THE SCHOOL CHILDREN'S FRIEND
 ONE morning, about a hundred years ago, a farmer lad with
a basket on his arm was waling to the village store in
Franklin, Massachusetts. He was probably fourteen
years of age, although you would have guessed him to
the older. His face was pale and bore the saddened
look of a child who had never known what it was to
play. His clothing of home-made stuff was tattered and
worn. His whole appearance told of poverty and hard
Some village boys saw him and shouted, "There goes
Horace. Let's have some fun with him."
They pelted him with mud. They threw stones into his
"Hello, girly!" said one, "have you washed the
breakfast dishes yet?"
"How much straw can you plait in a day, Horry?" asked
 Then they all hooted, "Girl-boy! Girl-boy! Girl-boy!
Helps the women in the kitchen!" and they pranced
around him in great glee.
But the lad walked on silently, seeming not to notice
their ill-mannered taunts. At the store he was greeted
kindly by the man behind the counter.
"Some more straw braid to-day, Horace?"
"Yes, sir," was the answer. "There's not so much as I
hoped to bring, but I shall do better next week."
The storekeeper took the rolls of plaited straw from
the basket, and soon figured up their value.
"One shilling and sixpence. And what will you buy
"Half of it is mother's," answered Horace, "and half of
it is mine. Mother will come in to-morrow and get what
she needs. For my part, I want the arithmetic book
that I was looking at last week."
"The price is one shilling," said the storekeeper.
"I know," said Horace, "and I lack threepence of having
so much. I only want to ask if you will not lay the
book aside for me until next week, when I shall have
more than enough to pay for it."
"You may take the book now," said the man,
 "and I will trust you for the balance till you have
some more braid ready."
The lad thanked him, and tucked the precious book under
his coat. Then taking up his empty basket, he went out
to meet the taunts of the street boys again.
"That's right, girly!" they shouted after him. "Run
home now, and wash the breakfast dishes. Run home and
plait some more straw."
"That lad will make his mark in the world," said the
storekeeper to the group of loafers who were lounging
at the door. "The boys make fun of him because he
makes straw braids and helps his mother with her
housework. But they'll be glad enough to do him honor
by and by."
"Has he no father?" asked one.
"Ah, no. His father died two years ago, and the boy
has been the mainstay of the family ever since. And
work! Why, he's never known anything but work. That
boy never played a day in his life. He's at work on
the farm whenever the weather will let him. And then
of evenings and on rainy days he's always plating
straw. Why, he plaits more straw than any
 woman or girl in Franklin. The hat makers say that
his braids are the best of any that I send them.
"School? No, he never has time to go to school much.
I guess he goes seven or eight weeks in midwinter, when
he can't do anything on the form. But they do say that
he knows more than the teacher, young as he is.
"Books? Well, I should reckon. He's read everything
in the Franklin library, and he ahs a few books of his
own. They say that he sits up and reads when everybody
else is in bed. Sometimes he sits up till long after
midnight. And they're so poor up at this house that I
guess they can't afford to buy many candles, either."
Such was the boyhood of Horace Mann. It was a boyhood of
labor unrelieved by any of the joys which children
commonly know. He never knew a holiday. Marbles and
kites and tops never came his way, for he had no time
to spend with them. As for playing ball, he was too
 even to think of it. In fact, he never had any kind of
plaything that he could call his own.
As he neared the age of manhood, however, he contrived
to give more time to the study of books. Through his
industry and self-denial his mother was at length quite
well provided for. Why should he not now indulge
himself with a little of that learning for which he had
always had such hungering and craving?
One day when he was twenty years old, a school teacher
whose name was Barrett surprised him by saying,—
"Horace, you must go to college!"
What a strange idea to put into the head of a young man
who had neither money nor opportunities!
"Why, Mr. Barrett," said Horace, "I don't know enough
to enter college. I have never studied Latin, and as
for Greek I have yet to see the first book in that
language. It is useless to think of such a thing."
"Not so useless as you suppose," answered Mr. Barrett.
"I have said that you must go to college and I mean it.
