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Capron, W.[illiam] B.
Autograph Letter Signed, Hartford, December 18, 1847 to his mother, Mrs. C. D. Capron, Uxbridge, Massachusetts

Quarto, 4 pages, including stampless address leaf, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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“… I have been too busy for the last two weeks to know on which end my head was with any degree of certainty … The High School building was dedicated two weeks ago … The School opened last week … Mr. Gidding’s first made a few remarks after which Mr. Gallaudet led in the devotional exercises and made an exceedingly appropriate address to the school … in speaking and singing the greater part of the morning was consumed, preventing … any real progress in the business of organization … This third week of the school finds us moving on with something like regularity. The number of scholars in the school is about 220, for which there are only four teachers. Unless, they provide us another we cannot, by any means, do justice for such a host of pupils. The difficulty is even greater here than in a common school because we have a longer list of studies and a greater diversity of scholars. Our school hours during the winter are from 9 till 12 and from 2 till ½ past 4. This gives each teacher time for eight recitations – two before and two after the recess in both parts of the day … whenever there is a change of any class there is a change throughout the building. The classes who have recited pass to their seats and those who are to recite rise at once and pass to the place of recitation …the two principal rooms are 50 feet square and … two recitation rooms open out of each. We shall meet first in the morning in the upper school room (Mr. Giddings) and after devotional exercises those who study in my room (the lower) pass down to their seats and are there during the day except as they may go out to their various recitations. One of the female teacher (Miss Bartlett) remains in Mr. Giddings room and the other (Miss Wheaton) is in mine. Miss W. takes her classes into one of the recitation rooms and I am left to hear recitations in the school room and to take charge of the school room at the same time… My eight classes are entirely in Latin and Greek. One – a class of beginners, numbers about forty. These I arrange across the school room and along the sides and get up and gesture off to them in fine style … Some of them are bright and it is a pleasure to see their eyes sparkle as I put the questions and their hands jump out for an answer. And then of course there is the other extreme – some so dull that they never seem to have let a ray of light into their heads in their lives, and if they have it did not find much there … I am very tired…”

Not until fifty years after the founding of the American Republic did public education become an accepted responsibility of government. In Connecticut, after decades of effort, Henry Barnard, a peer of Horace Mann, succeeded in establishing the Hartford English and Classical High School – entrance was only by examination, and early studies were devoted to British-style “Classical recitation”, taught by the young writer of this letter, who describes the opening of the school. The inaugural speech was given by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, renowned pioneer of American education for the deaf, whose son became one of the first graduates. The first principal, Joshua Giddings, later founded a girl’s school in Charleston, South Carolina; he was succeeded by the brother of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe and then by Capron’s own brother, while William Capron himself became a missionary and Principal of a school in India. Of the woman teachers mentioned in the letter, Helen Wheaton was Principal of a girl’s school in Detroit; while Marietta Bartlett married Henry Ellsworth, the first US Patent Commissioner who encouraged the inventive genius of Samuel F. B. Morse.