting teaching experiences. He comments about a boy who can recite his letters down but not up. He describes in detail the subterfuge two of his pupils undertook in order to elope without their parents discovering their plans. He discusses discipline in the classroom, the need to impose more order and eventually the need, as a last resort, to use the rod on two of the boys. He reports that this treatment was quite effective.

The April 16th diary entry is a window into Garfield’s self-perception as a teacher:

“It is indeed trying to my patience and also my stomach to have so many little scholars about me. I believe it is the province of females to teach little scholars the rudiments of education. Their nature seems to be more adapted to the culture of the infant mind thanthe nature of man. I want something that has the thunder in it,more than this has.”

The meaning of the word thunder used in this way is not certain, though he probably is reflecting on the drudgery, dullness, and lack of challenge that he felt as a teacher of young children. However, it is clear that he was not satisfied with his teaching job at Back Run School. (Immediately before coming to Muskingum County Garfield had taught at Warrenville, Ohio, in a two-room school. He had taught the older pupils which would have been more to his liking.)

Local historian Jim Swingle stands by the Back Run School (currently under restoration) with his brother and author of this blog article Albert Swingle on the right.  (Author photo)

Local historian Jim Swingle(left) stands by the Back Run School (currently under restoration) with his brother and author of this blog article Albert Swingle on the right. (Author photo)

Even though Garfield had contracted to teach for three months, he closed the school on May 20 after just over two months. By then corn planting season was in full swing and most of the students had deserted “book learning” and were working in the fields. It seems clear that after teaching at Back Run for two months, James was ready to move on. He and his mother, after concluding their visit with good-byes to friends and relatives, left Zanesville on May 30, returning home by canal boat on the Erie Ohio Canal, a section of which his father had helped build.

Three months is a short period in anyone’s life, but this Muskingum Country trip gives us a quick glimpse into the life of a remarkable 19-year-old young man on his way to maturity. Moving into unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar people, Garfield demonstrated considerable curiosity as he energetically plunged into his new surroundings, whether they were new towns to explore, new forms of worship in the various meeting houses, or challenges he faced at the Back Run School. As he touched base with his extended family we see this Muskingum County visit as a short interlude for a young man in a hurry. He had not yet decided the direction of his adult life, but he knew that education would be the means of getting to his yet unknown destination.

Muskingum County was an opportunity for Garfield to expand his vision and to test his influence as he widened his horizons on his way to adulthood. In his illustrious life he did experience considerable thunder, and he created considerable thunder as well.

As a postscript to this visit, we have a record of at least two other trips Garfield made to Muskingum County. The November 9, 1877, diary entry records his train trip from home to Washington DC. The train stopped in Zanesville just long enough for a brief visit with his cousin Orrin Ballou and family. Orrin was the sheriff of Muskingum County from 1877-1880.

Few who knew or attended classes with teacher James A. Garfield during his stay in Muskingum County likely expected him to one day become President of the United States.  (Library of Congress)

Few who knew or attended classes with teacher James A. Garfield during his stay in Muskingum County likely expected him to one day become President of the United States. (Library of Congress)

By 1878 Garfield was in full campaign mode for the Republican Party. After a speaking tour on the east coast, he had just three days at home to supervise the sowing of the wheat crop on his Mentor farm before taking a swing around southeast Ohio. On September 20 he was on the train heading for Zanesville but missed his connection in Dresden (in northeastern Muskingum County). The Zanesville town fathers saved the day by sending a special train to Dresden to retrieve him. He arrived just in time for his evening address. He records in his diary: “Addressed large audience in Hall for 1 ½ hours then went homewith Cousin Orrin Ballou and spent the night. He is the county sheriff. 27 years ago he was my pupil in the school I taught in Back Run, Harrison Township, Muskingum County. He is a strong Democrat, inheriting his politics from his father, my Uncle HenryBallou.”

Two years later in 1880 James Garfield would be elected the 20th president of the United States.

-Albert Swingle, Washington, D.C.

Garfield Resources are All Around Us

Unlike many of our modern-day Presidents who have a Presidential Library constructed to serve as the repository for all things related to their administration, there is no central repository for everything related to the public service career and life of President James A. Garfield.

The First Lady (Lucretia Garfield) had the foresight to preserve the papers and documents of her husband’s Presidency and congressional career, and did so by creating the fireproof vault off of the Memorial Library, known as the “Memory Room.” It is, or was, the main holding place of President Garfield’s records until the President’s papers were transferred to the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov). The Garfield children, to their great credit, recognized they could not properly store and maintain the official records of their father’s career, and that the Library of Congress could. This was a donation of great value to the chronicling of a period of our nation’s history.

