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George R. Prowell recommended a Department of Common Sense in every College

Portrait of George R. Prowell (Opposite Volume I Title Page of George R. Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, Pennsylvania)

George R. Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, Pennsylvania, is quoted quite often in YorksPast.  This is an extensive history that builds upon and updates John Gibson’s 1886 History of York County.

Gibson’s 1886 History of York County contains 772 pages of County History and 207 pages of Biographical Sketches.  Prowell’s 1907 History of York County contains 1109 pages of County History in Volume I and 1047 pages of Biographical Sketches in Volume II.  However looking closely at Gibson’s History of York County, one sees that George R. Prowell contributed pages 212-218, 278-289 and 299-772; i.e. 493 of the 772 pages (64%) of Gibson’s County History is written by Prowell.

Several years ago I was doing some family history research at Millersville University and stumbled upon a biography supplied by George R. Prowell to the historian of the Class of 1870 at the State Normal School at Millersville.   George Prowell wrote this when he was 29 years old and it was presented as part of The Class of 1870: A History; read at Millersville on July 14th, 1880.


 George R. Prowell

The husband of our sweet singer of 1870 and some succeeding years, Mr. George R. Prowell, must now be heard.  He says:

I was born in Fairview township, in the extreme northwestern part of York county, near the banks of the Susquehanna, opposite the city of Harrisburg, nearly thirty years ago and brought up on a farm, attending the public schools in the district four months each year.  Was very successful when a small boy in raising young chickens, turkeys, ducks and partridges; never took any stock in geese after receiving a severe flogging from an old mother goose, and ever since that time have avoided the acquaintance of that species of bird.  I taught the village school at my home for two successive terms, beginning when I was sixteen years of age.

In the year 1867, I entered Freeland Academy, in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, but soon returned home and spent a few months in the York County Academy.  Taught school another term, and in the spring of 1868 entered the State Normal School at Millersville.  I had no intention of graduating until some member of the class had my name inserted in that wonderful list of ‘next year’s graduating class.’  I am afraid that my history while at the Normal School is too well known to be favorably spoken of, but I believe that I graduated and, after it was all over, felt that I was ‘a bigger man than old Grant.’

I now think how vain, imaginary, delusive and idealistic school or college life is and, I think, many schools are at fault in inculcating wrong ideals of life.  Having visited, a few years ago, several college and school commencements, and having always found two-thirds of the graduates full of egotism and bombast, I came to the conclusion and published in a prominent daily journal of Cleveland, Ohio, that a department of common sense should be established in every college and normal school in the United States.  This idea was commented upon pretty extensively in local journals.  Beg pardon for this digression.

The year following my graduation I taught the Goldsboro’ Academy, near my old home, and while there, was rather unexpectedly elected, in 1872, assistant principal of the York High School, teaching the mathematics and the sciences.  During the following years, 1873 and 1874, I served as principal of the High School, of the city of Wooster, Ohio, which is mainly a preparatory school to the University at that place.  While there, taught the department of Latin and Greek.

For a few months I acted as deputy county superintendent of York county.  In September 1875, I began the publication of the Evening Telegram, a daily paper in York, and continued to publish it until January, 1876.  During the spring of 1876 I filled a vacancy in the York High School made by the death of the assistant principal.  I then spent a year in traveling, and visited nearly all the States of the Union east of the Mississippi.

While at Wooster, Ohio, began, in 1874, the study of the law under Martin Welker, now United States District Judge at Cleveland, and at that time president of the School Board at Wooster.  I never practiced the profession in this States and have not been admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania.

Last year I was elected Principal of the schools of Hanover, with the design on the part of the Board of Directors of reorganizing and reconstructing them.  The following is what the newspapers say of my work and the regard in which I was held, but inasmuch as you and I (to the historian) are newspaper people, we are both well aware that newspaper puffs are always (?) true.

Returned to York.

Under this head the Hanover Spectator, of Wednesday, says: “On Thursday last Prof. Geo. R. Prowell and family left here for their home at York, where they will remain until fall, when it is expected that the Professor will again return here and resume his position as Principal of our High School.  The Professor’s labors in that capacity during the school term just closed were of the highest order of efficiency, and gave the most unqualified satisfaction to the School Board and parents of the pupils generally.”

Returned to York.

“Prof. George R. and Mrs. Prowell and children, returned to York on Thursday night, and took possession of their residence on North Beaver street, opposite the M. E. Parsonage.  The Professor has been in Hanover since last fall, being the Principal of the High School of that borough; and, judging from the tenor of the papers, his labors as a teacher during the school term just closed were surprisingly successful, and gave unbounded satisfaction to all concerned.  In leaving Hanover, Mrs. Prowell received many valuable testimonials from the ladies of that place, as a token of their esteem for her as a lady, and in appreciation of her rare musical talents.”

In part 2, I continue the remainder of what George R. Prowell had to say, when he was 29-years-old.  In that part, you’ll learn when George Prowell developed his interest in documenting history.

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