William Holmes McGuffey and the McGuffey Eclectic Readers

William Holmes McGuffey

William Holmes McGuffey, (1800-1873), American author and educator, professor at Miami University (1826-1836) when the first eclectic readers were published.

120 manuscript letters, contracts + four volumes of an unpublished manuscript believed to be by William Holmes McGuffey on moral philosophy (one volume believed to be completely in McGuffey’s hand). These papers cover the time period 1814-1955, the bulk between 1826-1874, in three archival boxes + more than 300 editions of the McGuffey readers and spellers.

William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873), U. S. educator and clergyman, is remembered chiefly for his series of illustrated readers for elementary school. Upon their publication in 1836, they became an immediate success and eventually sold over 150 million copies. Titled Eclectic Readers, the books became popularly known as McGuffey’s Readers and were the basic primer for school children, particularly in the Midwest, for about a hundred years. The content includes proverbs, grammar, and selections from Shakespeare. The tone is moralistic, extolling patriotism, religion, good behavior, and games and sports. McGuffey graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1826, taught in rural schools, and became professor of languages at Miami University in that same year. He remained at Miami until he became president of Cincinnati College in 1836. He later served as president of Ohio University at Athens, 1839-43, as professor of philosophy at Woodward College, Cincinnati, 1843-1845, and as professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia, 1845-73. He helped to organize the public school system of Ohio but is now remembered chiefly as the compiler of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, the First and Second of which were published in 1836, the Third and Fourth in 1837, the Fifth in 1844, and the Sixth in 1857. These were constantly revised and passed through edition after edition, maintaining their place for nearly two generations. The readers are graded collections of didactic tales and excerpts from great books, reflecting McGuffey’s view that the proper education of young people required their introduction to a wide variety of topics and practical matters. They became standard texts in nearly all states, eclipsing all rival textbook publications for half a century and reaching a reputed total sale of over 150 million copies.


William Holmes McGuffey

McGuffey and His Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Collections and the McGuffey Family Papers (pdf)

McGuffey Primers (pdf)
McGuffey First Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Second Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Third Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Fourth Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Fifth Readers and Rhetorical Guide (pdf)
McGuffey Sixth Readers (pdf)
McGuffey High School Readers (pdf)
McGuffey Eclectic and Juvenile Speakers (pdf)
McGuffey Spelling Books (pdf)
McGuffey Word Books (pdf)
McGuffey Family Papers (pdf)

The McGuffey Museum

Miami University Archives