Lucretia Garfield had the Memorial Library constructed in 1885-86 to preserve her husband's book collection and memory for herself and their children.  She added the "Memory Room" to store the papers of his public career, thus creating the nation's first presidential library.  (NPS photo)

Lucretia Garfield had the Memorial Library constructed in 1885-86 to preserve her husband’s book collection and memory for herself and their children. She added the “Memory Room” (not visible here) to store the papers of his public career, thus creating the nation’s first presidential library. (NPS photo)

However, as I have found while conducting my own research for some of my presentations here at James A. Garfield National Historic Site, there is no single place where I could find all I needed. For example, this spring I gave a presentation about the State Senate career of James A. Garfield, and while I used the authoritative biography of the twentieth President, Garfield, by Dr. Allan Peskin, I also received assistance from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission (www.lsc.state.oh.us), and one of their amazing staff members, who provided to me information about the bills introduced and supported by then-Ohio State Senator James A. Garfield. Additionally, I was able to find information on the website of the Ohio Senate (www.ohiosenate.gov), and some additional information through the Ohio Historical Society (www.ohiohistory.org). Special thanks to Adam Warren, Administrative Aide to State Senator Nina Turner, who provided me with some photos of the Garfield Room in the Ohio Statehouse. I also found out that records related to the State Senate tenure of James A. Garfield can be found at the University of Akron (www.uakron.edu). This makes great sense, as Garfield represented Summit and Portage Counties in the Ohio Senate.

Seeking assistance from multiple places makes historical research even more like the assembly of a jigsaw puzzle.

Beginning with President Herbert Hoover, the National Archives and Records Administration (www.nara.gov), began to assemble the documents and artifacts of Presidential administrations into Presidential Libraries and Museums. Just last week, on May 1, the thirteenth (13th) Presidential Library opened to the public on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Located in Dallas, Texas, the George W. Bush Presidential Library is the largest of the 13 NARA Presidential Libraries. It is the central repository for the papers, artifacts, and other notable events of the tenure of our 43rd President.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, located in Dallas, is the newest and largest presidential library.  It was dedicated May 1, 2013.  (www.architecture.about.com)

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, located in Dallas, is the newest and largest presidential library. It was dedicated May 1, 2013. (www.architecture.about.com)

Those Commanders-in-Chief who preceeded President Hoover, often, as in the case of President Garfield, have multiple sites, administered, often times, by multiple agencies or organizations. For example, the birth site cabin is managed by the Moreland Hills Historical Society (http://morelandhills.com); the Garfield home is a National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/jaga); and the Garfield Monument is part of Lake View Cemetery (www.lakeviewcemetery.com). Additionally, there are Garfield artifacts and papers in places such as the Hiram College Library (www.hiram.edu), the Western Reserve Historical Society (www.wrhs.org), and the Bedford Historical Society (www.bedfordohiohistory.org). Finally, one of the places near and dear to my heart, the Cleveland Public Library (www.cpl.org), also has a fairly extensive collection of Garfield-related books, speeches, and other items.

I would be remiss if I did not mention three great places to find information about President Garfield in the Washington, DC, area: the U.S. Capitol Historical Society (www.uschs.org), the White House Historical Association (www.whitehousehistory.org), and, of course, the White House (www.whitehouse.gov).

Should you come across any great sites or artifacts, we would love to hear about them. I wish you happy hunting in your quest to learn more about President Garfield, or any of our nation’s other leaders. If we can be of any further assistance to you, or if you are interested in becoming a National Park Service Volunteer, please do not hesitate to contact us through our website at www.nps.gov/jaga or by calling James A. Garfield National Historic Site at 440-255-8722.

Though he was President just a short time, James A. Garfield's life and career are integral to the history of northeast Ohio.  Visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site learn more about the man and his family and his career and legacy.  Visitors who tour the Garfield home are taken into the two rooms that constitute the nation's first presidential library.  (Library of Congress)

Though he was President just a short time, James A. Garfield’s life and career are integral to the history of northeast Ohio and the United States. Visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site learn more about the man and his family and his career and legacy. Those who tour the Garfield home are taken into the two rooms that constitute the nation’s first presidential library. (Library of Congress)

(Did you know that prior to the mid-1990’s renovation of the Ohio Statehouse, the names of the Presidents from Ohio, including Garfield, encircled the top of the rotunda inside the Statehouse? Also, during the 1990s renovation of the Statehouse, a skylight bearing the State Seal of Ohio commonly used from the 1840s to roughly the mid-1860s , was found in the top of the rotunda? I mention this because this version of the Seal can be found in the Memorial Screen in Eliza Ballou Garfield’s bedroom in the top white shield-shaped panel.)

