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DEXTER A. HAWKINS, AND PUBLIC SERVICE
IN UNOFFICIAL WAYS.
MEMOIR. DEXTER A. HAWKINS, who, in the midst of a lucrative practice as a lawyer in New York City, has found time and energy to do a large work in the field of popular education and political reform, is a native of Canton, Maine. His progenitor, on the father's side, was Admiral Sir John Hawkins. His grandfather, Dexter Hawkins, of Providence, R. I., in 1777, at sixteen, volunteered in the 4th Bat. R. I. Troops, and served during the Revolutionary war. His father, the late Rev. Henry Hawkins, of Norway, Maine, was, in 1806, sent from Providence at the age of nineteen as missionary preacher to the then province of Maine; he was for sixty years an effective advocate of public education, and a vigorous champion of the abolition and the temperance causes when in their infancy. His mother, Nabby Fuller, was of New England Revolutionary stock, her father, John Fuller, being one of the famous crew of the Bon Homme Richard, when Admiral John Paul Jones captured the British frigate, Serapis, off Flamborough Head, in a contest that raged with almost demoniac fury till near midnight of the 23rd of September, 1779. He was afterwards taken prisoner, but escaped from the British manof-war by leaping overboard in the night, and swimming two miles to the shore.
The subject of this memoir was born June 24, 1825, and to the advantages of an ordinary district school, had the instructions of his father. At the age of sixteen, as civil engineer, he surveyed and laid out, to the satisfaction of the Court, in midwinter, a public road and expensive bridge, respecting which there was litigation between two adjacent counties.
In 1842 he became teacher of mathematics in the Academy at Bethel, and subsequently at Bridgeton, where he completed, under Moses Soule, his preparation for college. He entered. Bowdoin College in 1844, and graduated with honor in 1848-meeting the entire expense of his college education by teaching school and attending to business in the long winter vacations. In the fall of 1848 he was employed by Maine State Board of Education to lecture at the Teachers’ Institutes; and in that and the three subsequent years
he gave a course of forty-five public lectures before the Teachers' Institutes, held in the several counties of that State, instructing in all over three thousand teachers in the science and practice of pedagogy.
In 1849 he became Principal of Topsham Academy, an institution for fitting young men for college, and preparing them to teach the winter sessions of the public schools. With such acceptance had he lectured and taught, that in 1851 he was offered a professorship of mathematics in a New England College, and also the secretaryship of the Board of Education ; but with a strong predilection for the legal profession, he declined both, having already entered the office of Hon. William Pitt Fessenden, of Poriland, as student of law. In the winter of 1851-2 he attended the lectures of the Law school of Harvard College, and in the summer of the same year visited Europe for an extended tour, to enlarge his horizon of public affairs, and study systems and institutions of education, and the proceedings of judicial tribunals in different countries, and to attend the Law School at Paris. While in London, in the summer of 1853, it was his good fortune, as the attorney of an American firm, to bring a long protracted litigation to a successful issue, by which his first fee (and a large one-$1,000) was earned.
On his return to the United States, on the invitation of the Superintendent of Common Schools (Dr. Barnard), he assisted in conducting three Teachers' Institutes in Connecticut, in the months of October and November, and thus closed his active personal work in the professional education of teachers; and January 2, 1854, he opened his present office at No. 10 Wall street, New York, for the diligent and lucrative practice of law. But he has had the will and has found the time to take an active interest in the affairs of his own church, city, state, and nation, and at the same time enjoy, in a quiet way, all the comforts of domestic life, and give personal attention to the education of his children, two of whom are now (1881) in Harvard, one in Vassar College.
Although debarred, by an accident in his boyhood, from any military aspiration, he assisted, in the war of the Rebellion, in raising two regiments for others to command.
In the agitation of the subject of a national recognition of schools, Mr. Hawkins, through the press, and by personal correspondence with members of Congress, assisted in the establishing at Washington, in 1867, the Department of Education, which, in 1870, was made a Bureau in the Department of the Interior, at the head of which is the Commissioner of Education. Mr. Hawkins' plan and efforts were to make the Commissioner a Cabinet Officer, with administrative functions extending to all institutions of science and education originated by the Government for its own purposes, or aided by national appropriations, and capable of expansion to meet the exigences of the nation.
In 1869, and in 1871, he entered with his usual earnestness into the public discussion of the policy of the City or the State making appropriations of public property in aid of private, educational, and charitable institutions established by religious bodies for the care and instruction of orphan, poor, and neglected children, and others belonging to parents in connection with such bodies. Mr. Hawkins took decided ground against such appropriations—directing his · researches and arguments specially against the large appropriations to Catholic institutions of this class. His pamphlets were widely circulated, and contributed largely to constitutional changes and legislation adopted by New York to limit the amount, and narrow the scope of such appropriations. His principal document was a Report to the Council of Political Reform, entitled, “ Sectarian Appropriation of Public Moneys and Property, and the Duty of the Stute to Protect the Free Common Schools by Organic Law."*
In 1873 the Council of Political Reform took up the grave evil of non-attendance at school, and to this body Mr. Hawkins addressed, in the name of a committee, a report on its extent, and the necessity of a law authorizing School Boards, in each city, town, and incorporated village, to require the attendance at some school, public or private, of all children between the ages of eight and fifteen years, unless for good and sufficient reasons temporarily excused. This report, under the title of “ Compulsory School Attendance," and “ Compulsory Education,” has had a very wide circulation as a pamphlet, and has been largely reprinted in newspapers and magazines in this, as well as in other countries. In the State of New York it led to the enactment, in 1874, of a bill drawn up by Mr. Hawkins, entitled an “Act to secure to Children the Benefits of Elementary Education.” The same bill in substance has since then, on the strength of his arguments, been enacted in numerous other States and Territories, and will doubtless become the common law of the land.
The principle of compulsion is as old as the school law of Massachusetts in 1642, and of Connecticut in 1650, and in some form exists in most of the school codes of all European States. The impulse given, by Mr. Hawkins' bill, to the renewed discussion, and the more stringent legislation of several States, has already secured a larger and more regular school attendance. But the evil still
*See Barnard's Journal of Education, Vol. XXX, p. 817.