1900 Reading Circle Diploma

Today, we bring you one of Sylvia Henricks’ “Remembrances.” You can read more of Sylvia’s columns weekly in The Franklin Township Informer, or in her book From The Ash Grove (available directly from the FTHS, and via the web site).

Framed diplomas have a story to tell, if we just pay attention. The framing itself indicates the importance of the activity being recognized, and the diploma represents membership, honor, completion, or success in some enterprise by the person whose name it bears.

Nancy VanArendonk gave the Township Historical Society a 9” x 12” framed diploma marking the completion of a reading course by Austin O. Stout of Monroe County, Indiana, on “this 28 day of February, 1900.” “It was in a box of books I bought at an auction several years ago,” Nancy said. “Probably leftovers from a house sale.”
The diploma honors Austin, as a member of the “Young Peoples Reading Circle of Indiana,” for having completed “the course of reading prescribed by the Board of Directors” of the Circle. Appropriate signatures are attached, “Harry O. Buzzaird, Superintendent; Howard Sandison, President; and Laurence M.cTurnan, Secretary.” The teacher’s name is there, but too faint too read.
With a bit of research I learned that Reading Circles were one of the tools Indiana educators were using in the late 1800s to improve students’ reading and comprehension skills. There were Children’s Reading Circles, Young Peoples’ Reading Circles, and Teachers’ Reading Circles.
The Young Peoples’ Reading Circle is described in History of Education in Indiana by Richard Boone, (published in 1892, reprinted 1941). It was organized in1888, its management by the Teachers’ Reading Circle, 2nd to fifth reader grades. The books were to be read under the supervision of the teachers. “The books may be bought by individual pupils, the school board, or patrons. Once read, the books may form, in many communities, the nucleus of school libraries. The number of those now enrolled (1892) is about 15,000 to 20,000, with twice this number of readers.”
From the diploma, one can se the “standard authors,” were Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier, Hawthorne, and Lowell.

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