Oregon’s First State-Mandated Uniform School Readers
Politics and Education

A storm of controversy arose among politicians, educators, newspaper editors, and citizens in 1873 when Oregon endeavored to adopt its first uniform readers for the public schools. The Pacific Coast Series, published by A.L. Bancroft & Co. in San Francisco, elicited immediate protests. Hostility toward the series increased until eventually Oregon newspapers were referring to the situation as the School Book Fraud and angry letters to the editor carried inflammatory headlines such as “Burn the Books.”[1] Six years after their adoption, the use of the series was discontinued by a legislative amendment to the School Law of 1872 in response to statewide and nearly universal dissatisfaction with the Bancroft books. Unhappiness with these readers reflected a mixture of resentment over the high-handed way the readers were adopted and discontent with the content of the books themselves. The Bancroft series differed significantly from traditional school readers by avoiding doctrinaire moralizing and including the work of West Coast writers. Belief that the work of West Coast writers was inferior to that of more well-known authors from the East and concern about the lack of religious content contributed to the removal of the Pacific Coast Series in 1879.

Figure 1
“Dickens in Camp,” a poem by Bret Harte, was illustrated in the Pacific Coast Fifth Reader. In 1868, Harte founded and edited San Francisco’s literary magazine the Overland Monthly. At the time the Fifth Reader was being prepared, Harte was writing for the Atlantic Monthly.

Courtesy of Lee Lau

In adopting uniform school readers, Oregon’s newly created Board of Education was following the theories of what came to be known as the Common School Movement, which began in New England and spread westward.[2] The term “common” referred to the movement’s focus on public schools as well as its goal of achieving uniformity in education. Between 1830 and 1870, Americans involved with the Common School Movement worked energetically to improve public elementary schooling. The movement had three goals: the establishment of state control over local schools, the provision of free elementary education for every white child in the United States, and the development of trained educational professionals. The first step was “to establish some form of state control over local schools.”[3]

The Pacific Coast Readers

Figure 2
Illustration from the Fourth Reader, page 233

Courtesy of Lee Lau

Although the Pacific Coast Series created a furor forincluding pieces written by West Coast writers, such authors did not represent the majority of the selections in the books. Also included were pieces by British authors such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Shakespeare and East Coast authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Meant to train students to read passages aloud, the readers included lessons on expression, oratory, inflection, and “orthoëpy” (pronunciation) in addition to the literary selections. Engravings illustrated various selections. Sam Simpson took the opportunity to express his opinions at various points in the readers he prepared, as in this note that accompanied a selection from Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby in the Fourth Reader:

NOTE.–In the above lesson, and in all succeeding lessons where provincialisms, colloquialisms, or dialect, occur, the teacher should call the attention of the class to all errors in grammar, spelling and pronunciation and have them corrected. This course will obviate all danger of false impressions on those subjects and render the exercise of real value to the student. While literature of this kind should not be too fully represented in a School Reader, we are inclined to think that the insipid primness affected by some authors is founded on a mistaken idea.

Two mechanisms helped spread the Common School concept to the West Coast. One was educational periodicals such as the Massachusetts Common School Journal, edited by the educator Horace Mann, the Connecticut Common School Journal, edited by Henry Barnard, and the Common School Director, edited by Samuel Lewis. Second were education organizations such as the American Lyceum, the Western Literary Institute, and the American Institute of Instruction.[4] There is little direct evidence that these journals and organizations had an influence in Oregon, yet by 1872 the Oregon Legislature began to act on the principles of the Common School Movement.

The roots of public schools in the United States lie in theProtestant church and in New England, a fact that has profoundly affected the development of public education throughout the nation.[5] In Puritan New England, education was primarily a religious activity emphasizing individual conduct, and elementary readers focused on human behavior within the context of religious piety.[6] During the westward migration of the mid–nineteenth century, American emigrants carried the New England–based attitude toward education with them in the form of McGuffey Readers. The McGuffeys, first made available in 1836 and the most popular readers of the time, reenforced the New England approach toward education, although they “substituted a morality built upon secular experience for the gloomy moralizing of the Puritan texts.”[7] These popular schoolbooks were dedicated to the belief that “education itself was primarily moral, and only secondarily intellectual.”[8] The readers were used in almost all of the states, particularly those west of the Appalachians and in the South, and most western emigrants saw them as the model for school readers.[9]

Before 1872, Oregon had no department of public education and the governor acted as state school superintendent.[10] The School Law, passed in 1872, approved the “preliminary organization” of an independent branch of state government, led by a superintendent of public education appointed by the governor and a board consisting of the governor, secretary of state, and superintendent.[11] It was not until 1874 that Oregon schoolchildren were required to bring specific textbooks to school. Before that, parents procured a variety of schoolbooks — all from eastern publishers — any way they could manage, and teachers were obliged to accommodate whatever books students brought with them. The new Department of Public Instruction replaced this system with uniform school readers.

