E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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"His love for these things home, humanity, God explains our
love for him. He was kind and gentle and pure. His life was
rounded and benign. In his teaching he kept step with civilization,
progress, education, and virtue."

We who knew him will cherish the memory of the great soul that
dwelt in a form so gracious ; the sustaining strength of personal


friendship; the achievements for education; with which his name
must be ever blended; the consecration of a life in tender sympathy
with mankind all these are far too precious to be lost from our
memories, or permitted to perish from our traditions.



TO 1867

IT was through the recommendation of Miss Jones, whose engage-
ment at Oswego ended at the close of the school-year (in 1862) that
Mr. Sheldon's attention was directed to myself. The letter of invi-
tation, which he sent me to Lancaster Mass., where I then resided,
was calculated to give me a favorable opinion of the man, who
seemed earnestly intent to labor in the interest of truth and progress
without unduly elating the part he had taken in it, or indulging
in vain promises. It is thus I found him on my arrival in Oswego,
and ever afterwards.

Although my work was at first chiefly connected with giving les-
sons in the city schools in drawing, French, etc. I spent with the
greatest interest two hours in the afternoon with the Normal Class,
assembled in a room of one of the city schools, where methods were
discussed and lessons given in the Practice school were submitted
to the criticism of the class. In my opinion Mr. Sheldon passed
some of his happiest hours in the Fourth Ward school-building,
where the Normal school class had its sessions, and where the first
experiments were made in applying the methods introduced there,
to the instruction of children of various grades. He never missed
a session of this class, and sat there with his teachers, eager to
improve his mind and to receive new inspiration for the performance
of his task. As a proof that he considered himself a pupil of that
class, we find his name mentioned as one of its graduates in 1862.

Much of 'Mr. Sheldon's undeniably great moral influence over
his pupils must be attributed to this spirit of love and charity, which
shone most brightly, when he had to deal with weaknesses that were
either the result of a neglected education, or of limited talents, pro-
vided they were supported by honest effort. Those who have been
teachers in his school, and who were called upon at regular intervals,
to decide about the granting of diplomas to the members of the
graduating class, can testify with what an earnestness our worthy


Principal begged to give them another trial, or perhaps, tried to
excuse some of their failings. Indeed it was hard for him, who
felt so much sympathy for the poor struggling part of society, to
destroy their hope of earning an honest living, after having brought
so much sacrifice to accomplish this end.

There were often cases where negligence, disregard of duty, or
unbecoming conduct in some of the pupils, engaged the attention
of the Principal, but even these he never treated with unbecoming
harshness or stern condemnation, but rather as a sorrowing father,
who would wish the erring children to see for themselves the fault
they had committed, and the way to redeem it.

I am reminded in this connection, of a little incident told me
by a lady referring to the time when, as an inexperienced girl,
suffering from home-sickness, she had entered the school. For
lack of attention to what was going on she had failed to listen
and had not obeyed one of the rules communicated by Mr. Sheldon
to the entering class. She was cited to appear before him. When
she stood there, weeping and trembling from fear of what was in
store for her, he took pity on her youth and innocence and forgot
all reproach, and said in a tender voice : "I will be a father to you
go back to your class." Similar examples of kindness, most of them
probably buried in the hearts of the recipients, might be quoted.

Even in difficult cases, he never, or with hardly any exception,
did he give way to angry reproach. I only recollect one instance
when a conceited young man, who with others was under reproof,
on account of some not very serious offense against a fellow-pupil,
ventured to give the gray-headed principal advice as to how he
should have treated the matter. The thundering accents of Mr.
Sheldon's voice in reply to this impertinent advice, made the young
man aware of his proper place in the economy of the world.

Mr. Sheldon never considered himself exempt from observing
with scrupulous conscientiousness the rules concerning punctuality
and regularity in attendance, at the morning devotions and at les-
sons, which he considered binding on his scholars. He did not con-
sider it a sufficient excuse to plead, that one had not been aware
of the time, or that some trifling incident, which might have been
conquered by earnest will or determination, had caused the delay.
He went even further, as the following incident will show :

On a stormy day, the roads had been partially blocked with
snow, more especially the one that leads to the school from his


rural home nearly a mile away. About five minutes after the open-
ing of school he entered the hall, nearly out of breath, and took a
seat on the platform. At the close of the exercise, he advanced on
the platform, totally dejected, and like a humble penitent he
apologized to the whole school "for having been derelict to a duty,
for the neglect of which he had often blamed others." , }.* - '-'

How much this act reveals the jiumble spirit of Mr. Sheldon,
and his readiness to place himself on a footing of equality with
his subordinates in the observation of moral duties !

