John Swett

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John Swett
4th California State Superintendent of Public Instruction
In office
January 2, 1863 – December 2, 1867
Preceded by Andrew J. Moulder
Succeeded by Oscar Penn Fitzgerald
Personal details
Born (1830-07-31)July 31, 1830
Pittsfield, New Hampshire
Died August 22, 1913(1913-08-22) (aged 83)
Alhambra Valley, CA
Political party National Union Party(Republican)
Spouse(s) Mary Louise Tracy (b.12/8/1839, Thompson Ct - ?)
Children Emeline Swett(Mar 9 1863), Emily Tracy Swett(Mar 9 1863), William Russell Swett(Oct 1 1868), Frank Tracy Swett (Nov 22 1869), Walter Harper Swett(July 20, 1870), Nellie Swett(Apr 7 1875), Helen Swett(Apr 7 1875), and John French Swett(Aug 1 1879)
Parents Lucretia (b. French) Swett, Eben Swett
Profession Politician, Teacher, Principal

John Swett (July 31, 1830-August 22, 1913) is considered to be the "Father of the California public school" system and the "Horace Mann of the Pacific".[1][2]

Biography[edit]

John Swett was an only child born July 31, 1830 in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, to Lucretia (born French) Swett and Eben Swett, who were Congregationalists.[3] He died August 22, 1913 in Alhambra Valley, near Martinez, California. He married Mary Louise (Tracy) Swett on May 8, 1862 in Sonoma, and they had 8 children.[4] During his life he was a close friend of Sierra Club co-founder John Muir.[5] Swett arrived in California in 1853 to mine gold but quickly sought work as a teacher in San Francisco.[6] In 1862 he became a Freemason, joining San Francisco's Phoenix Lodge No. 144.[7][8][9]

In 1863 he was instrumental in founding the California Educational Society, which would become the California Teachers Association, the largest teachers' union in the state of California. Running in 1863, during the Civil War, as a National Union Party (Republican) candidate he was elected California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and served until 1867.[10][11] Other positions he held were Deputy Superintendent of the San Francisco Public Schools (1870–1873), Principal of the Denman School (1873–1876) and the Girls' High School (1876–1889), and Superintendent of the San Francisco Public Schools (1890–1895).[12] In 1895 he retired to his estate, Hill Girt Ranch.[13]

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction (1863-1867)[edit]

His most important accomplishment was making the California school system free for all students. In his report for 1866-67, he stated: "The school year ending June 30, 1867, marks the transition period of California from rate-bill common schools to an American free school system. For the first time in the history of the State, every public school was made entirely free for every child to enter."[14]

Criticism[edit]

In his 1878 book The Poison Fountain Zachariah Montgomery criticized, among other things, Swett's autocratic style. He states the following on page 111:

It must be remembered that Superintendent Swett maintains the proposition that parents have no remedy against the teachers, and that:



"As a general thing the only persons who have a legal right to give orders to the teacher are his employers, namely, the committee in some States, and in others the directors or trustees. If his conduct is approved by his employers the parents have no remedy as against him or them." (See Swett's Biennial Report, 1864, page 166.)

And we must not forget that this same superintendent has said that: " The vulgar impression that parents have a legal right to dictate to teachers is entirely erroneous."[15]

Tributes[edit]

Books and other works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sierra Club, John Swett page
  2. ^ JoinCalifornia, Election History of the State of California, John Swett page
  3. ^ First Congregational Church of Pittsfield, HANNAH (LANE) FRENCH 1772-1854, Biographical research and written profiles by Larry Berkson, Historian, Pittsfield Historical Society
  4. ^ From Rootsweb.com/Ancestry.com Mary Louisa TRACY SWETT and John Swett
  5. ^ Sierra Club, John Swett page
  6. ^ Martinez Historical Society, John Swett
  7. ^ Phoenix Lodge #144, Our History
  8. ^ FAMOUS FREEMASONS By WILLIAM R. DENSLOW Volume IV Q – Z
  9. ^ The Quest for Masonic Light, HOW FREEMASONRY CAME TO CALIFORNIA AND HAWAII
  10. ^ California Dept. of Education, Historic Documents, History of Education, Part C - Historical Documents, THE “DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION” BEFORE 1921
  11. ^ Public education in California: its origin and development by John Swett. My Final Biennial Report. pg 196
  12. ^ JoinCalifornia, Election History of the State of California, John Swett page
  13. ^ Martinez Historical Society, John Swett
  14. ^ California Dept. of Education, Historic Documents, History of Education, Part C - Historical Documents, THE “DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION” BEFORE 1921
  15. ^ Zachariah Montgomery (1878), The Poison Fountain: Or, Anti-parental Education. Essays and Discussions on the School Question .. (The Poison Fountain: Or, Anti-parental Education. Essays and Discussions on the School Question ... ed.), pub. by the author, OCLC 4429858 
  16. ^ John Swett Award for Media Excellence, California Teachers Association
  17. ^ JoinCalifornia, Election History of the State of California, John Swett page

External links[edit]