Figure 3
Samuel L. Simpson, shown here in about the late 1860s, was the author of readers four and five of the Pacific Coast Series. A graduate of Willamette University, Simpson passed the Oregon Bar in 1866 but worked primarily as a journalist.

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The Pacific Coast Series, available after 1873, consisted of five readers published by A.L. Bancroft & Co. of San Francisco, with A.W. Patterson, a medical doctor from Eugene City, writing the first three readers and a speller in the series. On June 21, 1873, the Oregonian gave the Pacific Coast First Reader a favorable review. Patterson recommended that Sam Simpson, an Oregon journalist and poet, be given the job of preparing books four and five.

The task of producing readers fell well within Simpson’s talents and literary expertise, and his family played central roles in creating and adopting the state’s first uniform readers. Three Simpson family members were active in the Oregon legislature of 1872, which passed the educational measures. Twenty-nine-year-old Sylvester (Syl) Simpson served as chief clerk of the Senate.[12] Syl’s father, Ben Simpson — who had recently retired from his position as Indian agent at the Siletz Reservation but had stayed on the coast to oversee his business ventures on Yaquina Bay — represented Benton County in the House of Representatives.[13] Syl’s younger brother, Sam, was elected assistant clerk in the House of Representatives.[14]

Syl Simpson was a prominent Salem attorney and, statewide, a popular public lecturer. He had aligned himself with the powerful Democratic Party that had taken over state government in the election of 1870, and his political activism had won him an appointment as state librarian from Democratic Governor Lafayette Grover.[15] Described by the Oregon Statesman on July 16, 1866, as “scholarly and eloquent” and “possessed of both talent and culture,” Syl Simpson was made professor of ancient languages at Willamette University before his graduation in 1864. He was a leader in Salem literary societies and lectured on mythology at Willamette University.

Figure 4
Sylvester Simpson was a prominent young Oregonian in the 1870s, serving as state librarian in 1871 and as the state’s first superintendent of public education in 1872. He also taught at Willamette University, edited newspapers, and served as chief clerk of the Oregon Senate for five sessions.

OHS neg., OrHi 89584

Sam Simpson, Syl’s brother, was cut from a different cloth. Never a public speaker, the shy poet had published a popular poem, “Beautiful Willamette,” in 1868, and his short story “The Lost Cabin” appeared in the November 1872 issue of San Francisco’s literary magazine The Overland Monthly.[16] He was admitted to the Oregon Bar but practiced law only briefly, while his work as a journalist generated high praise from Oregon newspaper editors.[17] His alcoholism, however, was a lifelong deterrent to the employment of his talents. A family friend, Judge Matthew Deady, the U.S. district judge for Oregon, characterized Sam as “a genius, but as genius too often does loves whisky too well …”[18]

Early in 1873, Governor Grover appointed Syl Simpson superintendent of public instruction.[19 The appointment was seen by some as a political reward for a man the Salem Statesman would later describe as Governor Grover’s “pet.”[20] In July, Simpson announced which books had been adopted as the texts that would be required in Oregon public schools for a four-year period beginning October 1, 1873. Any district that did not use the adopted texts, Simpson’s announcement warned, would “forfeit its proportion of the School fund for the succeeding year.” The books on arithmetic, geography, grammar, history, penmanship, and science had already been identified, but “the readers and spellers have not been selected as yet.”[21] It may be that Syl Simpson was holding this category open until the completion of the Pacific Coast Series and the two readers that his brother Sam was writing.