Mr. Sheldon viewed with the same conscientiousness the keep-
ing of a given promise; and it was one of the secrets of his power
that one could rely on his word without 'the fear of its being
broken for the furtherance of selfish interests.

Nothing speaks more eloquently about the blessed influence of
the departed, than the fact, that the conduct of the pupils after
his death was characterized by the same attention to order and
duty as it was before.

A word should be said of Mr. Sheldon's influence in the de-
votional exercises held every morning and on festive occasions. His
venerable form stands vividly before me, and I still hear his im-
pressive addresses and prayers, uttered with a solemn, manly voice,
which did not fail to be listened to with attention and reverence
by the whole assembly. When he appealed to the spirit of truth-
fulness, honesty, and strict attention to duty, his hearers knew that
these sentiments proceeded from a man who gave every day living
examples of these virtues. How his words and acts of love and
benevolence impressed others is well expressed by the pastor of his
church in one of the memorial addresses : "Mr. Sheldon's religion
was neither a proposition nor a profession, it was a passion. He
did not argue about God, but rather gazed into the face of God, as a
true son looks into the countenance of a loving father. He was
a loving member, and this is all; for God is love, and love is the
fulfilling of the law."


Mr. Sheldon's teachers might at one time have been divided
into three groups: the first comprising those who had joined him
at the start; the second, those who had been pupils in the class-room
as well as in the School of Practice; the third class comprising


persons called hither from outside localities. The latter were gener-
ally well recommended and were expected to teach some more ad-
vanced branches, such as Natural History, Chemistry, the ancient
languages, etc. subjects which hitherto had not received sufficient
attention at school, to enable pupils to teach them. The prevailing
spirit of the school was, however, so powerful as to induce even
the teachers called from outside, to conform to it by the use of
objective means of illustration and by oral teaching. Mr. Sheldon
was thus privileged in having to deal with a harmonious corps of
teachers, and to meet with little or no opposition to the introduction
of measures intended for the good of the school and its healthy

The weekly conferences or meetings with his teachers were
characterized by full freedom of expression of opinions and con-
victions, and the decision of a question was generally left to the

Mr. Sheldon preserved throughout his career a modest dispo-
sition. He never boasted about the work he had performed, even
when its success was universally acknowledged. On the other
hand, he was every ready to give full credit and praise to the efforts
of men who had worked in the same field with himself. Instead
of feeling jealous in regard to the improved means or methods sup-
posed to have been discovered by them, or in regard to the prior-
ity of this discovery he manifested the most unselfish admiration
for their labors and sacrifices in the cause of education. The fol-
lowing incident may illustrate this trait :

One morning the school, assembled in the great hall for the
morning exercises, looked with astonishment at the entrance of
Mr. Sheldon, whose appearance indicated that he had travelled
day and night, and that before going to his own home he was
impelled by a deep emotion, to communicate to his beloved school
a late joyous experience, of which his heart was full to overflow-
ing. This glorious experience consisted of a week's visit to Colonel
Parker's Normal School at Englewood, and the intimate acquaint-
ance formed there between the two men. With unbounded enthusi-
asm and unqualified praise our warm-hearted principal spoke of the
ideas he had seen in the making. His strongly emphasized exclama-
tion : "Yes, Parker is a great man!" seemed to imply that he him-
self was but a poor tyro in comparison. Such was the modesty
of the man.


The work of both these remarkable men belongs to history.
They both were pioneers in breaking down the old mechanical rou-
time of teaching, and substituting for it exercises more suitable to
the children's minds, based on perception, and capable of developing
the reasoning power, which the mere memorizing of even the best
books never will do. They both had to meet occasionally opposi-
tion to their plans, which in Colonel Parker's case often became per-
sonal, owing to his more combative spirit, while Mr. Sheldon, with
his calm, peaceful temperament, and his unflinching pursuit of what
he thought to be right, was often able to pacify or even to convert
his former enemies.

Mr. Sheldon's work has laid deep roots in the soil of educa-
tional progress, and that the better class of his pupils, scattered
all over the Union, have received a salutary impulse for good work
by the application of broad principles so instilled in them, as to en-
able them to distinguish between these and such experimental con-
trivances as some young, inexperienced teachers often consider firmly
wedded to the philosophy they are supposed to follow.

