Alexander Wade

Morgantown Evening Post
May 6, 1904

Prof. Wade's Work

Was of a National Character as Pointed Out by Waitman Barbe in his Address at the Funeral Exercises.

Professor A. L. Wade was perhaps the most widely known, and in many ways the most distinguished, public school educator West Virginia has ever produced. His name is familiar to school men in all parts of the country. He owes this high place to his service in one particular phase of public school work, namely, the movement for systematizing and grading the work of country schools, as pointed out by Professor Barbe in his address at Mr. Wade's funeral. Mr. Wade was the real originator and father of this great movement which has spread to every state in the Union. The suggestion of Professor Barbe that the public school teachers of West Virginia should erect a monument in memory of the man whose name is most intimately associated with public school work in West Virginia is heartily approved by the Post, and we hope to see the suggestion soon take definite form in organized action. The history of Professor Wade's distinctive work is exceedingly interesting, and our readers will be interested in the following from Professor Barbe's address:

"The name of A. L. Wade in inseparably associated with one of the important educational movements of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. When all of his thousands of little acts of kindness and of love shall be forgotten, because those who received them no long live to speak of them, he will still be known as the author and originator of the graduating system for country schools. The biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias have already embalmed his name for preservation, and there the student of educational history will find it for years and years to come. I remember with what pleasure I heard Professor Paul Hanus of Harvard University declare at a meeting of the Cambridge, Massachussetts [sic], Educational Conference, a few years ago, that the public school men of America should never let the fact be forgotten that the credit for introducing order and system into the chaotic work of rural schools is due to A. L. Wade of West Virginia. And I am happy to recall that three or four West Virginia men back in one corner of the room started the applause which instantly became general. Let us never permit it to be said that the gray-haired prophet had greater honor in Massachussetts [sic] than in West Virginia.

"The story of his conception, development and application of the idea of rural school courses of study and graduation is told by him in his book called 'A Graduating System for Country Schools,' published in 1881 with a stirring introduction by President John Rhey Thompson of the University. I have just re-read that book, and I am profoundly convinced that in many ways it is a remarkable contribution to educational literature and educational history. Hundreds of people in this county and many in this audience will remember the events which he relates in such simple, frank and nervous English. Education interest in Mon[on]galia county in those days was at a white heat, made so by his inspiring leadership as county superintendent. For several years he held upon an average more than fifty public meetings every year. The schoolhouses and churches could not accommodate the people. Addresses were made in every sub-district not only by himself but by such men as President Thompson, Professors Purinton, Lyon, and Owen of the University, and by the ministers of the county. The editors of the 'Morgantown Post' and the 'New Dominion' traveled with him over the county and reported the meetings. Hon. George W. Atkinson, then editor of a Wheeling paper and later Governor of the State, spent a week in this county to see for himself what was being done. In his report of what he witnessed Mr. Atkinson said: 'At the instance of County Superintendent Wade, of Monongalia, we made a tour last week of a portion of that county, attending what Mr. Wade calls his annual public examinations. Such crowds of people we have never seen assembled, even at barbecues during political campaigns. Mr. Wade has thoroughly systematized the schools of his county, and his plan is simply this: The pupils of every school in the county are arranged in classes after the fashion of colleges and universities, and every year a greater or less number of students graduate from every school in the county. The Commencement, or graduating exercises, are held in each district, and all the schools from the sub-districts have their graduating pupils present at some central point in the district where the examination takes place; and those who pass creditable examinations receive diplomas which certify that the holders have taken the course of study laid down in the school law of the state, and have passed a public examination upon the studies, thus laid down in the law. The parents and immediate relatives of the members of the graduating class never fail to be present during the entire examination, and every parent is anxious for his or her child to be most successful.'

"Other newspapers took it up, and the work spread throughout the state, Marshall county being the first to fall into line, and State Superintendent Pendleton recommended its adoption by the entire state. Several school men from Pennsylvania as well as those from various West Virginia counties, made visits to Monongalia to examine the new system personally. F. H. Crago, then Principal at Moundsville, and still active in school work in Wheeling, took part in some of the public exercises.

"Soon the news of this great work for public education spread to other states. The 'National Journal of Education' at Boston said editorially, 'We fear that no county in New England could make so good a showing.' The 'Philadelphia Teacher' said, 'It remained for the latter half of the nineteenth century to originate, develop and mature such a free-school system as would challenge the admiration of the nations of the earth. We hail with satisfaction an appliance of this kind, coming as it does, from a live teacher, and exhibiting the results of practical experience in the school-room.' The 'American Journal of Education,' of St. Louis, the 'Educational Weekly,' of Chicago, and 'Barnes' Educational Monthly' of New York were equally cordial in their recognition of the new idea. John D. Philbrick, Superinte[n]dent of the Boston Public Schools, wrote to Mr. Wade: 'Your county ought to be marked as a bright spot on the educational map of the country.' In 1879 the Massachussetts [sic] State Educational Association endorsed Mr. Wade's plan by formal resolution, and finally, for I must be brief, he was invited to speak before the National Educational Association at Philadelphia in July, 1879, and the following resolution was adopted by the highest educational body in America: 'Resolved, That the attention of the State superintendents of public instruction throughout the United States be called to the propriety of adopting a graduating system for country schools.'

Meanwhile New Jersey and other states had adopted the plan, and the victory was won - a splendid victory for the noble cause of education in which we are all so deeply interested' That was twenty-five years ago. Since then every state in the Union has adopted some sort of a definitely graded course of study for the country schools - and the old days of chaos can never return.

"Modestly he bore his honors, and sometimes as we saw him come and go, engaged in other duties, we may have forgotten that a great leader was among us. It is to hoped that somebody will undertake, in the near future, a history of the development of courses of study and graduation for country schools. He will find the materials for the first chapters of it in Mr. Wade's book.

"Of Mr. Wade's work as an institute instructor, as Principal of the Morgantown public schools, as an educational lecturer, as a contributor to educational journals, and as a representative of publishing houses there is time to speak but a word. He said a thousand times, and put it into practice, that our schools should be made as attractive as the best homes. This was the motto set up by him over-arching all of his educational work. Sunshine went with him and benediction followed. He was known in nearly every county in the state, and wherever he went, friends crowded about him. Thirty years ago, when the rod was still the most important piece of furniture in the school-room, he spoke and wrote everywhere he went against its use. In his prime he was the most generally called for institute instructor in the state. What he lacked in scientific detail of pedagogical equipment, he more than made up in inspiration and in practical suggestion. For thirty years an educational meeting in West Virginia without his good company, and his brilliant but kindly repartee, was incomplete. The state is full of stories of his ready wit. Here is a familiar one, as good as any of Mark Twain's. A Richmond lady asked him if he were not a Virginian, and expressed the hope that such was the case. Mr. Wade, as you remember, was born in Indiana, but he instantly replied: 'Yes, Madam, my parents were Virginians, my grand-parents were Virginians, and I am a Virginian, but is so happened that I was not born in my native state.' I mention this here, knowing that he would have us mingle even with our sorrow, the recollection of this happy side of his beautiful life.

"I have seen him in book contests before Legislatures, and boards of education; I have seen him in teachers' institutes; I have seen him at hotels and in social circles; and as a child I remember him as the best county superintendent this state ever had. I never knew him to do a mean or ignoble thing. I never saw him lose his temper. I never saw him serve himself before another. I never knew a more absolutely unselfish man. He preferred to minister rather than to be ministered unto. There might be written over his grave the words that mark the tomb of that other teacher, Heinrich Pestalozzi, in the little Swiss hamlet: 'Everything for others; nothing for himself; blessed be his name.'"


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