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Prof. Alfred Holbrook


Transcription contributed by Arne H Trelvik 25 Aug 2003

The History of Warren County Ohio
Part V. Biographical Sketches
Turtlecreek Township
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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National Normal University


PROF. ALFRED HOLBROOK, President of the National Normal University, Lebanon, Ohio; was born in Derby, Conn., Feb. 17, 1816; he was the elder of two sons, the only children of Josiah Holbrook, celebrated as the founder of Teachers’ Institutes, the American Institute of Instruction and the lyceum or lecture system of popular instruction. He lost his mother when three years of age, but was tenderly cared for by several aunts, who faithfully laid a sturdy Christian foundation to his character; his school-days were almost entirely during his first twelve years; her read a chapter from the Bible when 3 years of age, his father giving to the aunt who was his instructor a promised silk dress for teaching him this feat. When about 11 years of age, he went to school to Elizur Wright, at Groton, Mass., where he boarded with the distinguished John Todd, than a Congregational minister of that place. At the age of 13, he went to Boston, where he was employed a year and a half in his father’s manufactory of school apparatus; he was here an indefatigable workman and a most zealous student, his studies being directed by his father. For a watch, promised by his father, if he should accomplish the task, he read Day’s algebra through in three months, very thoroughly, working all the examples; but his work and his study broke his health, and he returned to his native village, where he lived until 17 years of age, when he entered upon his first experience as a teacher, in Monroe, Conn. A year later, he went to New York and engaged for some eighteen months in the manufacture of surveyors’ instruments, he having determined to become an engineer. One of the few requests his father ever denied him was the one to go to Yale College, of which his father was a graduate. The reason assigned was the bad methods and the bad morals

of colleges. Again overwork and study impaired his health and compelled him to relinquish this business. he migrated to Kirtland, Ohio, where he expected to engage in surveying, but his health was still too feeble; he went with an uncle, David Holbrook, to Booneville, Ind., where he remained a year and a half, occasionally employed in surveying; his health proving too feeble for such work, he returned, in 1840, to Ohio, on horseback, and began teaching in Berea (one of his father’s lyceum villages), under the auspices of John Baldwin. The school rapidly increased in numbers and Mr. Baldwin soon erected a commodious building for the accommodation of his pupils. this was the foundation of Baldwin University. Here he remained nine years; here he married Melissa Pearson, who has shared most nobly and heroically the responsibilities and vicissitudes of her husband, not only presiding over his home with Christian refinement and faithfulness, but oftentimes aiding him as an efficient assistant in the school-room, and always exercising a most tender and pure influence over his pupils. when they were married, his salary was $15 a month, and their home was without carpets; nevertheless, they were considered very prosperous by their friends and were the recipients of numerous congratulations to that effect. John Baldwin had given them a deed of a house and lot in Berea. He next took charge of an academy at Chardon, Ohio; soon after, he became a partner with Dr. John Nichols, in the Western Reserve Teachers’ Seminary, at Kirtland, Ohio. He subsequently accepted a call to the superintendency of the public schools at Marlboro, Ohio, where he remained three years, when he moved to Salem, Ohio, to superintend the schools of that place. While there, he received the appointment as Principal of the Southwestern Normal School, at Lebanon, Ohio, which position he has occupied since; his subsequent history will be found in the history of that institution, which is given in the educational department of this volume, under the title of National Normal University. President Holbrook is the author of two educational works which have had very wide circulation, viz., “Normal Methods” and “School Management;” also to two text-books on the English language – “Training Lessons” and “English Grammar.” His views and methods as given in these volumes have made a deep impression upon the educational work of the whole country. In an educational experience of nearly half a century, President Holbrook has had under his direct instruction not less than 30,000 persons, a number equaled by very few teachers in our country. It has been remarked by those best acquainted with his work that no student has ever left any institution of which he has had control morally worse than when he or she entered it. President Holbrook is of small stature, slightly gray, quick and vigorous in his movements; nervous and energetic; indomitable of will; immovable in any purpose; full of resources; ready and ingenious in invention; of a lofty and noble ambition; grandly impressed, from the first, with the magnitude and importance of his work; crisp and incisive in conversation; genial, though somewhat retired; social and domestic, being exceedingly fond of his home, his family and his children and their children; faithful to the religion of his Puritan ancestors; of the purest life; vigorously severe in every moral precept and practice; of impeachable integrity in all business transactions; faithful and generous to his friends, just to his enemies, benevolent to a fault, sustaining freely with purse and personal effort every worthy enterprise. He has always been a partial invalid, but now, in his 66th year, is healthier than ever in his life. By the most heroic self-management, he has made his feeble physical frame endure duties and responsibilities which would have crushed the most vigorous constitutions. His work as an author was entirely accomplished before an early breakfast and in addition to six or seven hours’ teaching during the day, besides the more wearing responsibilities connected with the financial management
of his school. Throughout his life he has retired early, in order to secure the early morning for work. President Holbrook has a family of five children - three sons and two daughters – having lost one son, his youngest child, Henry, who was drowned when skating. In the order of their age, his children are: Josiah, Reginald Heber, John Baldwin, Agnes Irene and Anna Lucy. Josiah Holbrook is proprietor of a large book business and Secretary of the University. R. Heber Holbrook is Vice President of the Normal University, editor of the Normal Teacher, a national educational journal, published at Indianapolis, Ind.; is the author of “Outlines of United States History,” “The New Method or School Expositions,” “Simple Experiments in Natural Philosophy,” “Outline of the New Testament” and “Botanical Record Book;” is the inventor of a school air-pump and pneumatic apparatus, besides innumerable expedients to bring the natural sciences, experimentally, within the reach of the country schools. He was for five years editor of the National Normal, published at Cincinnati, Ohio. In the university, he has charge of the scientific class and is Professor of Higher Mathematics and Natural Sciences. He was for two years superintendent of the public schools of Vineland, N. J. J. B. Holbrook is Professor of Civil Engineering in the university. Irene Holbrook is a professor of ancient languages in the university; she is the author of a text-book in Latin, published by Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. Anna Holbrook is a Professor of Rhetoric in the university.

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This page created 25 Aug 2003 and last updated 1 February, 2009
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