Founder of California Public Education
July 31, 1830 - August 22, 1913
As state superintendent of public instruction John L Swett laid the groundwork for a statewide system of public schools in California and influenced educators in other states. He came from New Hampshire to California in 1853, bringing with him ideals of public education that were developing in New England in the first half of the nineteenth century. After working for a few unhappy months in the gold fields, he began teaching at Rincon School in San Francisco. His ideals about teaching led him to run for the state superintendency. He expanded the authority of the state board of education and required school administrators to collect and report information that would lead to the improvement of the schools.
After he returned to teaching in San Francisco he and his wife Mary Louise (Tracy) purchased a house into which they welcomed such visitors as John Muir. Later, at Muir’s suggestion, they purchased property in Alhambra. While living there, Mary Swett served as a trustee for the Alhmbra School District and was also active in the local chapter of the California State Woman Suffrage Educational Association. In 1910 he was appointed honorary lecturer in education at the University of California.
He received honorary degrees from Dartmouth College and the College of California, and in 1913 he and John Muir were together given honorary degrees by the University of California.