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I JOHN KINGSBURY, AND THE YOUNG LADIES' HIGH SCHOOL,
On the fifth day of February, 1858, Mr. John Kingsbury withdrew from the charge of the “Young Ladies' High School,” in Providence, established by him in 1828, and over which he had presided with signal success for precisely thirty years. The occasion, as was most fitting, was celebrated by a reunion of his pupils, both past and present, who assembled in the Chapel of Brown University, which was offered for the purpose by the corporation. Of the interesting exercises which marked that occasion, we subjoin an account, and at the same time, we gladly seize the opportunity to present a brief outline of Mr. Kingsbury's career, not only as a teacher, but also as a citizen, and a man, in the community where he has so long resided.
John KINGSBURY was born at South Coventry, Connecticut, May 26th, 1801. His father was a farmer in moderate circumstances, and the son was trained to agricultural labor, and worked on the paternal farm till he was twenty years of age. The education by which his boyhood was instructed and trained, was such as he could obtain by attending, during the winter months, the district school of his native town, till he was fifteen years of age, and then by becoming himself a teacher for four successive winters, in the same or in a neighboring town. In September, 1822, having now attained his majority, he entered Brown University, after such preparation in classical studies, as he was able to make during a brief period, under the instructions of Rev. Chauncey Booth, a worthy minister, at that time settled in South Coventry. The expenses of his college residence for four years, he was obliged to defray almost entirely by his own exertions, and this made it necessary that he should continue the practice of teaching during a part of each year, as he had done before entering college. He, however, allowed nothing to repress his aspirations or diminish his industry as a student, and at the college commencement in 1826, he graduated with the second honors in a class, which numbered in its lists, with other distinguished names, those of George Burgess, now the bishop of the Episcopal church in Maine, and Edwards A. Park, the eminent Professor of Christian Theology at Andover.
A few months before graduating, he had become associated with the late Mr. G. A. Dewitt, in the management of what was then the
leading school in Providence, which had been established by that gentleman. He continued in this association with Mr. Dewitt, for nearly two years, when he commenced the “ Young Ladies' High School,” first as a department of the school with which he had before been connected, and afterwards as a separate and independent institution. It was commenced at the outset, as it has been always continued, purely as a private enterprise, with no patronage and with no guarantees of support, save such as might be found in its own intrinsic merits and claims on the public estimation. But the history of the school, and the exposition of the principles by which it was managed, we leave to be given by its founder himself in the address which he delivered to his assembled pupils on the occasion to which we have referred, while we briefly sketch the other useful services with which his life has been filled.
Though he had embarked thus early after leaving college, in an enterprise which was destined to depend for its success almost entirely on his own unassisted labors, he was yet not unmindful of the duties which an educated man, whatever may be his calling, owes to the community in which he lives. The interests of general education, and of philanthropy and religion, early enlisted his active exertions, and we only record what we know to be the general verdict of his fellow citizens in Providence, when we say that few persons in that city, within the past thirty years, have rendered so eminent services to all these high interests of his fellow men. He united himself with the Richmond Street Congregational Church in Providence, and there became a teacher in the Sunday School at a period when such places of instruction were comparatively in their infancy. He also became a member of the Providence Franklin Society-an association for the study of science, especially of the sciences of nature, and was for many years its Secretary, and afterwards the keeper of its cabinet, and its President.
The pupils whom he instructed in his school, belonged, for the most part, to the more affluent and cultivated classes of society, and the fidelity and care which his daily life as an instructor, constantly exemplified, inspired to an unusual degree the confidence of the community. A multitude of those labors of various kinds, which in every considerable town, demand education and skill, executive ability and a knowledge of public opinion, were thus constantly devolved upon him. Many of these, he was, of course, compelled to decline; but there were very many others which he performed with signal advantage to the several interests—whether religious, social, or scientific -to which they pertained. He thus, to a degree that is seldom
reached in the secluded and laborious profession of a teacher, became identified with most of the higher interests and institutions of the city in which his lot was cast.
But in addition to all these comparatively private labors, which have often come to him in large proportion, he has also long been distinguished by his activity and good services in behalf of those wider agencies of beneficence which extend beyond the community in which he lives. In the year 1830, the American Institute of Instruction was established—that well known Association of American Teachers, whose influence has contributed so largely to the elevation and improvement of our national education. Mr. Kingsbury was among its original founders, and has always been one of its most active and efficient officers. From 1830 to 1837 he was a councillor in its Board, from 1837 to 1855, he was one of its Vice-Presidents, and in 1855 was chosen President, and presided at its annual meetings in 1856 and 1857, when he declined a re-election, and again accepted the subordinate post of Vice-President.