The School Law dictated that the county superintendents would be the ones to vote on all textbooks proposed for Oregon’s schools. On August 15, 1873, Syl Simpson sent those officials a circular asking, in the name of the State Board of Education, that they vote for the Pacific Coast Series because, “all things considered, we regard it as the best series for use in our schools of all that we have examined.”[22]

Some who knew that Sam Simpson was a co-author of the Pacific Coast Series questioned the appropriateness of this tactic. A September 4, 1873, letter to the Oregonian signed only “Inquirer” referred to the circular and asked:
Now, Sir, can you tell me how it comes that our noble Governor, our worthy Secretary of State, and our energetic State Superintendent earnestly desire and recommend the adoption of any series of books? Did they … think the heaviest artillery in the State should be brought to bear upon the County Superintendents to induce them to adopt a series of readers and spellers, in which one-half of the Speller and one-half of the Fourth Reader, all of the Fifth Reader … are left blank to be filled in with chinking …? I have known boys to trade knives “unsight unseen” [sic], but for educators to select reading books for our schools upon that principle, is entirely new, even in this fast age, and should be patented …
The same day that the letter appeared, the newspaper announced that Syl Simpson had postponed the deadline for enforcing the school book adoption law from October 1, 1873, to March 1, 1874, perhaps to allow for the review of the Pacific Coast Series, which was not yet ready.[23]

Before the official vote, Lair Hill, editor of the Oregonian, wrote in support of the series: “upon such examination as we have had time to give them, we should be glad to see them adopted.”[24] An 1873 letter from Oregon City signed “Teacher” claimed, “The majority of teachers in the state who have examined these books (not the First and Second only, but the Third and Fourth also,) are in favor of their adoption and introduction into our public schools.”[25] By September 24, the decision was made, and the Oregon Statesman announced that the Pacific Coast Series had been adopted with the support of sixteen of Oregon’s county superintendents. Harpers U.S. Series received four votes, and Wilson’s School and Family Series received two.

Figure 5
Sam Simpson was twenty-three when he wrote the work for which he became best known, the poem “Beautiful Willamette.” He included the poem in the Fourth Reader of the Pacific Coast Series (above), published in 1873.

Courtesy of Lee Lau

Simpson’s Fifth Reader was published three months later.[26] On January 1, 1874, the Oregon Statesman reviewed the new reader and concluded: “the compilation of readings is carefully made and reflects credit upon the author.” Two days later, the Oregonian gave the Fifth Reader a glowing review.

Figure 6
When the revised editions of readers four (above) and five of the Pacific Coast Series were printed in 1874, various scandals led the publisher to remove Samuel Simpson’s name from the title page of the books. The first editions had credited Simpson as author when they were published the previous year (right).

Courtesy of Lee Lau

Public reaction was less complementary, and it focused not on the policy of mandating uniform schoolbooks but, rather, on the Pacific Coast Series itself. Between August 1873, when the circulars urging adoption of the Pacific Coast Series were sent to the county superintendants, and 1879, when a different series was adopted, the pages of the Statesman and the Oregonian reverberated with editorials and letters concerning the Pacific Coast readers. Many criticized the high-handed way in which the adoption had been pushed through the system, and some, intimating collusion between the Simpson brothers, argued that the Pacific Coast Series would cost more than a series produced by East Coast publishers. Others spoke to the merits or limitations of the content of the Pacific Coast Series, particularly its lack of religious content and the inclusion of writings by regional authors.

The Oregonian’s Salem correspondent, who used the pen name “47,” initiated a lively exchange on the matter with Superintendent Syl Simpson in September 1873. The correspondent complained that the date for the adoption of the books had been postponed only to allow the state to adopt the Pacific Coast Series and claimed that books from the East Coast would be less expensive than the Bancroft series. “It looks,” he wrote, “as if this action of those in power were for the special benefit of Dr. Patterson and Mr. S. L. Simpson, and to gratify a sectional pride.”[27]

Figure 7
Courtesy of the Oregon State Library, Salem

In response, Simpson contended that it was the county superintendents, not he, who were authorized to select Oregon’s schoolbooks, and he declared that changing the date for the adoption of schoolbooks had not been done to favor the Pacific Coast Series. “The extension of time was granted solely with a view to the public good,” he wrote, explaining that the schoolbook law did not go into effect until ninety days after the end of the session in which it was passed, so “it was not only impolitic but absolutely impossible to enforce their complete introduction by the 1st of October.” The publishers of the Pacific Coast Series, Simpson further reported, had assured him their books would be available by the time students would need them. Finally, he provided figures showing that the Pacific Coast readers would cost no more than other readers.