-Andrew Mizsak, Volunteer

Serving as a National Park Service Volunteer

If you would have asked me this time a year ago about being a National Park Service Volunteer, I would have said “What are you talking about?” Ask me now, and I will tell you it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

My name is Andrew Mizsak, I am a resident of Bedford, Ohio, and I have been a Volunteer here at James A. Garfield NHS for nearly a year. I am involved at the site in historical interpretation, where I give tours of the home of President Garfield, work with Boy Scouts, and give large-scale presentations every few months. As a history and government teacher, I look at what I do here at the Site as not only a way to serve my country, but also as an extension of my teaching.

The National Park Service volunteer logo incorporates the agency's iconic "arrowhead" logo but is distinctive enough to generate pride in those who wear it.  (NPS image)

The National Park Service volunteer logo incorporates the agency’s iconic “arrowhead” logo but is distinctive enough to generate pride in those who wear it. (NPS image)

It is truly a privilege to work with such a great group of individuals who are dedicated to the preservation of our nation’s historical treasures, and honoring the legacy of the Garfield Family. There is an esprit de corps here amongst the Rangers and Volunteers that is contagious, and the overarching values of teamwork and remaining focused on our mission of serving as good stewards of our nation’s history guide all we do.

What I really enjoy about serving as an NPS Volunteer is that this is a position where you can really make it your own. Your level of involvement is completely up to you. I am fortunate where I can spend many of my Saturdays here at the Park, and give a couple of tours, or work whatever special event is going on. The staff here at JAGA is very supportive of the research I have conducted for the programming I have presented, and have been very generous with their support and assistance.

During my time at JAGA, I have been able to conduct research about James A. Garfield and how the Constitution of the United States affected aspects of his life, as well as research into his tenure as an Ohio State Senator from 1859-61. During my research on Garfield and the Constitution, I found that President Garfield in January, 1865, as a Member of the US House of Representatives from Ohio, had a significant role in the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the 13th Amendment – that was the debate that served as the plot of the movie “Lincoln.” However in the movie, there is not a single mention of him.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States.  James A. Garfield, a Republican Congressman at the time and strong anti-slavery voice since before the Civil War, participated in the heated January 1865 debates on this amendment.  The fight to pass this amendment is the main plot of Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning film "Lincoln."  (National Constitution Center)

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States. James A. Garfield, a Republican Congressman at the time and strong anti-slavery voice since before the Civil War, participated in the heated January 1865 debates on this amendment. The fight to pass this amendment is the main plot of Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film “Lincoln.” (National Constitution Center)

I also learned, during my research into Garfield’s time as a State Senator, that he and his roommate, Jacob Dolson Cox, who would also serve as a Civil War General and later as an Ohio Governor, would practice military drill on the front lawn of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus after Senate Session. Garfield would then go home and read the works of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Garfield would come to revere, and claim that he learned how to be an officer by studying Napoleon. For those of you who have been on the House Tour, you know that there are portraits of Napoleon on either side of the fireplace in the Reception Hall, as well as one in the Memorial Library between the portraits of General William Tecumseh Sherman and Otto Von Bismarck. 

Being a National Park Service Volunteer at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, or at any other National Park, is something I recommend if you are interested in helping to preserve our nation’s historical, natural, or cultural treasures, and like to tell their story. In my short time here at JAGA, I have made some wonderful friends, been able to really get back into what I love doing, and contribute to a cause that I believe in.

If this sounds like something that is a good fit for you, then come join our ranks. I would be more than happy to talk to you about serving as a NPS Volunteer.

