Quaker, teacher, abolitionist: The life of educator-reformer Enoch Lewis, 1776--1856

Date of Completion

January 1996


Biography|Education, History of




Quaker educator, Enoch Lewis, began teaching when he was fifteen years old. Born near Philadelphia, shortly after the American Revolution began, he lived his entire life in the area. A birthright member of the Society of Friends, he participated in the wider Quaker community throughout his life. Lewis farmed, taught in schools, worked as a surveyor, wrote extensively (essays, textbooks, history, and biography), was the founding editor of two periodicals, The African Observer and Friends' Review, served the Society of Friends in a variety of capacities, and adopted a broad interest in and commitment to reform.^ Lewis' historical writing anticipated the emergence, in the twentieth century, of the academic discipline known as peace history. His Quaker background enhanced his advocacy of science teaching in schools and profoundly influenced his philosophy of education. An eminent mathematician, Lewis' textbooks and teaching in the discipline were reputed to have initiated a strong tradition of mathematics instruction in eastern Pennsylvania. His opposition to slavery and intense devotion to the pacific virtues shaped his approach to reform, and broadened his educational reach. Lewis, like many post-Revolution American reformers, construed education to be, in the words of historian of education Lawrence Cremin, "the full panoply of institutions that had a part in shaping human character--families and churches, schools and colleges, newspapers, voluntary associations, and ... the laws."$\sp1$^ Consideration of Lewis' life, which was so intimately connected to education and social transformation, enriches contemporary understanding of the "reform impulse" in antebellum American education, enabling greater appreciation of "the extraordinary variegation of nineteenth century American education."$\sp2$ This focused biography of Enoch Lewis, in which the impact of Quakerism on his educational philosophy and endeavors is clarified, examines one educator's resolution of the dilemma symbolized by the divergent objectives for education posed by Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson. Did Lewis, like Rush, intend for education to mold the virtuous citizen? Or did he, like Jefferson, expect education to provide the means to exercise freedom? Finally, this study responds to the dearth of scholarly investigations of Quaker educators of this period. ftn$\sp1$Lawrence A. Cremin, American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1980), p. 2. $\sp2$Ibid., p. 451. ^