Mr. Sheldon took the greatest pride in, and bestowed most of
his time and attention on, the work done in the Practice Department,
both by the officers and students of the school. While the value
derived from the theoretical instruction received in the Normal
school formed an invaluable preparation for objective teaching, it
was undoubtedly its practical application to the teaching of differ-
ent grades, the experiences made in exciting the interest of chil-
dren and in developing a subject, the trying task of maintaining
discipline by proper means, and last, not least, the salutary criticism
to which they were occasionally subjected by competent judges,
which enabled the school to send out so many efficient teachers, and
which, I venture to say, constituted one of the main causes of the
high reputation enjoyed by the Oswego Normal School. It has the
more claim to this honor, as it was the first Normal School in the
United States in which a real trial and practice school was estab-
lished, not merely a so-called Model school, in which the teachers
in training were supposed to act as spectators to the performances
of others, without taking a hand in the work.

Towards the latter part of Mr. Sheldon's management, some of
the more rigid features of the criticism of practice work were abol-
ished, care being taken that pupils in training should not be dis-
couraged by having a whole catalogue of their short-comings laid


before them after each lesson, given in public, but only those that
were of the most importance and might be avoided by honest effort.


When I think of this home, I see before me a white cottage,
situated on a peninsula, from whose extremity the eye commands
charming views t>n the mirror of Lake Ontario, while the house it-
self is safely sheltered by a shady grove of trees, which have given
to the property the name of "Shady Shore." This cosy retreat af-
forded to Mr. Sheldon's mind and eye a pleasing and instructive
intercourse with nature. This was finely expressed by one of the
speakers at one of the Memorial meetings : "The grove, the garden,
the orchard, the lake, were his teachers. In these more than in
books he found the inspiration of his life. He read them, not as
botanist, not as naturalist, but as a child, to whom they were an
open revelation of a divine intelligence; to him they were a bound-
less store of knowledge, in which he found much to contemplate, and
the very contemplation was inspiration, joy, peace."

To these "contemplative" influences there were added some
which appealed to his restless activity, and to his predilection for
operations, operations connected with the raising and culture of
natural products, such as honey, poultry, etc. Although these ex-
periments were far from profitable, they yet fulfilled their object
in giving to their promoter a congenial occupation and to his resi-
dence and surroundings a rural character.

Mr. Sheldon's home circle was an ideal one. Not only the
children and near relatives, but many friends and wanderers like
myself have after a long journey entered the familiar grounds of
"Shady Shore" as into a haven of rest. I did so for the last time
in the second week of June, some days preceding my eightieth birth-
day. There was but little change visible about the premises, and
the welcome bestowed by our venerable friend was as cordial as
ever. There were visible on his countenance traces of advancing
age and symptoms of that sickness to which he succumbed a little
more than two months afterwards. In the death of his dearly be-
loved wife and partner for forty-six years, he had already passed
through the shadow of the valley of death, so as to be willing and
resigned to meet the reality whenever God shall call him from his
work. Still he felt happy to meet his beloved daughter Mary and


her husband, as well as myself and Professor Griggs, and lost no
time in introducing us to his school.

I remember how, in 1862, I entered for the first time the pre-
cincts sacred as the home of one of the most distinguished educa-
tors of this Union. I remembered all the happy family reunions
that had taken place here, as well as those in which the pupils and
teachers of the Normal School participated on festival occasions ;
for instance, after the graduating exercises, or whenever Mr. Shel-
don wished the pupils to enjoy some pleasant sport or recreation,
which was generally accompanied by a liberal distribution of maple
sugar, roast corn, or Bartlett pears gathered from his trees.

The death of our dearly beloved friend Sheldon occurred less
than two months after the celebration of the eightieth anniversary
of my birth, when his inspiring words before a large assembly
of teachers and pupils sounded like a blessing to me, and have shed
a halo over my declining days.

We are not allowed to pry into what awaits us in the life be-
yond, but we have a strong faith that the vision which seemed to
rise before our dying friend, "Mother and Christ," may become a
reality in the thought, that hearts ii.'ho were ONE during life, will
not be separated; and that pure, holy thoughts in the service of
truth will find a new field of labor beyond. It is with this calm
conviction that our friend exchanged his earthly task, which was
a blessing to thousands of his pupils and friends, for the one await-
ing him in his eternal Home.


Pestalozzi and Sheldon belong to history as benefactors of the
human race in elevating the standard of education, so as to make its
blessings accessible to the children of the poor as well as to those
of the wealthier classes.

