William Holmes Mcguffey

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William Holmes Mcguffey

  • Values:
  • unity
  • faith
  • liberty

Clergyman and Educator

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Dates: 1800–1873
Quote: [H]is labors in the cause of education, … his conscientious Christian character—all these have made him one of the noblest ornaments of our profession in this age.
Quote credit:
National Education Association resolution, August 5, 1873
Image credit: McGuffey House and Museum, Miami University

Inspired by Faith

Synopsis copy: William Holmes McGuffey was an educator who created the McGuffey Readers for children. More than textbooks, they framed the country’s ethics through moral stories, indelibly shaping American character.

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Image credit: Granger Academic
Faith in Action


Body copy: Born on the Pennsylvania frontier in 1800, McGuffey was raised in a devout family and tutored in languages. He memorized entire books of the Bible and became a Presbyterian minister in 1829.

Image caption: William Holmes McGuffey

Image credit: Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo


Body copy: McGuffey was passionate about preaching and teaching. As a roving frontier teacher, he taught his students the Bible in places where few schoolbooks existed. The Eclectic Readers would eventually fill this gap.

Image caption: McGuffey’s New Second Eclectic Reader, 1885

Image credit: Public Domain


Body copy: In 1835, a Cincinnati publishing firm asked McGuffey to create the first Readers. His friend Harriet Beecher Stowe recommended him for the job. The Readers became standard public school textbooks in 37 states.

Image caption: Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1858

Image credit: Dickinson College


Body copy: Sales of the Readers were surpassed in America only by the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary. Various editions appeared between 1836 and 1960, selling over 120 million copies. Tens of thousands are still sold each year.

Image caption: Page from one of McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, 1840

Image credit: Granger Academic


Body copy: The McGuffey Readers affected students well into adulthood. Henry Ford said they were one of his most formative influences, and adults like members of the McGuffey Club have enjoyed reminiscing about the stories.

Image caption: Members of the McGuffey Club reenacting scenes from a Reader, 1942

Image credit: John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images


Body copy: McGuffey’s legacy is celebrated at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he once taught as a Professor of Languages. His Readers are still used by private schools and homeschoolers across the country.

Image caption: Faculty posing with a statue of McGuffey at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, year unknown

Image credit: Miami University

McGuffey’s Readers

Bubble copy: McGuffey imbued his Readers with a moral and religious sensibility, with themes like the Golden Rule and the importance of honesty. Explore these pages of McGuffey’s New Fourth Eclectic Reader.

Image credit: University of Alberta Libraries / Internet Archive


Bubble copy: The Readers included stories and lessons from the Bible. “This great Being is God. He made all things, but He is more excellent than all that He has made.”

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Image credit: University of Alberta Libraries / Internet Archive


Bubble copy: Each selection taught students several new words, such as “Temple; n., a house where God is worshipped.” They also included pronunciation tips.

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Image credit: University of Alberta Libraries / Internet Archive


Bubble copy: McGuffey designed his Readers to become progressively challenging. Instead of giving students lists to memorize, they presented new words in context.

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Image credit: University of Alberta Libraries / Internet Archive

Legacy of Liberty

Question/alignment statement:Do you think that moral education is essential to forming good citizens?

Image credit: Dennis MacDonald / Alamy Stock Photo


Scripture: Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life.

Scripture credit: Proverbs 22:6

Image credit: McGuffey House and Museum, Miami University

Related changemakers: The Beechers, J. C. Penney, and Rebecca Gratz

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