I myself will prepare you."
 Horace did not require much persuasion, for all his
ambition pointed that way. He set to work with a will,
and so did Mr. Barrett. Within six months the young
man mastered more Greek and Latin than most students
learn nowadays in three years. Before he was
twenty-one he passed the examinations and entered the
sophomore class of Brown University.
He had no money. He had no wealthy friends to help him
along. But he was resolved to make his own way. He
earned what he could by doing any odd job that turned
up. For a few weeks in each year he taught a country
school, keeping up his studies and passing the
examinations as they came. He took care of his own
room. He sometimes cooked his own meals. He lived
At first, his classmates were disposed to laugh at him.
Yet he was so gentle in his manners, so brilliant of
mind, so studious and earnest, that he finally won the
admiration of all the students and the respect of all
the professors. No finer classical scholar ever passed
through Brown University. At the end of three years he
graduated at the head of his class.
 Long before Horace Mann left college he had made up his
mind to be a lawyer, at that time all the brightest
young men in the country were preparing for the
profession of law. It was the profession that would
give the freest scope to the exercise of genius; it was
the profession that offered the surest promise of fame
There was a very famous law school at Litchfield,
Connecticut, and thither at the age of twenty-four went
Horace Mann. As a matter of course, he was not long in
pushing to the front. With his tireless energy and his
natural brilliancy of intellect, his progress was but a
series of intellectual triumphs. He soon became known
as not only the best student, but the best lawyer in
At the age of twenty-six he was admitted to the state
bar of Massachusetts. The road to honor and
distinction was open before him. As an attorney he had
all the practice that he could manage. He was assured
of a steady and increasing income. At thirty years of
age he was
 chosen a member of the state legislature. He became
known as, next to Daniel Webster, the best public
speaker in Massachusetts. At length he was elected to
Congress to succeed Ex-President John Quincy Adams in
the House of Representatives. Surely, but few men at
his age have ever had brighter prospects before them.
But, notwithstanding his success, Horace Mann was ill
at ease. "I ought to be doing more for humanity," he
The schools of Massachusetts, indeed of the whole
country, were at that time very poorly managed and very
inefficient. People felt but very little interest in
education. The public schools were attended by only a
few pupils and these were of the poorer class.
Thousands of children were growing up in ignorance and
"This is not as it should be," said Horace Mann; and he
began to study the subject with all his accustomed
"The children must be better cared for," he said. "The
state must provide for the instruction of all. We must
have more schools and better schools."
 He brought the matter before the legislature. His
arguments were so clear and convincing that a law was
passed providing for the general improvement of the
schools in the state. More than this, Horace Mann
himself was appointed Secretary of the Board of
Education, and it was made his duty to see that the
provisions of the law were carried out. All his
friends were astonished when he accepted the position.
"It is the work of my life," he said.
He closed his law office. He sold his law library.
"The bar is no longer my forum," he said. "I have
betaken myself to the larger sphere of mind and
The salary was small. The honors were few. The labor
was great. Yet cheerfully did Horace Mann take hold of
the work that was assigned him, and manfully did he
carry it forward.
He visited Europe and studied the best systems of
education there. He lost no effort to make the schools
of Massachusetts the best in the world. "We must have
better teachers, better buildings, better schoolbooks,
longer terms of
 school," he said; and for the procurement of these he
The result is now to be seen in the high character and
wonderful efficiency of the public schools all over the
country. The good work which Horace Mann began in
Massachusetts soon had its influence in other states.
That good work, once begun, has never been abandoned or
neglected, but it still goes on. All that is best in
the public schools of to-day may be traced to the
influence and work of this man, who was willing to
sacrifice ease, honor, and fame in order to promote the
welfare of the children.
Nowadays there are comparatively few people who
remember the name of Horace Mann, and fewer still who
are acquainted with his history. But every child in
the public schools of the United States should know
that he owes very much of his own happiness to the
energy and generous self-sacrifice of the boy who
braided straw and helped his mother.
"Be ashamed to die," he once said, "until you have won
some victory for humanity."