Thursday, September 21, 2000

Oxford pays tribute to 'McGuffey Reader' writer




By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OXFORD — On Friday, the city will start celebrating its immortal best seller and the teacher who wrote it.

        Sept. 23 is the 200th birthday of William Holmes McGuffey, a teacher at Miami University in 1836 when he wrote the first of his six McGuffey's Eclectic Readers.

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        “The books ultimately educated five generations of Americans and sold about 130 million copies, a figure surpassed only by the Bible in the history of publishing,” Miami spokeswoman Elizabeth Runyon said.

        McGuffey, once known as “Schoolmaster to the Nation,” imbued his books with moral principles, giving the nation a common system of values. The books are still used in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

        “He made popular many sayings and stories from a multiplicity of sources — "Mary Had a Little Lamb,' "The Boy Who Cried Wolf,' and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” — said Phillip Shriver, president emeritus of Miami University and a veteran history professor. “Everyone has heard, "Where there's a will, there's a way.'

        “We've never had a more important leader in education, fundamentally because 37 states adopted his books,” Dr. Shriver said.

        At the request of university trustees, all mail from the city and Miami will receive a special McGuffey cancellation. Hiestand Design, a student graphic design studio, produced the artwork.

        At 10 a.m. Friday, Dr. Shriver and other dignitaries will gather at the Oxford Post Office, 5145 Brown Road, to help inaugurate the cancellation mark, which will be used for a week.

        This week, campus groups have discussed McGuffey's impact on education and exhibited a collection of his books in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections Library.

        The Miami University Art Museum will display furniture from the McGuffey Museum, home to the family during his time at Miami, through next August.

        McGuffey farmed. He preached. He served as president of Ohio University and Cincinnati College, and helped set up public schools in Ohio and Virginia.

        The Miami University professor's reading texts from the 1830s taught frontier children and continued to influence generations. His books are America's most famous teaching tool, according to the Ohio Almanac.

        In 1961 a House bill to honor him went nowhere. In 1971 supporters sought a stamp for the anniversary of his death in 1873. The postmaster rejected it. In 1997 his supporters worked for two years and again sent petitions with hundreds of signatures to the U.S. Stamp Advisory Committee. Again, nothing happened.

        “Ironically, education is the biggest challenge these days and a main priority of the presidential candidates,” Dr. Shriver said. “Meanwhile, we can't get a stamp for the Schoolmaster to the Nation.

        “But we've had assurances that the committee will review its procedures in the future — and give him a chance.”

        Where there's a will, there's a way.

       



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