Why were oregon’s first state-mandated school readers pushed through the adoption process? In large part, it was because Syl Simpson was determined to help his brother Sam. By 1873, Sam was much admired as a poet and journalist, but he also had a statewide reputation as an alcoholic, a condition that was interfering with his professional advancement. In 1876, for example, Syl Simpson asked Judge Matthew P. Deady for help in procuring a clerkship for Sam in a Portland law court. When the judge refused the request, Syl wrote Deady that he understood the decision and admitted that Sam was not reliable. The letter concludes: “I know that, with all his weakness, my brother has many noble and worthy qualities, and ability of no mean order, and I would give my right hand to see him take the place among men that he ought to occupy.”[28]

Deady had been one of the people whom the family had approached for support during the book adoption process in 1873. In mid-August — over a month before the adoption of the Pacific Coast Series was officially announced — Ben Simpson had begged Deady to write a letter to the Oregonian in support of the series.[29] “My object in asking this favor,” he wrote, “is that Sam L. Simpson is doing the work and of course is deeply interested. Sam is conducting himself well at present and I of course would like to give him encouragement and as he writes to me that an endorsement from you he would regard as a great favor.”[30] There is no evidence that Deady complied with the request.

Still, Syl Simpson and others believed that the Pacific Coast Series was a good one. The first three readers had received favorable reviews, and the series was widely used in California and Washington.[31] The books carried a clean, spacious format and were illustrated generously for the time. Readers four and five contain selections in three categories — prose, poetry, and dialogues (scenes from plays) — by major English and American writers. Definitions of “new” words appear at the beginning of each selection.

The Pacific Coast Series, however, was considered unacceptable by many Oregonians. Some contended that the new series departed too radically from the didactic conventions of traditional readers such as the McGuffeys. Some opposed the series for the lack of religious content. “A.B.,” for example, wrote the Oregonian, … for one, I am opposed to the introduction of the Bible into the public schools … but when I find two consecutive school readers which contain but one allusion — even the remotest — to the Deity, in any form, as is the case here, I think I may be pardoned for suggesting that this is setting at defiance the most cherished belief of quite too large a portion of the citizens whose patronage the author aims to secure.[32]

Some complained that the Bancroft books relied too much on Pacific coast writers such as Bret Harte, H.H. Bancroft, Joaquin Miller, Matthew Deady, E.D. Baker (the Oregon orator and U.S. Senator), and Sam Simpson himself. For Simpson, that was one of the readers’ strengths. In his preface to the Fourth Reader, Simpson wrote: “Local subjects are occasionally treated in this volume, and in this and the succeeding number sufficient selections will be made from the literature of the Pacific Coast to render the Readers, while not all merely local, in a manner racy of the soil.” His defense of western writers appeared again in the preface to the Fifth Reader: “… the Literature of the Pacific Coast has received, as is believed to be proper, some special recognition, but not to the extent of being sectional or exclusive.”

Figure 8
William Lair Hill, editor of the Oregonian from 1872 to 1877, supported the adoption of the Pacific Coast Series and praised the inclusion of works by writers from the Pacific Coast in the books.

OHS neg., OrHi 105257

Some Oregonians, however, believed that the work of West Coast writers was inferior to that of those in the East, and in the aftermath of the Civil War, sectional divisions remained an apparent concern. The Oregonian’s “47” had contended in his September 1873 letter that
During the last war [the Civil War], some hair-brained, sectional idiot issued a series of Southern school books, which probably would have been adopted if the Southern Confederacy had been successful, but now we look upon them as literary curiosities; and I am inclined to think that thousands of teachers in the Eastern States would so regard this Pacific Coast series, when they are issued, and will pronounce the school authorities of this State a narrow-minded and sectional set.[33]He ended his Salem letter with a sarcastic reference to regional authors:
Probably the Fourth Reader will contain literary gems from “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain, “Luck of the Roaring Camp” and “Heathen Chinee” by Bret Hart, or the “Lost Cabin” and poetical effusions by the author, S.L.S., or scraps of “History of the Modoc Indians,” by Joaquin Miller, as a compensation for the great sacrifice. Well, we shall find out how the people will like it.[34]A resident of Astoria, who wrote to the paper under the name “Thulah,” worried that the inclusion of West Coast writers would produce a harmful “sectional spirit”:
No thoughtful and patriotic man would rejoice to see the different parts of this great nation engaged in getting up school books that in any sense breathed a sectional spirit. With such a system on the Pacific coast, another in New England, a third in the Middle States, a fourth in the South, this nation would never see its second centennial … No, gentlemen of the State Board, no, teachers of Oregon, it is not our duty to create a feeling of jealousy against New England, New York or South Carolina …[35]

