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Birch to Henderson: February 13, 1936

Herein Stacks presents how to make an argument the Hugh Taylor Birch way.  Birch, Antioch College class of 1869, had by the mid-1930s when he wrote the following letter to Algo Henderson, then president of the College, begun to memorialize the people most important to his considerably long life. As he approached his 90th year, Birch established monuments in nature to first his mother Sally Milligan Birch (1813-1863) with Sally Milligan Park in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1933, followed by Edward Orton (1829-1899), who while exceptionally notable as the man who presided over the transformation of Ohio A&M into The Ohio State University in 1878 and as State Geologist of Ohio 1882-1899, had previously been Birch’s favorite professor at Antioch, with a small shrine in Clifton Gorge State Park.

He would pull out the proverbial stops to memorialize his two greatest heroes, his father Erastus Mitchell Birch (1801-1884) and Horace Mann, on a site he selected as most appropriate: a piece of high ground in Glen Helen, yet another of Birch’s monuments to the people he loved (in this case his daughter) and his greatest gift to Antioch College. From the time that Birch gave the land to Antioch in 1927 until his death in 1943, Glen Helen would be his summer residence (he completed his grand home on Jacoby Rd in 1931) and he would have a powerful influence on its development.

As 1836 was the year that Horace Mann was appointed Secretary to the Board of Education of the State of Massachusetts, Birch saw the 100th anniversary of that appointment as the centennial of public education in America, and he saw to it that it would be observed on a national level under the auspices of the National Education Association. He donated funds to have the twelve Annual Reports that Mann had published as Secretary reprinted, financed a book about Mann’s time at Antioch written by the editor of the Journal of the NEA Joy Elmer Morgan, and sent his son in law Frederic Bartlett on a mission to find the foundry that cast the statue of Mann by Emma Stebbins erected at the Massachusetts statehouse in 1863. The last would be Birch’s permanent memorial on land that had once been Mann’s farm.

As Birch planned his monument, the College organized its dedication as part of a conference on education held in 1937. Distinguished educators far and wide participated, including the presidents of the University of Kansas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not to mention America’s preeminent educational philosopher, John Dewey. A direct descendant of Mann who would soon attend the College herself, Barbara Mann (class of 1944), laid a wreath at the statue as part of the dedication. The conference’s proceedings were published by the Antioch Press entitled Educating for Democracy: A Symposium.

While the letter Birch responds to below is not in the marvelous run of correspondence in Antiochiana between he and Algo Henderson, it doesn’t take much guesswork to realize that Birch is likely answering a point of historical accuracy pointed out to him by the College President. As the statue was Birch’s personal project, and one for which he was especially enthusiastic, he contributed the words that appear on the plinth:

HORACE MANN

1796-1859

FIRST PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER

OF ANTIOCH COLLEGE

 

THIS MEMORIAL IS ERECTED TO

PERPETUATE THE MEMORY OF AN ABLE

LAWYER, A GREAT STATESMAN AND A

PIONEER IN EDUCATION. MAY HIS LIFE

AND EXAMPLE EVER INSPIRE AND EXALT

THE STUDENTS OF ANTIOCH COLLEGE

 

 

Henderson knew enough to realize that Mann did not in fact found Antioch College, which was established by a small Protestant denomination called the Christian Church, and they in turn found him to be its first president. He likely pointed it out in the previous letter after having gone over Birch’s proposed verbiage. Birch’s explanation for his choice of words, while largely correct in its historical details, hardly justifies his use of the term “Founder.” Despite that, Birch lets Henderson know that Mann will be commemorated his way, and without further discussion.

 

 

 

Hugh T. Birch

Bonnet House

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

 

13th February 1936

 

 

Dear Mr. Henderson,

 

                  I have your good letter of Feb. 10th in relation to the subscription for the monument to Horace Mann. I had called Mr. Mann the Founder and 1st President because of his establishing Antioch College, a co-educational, non-sectarian and no restriction on account of color etc. And in reference to the name when that question was brought up in early sessions of the trustees and faculty Mr. Mann suggested that in as much as the followers of Christ were first called Christians at ancient Antioch—which was done. So in as much as the Christians soon retired from activity or control of the college which flourished and continued to grow under and through the direction of Horace Mann, I believe him to be distinctly The Founder. I have so expressed myself to Mr. Corry to whom I have given authority to decide the question upon further consideration of the subject. I hope you are in good health, and that all of you are taking good care of Antioch and its interests. With my personal good wishes to you and your family—Aff.—Hugh T. Birch