Men who have worked, toiled, and sacrificed themselves for the
above purpose, and who, animated by noble motives, were sustained
by faith in God and His eternal laws, will stand out in the far
future as shining lights when their imperfections will be forgotten,
and their motives and actions better understood, because divested
of the disturbing influence of surrounding circumstance.

The writer of these "Reminiscences" believes on account of


the intimate relations existing between his father and Pestalozzi,
and of his own long connection with Mr. Sheldon and his work
to have sufficient data, from which to draw a parallel between these
two men. He is fully aware that great allowance must be made
in this comparison, on account of the different periods in which
they lived (the time of their birth being nearly eighty years apart),
the different countries they inhabited, and the different circum-
stances by which they were surrounded.

There are, however, some features which characterize all noble,
philanthropic souls : Love for human kind, pity for the poor and
suffering, great perseverance and noble efforts in pursuing their
aim, unflinching courage in doing what they consider to be right, a
pleasing modesty in regard to their own powers, and a firm trust
in God and His constant care and protection.

One needs but read the history of these two men to see this
statement verified. Incidentally, there are other points of resem-
blance ; viz., that each was born in a republic, of respectable, hard-
working parents in moderate circumstances, that both received a
fragmentary education, which, although it allowed them to enter
college, yet never led to their graduation, nor gave them any pro-
found scientific knowledge, nor the preparation for any definite
vocation. Each also, in early manhood, turned his energies enthusi-
astically to rural pursuits and plans, with the intention of making
this a life-work.

What induced them first to give attention to education, and
make it the great task of their life was : pity for poor neglected chil-
dren, and the hope of saving them by the influence of love, atten-
tion to their mcral and mental wants, and by good example. It may
be surmised that this voluntary sacrifice in behalf of the poor was
not a lucrative business, but one of hard labor and frequent disap-

It was fortunate that both men were then, and throughout their
whole career, assisted and comforted by noble wives, who had mind
and heart enough to sympathize with the aspirations of their hus-
bands, and to condone their failings in wordly or personal matters.

They both were privileged to witness the success of their work,
and have the consciousness in their old age that they would be re-
membered by thousands of affectionate pupils and friends of educa-
tion after their departure from this earth.


Both have statues erected to their memory Pestalozzi sixty
years after his death, Sheldon after three years. A statue, it is true,
does not warrant perpetual remembrance. The only imperishable
monument consists in a work which from simple beginning or seed
spreads out to a noble tree, whose fruit will always remind a grate-
ful posterity of the seed from which it sprang, and of the gardener
who took care of it in its tender years.

A nervous organization and very susceptible temper caused Pes-
talozzi to be sensitive, restless, alternately enthusiastic and despond-
ent during all his life ; while Mr. Sheldon always retained a calm,
equable disposition and manner.

Pestalozzi exercised a great magnetic power by the fervor of
his feelings, and by the enthusiasm with which he proclaimed the
principles of his method. Although it would be presumptuous to
call him the original discoverer of these principles, he and his asso-
ciates have at least the merit of having devised the proper means by
which a distinct objective view of a subject was first impressed on
the pupils, and then made the basis for further development.

Mr. Sheldon made use of these means, whenever he found them
conducive to progress, and hence modestly declined the honor of
having originated a method, such as the foolish expression of "Os-
wego system," or the even worse one, "Oswego idea," would seem
to imply.

On the other hand, he introduced reforms in the conduct and
management of the Practice school, and in the supervision and criti-
cism of its teachers, which have supplied a model to other Normal
Schools in the country.

One great difference between the two educators consists in the
different character of the work assigned to them. Pestalozzi had
during all his life the management of a private school, which gave
him undoubtedly more liberty for making experiments with his pupils
than was granted to Mr. Sheldon, who, as superintendent of city
schools and principal of a State Normal School, had to be more
cautious in the selection and treatment of subjects, so as to satisfy
the school authorities and the public.

Both men, it is true, received liberal support ; Pestalozzi by
the approval and adoption of his system by distinguished scholars,
which led to its introduction into the public schools at the command
of the King of Prussia and other princes; Sheldon by liberal grants


given to his school and to other normal schools partly organized on
the model of his.

Finally, it would be wrong, in regard to the religious belief
of these men, to lay too much stress on outward manifestations dic-
tated by creed or sect. Both were one in holding to the essentials
of true religion : Faith in God and Love for their fellow men.


Los Angeles
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below.

MAY 6 1950
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MAY 1 7 1957

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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 18 of 18)