Figure 9
Harvey Scott returned to the post of editor at the Oregonian in 1877 after a hiatus of five years and immediately began denouncing the Pacific Coast Series of school readers. As one whose primary education had included the morality-based McGuffey Readers, Scott decried the “trifling levity” of more modern schoolbooks.
OHS neg., CN 002756

Lair Hill disagreed and vigorously supported the inclusion of regional writers in the series. On September 4, 1873, he wrote: “They are a home production, and if we are compelled to buy uniform books, we might as well have a home book as a foreign production.”[36] Syl Simpson also became vocal on the subject and in his debate with “47” became uncharacteristically heated in defending the inclusion of West Coast writers:
As to the sectional character of the new Readers … it is the purpose … to make the series thoroughly national…. Who can claim that a series of Readers is national that absolutely ignores the whole country west of the Rocky Mountains …?
Judging from your correspondent’s animadversions on this subject, I suppose him to be a late comer from the East, who has not yet got over the notion, quite common, as I learn, among certain people in the Atlantic States, that the Pacific coast is inhabited by a kind of mongrel population of semi-barbarians. He seems to think it a piece of insufferable impudence that any man in Oregon, should presume to write or publish a school-book. In his judgement, apparently, Eastern men have a sort of divinely ordained monopoly of the school-book business, with which it is sacrilege to interfere. His sneer at the talent of the Pacific coast is a piece of inimitable, Eastern snobbishness, that would be insulting if it were not absurd.
… Begging pardon, of course, of your correspondent, and of all who think as he does, for my presumption, I take the liberty to believe and say that there are men — and women, too — on this coast who can write as good school-books as any in the East, and that it is right to encourage this home talent in all legitimate ways…. Today, by common consent, an Oregon boy stands in the front rank among living poets. He has crowned our Sierras with a radiant diadem of song whose lustre shines into the furthest corner of the world where the English language is spoken. The sneers of a million times “47s” cannot “put out that light.”[37]The opposition to the Pacific Coast Series — because of the procedure for adoption, their secular stance, and their regional content — continued for six more years.

The schoolbook law was a hot topic in the 1874 Oregon Legislature, where Syl Simpson again served as chief clerk of the Senate.[38] In the House, a bill was introduced to nullify the 1872 law and to abolish the State Board of Education, the office of the state superintendent of instruction, and the uniform textbook requirement.[39] The stormy debate kept the galleries and side aisles filled with spectators for two hours. The strong backlash was a reaction to the way Superintendent Simpson had implemented the law. Representative C.A. Reed from Marion County, for example, argued, “If the Superintendent’s office is to be prostituted as it has been during the past two years, blot it from the Statute Books.” The bill was rejected, but public anger over the adoption issue led the 1874 legislature to make the office of superintendent of public education an elective one. Syl Simpson did not run for the position.[40]

The controversy re-ignited in 1877, as two major changes, one political and the other journalistic, took place in Oregon. In the political arena, Gov. Lafayette Grover was elected to the U.S. Senate, and Stephen Chadwick, Oregon’s secretary of state, took over the duties of governor.[41] Syl Simpson became Chadwick’s private secretary, tying him more closely than ever to the Democratic governorship of Oregon.[42] That same spring, ownership of the Oregonian changed hands, and the editorship passed from Lair Hill to Harvey Scott, who became a major voice in denouncing the Pacific Coast Series.[43] A persistent enemy of Oregon’s Democratic administration and a highly influential conservative in late-nineteenth-century Oregon, Scott had strong convictions concerning the content of school readers. Scott advocated self-dependent individualism and decried the “trifling levity” of modern schoolbooks while praising the morality-based McGuffeys, which he had used as a primary-school student.[44] Under the heading “The Worst Possible Series,” Scott printed a letter from a parent objecting to the series. “Now let us all unite,” admonished the letter, “throw away the Pacific Coast Readers, and place in the hands of our children the series that are without a parallel in merits and in extensive use and adoption.”[45]

The editorship of the Oregon Statesman also changed when W.H. Odell purchased the paper in June.[46] Odell had been Oregon’s surveyor general until 1874, when Ben Simpson was appointed to the position by the U.S. Senate, following his nomination by President Ulysses S. Grant.[47] The Statesman had supported the Pacific Coast Series, but under Odell’s ownership it turned into a powerful critic of the books. The paper fulminated against the “School Book Swindle,” the “School Book Fraud,” and the “School Book Monopoly” and declared that Oregonians were being forced to pay more for the Pacific Coast Series than they would for those from eastern states.[48]