-Andrew Mizsak, Volunteer

James A. Garfield NHS has numerous opportunities for volunteers, including leading public tours of the beautifully and accurately restored Garfield home.  (NPS image)

James A. Garfield NHS has numerous opportunities for volunteers, including leading public tours of the beautifully and accurately restored Garfield home. (NPS image)

James A. Garfield and “Rain Follows the Plow”

James A. Garfield pursued many vocations during his relatively short life of 49 years and ten months, including canal worker, janitor, minister, college professor and president, lawyer, soldier, congressman, and President of the United States. Less well-known, though, is his lifelong interest in agriculture, which prompted him to purchase a 120-acre farm in Mentor, Ohio in 1876. “I must get a place where I can put my boys at work, and teach them farming,” he wrote in his diary on September 26, 1876. After purchasing the property, Garfield wrote his wife, Lucretia, “So, my darling, you shall have a home and a cow.” Today, about eight acres of that farm and its buildings are preserved as James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Here Congressman Garfield grew wheat, rye, and barley, and also had an orchard of apple and peach trees.

In early June 1880, Garfield traveled to the Republican National Convention in Chicago to nominate fellow Ohioan John Sherman as the party’s presidential candidate for that November’s election. The next time he saw his Mentor farm, Garfield himself was the somewhat surprised Republican presidential nominee, and the farm became his campaign’s headquarters. Even as a candidate for the nation’s highest office, Garfield meticulously tracked the work being done on his farm. On July 31, 1880 he recorded: “Men continued threshing until noon. Had the oats hauled in from the field and threshed as they arrived. Result 475 bushels. Not so good a yield as last year.  All spring grain seems to be lighter this year than the fall sown crops.”

This image shows James A. Garfield's property as it appeared during his 1880 presidential campaign.  The barn and other farm buildings are visible.  The expansive lawn around the house led reporters covering the campaign to nickname the property "Lawnfield."  (Lake County Historical Society)

This image shows James A. Garfield’s property as it appeared during his 1880 presidential campaign. The barn and other farm buildings are visible. The expansive lawn around the house led reporters covering the campaign to nickname the property “Lawnfield.” (Lake County Historical Society)

Two weeks later, on August 13, he noted, “Have agreed to send my wheat, about 200 bushels of it, to Cleveland for sale at 90 cents per bushel.” On September 19: “Did not attend church, but made a tour over the farm, inspecting the cattle and crops.” On Election Day, November 2: “Arranged for plowing and seeding garden east of house, and starting a new one in rear of engine house.”

Garfield won the election, and from November 1880 to late February 1881, he hosted many visitors seeking an audience with the new President-elect. On January 26, 1881, Garfield recorded in his diary, “Profs. C.D. Wilber and Aughey of Nebraska came at noon, and spent the night…I sat up too late with Wilber for my health.” So just who were these Nebraskans who stopped by to visit and spend the night in the President-elect’s home?

Naturalist and geologist Samuel H. Aughey was a faculty member at the University of Nebraska who published widely on the natural features of his adopted state (he was a Pennsylvania native). He was also a shameless booster of settlement on the Great Plains, encouraging homesteaders and other land seekers to settle in Nebraska. During an unusually wet period in 1880, Aughey asserted that prairie sod being broken by plows was the reason for the increased rainfall. It stood to reason, then, that more settlers turning over more acres of soil would lead to ever more rainfall, and drought on the Great Plains would never be a problem as long as farmers continued to plant and harvest crops. The prairie soil would, according to M. Jean Ferrill in Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, “absorb the rain like a huge sponge once the sod had been broken. This moisture would then be slowly given back to the atmosphere by evaporation. Each year, as cultivation extended across the Plains…the moisture and rainfall would also increase until the region was fit for agriculture without irrigation.”

Samuel Aughey was a faculty member of the University of Nebraska and a vocal promoter of western settlement who developed the theory eventually encapsulated in the phrase "rain follows the plow."  He eventually left the University of Nebraska to become the state geologist of Wyoming.  (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Samuel Aughey was a faculty member of the University of Nebraska and a vocal promoter of western settlement who developed the theory encapsulated in the phrase “rain follows the plow.” He eventually left the University of Nebraska to become the state geologist of Wyoming. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Journalist and author Charles Dana Wilber picked up on Aughey’s theory and included it in his 1881 book The Great Valleys and Prairies of Nebraska and the Northwest. It was Wilber, in fact, who coined and popularized the phrase “rain follows the plow,” which made Aughey’s bizarre theory more easily accessible to the public by breaking it down to a single phrase: 

“God speed the plow…. By this wonderful provision, which is only man’s mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains … [the plow] is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts a desert into a farm or garden…. To be more concise, Rain follows the plow.”

