Saturday, November 15, 2008

John Swett (1830-1913) - Education Reformer

[Photo of John Swett gravestone by Michael Colbruno]

Historians have called John Swett the founder of public education in California. As schooljohnswettstate superintendent of public instruction (1863-1867), he laid the groundwork for a statewide system of public schools in California and influenced educators in other states.

He came from New Hampshire to California in 1853, bringing with him ideals of public education that were developing in New England in the first half of the nineteenth century. After working for a few unhappy months in the gold fields, he began teaching at Rincon School in San Francisco. His ideals about teaching led him to run for the state superintendency. In that office he persuaded the legislature to increase state, school district, and local tax provisions for schools. He expanded the authority of the state board of education and required school administrators to collect and report information that would lead to the improvement of the schools. He got state funding for teachers’ institutes and school libraries.

After he returned to teaching in San Francisco he and his wife Mary Louise (Tracy) purchased a house into which they welcomed such visitors as John Muir. Later, at Muir’s suggestion, they purchased property in Alhambra Valley next to the Strentzel ranch. John Swett and his son Frank developed “Hill Girt Ranch” as a fruit ranch with specialization in grapes and grape juice, and John and Mary retired there in 1895.

While living there, Mary Swett served as a trustee for the Alhmbra School District and was also active in the local chapter of the California State Woman Suffrage Educational Association. In 1901 John Swett helped organize the Alhambra Union High School District, combining five districts with Martinez at the center, and served as president of the Board of Trustees of the high school. In 1910 he was appointed honorary lecturer in education at the University of California.

He received honorary degrees from Dartmouth College and the College of California, and in 1913 he and John Muir were together given honorary degrees by the University of California.

[Biography taken from the Martinez Historical Society]

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Benjamin Parke Avery (1828-1875) - Newspaper Editor, Author, Diplomat

[Photo of Avery gravesite by Michael Colbruno; Click on photo for larger view]

Benjamin Parke Avery was born in New York, received no formal education and was trained as a bank-note engraver.

In 1849, he relocated to California in the 1849 Gold Rush. He was a gold miner and owner of a general store until 1856, when he established a weekly newspaper in North San Juan, the Hydraulic Press. The Hyraulic Press was notable for its staunch opposition to slavery.

In 1860 he became Assistant Editor of another paper, the Marysville Appeal, and in 1861 was appointed California's State Printer by Governor Leland Stanford. In the late 1860s Avery joined the San Francisco Bulletin, and in 1872 became Editor of the Overland Monthly.

Avery was one of the founders of the San Francisco Art Association and School of Design. He was also an author and graphic artist, and his works include "Californian Pictures in Prose and Verse" and "California as I Saw It." Californian pictures in prose and verse (1878) contains his "word-sketches," which are largely confined to California scenery, although some picture Native Americans and miners whom he knew when he prospected on the Trinity River in 1850 as well as the city of San Francisco. Most of the book is devoted to poems and essays dealing with mountains of the Coast Range, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Santa Cruz range and their passes and lakes; Yosemite, upper Sacramento Valley, Mount Shasta, and the geysers.

In 1874 he was appointed US Minister to China, and he was still serving at the time of his death. He played an important role in calming China and Japan, which were then on the verge of war. He died in Beijing.

Avery was married, but had no children.

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