The editors of both newspapers called for adopting schoolbooks published in the East. “Educators from all parts of the world pronounce the [Pacific Coast] series … vastly inferior to others in use in older states,” stated a letter in the Statesman, while a letter in support of the Oregonian’s editorial position complained that the “Pacific Coast Readers … displaced from our schools the best reading books from among the standard series of the New England states.”[49] Public comment also focused on the inclusion of non-didactic selections in the series. “The addition from fiction and light literature are objectionable on the ground that young folks — especially girls — are apt to acquire a taste in that direction too soon anyway,” wrote W.W.F.[50]

Figure 10
W.H. Odell purchased Salem’s Oregon Statesman in 1877 and turned that newspaper into a powerful critic of the Pacific Coast readers, referring to the adoption of the books as the “School Book Fraud.”

OHS neg., OrHi 90856

As a result of editorial and public complaint, the 1878 Oregon legislature amended section twelve of the School Law. The amendment required the Board of Education to order the superintendent to issue special circulars to county superintendents, directing them to select a series of readers and a speller as substitutes for the Pacific Coast Series.[51] The Statesman applauded the action: “The people of this state have long complained of the school book monopoly foisted upon them some years ago and have demanded relief.”[52] Because the Board of Education was slow to act, however, public complaint continued for several months after the legislature passed the amendment.

By 1879, anger against the content of the Bancroft books was hysterical in tone: “The Pacific Coast Series are positive frauds … being as trashy as some spurious novels,” howled H.M. Daugherty — a teacher so angry that he signed his real name. He urged that “some day be set apart … and all the schools in the state make a bonfire of these books and burn them all.” The Oregonian headlined the letter “BURN THE BOOKS.”[53] In April, the Statesman claimed that “almost any series would be an improvement.”[54] Several weeks later, it added, “The questionable manner in which the Pacific Coast Series were first adopted has been pretty thoroughly condemned by the entire public, … We have taken occasion frequently to express our disapproval of the Pacific Coast series … and in doing so, we have but feebly expressed the public sentiment on the subject.”[55] The Oregonian also continued its condemnation of the series. “Of the readers now in use, known as the Pacific Coast Series, we have frequently expressed an opinion through these columns. It is a series which does not, in our judgement, compare favorably with others.”[56] A letter to the state Board of Education, signed by the Portland superintendent of public schools and nine other Portland school administrators, asked for the removal of “the present series of text books, particularly readers’ and spellers.”[57]

Figure 11
Sylvester Simpson left Oregon under a cloud in 1880. He and his wife lived in Berkeley, California, where they are pictured here, until their deaths in the early 1900s. Frances McFarland Simpson was raised in Salem and, like her husband, graduated from Willamette University.

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Bancroft & Co., which claimed to have a contract with the state that ran for over two more years, requested and received from Judge Deady a temporary injunction to stop the state from calling for a vote on the adoption of school readers.[58] On May 15, 1879, the Oregonian reported that Deady had ruled in favor of the state, and on June 19 it reported that the county superintendents had voted to adopt the Independent Readers Series published by A.S. Barnes & Co. of New York City. Six years of stormy controversy over the Pacific Coast Series had ended. The office of state superintendent of education was now elective, and Oregon’s uniform school readers — published in an eastern state — purveyed traditional content.

In the years following the adoption of the Pacific Coast Series, both Simpson brothers had been discredited. Syl Simpson’s involvement in the adoption of the series may have contributed to his defeat in the 1876 race for state representative.[59] In 1878, while he was serving as private secretary to Governor Stephen Chadwick, the Statesman accused Simpson of “nibling [sic] at the Blind School fund, to the tune of $300 a year.”[60] Although he had been expected to return to his position as chief clerk at the 1880 Oregon legislative session, he did not report.[61] Instead, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he remained until his death, employed by law firms and writing for A.L. Bancroft & Co.[62]

The revised editions of the Pacific Coast readers, published in 1875, removed Sam Simpson’s name from the title pages of readers four and five and omitted his prefaces, although the content and organization of the books remained almost entirely unchanged. In the spring of that year, Simpson had disgraced himself during his stint as temporary editor of Eugene City’s Oregon State Journal— a time when he drank so heavily that his wife left him.[63] His scatological descriptions of Sam Clarke, editor of the Salem Record— isssued in response to criticism of Ben Simpson, who was then Oregon’s surveyor general — carried what historians have termed the “Oregon Style” of abusive journalism to unacceptable levels.[64] He never again held a position of responsibility on any Willamette Valley newspaper. A member of Grub Street for the rest of his life, Sam worked as a journalist and sold his popular poems and short stories to newspapers.

