Killingly - Birthplace of Two U.S. Commissioners of Education

Compiled by Natalie L. Coolidge

1. Dr. William Torrey Harris

Born in North Killingly (now Putnam Heights) in 1835, Harris was educated in his neighborhood district school and later at Woodstock Academy, entering Yale in 1854.

Dr. Harris's career as an educator began in St. Louis in 1857 where he taught elementary school children and became interested in the work of the famed German educator Friederick Froebel whose theories and methods regarding kindergarten Harris applied in setting up the first kindergarten in America in 1873. He was probably the most widely known public school educator and philosopher in the United States during the late nineteenth century. He was Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools from 1867-1880. By consensus of educational historians, he was the dominant personal influence on American education for 30 years. Other innovations, all within the St. Louis school system, included instruction in music, art, "manual training," physical education, "the home arts" (home economics), and natural sciences.

Harris was named fourth Commissioner of Education by President Benjamin Harrison and served that office with distinction for 17 years through the presidencies of Cleveland, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Dr. Harris was termed "the third most famous man to come out of Windham County, excelled only by General Israel Putnam and General Nathaniel Lyon, hero of the Battle of Wilson's Creek." An outstanding philosopher who was conversant with all the great philosophies of the world, he was named during his own time as "next only to Emerson."

On his tombstone in North Killingly is inscribed "Founder and editor of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy--United States Commissioner of Education, 1889-1906-a rare scholar whose life was zealously and untiringly devoted to Philosophy and Education."

(From: Encyclopedia Britannica)

2. Dr. Sidney Percy Marland, Jr.

Sidney P. Marland was born in Danielson in 1914, was educated in the local schools graduating from Killingly High School and the University of Connecticut, then received his Ph.D. from New York University.

Dr. Marland's 35 years in education include experience as a high school and university teacher and more than 20 years as a school superintendent in Darien, CT, Winnetka, IL, and Pittsburgh, PA.

There was much community pride felt when Marland was selected by President Nixon to serve as United States Commissioner of Education from 1970 to 1972. From 1972 to 1973 he was the nation's first statutory Assistant Secretary of Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (a new post created by the Education Amendment of 1972.) He was also influential in the establishment of the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program designed to provide new grant assistance to students in need of financial aid for post-secondary education.

He is married to the former Virginia Partridge and has three children and several grandchildren.

He is first and always, a teacher, and a painter, a part-time poet, a mason, a fisherman, a cook, an early riser, a prodigious worker, and a praiser of friends. He loves the land and knows how to work it. He loves stories and friends, and he needs them as a tree needs sun and rain.

(From: The Windham County Transcript, March 8, 1973 and May 1974; Citation of Appreciation from Trustees of the College Board 1978 National Forum, October 31, 1978.)