Wilber also offered divine allegories for man’s besting of the natural environment in the area once labeled “the Great American Desert”:

“In this miracle of progress, the plow was the unerring prophet, the procuring cause, not by any magic or enchantment, not by incantations or offerings, but instead by the sweat of his face toiling with his hands, man can persuade the heavens to yield their treasures of dew and rain upon the land he has chosen for his dwelling… The raindrop never fails to fall and answer to the imploring power or prayer of labor.”

For western settlement boosters like Aughey and Wilber, “rain follows the plow” provided an easy response to those who worried about drought in western states and territories. The theory also appealed to those who put stock in ideas about America’s “Manifest Destiny,” the opinion that the United States had a God-given right and obligation to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific. “Rain follows the plow” could easily be interpreted to justify removing American Indians from their traditional lands since few western tribes lived as sedentary farmers and therefore, according to many, were not using the land to its full potential. Even railroad companies got in on the act, using the theory to draw settlers to their land grants. (Railroad land available for purchase by settlers was often of far higher quality than that available from the federal government for free under the Homestead Act.) The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad eventually went so far as to have a stenographer in the crowd when Samuel Aughey spoke so that copies of his speeches extolling the virtues of western lands could be printed and distributed to prospective immigrants in Europe.

Aughey and Wilber's "rain follows the plow" theory encouraged many to try their hands at homesteading and farming in western states like Nebraska.  New settlers often found dry, barren land and built their first homes from prairie sod.  This famous photo by Solomon D. Butcher shows the Sylvester Rawding family in Custer County, Nebraska.  (Nebraska State Historical Society)

Aughey and Wilber’s “rain follows the plow” theory encouraged many to try their hands at homesteading and farming in western states like Nebraska. New settlers often found dry, barren land and built their first homes from prairie sod. This famous photo by Solomon D. Butcher shows the Sylvester Rawding family in Custer County, Nebraska. (Nebraska State Historical Society)

“Rain follows the plow” fell by the wayside when the Great Plains endured severe droughts in the 1890s that even the steel plows and increasingly mechanized implements of farmers could not prevent. Today, the theory is considered junk science, on par with phrenology, séances, and fad diets. But in January 1881 when they visited President-elect James A. Garfield, Samuel Aughey and Charles Wilber were just entering the period that would make them and their now-discredited theory famous. What fun it might have been to be a fly on the wall and eavesdrop on the conversation on the night of January 26, 1881, when the President-elect “sat up too late with Wilber for my health.”

-Todd Arrington, Chief of Interpretation and Education

The “Fine Times” of James A. Garfield’s Education, Part II

To obtain an actual degree, Garfield’s first inclination was to attend Bethany College because of its affiliation with the Disciples of Christ. However, in the spirit of opening up his mind to new ideas he settled on Williams College in Massachusetts and moved there with his Hiram friend and former teacher Charles Wilber in the summer of 1854. Williams was nonsectarian but still strongly religious, like the Eclectic. But unlike Hiram, religious sentiment was more Calvinist, and the New England atmosphere seemed exotic compared to Garfield’s rustic life in Ohio. Despite his cultural differences, though, he eventually won the acceptance of his New England classmates, who gave him the nickname “Gar”. His education at the Eclectic qualified him as a junior at Williams and he once again buried himself in his studies.

It was there, at Williams, that Garfield finally found an appropriate academic niche for his abilities: he performed well and would receive some accolades for his achievements, but he never outpaced the other students like he had in Chester or Hiram. Allan Peskin writes in his authoritative biography Garfield: “Students and teachers alike regarded him as a good, but not brilliant student, who stood well in the upper half of his class, but never seriously challenged his better-trained colleagues.” Just reading his comparatively sparse journal entries during his time in Massachusetts gives one the feeling that Garfield was too focused on his studies to write regularly. But none of this is meant to imply that Garfield performed poorly – in fact, he learned and accomplished much at Williams. He was considered by some classmates as one of the most capable debaters the college had ever seen; he was elected president of one of the main literary societies at the school; he even found himself chosen as the editor of a college publication, the Williams Quarterly. His knack for languages expanded to include German and Hebrew, and he came to enjoy studying the natural sciences even more. At Williams, Garfield discovered that he not only had a natural ability to learn easily, but that he also had the drive and work ethic to match it when that natural ability by itself was not enough to keep up with his peers.

