As a boy in Massachusetts in the early 1800s, Horace Mann attended school only ten weeks a year. The rest of the time, he had to work on his family's farm.
In Massachusetts, Mann became the states supervisor of education. In towns and villages, he spoke out on the need for public schools. "Our means of education" he stated, "are the grand machinery by which the 'raw material' of human nature can be worked up into inventors and discoveries, into skilled artisans and scientific farmers".
By 1850, many states in the North and West used Mann's ideas. Soon most white children, especially boys, attended free public schools. But states did not offer public education to everyone. Most high schools and colleges did not admit girls.
Education for girls and women did make some progress. In 1837, Oberlin College in Ohio became the first college to admit women as well as men. When states opened the first public universities in the 1860s, most accepted female students.
When Prudence Crandall admitted a black student to her girls' school in Connecticut in 1833, white parents took their children out of the school. Crandall responded by opening a school for African American girls.
Mann became 1st president of a new college for men and women, Antioch College in Ohio. There urged his students to become involved in improving society. "Be ashamed to die", he told them, "until you have won some victory for humanity".