Politics was a major factor in the adoption and eventual rejection of the Pacific Coast Series of readers in Oregon. The fate of Oregon’s first state-mandated uniform school readers was determined by a political situation that gave the state’s first superintendent of education power to adopt his brother’s books and by a set of political alliances and resentments that influenced editorial policies of Oregon newspapers. Public reaction against the nontraditional content of the Pacific Coast Series also helped determine the fate of this series of school readers published on the West Coast. Oregonians in the 1870s were reluctant to accept the absence of specific moralizing and the inclusion of regional writers. The intensity of their reaction was reflected in the pages of the state’s newspapers and their inflammatory headlines.


1. Oregonian, February 26, 1878.

2. Robert L. Church and Michael W. Sedlak, Education in the United States (London: Collier Macmillan, 1976), 55.

3. Church and Sedlak, Education, 56.

4. Joel Spring, The American School, 1642–1985 (New York: Longman, 1986), 81.

5. John D. Pulliam, History of Education in America, 2nd ed. (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, 1976), 55.

6. Spring, American School, 1–2.

7. William A. French, America’s Educational Tradition (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1964), 73, 74.

8. Henry Steele Commanger, The Commonwealth of Learning (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 94.

9. French, America’s Educational Tradition, 74.

10. George Turnbull, Governors of Oregon (Portland, Ore.: Binfords & Mort, 1959), 38.

11.Oregonian, February 10, 1873.

12. Cecil L. Edwards, comp., Chronological List of Oregon’s Legislatures (Salem, Ore.: Legislative Administration Committee, 1993), 92.

13. William Eugene Kent, The Siletz Indian Reservation (Newport, Ore.: Lincoln County Historical Society, 1977), 20; David D. Fagan, History of Benton County (Portland, Ore.: A.G. Walling, 1885), 482; Oregon Statesman, October 8, 1870; Oregonian, January 28, 1871; Edwards, Chronological List, 94. in 1872, the Yaquina area was part of Benton County.

14. Edwards, Chronological List, 95.

15.Oregonian, May 25, 1871.

16. The poem first appeared under the name “Ad Willametam” in the Albany State Rights Democrat, April 18, 1868.

17.Oregon State Journal, March 19, 1870; Oregon Statesman, April 8, 1870, January 16, 1871.

18. Malcolm Clark, Jr., ed. Pharisee among Philistines: The Diary of Judge Matthew P. Deady, 1871–1892, 2 vols. (Portland, Oregon Historical Society, 1975), 1:2. Deady had a friendly relationship with the Simpson family, having enlisted Syl Simpson as a lecturer to raise money for Deady’s favorite causes and having asked for help from both Syl and Ben in influencing legislative action in the 1872 session.

19. See Clark, ed., Pharisee among Philistines, 1:118, 119; Oregonian, February 10, 1873.

20.Oregon Statesman, April 26, 1879, quoted in Corvallis Gazette, May 2, 1879.

21.Oregon Statesman, July 23, 1873.

22.Oregonian, September 4, 1873.

23.Oregonian, September 3, 1873. The Pacific Coast Series was not complete at the time county superintendents were considering textbooks for adoption, and in an effort to have their books considered, A.L. Bancroft & Co. apparently printed copies of the incomplete readers with blank pages where material was intended to be added. The Oregon State Library owns a copy of the Fourth Reader in which all of the pages in the last half of the book are blank. Inquirer’s mention of “chinking” refers to this situation.

24.Oregonian, September 8, 1873.

25. Ibid.

26. The day the adoption of the series was announced in the Oregon Statesman, Syl Simpson was still working with Judge Deady to choose the latter’s writings for the Fifth Reader. Clark, ed., Pharisee among Philistines, 1:137.

27.Oregonian, September 3, 1873, emphasis in original.

28. Syl Simpson to Judge Deady, May 1, 1877, MSS 48, Matthew Paul Deady Papers, Research Library, Oregon Historical Society, Portland [hereafter OHS Research Library].