Garfield chose to attend Williams in order to broaden his intellectual horizons in the very different culture and atmosphere of New England.  Here he was regarded as a good but not exceptional student, but his love of learning was cultivated as he had hoped it would be.  (Williams College)

Garfield chose to attend Williams in order to broaden his intellectual horizons in the very different culture and atmosphere of New England. Here he was regarded as a good but not exceptional student, but his love of learning was cultivated as he had hoped it would be. (Williams College)

In later years Garfield would recall the exact beginning of his intellectual life: witnessing an address in Williamstown by the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Arguably, though, his intellectual calling had begun earlier when he found that he loved being a student. He would return to Hiram in 1856 as a full-time teacher and then school president the following year. But his academic side carried on beyond that role as well and would influence virtually every aspect of his life and career. During the Civil War, Garfield had no official military training but recognized his own strength as a quick learner, so he read biographies on Napoleon and studied every book on military tactics he could find. As Chief of Staff of the Army of the Cumberland he spurred the West Point-trained General Rosecrans to action before the Tullahoma Campaign with a lengthy, essay-like report that logically listed point-by-point every reason the army should attack the enemy.

In Congress, he was a firm ally of education, saying in a speech in 1879: “If… we allow our youth to grow up in ignorance, this Republic will end in disastrous failure.” He proposed the bill for the creation of the federal Department of Education (which passed and formed in 1867), supported the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute after the Civil War for the education of blacks, was a regular visitor to the Library of Congress, and introduced a bill to provide military education in colleges (a forerunner to ROTC, which ultimately did not receive enough interest to pass). Ainsworth Spofford, the head of the Library of Congress for over 30 years, recalled Garfield being one of the most frequent users of the collection there. It was also in Congress that Garfield developed a unique proof of the Pythagorean theorem still used by some today.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford was the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897.  He recalled Congressman James A. Garfield as one of the most frequent visitors to the Library of Congress during Spofford's long tenure.  (Library of Congress)

Ainsworth Rand Spofford was the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897. He recalled Congressman James A. Garfield as one of the most frequent visitors to the Library of Congress during Spofford’s long tenure. (Library of Congress)

Learning was a big part of Garfield family life. Academics and books gave James and Lucretia an additional common bond early on in their courtship, and she would continue to be an intellectual counterpart to her husband throughout their marriage. Naturally he took a scientific approach to farming in Mentor – his diaries mention different experiments with soil, crops, and irrigation. He was also very interested in the progress of his children’s education. He was confused why his oldest sons did not share the same love of education that he had, noting in his diary that “the mind naturally hungers and thirsts for knowledge.” Before their move to the Mentor home, he had decided to send Harry and Jim to a private school, believing the public schools to be too crowded and the students overworked; Mollie would stay home to learn “something of books” and housekeeping. In December 1874, he wrote happily in his diary “Harry and Jimmy have this Winter awaked to the love of reading.” Garfield continued to help with their studies and all five of his children who lived to adulthood had very successful lives of their own.

The Mentor house itself stands as proof of the President’s love for reading and learning. Nearly every room of the house has at least a few books in it, and this seems pretty exact to how it appeared when Garfield lived there as well. A reporter wrote that “His real pleasure seems to be when poring over his books.” Another visitor to the house in the late 1870s wrote:

“..you can go nowhere in the general’s home without coming face to face with books. They confront you in the hall when you enter, in the parlor and the sitting room, in the dining-room, and even in the bath-room, where documents and speeches are corded up like firewood.”

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield added the Memorial Library to her Mentor home in 1895-96, several years after her husband's assassination.  The room was designed to memorialize her husband for her family and the nation while also preserving his sizeable book collection.  This library is considered the birthplace of the presidential library idea.  (National Park Service)

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield added the Memorial Library to her Mentor home in 1885-86, several years after her husband’s assassination. The room was designed to memorialize her husband for her family and the nation while also preserving his sizeable book collection. This library is considered the birthplace of the presidential library idea. (National Park Service)

Even his Inaugural Address discussed the importance of education in a government that derives its power from its citizens. Garfield started to prepare his speech by studying the Inaugural Addresses of his predecessors. In his own Address, he pointed out the alarming percentage of illiteracy indicated by the recent census and announced what he believed to be the cure: “For the North and South alike there is but one remedy. All the constitutional power of the nation and of the States and all the volunteer forces of the people should be surrendered to meet this danger by the savory influence of universal education.” Stating that their children will one day be the inheritors of their government, he added “It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the inheritance which awaits them. In this beneficent work sections and races should be forgotten and partisanship should be unknown.” For Garfield, education and intelligence were not just ways of allowing one individual to “rise above the herd” – education for everyone, regardless of race or class, provided the surest foundation for the perpetuation of the nation itself. Learning offered the means for which Garfield was able to live a successful life, and it is little surprise that he believed that to be the surest way for others as well.

