(1790-1860), American educator and Unitarian minister, was the founding president of the first American public normal school
, which evolved into Framingham State College
Early life and education, 1790-1810
Cyrus Peirce (originally pronounced "Purse," but now usually as if it were spelled "Pierce') was born on August 15, 1790 in Waltham, Massachusetts
, the twelfth and last child of Isaac Peirce and Hannah Mason Peirce, his wife. He went to Framingham Academy before going to Harvard
. During his sophomore year in the winter of 1807-1808, he began teaching in nearby West Newton
Teaching and divinity school, 1810-1818
After receiving his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1810, Peirce went to Nantucket Island to take charge of a private school there, but after two years there, he returned to Harvard in 1810 to start divinity school, which he completed in 1815. He then returned to Nantucket where he resumed his teaching career.
On April 1, 1816, in Nantucket, Cyrus Peirce married Harriet Coffin, (born June 26, 1794), the daughter of William Coffin, II, and Deborah Pinkham Coffin, his wife. They had no children.
Ministerial career and more teaching. 1818-1831
Cyrus Peirce left Nantucket to begin preaching in 1818 and was ordained a Unitarian
minister in North Reading
on May 19, 1819, and ministered there until May 19, 1827, when he resigned to take charge of a school in North Andover
, where he stayed until 1831.
In 1831, Cyrus Peirce returned to Nantucket and opened a "School for Young Ladies." In 1832, fourteen year old Maria Mitchell
, who later became a well-known astronomer, became one of his pupils. She eventually became his assistant, but left to start her own school on the island. In 1838 Cyrus Peirce became the first principal of Nantucket High School
, but left in July 1839 at Horace Mann
's behest to go to Lexington
to become the first head (later called president) of the first public normal school in the country.
Normal School and Nantucket, 1839-1849
The experimental normal school in Lexington, which was to evolve into today's Framingham State College, began on a modest note with only three students, but it had grown to 42 by July, 1842, when ill health forced Peirce to resign his position there and return to Nantucket. By 1844 the school had moved to West Newton and Peirce was persauded to return for another term in July, 1844. He served until May, 1849, when ill health again forced him to resign. While at the school, he closed each class with the call for them to: "Live to the Truth." His words are the motto of today's Framingham State College, which has acknowledged him as its first president,
Travel to Europe, 1849-1850
Soon after leaving his post at the normal school, Cyrus Peirce left for Europe where he was a delegate to the third International Peace Congress in 1849 and toured the continent and England before returning to West Newton.
Last Years in West Newton, 1850-1860
After returning from Europe in 1850, Cyrus Peirce became involved with Nathaniel Topliff Allen
(1823-1903) in Allen's Academy in West Newton. After the normal school moved to Framingham in 1953, the academy took over its buildings which were located on Washington Street, where the First Unitarian Society in Newton now stands. Ill health again forced Peirce to retire but he remained associated with the academy until his death.
Cyrus Peirce died on April 5, 1860, in West Newton and is buried in Section TT, Lot 148 in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Nantucket. His monument was erected by the students of the normal school and consists of a Celtic cross inscribed with the motto he had chosen for the school: "Live to the Truth." Harriet Peirce died on September 29, 1884 and is buried next to her husband.
Buildings, schools named for Peirce and other memorials to him
- Cyrus Peirce Middle School, Nantucket
- Peirce School, West Newton
- Peirce Hall, Framingham State College
- First Unitarian Society in Newton has a stained glass window dedicated to Education which pictures Horace Mann and Cyrus Peirce. Another window is dedicated to their contemporary, Nathaniel T. Allen.