Detailed Pedia

William Holmes McGuffey

William Holmes McGuffey
William Holmes McGuffey.jpg
Born(1800-09-23)September 23, 1800
DiedMay 4, 1873(1873-05-04) (aged 72)
OccupationEducator, Academic Author
Known forMcGuffey Readers

William Holmes McGuffey (September 23, 1800 – May 4, 1873) was a college professor and president who is best known for writing the McGuffey Readers, the first widely used series of elementary school-level textbooks. More than 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960,[1] placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster's Dictionary.

Early years

Greersburg Academy

William Holmes McGuffey was born the son of Alexander and Anna (Holmes) McGuffey near Claysville in West Finley Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, which is 45 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. In 1802 the McGuffey family moved farther out into the frontier at Tuscarawas County, Ohio. He attended country school, and after receiving special instruction at Youngstown, he attended Greersburg Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania. Afterwards, he attended and graduated from Pennsylvania's Washington College, where he became an instructor. He was a roving instructor, traveling through the frontier of Ohio, Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania. He was "one of an army of half-educated young men who tramped the roads and trails drumming up 'subscription scholars'."[2] These half-educated young men would travel to and from different settlements looking for a part-time teaching job. They would teach in log-cabins to children whose parents would pay for their education. The teachers would educate the children until the parents ran out of funding or until the parents did not care to have their children educated anymore. One of the small settlements where he taught was Poland, Ohio.[3]

He was close friends with Washington College's President Andrew Wylie and lived in Wylie's house for a time; they often would walk the 3 miles to Washington College together.[4]

Career and life

McGuffey's house in Oxford, Ohio

McGuffey left Washington College in 1826 to become a professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A year later, in 1827, he was married to Harriet Spinning of Dayton, Ohio, with whom he had five children. In 1829 he was ordained at Bethel Chapel as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. It was in Oxford that he created the most important contribution of his life: The McGuffey Readers. His books sold over 122 million copies. He was very fond of teaching children as he geared the books toward a younger audience.

His home in Oxford is a museum and National Historic Landmark.

In 1836 he left Miami to become president of Cincinnati College, where he also served as a distinguished teacher and lecturer.[5] He left Cincinnati in 1839 to become the 4th president of Ohio University, which he left in 1843 to become president of what was then called the Woodward Free Grammar School in Cincinnati, one of the country's earliest public schools.[6]

An obelisk.

In 1845 McGuffey moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia. A year after his first wife Harriet died in 1850, he married Miss Laura Howard, daughter of Dean Howard of the University of Virginia. McGuffey is buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery, in Charlottesville, Virginia.


McGuffey Hall at Ohio University, named for William McGuffey
McGuffey High School in Claysville, PA
The William H. McGuffey Primary School in Charlottesville, VA bears his name. The historic building is currently an artist-run cooperative arts center, currently known as the McGuffey Art Center.

Ohio University's Department of University Advancement is housed in a building named McGuffey Hall.

At Miami University, McGuffey Hall is a large academic building home to several education-related departments, including the College of Education, Health, and Society and the Teacher Education and Educational Leadership departments. The university ran the McGuffey Laboratory School from 1910 until 1983 on its campus. When the school closed, some of the parents started The William Holmes McGuffey School Foundation which operates an independent progressive school in Oxford called the McGuffey Foundation School. The school was later renamed the McGuffey Montessori School.

The McGuffey School District in Washington County, Pennsylvania is named for William Holmes McGuffey. The industrialist Henry Ford cited McGuffey Readers as one of his most important childhood influences. In 1934 he had the log cabin where McGuffey was born moved to Greenfield Village, Ford's museum of Americana at Dearborn, Michigan.

In 1998 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission installed a historical marker at McGuffey High School/Middle School noting McGuffey's historic importance.[7]

McGuffey Awards

Named for William Holmes McGuffey's influential primers that first appeared in 1836 and remained in print until 1921, the McGuffey longevity awards recognize long-lived, still-in-use textbooks of excellence.[8]


  1. ^ Gensler, Harry J. (2013). Ethics and the Golden Rule. Routledge. p. 122. ISBN 9780415806862. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  2. ^ Ruggles, Alice McGuffey (1950). The Story of the McGuffeys. American Book Company.
  3. ^ Zorn, Robert L. (1976). Triumph and Tradition of the Poland Schools. Inter-Collegiate Press.
  4. ^ Coleman, Helen Turnbull Waite (1956). Banners in the Wilderness: The Early Years of Washington and Jefferson College. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 111–120. OCLC 2191890.
  5. ^ Grace, Kevin (Jan 4, 2012). Legendary Locals of Cincinnati. Arcadia Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9781467100021. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  6. ^ "The Early History of Cincinnati Public Schools". 2008-06-27. Archived from the original on 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  7. ^ "William Holmes McGuffey - PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  8. ^ TAA, William Holmes McGuffey Longevity Awards, The Text and Academic Authors Association created the McGuffy longevity award in 1993 for recognition of texts and learning materials that have seen long and continued use in education for more than 15 years. Retrieved May 17, 2010.


  • Biography Reference Bank. The H. W. Wilson Company, 2007.
  • John Hardin Best. "McGuffey, William Holmes"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
  • Richard D. Mosier. Making the American Mind: Social and Moral Ideas in the McGuffey Readers (1947)
  • John H. Westerhoff III. McGuffey and His Readers: Piety, Morality, and Education in Nineteenth-Century America (1978).

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Reverend Elijah Slack
President of the University of Cincinnati
1836 – 1839
Succeeded by
Thomas J Biggs
Preceded by
Robert G. Wilson
President of the Ohio University
1839 – 1843
Succeeded by
Alfred Ryors

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