Due to his assassination,  we will never know where his scholastic calling would have called him next, or if he would have been successful in his plans for the Presidency. But his statements during his Inauguration as President of the United States act as an appropriate summation of how academics and education had influenced Garfield’s own life. Perhaps most fitting of all, later that evening the Inaugural Ball was held not in a temporary structure as many balls before, but in the new Smithsonian Museum.

-T.J. Todd, Visitor Use Assistant

(Thanks to Jennifer Morrow of the Hiram College Archives for her generous assistance.)

The “Fine Times” of James A. Garfield’s Education, Part I

Touring James Garfield’s home today, one would have to try hard to overlook the fact that education and learning were important facets to the President’s life. His principal’s desk from the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, the portraits of writers that Garfield respected such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Shakespeare, the books that are visible in nearly every single room – his Mentor home is full of reminders of Garfield’s fondness for learning new things. In fact, intellectualism had one of the most lasting effects on his entire life, even beyond his years as a teacher and school principal. His academic foundation and love for learning would help guide him through most events in his life, from his service in the Union Army to the very day of his inauguration as President.

Garfield in his early teens did not seem on track for the life of an educated man. He had attended district schooling at least semi-regularly and had been instructed in the subjects most students studied in the mid-19th century: reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, as well as a few other topics if the instructor had studied and cared to teach them. He seemed to have a great fondness for reading and learning, but he was from a poor family and at the time seemed devoted to becoming a sailor. Stacking the deck against Garfield even further, there was a belief among some in the Western Reserve that excessive reading, particularly of novels, was a sort of abnormality, and some argued even a cause or sign of mental illness. Fortunately his mother Eliza and his older brother Thomas apparently did not agree, and while James was recovering from an illness acquired from working on the canal he was persuaded to try school at the nearby Geauga Seminary in Chester. The money that Garfield’s mother and brother were able to scrape together in order for James to attend school at the Seminary amounted to $17 – close to their total savings up to that point. A dollar went a lot further back then than it does today but it did not go that far, and Garfield would finish the term with a grand total of six cents.

Eliza Garfield and her children.  James (back row at right) would receive much help in funding his education from his mother and his brother, Thomas (back row at left).  [Library of Congress]

Eliza Garfield and her children. James (back row at right) would receive much help in funding his education from his mother and his brother, Thomas (back row at left). [Library of Congress]

James Garfield discovered at Geauga Seminary that he was a natural student. Apparently instruction there was not all that much different from the district schools he had attended previously – in fact, by most accounts Geauga Seminary was fairly second-rate. Earlier in life he had walked out of one district school due to a particularly weak teacher, and during his first term at Geauga he wrote home requesting his grammar book as a reference to help correct his teacher’s mistakes. Overall, though, the Seminary was a step up in his education and Garfield enjoyed his studies enough to forget his passion for sailing. The library was small with about 150 books but it was larger than what he was used to at that time. And some of the books were in Greek, likely Garfield’s first exposure to the language that would become one of his favorite subjects. He found that he excelled in algebra, at least compared to his classmates who mostly dropped out of the class by the end of the term. He also took a liking to “natural philosophy” which was that era’s name for the natural sciences. He seemed to enjoy the way science provided an answer to many everyday occurrences that one could witness firsthand.

James Garfield did not merely coast through his two years at the Geauga Seminary. “Studying” is probably the single most common word found in his somewhat sparse journal entries from this time period. He was also working hard outside of the classroom to help supplement his perpetually diminishing funds, often chopping wood and teaching district school during his time off. Undoubtedly aiding Garfield’s work ethic was the simple fact that he loved what he was doing – school was fun. Entries such as “School as usual. Fine times.” and “Studying. Fine times.” appear frequently in his diary between 1849 and 1850. On November 29, 1849, while wrapping up his first term Garfield wrote in his diary “Studying some. The thoughts of parting rend my heart. We soon must say adieu.”

