John Davis Pierce

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John Davis Pierce
John Davis Pierce.png
Born(1797-02-18)February 18, 1797
Chesterfield, New Hampshire, United States
DiedApril 5, 1882(1882-04-05) (aged 85)
Medford, Massachusetts, United States
ResidenceNear Ypsilanti, Michigan, United States
Alma materBrown University,
Princeton Theological Seminary
OccupationMinister, state school superintendent, legislator
Known forMichigan public school system

John Davis Pierce (February 18, 1797 – April 5, 1882) was a Congregationalist minister, public schools advocate, and Michigan legislator. He was Michigan's first superintendent of public schools, a position new to the United States, where he established Michigan's public school system. His work has been compared to that of Horace Mann's.

Before his public service career, he attended Brown University and Princeton Theological Seminary, and became an ordained minister of the Congregational Church. When he moved to Michigan as a missionary, he became involved in Michigan politics and ultimately designed the state's public school system as part of their organization for statehood. After his superintendency, he was elected to the state legislature and served on Michigan's 1850 constitutional convention before retiring to his farm outside Ypsilanti for the last thirty years of his life.

Early life and career[edit]

John Davis Pierce was born February 18, 1797, in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.[1] His father died when he was young and the subsequent lack of money limited Pierce's education during his youth.[1] He decided to self-educate at the age of 20.[1] He later attended Brown University and graduated in 1822.[1] Pierce taught briefly before attending Princeton Theological Seminary.[1] In 1825, he became an ordained minister of the Congregational Church and then a pastor in Sangerfield, New York and Goshen, Connecticut.[1] He lost those jobs during the late 1820s Anti-Masonic Movement, as a Freemason himself.[1]

We have started in the race of improvement with the fixed determination of extending the blessings of education to every child in the state. Within the past three years about 2000 districts have been organized.

Pierce writing to Horace Mann, 1839[2]

Pierce married Millicent Estabrook on February 1, 1825.[3]

He went to Michigan as a missionary and moved to Marshall, a frontier town, in 1831.[1] He planned a public education system for Michigan as they planned to enter statehood, and was subsequently appointed Michigan's first superintendent of public instruction from 1836 to 1841,[2] where he coordinated the state's elementary schools, created state school districts with individual libraries, set professional qualifications for teachers, sold public land for public education, and planned the University of Michigan.[1] It was the first position of its kind in the United States.[2] He founded the Great Lakes region's first professional education journal, The Journal of Education, and served as its editor from 1838 to 1840.[1] A Brown University library exhibit calls Pierce "the Horace Mann of Michigan".[2] Pierce's work combined common schools with a public university, which the Brown exhibit describes as an achievement that "surpass[es] Mann's in breadth and comprehensiveness".[2]

Pierce returned to his pulpit in 1841.[1] He was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1847[4] and was most notably involved with legislation opening Michigan's first normal school.[1] Pierce served on Michigan's 1850 constitutional convention before leaving state government.[1] Other than his brief service as Washtenaw County's school superintendent from 1867 to 1868, he lived his 30-year retirement on his farm outside Ypsilanti.[1] In 1880, Pierce and his wife moved to live under the care of their daughter in Medford, Massachusetts,[5] where he died on April 5, 1882.[1]


John D. Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan,[6] John D. Pierce Middle School in Redford, Michigan,[7] and John D. Pierce Middle School in Waterford, Michigan[8] are all named for him.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "John Davis Pierce". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2013. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Baptist Brown and Nineteenth Century Education". Exhibits at the Brown University Library. Brown University. November 20, 2001. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  3. ^ Hoyt & Ford 1905, p. 66.
  4. ^ 'Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Michigan,' Michigan State Printers: 1848, pg. 3-5
  5. ^ Hoyt & Ford 1905, p. 146.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^


External links[edit]

Media related to John Davis Pierce at Wikimedia Commons