In 1845, soon after the reorganization of the public schools of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction was formed, for the purpose of elevating the professional character of teachers, and of securing the coöperation of all classes of the community in carrying into effect the system of public instruction which had then just been commenced in that State. Of this Association, Mr. Kingsbury, though at the head of a private school, whose interests were wholly aloof from the system in question, was one of the earliest originators, and held the office of President from 1845 to 1856, a period, during which it accomplished very important results in behalf of the public education of that State. The aim of this Association was to remove prejudices, to diffuse information respecting common schools, and also to secure a general coöperation in their behalf. In promoting these several objects, as well as in raising among the friends of education, the funds which were required for the purpose, the greater part of the labor was always performed by the President. In resigning the office of Commissioner of Public Schools in 1849, Mr. Barnard expressed his obligations for the valuable coöperation be had received from the Institute, and particularly from the gentleman who had presided over it from its first organization: “To the uniform personal kindness of Mr. Kingsbury, to his sound, practical judgment in all matters relating to schools and education, to his prompt business habits, to his large spirit, to his punctual attendance, and valuable addresses in every meeting of the Institute which has been held out of the city, and to the pecuniary aid
which his high character and influence in this community has enabled him to extend to the various plans which have been adopted by this department, he desired to bear this public testimony, and to make his grateful acknowledgements, both personal and official.”
Nor have his public sympathies been by any means restricted to the interests with which he has always had a professional connection. In November, 1839, having long been connected with the Sunday School of the church to which he was attached, he commenced a Bible class for young men, as a branch of that school. That Bible class he has continued, uninterrupted by the other labors of his life, to the present time,-a period of nearly nineteen years, during which he has taught the lessons of the Bible to about four bundred young men who have been members of the class, and among them have been more than one hundred and fifty students of the University at which he received his education. In this connection, we may also mention that when, in 1851, a portion of the church with which he was connected decided to form a new religious society, and erect a house of worship near their own places of residence, Mr. Kingsbury was placed at the head of the movement, and it was by his personal efforts that the greater part of the subscriptions was obtained, by which that important enterprise was accomplished, and the Central Congregational Church successfully established. A similar service he had already performed in behalf of the Young Men's Bible Society, of which he was for many years the President, and at two different periods, he provided the means and superintended the agency for supplying every destitute family in the State with the Word of God. He has also been, for nearly eight years, a corporate member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and is at the present time a Trustee of the Butler Hospital for the Insane,--an institution which always makes no inconsiderable demand on the time and services of those who are charged with its management.
In 1844, Mr. Kingsbury was chosen a member of the Board of Trustees of Brown University, and immediately became one of its active managers and guardians. In 1850, when a subscription to the amount of $125,000 was raised for its more complete endowment, he was placed upon the committee to whom the work was intrusted, and it was to his faithful and experienced services that the success of this enterprise was in no small degree to be ascribed. In 1853, he was raised to the Board of Fellows of the University, and at the same time was chosen Secretary of the corporation ; and in these offices he still continues to labor for the promotion of the interests of this venerable seat of learning. In token of the estimation in which his pub
lic services are held at the University, he received from its Fellows, in 1856, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
It has often been said that a professional man is always a debtor to his profession, and the sketch which we have given, shows in what manner the gentleman to whom it relates has acknowledged and paid this debt to his profession. He might have done it by the publication of text-books or by contributions to the science or the learning of the teacher's calling, or by smoothing the professional pathway of others, by the lessons of his own experience and endeavors. He has, however, chosen another mode, and has paid the debt due to his profession by giving to it his most assiduous and life-long devotion; and still more by linking his untiring labors with every beneficent agency and institution in the community to which he belongs. He has in this manner, done his part to exalt the profession of a teacher, and to illustrate its native affinities for whatever is pure and useful and of good report among men.
But the period of thirty years during which he had presided over the school which he founded, was now drawing to a close, and he had long been instructing the daughters of those who were his earlier pupils. It was the period to which he had always designed to restrict his active labors as an instructor, and he took the necessary steps to provide a successor* in the post which he had created, as well as occupied for so many years. No sooner, however, was it known that he was about to liberate himself from the daily toils and cares of his profession, than he was solicited by the friends of education in Rhode Island, to accept the office of Commissioner of Public Instruction, then just made vacant by the resignation of Rev. Robert Allyn. Before he had been able, entirely, to close his labors as a teacher, he received from the governor of the State, a commission for the office in question. Upon the duties of that office he entered in October 1857, bringing to them qualifications, such as a mature experience in the practical details of education, and a large acquaintance with its broadest and most comprehensive interests cannot fail to bestow.
We have thus hastily sketched an outline of the course of professional fidelity and success, and of public service and usefulness, which Mr. Kingsbury has, for thirty years, quietly and unostentatiously pursued in the community with which he has been identified. We now turn from the instructor to the school, and especially to the interesting occasion which closed his connection with it on the morning of the fifth day of February, 1858. The account of the exercises, for the greater part, we have taken from the reports that appeared in the Providence Journal.
* Mr. Amos Perry.