From Geauga Seminary, Garfield decided to test himself further by enrolling at the new Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio. A part of this decision was based on the fact that he did not know what he wanted to do with his life: he mostly disliked teaching children in the district schools, and while he was a capable carpenter the profession never seemed to keep his interest for long. On the other hand, he viewed a college education (or at least an advanced education) as the best way to lift himself up beyond the “herd”. The Geauga school seemed to have done much for his confidence, at least. Thomas Munnell, the teacher of Latin at the Eclectic, remembered the following about James Garfield, shortly after he first enrolled at the school in the fall of 1851:

“When he arrived he had studied a little of Latin grammar, but had done nothing in the way of translating. I had no class to suit him in elementary Latin, one being behind him, and another far in advance. He resolved at once to overtake the advanced class, provided I would hear his recitation after class hours, which I readily agreed to do.” (History of Hiram College, 1850-1900 by F.M. Green). Garfield’s self-confidence was apparently well-placed, as he was asked to give the valedictory address his first year at the Eclectic.

The Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1858.  Originally a one-building school, "the Eclectic" became Hiram College in 1867.  (Hiram College Archives/Wikipedia)

The Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1858. Originally a one-building school, “the Eclectic” became Hiram College in 1867. (Hiram College Archives/Wikipedia)

Money was again a concern at the Eclectic. During the first term he had just enough saved up from teaching and carpentry work that he was able to pay his way. His second term he worked as a janitor for the school (sweeping, ringing the bell, and building fires for heat) and in between terms he again worked as a teacher. Besides monetary concerns, every year James and his fellow students had to deal with crowded housing. Most housing at the Eclectic was provided by the community itself, which was fairly small, and it was a problem finding enough space for the 300-500 students each year. Zeb Rudolph, Garfield’s future father-in-law, often had ten students in his seven-room Hiram house. The institution attempted to build boarding houses but the option was apparently never popular with the students and the structures were sold just a few years later.

Garfield immersed himself in his studies at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. He studied and attended lectures on a variety of topics, but the major courses for him early on were Greek and Latin (his two favorites), trigonometry, and “Sacred History”, which was a required course every morning that taught the Bible. The suggested curriculum was rather flexible and students took classes based more on their own needs or personal interests. Surprisingly, the Eclectic did not even have an official library until 1854, with the Bible being the only book that belonged to the institute up to that point. Extracurricular learning helped make up for the lack of a library, particularly the student-organized literary and debating societies. James Garfield actually helped lead the organization of one of these lecturing and debating groups himself, which was called the Philomathean Society. The school placed an emphasis on religious studies, being founded by the Disciples of Christ faith, but it was not strictly a theology school – a variety of classes were offered (hence the name “Eclectic”) and the school was nonsectarian.

Garfield did so well as a student that by 1853 he was listed in the catalogue as “Teacher in the English Department and of the Ancient Languages.” He also taught classes outside of these topics, including geometry and penmanship. James Garfield was a very talented scholar and had worked incredibly hard, but his sudden rise to teaching at the Eclectic can also be explained by the size of the faculty there: on average, the academy only had 5 full-time instructors and the Eclectic students, many of which taught at district schools between terms, were occasionally asked to help teach. The rapid change from student to teacher was impressive nonetheless, though.

The Eclectic seems to have improved his confidence even more – he was excelling in his classes, speaking regularly at the debating societies, preaching at Disciples of Christ meetings, and now even teaching at the school. He also began trying his hand at courting while at the Eclectic, eventually beginning a relationship with a fellow student who he would later marry in 1858, Lucretia Rudolph. They had met at the Geauga Seminary, but it was in Hiram that they grew close. Early on their letters to one another were, naturally, scholarly – books and the classics were common topics.

Garfield's Greek class at the Eclectic, 1853.  Garfield (far right) is seated next his student(and future wife) Lucretia Rudolph.  (Lake County Historical Society)

Garfield’s Greek class at the Eclectic, 1853. Garfield (far right) is seated next to his student(and future wife) Lucretia Rudolph. (Lake County Historical Society)

In 1854, James Garfield once again decided that he needed something more with his education. While the Eclectic was a step up from previous schools he had attended and offered a variety of classes that suited some of his academic needs, it was at this time more of an academy or preparatory school than a college and would not confer degrees until it became Hiram College in 1867 (also, due to the school’s primary department some of the students there were as young as 10). Arguably it was not just the absence of a degree, though, that made Garfield feel he needed more. He was so outstanding in his studies that after spending three years there he had outgrown the school. The classes were engaging and roughly the equivalent of college-level material, but by this time he had largely stopped attending and was teaching full time instead. He felt he had some purpose in life beyond what he was currently doing, though he was not sure what it was. Garfield decided to continue his education and work for that college degree.

(check back soon for Part II of this post)

T.J. Todd, Visitor Use Assistant