Nathan Guilford

From Ohio History Central

Nathan Guilford's greatest contribution to Ohio's history was his immense support for publicly funded education. In 1822, Caleb Atwater successfully lobbied the legislature and Governor Allen Trimble to establish a commission to study the feasibility of creating common schools in Ohio. The Ohio government would finance these institutions. Atwater served as chairman of the commission, with Representatives John Collins, James Hoge, Nathan Guilford, Ephraim Cutler, Josiah Barber, and James Bell also serving. The commission spent the summer and fall of 1822 researching the condition of Ohio's educational system, as well as studying public education in other states. Atwater wrote three pamphlets -- one on the condition of school buildings in Ohio, one on the type of public school system Ohio should create, and one on the value of common schools to Ohio's future -- to educate Ohioans on the need for state financed education. Atwater modeled his plan after New York's public school system. Ohio would not finance schools through taxation but through the sale of state property.

Not all members of the commission favored Atwater's plan. Guilford and Bell advocated a property tax. They felt that the sale of public lands would not necessarily provide the funds needed to pay for the schools. A property tax would result in a consistent inflow of money to guarantee adequate funding of the schools.

The commission made its final report to the Ohio General Assembly in 1823. The legislators, for the most part, opposed public funding for internal improvements and public education. In the General Assembly's session in 1824, public opinion forced the legislature to address the education issue. Guilford took the lead, advocating a property tax to finance education. The legislature concurred, establishing common schools in Ohio in 1825. The state government financed public education with a half-mil property tax.

With the establishment of public education in Ohio, communities now formed school districts to meet the state legislature's dictate. In 1829, Cincinnati established "The Board of Trustees and Visitors" to oversee its school district. Each political ward of Cincinnati had one elected member serving on the board. For the first two decades of public education in Cincinnati, there was no superintendent. This changed in 1850 with a new state law requiring the election of a superintendent for each school district in the state. Nathan Guilford won election in Cincinnati. He served as the district's first superintendent from 1850 until 1852.

Guilford spent most of his life in state and local political offices. He also was a member of the Unitarian Church. In his spare time, his dedication to education remained apparent. Although he earned his living as an attorney, Guilford also fancied himself an author. He was a member of Cincinnati's "Garret Club," an organization of prominent men who wrote poetry and stories for local newspapers. In 1829, Guilford published The Western Souvenir, a Christmas and New Year's Gift. This was a monthly magazine that included poetry, stories, and artwork from authors and artists residing west of the Appalachian Mountains. It remained in publication for less than two years.

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