The Day – Remember When: NFA benefactors in the 1800s had education in mind

I remember when I first went to Norwich Free Academy on a Thursday in September 1962. I had left St. Pat’s in eighth grade, top of the heap, but headed for the sprawling campus as a Greasy , oh sorry, I mean a freshman. There were nearly 1,000 freshmen (980 incoming, 876 graduating) for the Class of 1966 on campus when I arrived, the largest ever. It was nice to see some of my friends, but the size of the campus and just remembering where I needed to get to in time seemed a bit confusing.

I found myself in the main class in the basement of the Commercial with Mr. G., science teacher and football coach. Dating started my day, then my locker assignment came next, but where it was – well, I got lost, and it wouldn’t be the last time.

In the mid-19th century, a new push in education prompted the population to seek free education for eighth-grade graduate students, regardless of their social and economic status. At that time, those who attended secondary school enrolled in private schools, which was very expensive for their parents. A strong proponent of free education was Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, who believed that an educated person would continue to evolve our country into a nation heralded by other counties. In Norwich, William P. Greene of Greeneville fame followed this idea and established a grammar school in the village of Greeneville for his pupils, but this was short-lived.

Historian Ellwood P. Cubberly wrote this statement in 1919 for his biography of Horace Mann: “No one has done more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the concept that education should be universal, not sectarian, gratuitous, and the goal should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character rather than mere apprenticeship or the advancement of a sectarian end.

This non-secular attitude towards education evolved as a way for the community to create a system to promote free education for poorer students and improve their knowledge.

Years before, early education reformers saw giving money and other forms of assistance as a way to make students dependent on other people’s money and not allow them to prosper. for themselves. These proponents of education wanted to increase the responsibility of students by allowing them to earn a decent income and have a better lifestyle by controlling them through responsibility.

Over time, new and educated workers would be needed in all jobs, leading to a better world.

In 1854, the Reverend, Dr John Putnam Gulliver, a highly educated cleric, conceived the concept of providing free education above elementary level in Norwich. Dr Gulliver, with the help of social and economic leaders in Norwich, sought to raise funds for an endowment to provide a ‘free’ academy, not a public school, run without political influence for all ‘deserving’ students “.

Three very generous benefactors donated $12,000 each ($395,000 today). Records show that approximately $100,000 was collected. In today’s value, that would be around $3.3 million.

Half of the money raised would be a fund for facility maintenance and salaries ($1,650,000 today). One source, found online, says Russell Hubbard donated $11,000, but another respectable source noted that he donated the amount of $12,500. Benefactors saw it as a way to improve and foster economic growth, as knowledge was the path to economic power.

New machines and inventions would be needed to meet the economic growth that would be led by educated people.

Donors and incorporated companies form an impressive group because of their influence in their industrial, economic, social and cultural activities in Norwich. I chose to list all contributors as a way to raise awareness. They are: Russel Hubbard, William P. Greene, William A. Buckingham, Winslow Williams, Henry B. Norton, J. Breed, C. Rogers, W. Farnan, David Smith, CC Brand, Joseph Otis, JS Webb, H. Thomas, AJ Currier, E. Edwards, Reverend JP Gulliver, Charles J. Stedman, William W. Coit, JL Greene, D. Tyler, Lafayette FS Foster, John Fox Slater, Charles Osgood, E. Williams, L. Blackstone, AH Almy, John A. Rockwell, EO Babbott, L. Ballou, C. Johnson, Ebenezer Learned, JP Spalding, C. Tracey, CS Morgan, Lucius W. Carroll, and SW Meech.

These gentlemen represented much of Norwich’s wealth. They were well educated in the demands of the needs of a growing nation. Banking, medicine, merchandising, transportation, religion and construction were their expertise.

Remember, this was a large sum of money in the 1850s, given without the benefit of a tax deduction. The background to the creation of the Norwich Free Academy shows pure philanthropy. I doubt “noblesse oblige” (French for “make reforms to feel good about yourself”) is relevant.

Proponents of the establishment of the ‘Free Academy’ were concerned citizens of Norwich such as:

* Reverend John Putman Gulliver: Graduated from Yale University, 1840, Doctor of Divinity from the University of Iowa, President of Knox College, Professor of Andover Theological Seminary, Pastor of Broadway Congregational Church for 20 years and promoter from the Norwich Free Academy.

* William A. Buckingham: Twice Mayor of Norwich, Governor of Connecticut, Merchant, Philanthropist, Benefactor of Yale University, Broadway Church and Norwich Free Academy.

*Lafayette Sabin Foster LL. D.: Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives, United States Senator, Acting Vice President after the death of Abraham Lincoln, Yale University Law Professor, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice, benefactor from Yale, the Otis Library and the Norwich Free Academy.

* General Daniel Tyler: West Point graduate, Brigadier General of the Connecticut Volunteers, commissioned at the Battle of Bull Run, grandfather of Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and benefactor of the Norwich Free Academy.

* John A. Rockwell: Yale University graduate, Connecticut State Senator, New London County Court Judge, involved in the development of Laurel Hill and benefactor of the Norwich Free Academy.

* William W. Coit: owner of the New York and Norwich Stream Line, who took President Andrew Jackson from Norwich to Groton in 1833 for the dedication of the Groton Heights monument, and benefactor of the Norwich Free Academy.

* John Fox Slater: owner of the Slater Cotton Mills in Jewett City, benefactor of Park Church and United Workers of Norwich, future owner of the Ponemah Mill in Taftville, recipient of the United States Congressional Gold Medal for Creation a million dollar freedmen’s education fund ($33.2 million today) and benefactor of the Norwich Free Academy.

* William P. Greene: industrialist, mayor of Norwich, owner of the Norwich Water Power Company, founder, promoter, entrepreneur of Greeneville and benefactor of the Norwich Free Academy.

* Amos Hubbard: Descendant of Christopher Leffingwell – paper maker who brought a Fourdrinier continuous paper making machine to Norwich where a roll of continuous paper could be made when the only way before was to produce one sheet at a time. Mr. Hubbard ran his business for 42 years and moved to Greeneville to a larger building between the Electric Canal and the Shetucket River (roughly where the old Mr. Bigs was). His company made paper for book and newspaper publishers. In 1860, Mr. Hubbard’s manufacturing business was the largest paper mill in the world. He built a mansion on the current site of the Norwich Post Office. The front door is at Norwichtown Cemetery and he was a benefactor of Norwich Free Academy.

This is only a partial list of those Norwich Free Academy benefactors who have had the foresight to take a major step in the education of students, giving them the opportunity and responsibility to grow and prosper in this social world. and economical. A few years after the founding of the Norwich Free Academy, part of this concept would come to be known as “Social Gospel”. This effort changed the previous concept of the best education. This effort gave students the opportunity to earn the best education available if they wanted it.

There are excellent sources online to fill in information on remaining benefactors. Additional materials can be found at the Otis Library. Norwich Free Academy has grown into a fantastic institution that has been improving student life for 167 years. Education is what you make of it.

Bill Shannon is a retired Norwich Public School teacher and long-time resident of Norwich.

Comments are closed.