Dr. William Augustus Mowry

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1829
Died: 1917

Mowry, William A. (William Augustus), 1829-1917

Dr. William Augustus Mowry ranks among Rhode Island’s foremost educators. Besides writing a score of books (especially texts on history and civics), Mowry founded a highly-regarded private high school in Providence, pioneered in the establishment of teachers’ institutes, and served as superintendent of schools in Cranston and in Salem, Massachusetts.

Born in Uxbridge, Massachusetts in 1829, he was raised by grandparents after his father died when William was only three-years old. He attended Philips Academy in Andover, Brown University, and Bates College in Maine, from which he received his doctorate in 1882. By that time Mowry had been teaching on the elementary and secondary level for thirty-five years (since 1847).

Mowry served in the Civil War rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the state militia. After the war, however, he became a prominent member of the American Peace Society. He relentlessly espoused the cause of temperance, urged temperance education in the public schools, and served as a director of the Boston-based Scientific Temperance Federation.

Mowry taught at the Providence High School, became a member of the Providence School Committee, served as president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction (1864-1866), and edited a professional journal called The Rhode Island Schoolmaster from 1857 to 1860. In 1864, he established the English and Classical School for Boys and ran this private secondary school under the name of Mowry and Goff’s. At its peak enrollment this facility had 250 pupils and 15 teachers. In 1884, health problems caused Mowry to relinquish the demands of his Providence academy, so he accepted a position in Boston as managing editor of the prestigious Journal of Education.

After his move to Massachusetts, Dr. Mowry lived in Dorchester, Salem, and, finally, in Hyde Park, where he died in 1917. Mowry summered in Martha’s Vineyard where he ran a summer institute for teachers. During all his years in the Bay State, he continued his activism in the Congregational Church, the educational field, the peace movement, and the temperance crusade.

Mowry was highly regarded and universally praised by those prominent citizens with whom he came in contact during his long career. One eulogist described him as “teacher, soldier, proprietor of a large school, lecturer, author, Congregational preacher, editor, superintendent of city schools, and for nineteen years president of the Martha’s Vineyard Summer [Teachers] Institute.” Mowry’s Recollections of a New England Educator, 1838-1908 (1908) offers an excellent glimpse of 19th century secondary education.

– (Dr.) Patrick T. Conley

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