29. Judge Deady was associated with A.L. Bancroft & Co. Earlier in 1873, that publishing establishment had brought out Deady’s Reports, a collection of opinions Deady wrote when he sat on the circuit court in Sanz Francisco (Clark, ed., Pharisee among Philistines, 1:3, 14). Deady was also indebted to Ben and Syl Simpson. On September 22, 1872, — while the legislature was in session — Deady wrote in his diary: “Wrote draft of act to purchase 100 copies of Deadys Rep, and sent it to Ben Simpson.” On October 3, Deady took the train to Salem “to look … after my bill for the purchase of Deadys Reports,” and on October 5 he wrote: “(Sat) Got my report bill through the House in forenoon by vote of 31 to 9. It allows $800 for 100 copies, half of which Bancroft and Co. allow me.” In the entry for October 11, Deady is highly distressed: “(Fri) Got word that the bill to purchase my reports was defeated in the Senate by 12 to 10.” He added that on the same day he had written to six influential people “asking for a reconsideration of the vote.” Two of those people were “Simpson pere et fil.” Four days later, the diary entry read: “Bill to purchase 100 volumes of Deadys [sic] Reports passed Senate, which gives me $400.” See Clark, ed., Pharisee among Philistines, 1:94–97.

30. Ben Simpson to Judge Deady, August 14, 1873, MSS 48, Matthew Paul Deady Papers, OHS Research Library.

31. Alfred Powers, History of Oregon Literature (Portland, Ore.: Metropolitan Press, 1935), 293.

32.Oregonian, September 6, 1873.

33.Oregonian, September 3, 1873.

34.Oregonian, September 3, 1873. The Fourth Reader contained “The Pony-Rider” by Mark Twain.

35.Oregonian, September 10, 1873.

36.Oregonian, September 4, 1873.

37.Oregonian, September 5, 1873. The Oregon poet he referred to is Joaquin Miller, whose poetry and persona had taken London by storm. Powers, History of Oregon Literature, 233; Ingrid Wendt and Primus St. John, eds., From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1993), 50.

38.Oregonian, June 9, 1874.

39.Oregonian, September 16, 1874.

40.Oregonian, October 14, 1874.

41. Turnbull, Governors, 39, 40. Chadwick did not, however, resign as secretary of state, and, during the succeeding nineteen months, “he signed his proclamations and messages twice — once, on the right as Governor, and again, on the left as Secretary of State” (Turnbull, Governors, 40).

42. On November 9, Deady wrote in his diary, “Had a long talk with [the recently elected] Gov Thayer … about the Grover-Chadwick administration. I am sorry to hear he thinks it has been very corrupt and that Chadwick is the worst in the pack.” Clark, ed., Pharisee among Philistines, 1:270.

43.Oregonian, April 2, 1877.

44. Lee Nash, “Harvey Scott’s Cure for Drones: An Oregon Alternative to Public Higher Schools,” in Experiences in a Promised Land, ed. G. Thomas Edwards and Carlos A. Schwantes (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1986), 110, 112.

45.Oregonian, January 24, 1878.

46. George Turnbull, History of Oregon Newspapers (Portland, Ore.: Binfords & Mort, 1939), 137.

47.Oregon Statesman, February 26, 1874.

48.Oregon Statesman, January 20, January 30, September 27, 1878.

49.Oregon Statesman, January 20, 1878; Oregonian, January 17, 1878.

50.Oregonian, February 7, 1878.

51. Stella Ann Fishburne, “A Study of Textbook Legislation in the State of Oregon” (M.A. thesis, University of Oregon, 1929).

52.Oregon Statesman, January 4, 1879.

53.Oregonian, February 26, 1878.

54.Oregon Statesman, April 18, May 16, 1879.

55.Oregon Statesman, April 24, 30, 1879.

56.Oregonian, April 21, 1879.

57. Ibid.

58.Oregonian, April 25, 1879.

59. See Oregonian, May 22, June 8, 1876. Shortly after Simpson lost the race, the Oregonian reported that a Democrat had publicly charged Simpson with offering county superintendents a percentage of the price of “certain books” if they would vote for adoption of the Pacific Coast Series. Simpson replied with a strong denial. See Oregonian, June 1, 2, 3, 1876.

60.Oregon Statesman, October 8, 1878.

61.Oregonian, September 14, 1880.

62.Oregon Daily Journal, March 4, 1913.

63. Sam L. Simpson, Five Couples (Masset, B.C.: S.L. Simpson, 1981), 46.

64.Oregon State Journal, April 24, May 15, 1875; Howard McKinley Corning, Dictionary of Oregon History (1956; reprint, Portland, Ore.: Binford & Mort, 1989), 186.