On December 1, 1841, Williston Seminary opened its doors to its first group of students. For the dedication address, Samuel Williston invited the Rev. Mark Hopkins (1802-1887), President of Williams College, Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, and one of the nation’s leading thinkers on education and educational reform. Hopkins was known as a gifted teacher, who favored Socratic engagement over lectures. One of his Williams protégés, President James A. Garfield, commented that an ideal college comprised “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.”
True to the oratorical tradition of the time, Hopkins spoke for well over an hour. His subject was the condition of education in the United States, of the need for a variety of reforms, and how Williston Seminary, of which he was a founding Trustee, might address them. It is a fascinating and valuable document. (Readers who wish copies of the full text may email the archivist.)
One passage, on pages 7 and 8 of the printed speech, concerns the importance of an educated citizenry, arguing that anything less constitutes a danger to democracy itself. It is reproduced below. Notwithstanding the optimism of the last excerpted sentence, Hopkins’ words continue to resonate, 176 years after he spoke them.