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Education in Early Albion

Albion’s first residents recognized the need and importance of education. Jesse Crowell and his Albion Company gave 60 acres of land to encourage the Wesleyan Seminary to located in Albion. Classes were first held in 1841 just ten years after the first settlers arrived. In the decades following the founding of Wesleyan Seminary in 1841 through the Civil War, Albion was a hotbed of innovation in education.

Ira Mayhew is one figure who figured prominently not just in Albion, but also at the state level. He became State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1845 and held that office until 1849. After stepping down, Mayhew apparently kept busy, for he published Mayhew’s practical book-keeping embracing single and double entry in 1851. The book went through at least 60 editions, including one he published from Albion, Michigan, in 1860. Another book of his, The means and ends of universal education was also published from Albion, in October 1856. His book University Book-keeping followed in 1868, and Eclectic Complete Book-keeping in 1884. Mayhew was also responsible for designing “Mayhew’s Self-adjusting Smoke, Storm and Ventilating Chimney Cap,” and having the same device patented.

Active in civic and educational affairs, he served as Principal of the Wesleyan Seminary for a brief time between 1853 and 1854, before returning for another term as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Following the end of his second term in 1859, he returned to Albion where he served as Village treasurer in 1859, and Village president in 1861.

He opened a private bank with business partner Samuel V. Irwin in 1859. The Mayhew & Irwin Exchange Office was located on the southwest corner of Superior and Porter Streets. Later, in 1863 he sold his interest in the bank to his son-in-law Mr. Sutton. Abraham Lincoln appointed Mayhew as Collector of Internal Revenue for the Third District of Michigan in 1863. He held the post until 1866.

Irwin was instrumental in securing a Federal charter on August 30, 1865, at which time the National Exchange Bank of Albion was organized. Meanwhile, Mayhew dedicated his energy to developing the Albion Commercial College that he had founded in 1860. After starting on the third floor of Howard Hall (204 South Superior Street), the school moved to new quarters on the third floor of Peabody Block (southwest corner of Superior and Erie Streets).

After a mysterious fire on September 10, 1868, Mayhew and his college relocated to Detroit, later to become known as Mayhew’s Business College and then the Detroit Business University. He played an active role running the college until 1883.

View of the Albion College campus c. 1894

Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University, frequently visited Albion himself. For a time it looked like Cornell might even relocate here around 1833, to build a mill and settlement on 340 acres of land owned by Benjamin and Martin Wood. Ezra Cornell abandoned thoughts of moving his family to Michigan, though his sister Phebe Cornell (1816-1891) went with her husband Martin Wood. Martin Wood supervised the erection of the first telegraph line between Detroit in Chicago. While in Albion he was elected a member of the first Board of Trustees for the village in 1859, and was chosen President. While living in Albion Phebe Cornell became the first female telegraph operator in the U.S., operating from instruments located in her own home on North Superior Street. At one point it was commented how Ezra himself was “spending far more time at Albion than at Ithaca.”

Ezra Cornell’s parents joined other family members who had already located in Albion. Jane Cornell, writing to her mother Mary Ann in January 1849 commented how “The people of Albion hold California meetings here two or three times a week, and there is a large company going from here early in the Spring.” As we know, Stockwell was among those who likely went on the trip. It is fortunate for us that Ezra Cornell did not follow. Jane Cornell went on to marry James Finch, son of Ashel Finch, showing how she was tied in and connected with one of the earliest settlers of Albion.

Ezra Cornell would demonstrate his commitment to see women become both students and workers. This would be enshrined in the motto of Cornell University: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” It should be noted that the Albion Female Collegiate Institute had championed that model decades before the founding of Cornell University. Cornell was surely aware of innovations taking place in Albion thanks to frequent trips to visit family members also in Albion. It would be intriguing to connect innovative work in education being done in Albion, with similar efforts copied on an admittedly larger scale at Cornell University.

Albion College was a leader in co-education and extending educational opportunity to Native Americans. In 1864 the Wesleyan Seminary and Female Collegiate Institute were joined by state charter into Albion College.Another educational leader in Albion was Delos Fall. He first came to Albion to accept the professorship of natural sciences in 1878. Five years later he successfully ran for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He won by a margin greater than any previous candidate (including Ira Mayhew). He was re-elected in 1901. During his administration the state legislature passed enabling legislation to allow for the centralization and consolidation of schools in Michigan. Another law established county normal schools for the education of future teachers.

Fall was a member and leader of many organizations including president of the State Teachers’ Association, and in 1886 he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Fall was also a member of the American Public Health Association, and of the Albion City Council and the City Board of Health.

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