Are McGuffey Readers still used to educate children today?

Posted on
The First McGuffey Reader

Our source detective question asked: McGuffey’s Readers series is one of the most popular textbooks of the nineteenth-century common school era. (See an 1879 digitized edition on Google Books). Is this series of books still in print and used to educate children today? Be sure to describe your search strategy.

The McGuffey’s Readers are a set of academic textbooks that were used originally in United States schools starting in 1836.  The material ranges from early schooling and learning the beginning aspects of the alphabet, to connecting “ religious, moral, and ethical principles” (The McGuffey Readers Centers) to promote a population of good, American citizens.  These set of readers were written by William Holmes McGuffey who was born in 1800 in Pennsylvania.  By combining the McGuffey family’s emphasis on education with the importance of religion, William was able to create these readers, which were said to help “shape American character.” (The McGuffey Readers Center)

In an example of the McGuffey reader from a revised edition in 1879, it shows the how the lessons emphasize both correct English grammar, as well as a strong religious belief and a strong understanding of what an American is.  At the introduction of this reader the first lesson emphasizes articulation in the English language.  They say that “articulation is the utterance of the elementary sounds of a language and of their combinations.” (McGuffey, 9) As the 1879 McGuffey reader continues, there are more examples of literature from the time in essays and in poetry.  Page 91 on the Googlebook digital reader has a poem called “What I live For”, which is a perfect example of emphasizing the type of American citizens that McGuffey readers aimed to shape. (McGuffey, 91)

In today’s society, although the McGuffey readers are no longer as popular in American schools as they were in the 19th century, there is still a population of loyal McGuffey followers.  The video below (link missing) is an example of how these textbooks have been edited and updated throughout the years to be available to the following of mostly home-schooled students and Christian academies.  The basic alphabetical rules and writing and reading strategies presented in the early stages of the McGuffey readers have been preserved to teach a small constituency of young students in today’s society. (The McGuffey Readers Center)

Today, there is an app available on iTunes, “Phonics and Reading” designed based on the McGuffey Primer textbook. A few features of the app includes 52 lessons of the McGuffey Primer, 44 letter sounds of English and more than 400 practice vocabulary words. The latest version of the series was last printed in 2010 published by both General Books and Applewood Books. There are also eAudiobooks available published by Mission Audio in 2010.

Search Process:

First, we started by using Google and the main history page on McGuffey’s site ( in order to find any background information and history on the McGuffey’s Reader series. Here we found the purpose of the series, the year published, material included and a video of how the textbooks are edited and updated today. We also scheduled an appointment with a librarian at the library. During our appointment, following are the steps the librarian took in order to find any additional information:

To get some background information on the reader, the librarian looked at Wikipedia. This brought him to this article. This article has some really good history in it. However, it might be a little biased. It is from Liberty University’s digital archive. It seems academic; but, Liberty is a very conservative Christian university.

To ascertain whether the book is still published, the librarian searched WorldCat (which is a database that searches most academic libraries around the world). He searched the title field on the advanced search page, using “McGuffey Eclectic Reader” as his search phrase. Here is the URL to the search results.

He then sorted the results by date descending, so that the most recent edition appeared at the top of the list. As we discovered, the most recent edition is from 2010. Here’s a link to a partial-view of the 2010 edition on Google Books.

(Formatting and links edited by Jack Dougherty, January 2013)

Works Cited

  1. McGuffey, William Holmes. McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader. Cincinnati: Bragg&Company, 1879. Google Book Search. Web. 30 Jan 2012.
  2. “The McGuffey Readers Center.” McGuffey’s Readers World. McGuffey Readers. Web. 30 Jan 2012.
  3. “Introduction to McGuffey Readers World Website.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 30 Jan 2012.
  4. “McGuffey Readers.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 30 Jan 2012.

Where can you find Common School teachers’ letters?

Posted on

Question: In her 2003 book, historian Nancy Hoffman published letters written by nineteenth-century teachers such as Ellen Lee and Mary Adams, which were located in an archive. How can you find similar letters (or diaries) written by other teachers from this era? Describe your search strategy (but obtaining the actual letters is not required).

Option One (requires prior knowledge)

This particular source detective work, to explain how to find actual letters or diaries written by nineteenth century school teachers, lead me first to Google. The original source provided by Jack, Woman’s “true” profession : voices from the history of teaching by Nancy Hoffman, cited in the chapter heading, that the letters were from a collection at the Connecticut Historical Society. In the Cities Suburbs and Schools seminar  I learned about the Connecticut Historical Society and was taught that they did have an online presence, as well as some material available on line.

1. Open your computer, then an Internet browser of your choice, and type in into the address bar at the top of the screen.

2. When the google window appears, in the large search bar provided, type “Connecticut Historical Society”.

3. The search will produce many findings, the second option was what I was looking for. I was aware the museum was located in Hartford and the address to the right of the website title alerted me that this was indeed the Hartford Historical Society of Hartford, Connecticut. (Reason number 724,356 to LOVE Google.)

4. After selecting the second option I was able to see the website for the Connecticut Historical Society.

5. On the top of the page there is a menu bar, click on the one titled “Research”. Then click on the link “online database and subject databases” and search “National Board of Popular Education Collection”.

6. Only one option was returned in the search and it was indeed a letter! The summary description of the source explains that this is exactly what I am looking for. It was not available to view online so I will need to go the library to view it. You can use Google Maps for driving or walking directions to the Connecticut Historical Society.

Option Two (Assumes comfort with navigating the internet and access to Trinity College databases.)

Ask a Librarian

As students at Trinity College we are fortunate to have easy access to librarians. The first step is to make an appointment with them. Here.

Screen Shot of Trinity College Website

2. I selected the librarian I wanted to work with, and then a time I he and I were both available. Finally, I pasted the assignment instructions into the question box that asks “What is your research topic?” and I was all set. I received an email confirmation of the appointed that was easy to insert into my Google Calender.

3. My appointment was with Rob Walsh, and he also believed starting with Nancy Hoffman’s book was a good idea. We searched for it in the library catalouge using the advanced search option.

4. Rob informed me that the subjects listed underneath the comments section of the book are actually in all the libraries. Meaning that libraries categorize all their holdings of specific subjects in the same way.

Screen Shot of Trinity College library advance search.

5. Rob insisted using the specific vernacular of the library subject to search World Cat. “WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information” (WorldCat website).

6. When we search “Women teachers–United States–History”, our search produced thousands of results, but more importantly many were a part of Trinity’s collection. The first book listed, Women Teachers on the Frontier by Polly Welts Kaufman is described as, “collected reminiscences tell the story of the single women who travelled to the West as teachers before the Civil War.” This is what I was looking for!

7. In the spirit of Rob’s “serendipitous finding” I went to the call number of the book and found a shelf of texts related to the subject.

Option Three (Unexplored)

Trinity College does have a database of primary source documents, oral historys, and videos etc. I did not utilize this data base because I felt that I had enough to start with. The database can be found here.