Ninian Edwards Wirt life and biography

Ninian Edwards Wirt picture, image, poster

Ninian Edwards Wirt biography

Date of birth : 1809-04-15
Date of death : 1889-09-02
Birthplace : Kentucky, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-06-09
Credited as : Educator, ,

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Edwards, Ninian Wirt (Apr. 15, 1809 - Sept. 2, 1889), first superintendent of public instruction of Illinois, was born at Frankfort, Ky., the son of Ninian Edwards [q.v.], later governor of Illinois Territory, and his wife, Elvira Lane. While attending Transylvania University, from the law department of which he graduated in 1833, young Edwards married, Feb. 16, 1832, Elizabeth P. Todd, elder sister of the future wife of Abraham Lincoln. He was appointed attorney-general of Illinois by Gov. John Reynolds in 1834, but resigned in 1835 and established himself as a merchant at Springfield, Ill. He served in the state legislature as a representative, 1836-40, 1848-51, and as a state senator 1844-48. He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1847. Edwards has been described as proud of his family and name, aloof, one of the most eminent figures in Springfield society (Beveridge, post, p. 178). He was, however, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, being associated with him as a member of the "Long Nine" delegation from Sangamon County. It was at Edwards's house, where she had come on a visit in 1839, that Lincoln first met Mary Todd; it was with Edwards's encouragement that their stormy courtship was begun; and it was in his home that their marriage took place.

In 1852 Edwards deserted the ranks of the Whigs and became a Democrat. Standing for reƫlection to the Assembly, he was defeated, and in 1854 he was appointed by Gov. Matteson, under the authority of a law establishing the office, to be superintendent of public instruction. His duties included lecturing in every county in the state and endeavoring to secure uniformity of text-books. He proceeded to perform them earnestly in the face of active hostility to and passive contempt for improvement of the state's educational system. A visit to the East sent him back an advocate of a state normal school, later established near Bloomington (Urbana Union, Oct. 22, 1857), which he hoped to support by a share of the publishers' profits from text-books adopted (Prairie Farmer, January 1855; Illinois State Journal, Dec. 28, 1854; Ottawa Weekly Republican, Oct. 7, 1854). His lectures were often treated with contempt, as at Ottawa where nine persons turned out to hear him. He secured, however, from the Illinois legislature of 1855 the passage of a school law, which, though it fell far short of his wishes, laid the foundation of the state's school system (Report of the State Superintendent of Common Schools ... of the State of Illinois, Dec. 10, 1854; Laws of the State of Illinois, 1855, pp. 51-91). His term ended in 1857. Between 1862 and 1865 he held by Lincoln's appointment the place of captain commissary of supplies. In 1870 he published the History of Illinois from 1778 to 1833 and Life and Times of Ninian Edwards. The sole value of this work lies in the fact that it contains, very ill-arranged, a large body of his father's papers and letters.

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