Quotable Pennsylvania: Education and Intellect

Most of the other quotes I’ve shared in this series tell us what people think about Pennsylvania. Well these ones are about how Pennsylvanians themselves think.

Learning and thinking has always been important to Pennsylvanians, and is often contentious. From the struggle to pass the Free Schools Act in the 1830s to present day fights over common core and curriculum, what and how Pennsylvanians learn is incredibly important.

I found the context of each quote interesting here and would encourage you to go back and read the entire work they are pulled from. Some were written by advocates for educational reform, others to provide color in more general descriptions of the character and personality Pennsylvanians. I think you’ll find their opinions on the Pennsylvanian mind vary noticeably. 

Recommended listening: “Hold’em” by Maker. This is the theme song of the show Abbot Elementary, a great show about school and the education system set in Philadelphia created by Quinta Brunson (also a Philly native)!

Rodan’s “The Thinker,” at the Rodan Museum in Philadelphia, 2019. Library of Congress.

“The Pennsylvania mind, as minds go, was not complex; it reasoned little and never talked; but in practical matters it was the steadiest of all American types; perhaps the most efficient; certainly the safest.”

-Henry Adams, 1907
“The Education of Henry Adams” Chapter XXII

“African American Primary School Classroom” c. 1930. Library Company of Philadelphia.

“Why, sir, are the colleges and literary institutions of Pennsylvania now, and ever have been, in a languishing and sickly condition? Why, with a fertile soil and genial climate, has she, in proportion to her population, scarcely one-third as many collegiate students as cold, barren New England? The answer is obvious: She has no free schools. Until she shall have, you may in vain endow college after college; they will never be filled, or filled only by students from other States.”

“Pennsylvania’s sons possess as high native talents as any other nation of ancient or modern time. Many of the poorest of her children possess as bright intellectual gems, if they were as highly polished, as did the scholars of Greece or Rome. But, too long, too disgracefully long, has coward, trembling, procrastinating legislation permitted them to lie buried in ‘dark, unfathomed caves.’”

-Thaddeus Stevens, 1835
“The Famous Speech of Hon. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania in Opposition of the Repeal of the Common School Law of 1834, in the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania” Page 7 and 11

“Pennsylvania is not sincere when it advertises itself as too poor to provide bountifully for education. Pennsylvania is improvident when it decides that it needs money for material things rather than for educating its children.”

-President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association Jessie Grey, 1923
President’s Address to the PA Senate Committee on Appropriations, published in the Pennsylvania School Journal Vol. 73 No. 9 page 539.

“Preparing for School,” from a stereograph print by Philadelphia photographer James Cremer, c. 1868. Library Company of Philadelphia.

“I once heard about a Sunday School teacher in a Pennsylvania town not very far from here where most of the population consisted of railroad employees. For a couple of weeks this Sunday school teacher had been trying to impress upon his class the story of Bethlehem. On the third Sunday he asked of the docile young faces before him: “And where was Jesus born?” “Mauch Chunk,” answered one bright lad promptly. “Why, no,” answered the teacher horror-stricken. “The very idea! Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” “Oh, yes,” responded the offender. “I knew it was some place on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.”

-J. Cutler Andrews, 1967
“The Gilded Age in Pennsylvania,” page 2 (Pennsylvania History vol. 31 no 1)

Red Run School, 1942. Library of Congress.
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