Marvin Elementary History

Who was John G. Marvin?

Marvin Elementary School is named for John Gage Marvin, who was California's first Superintendent of Public Education.

Marvin was born in Pennsylvania in 1815. Not a great deal is known of his early life. At the age of 23, Marvin enrolled in a university in Connecticut. After two years he was appointed principal of the Athens Academy in Pennsylvania. He served as principal of this school for a year and a half. One of his pupils was Stephen Foster, the composer for whom the other school in Allied Gardens is named.

Later, Marvin enrolled in the Harvard Law School where he received his law degree. He continued at the school acting as a librarian and in addition practiced law in Boston.

Following the gold rush he became interested in California and was one of the people who formed the California Gold mining Company of Philadelphia. In 1849 he sailed for California and after a voyage of 7 months he arrived in the new land. In California he was to become a distinguished citizen.

When John G. Marvin arrived in California he settled in Sonora. Shortly after his arrival he was elected as their judge. In 1850, Marvin became a partner in the "Sonoroa Herald" newspaper. In 1851, he took part as an Indian fighter in an expedition against a group of Indians near San Diego.

The Constitution of California, written in 1849, directed the legislature to provide for the election by the people for a Superintendent of Public Instruction who should hold office for three years. Marvin was the first elected Superintendent of Public Instruction and took his oath of office on January 1, 1851. He served three full years. As the new Superintendent, Marvin presented to the legislature a draft for the basic law of the California public school systems. This statute provided for the sale of school lands, for taking census of children between the ages of 5 and 18, for a minimum school term of three months, and for certified teachers. Schools were classified as primary grammar, intermediate, and high school. The law provided for a local superintendent and school committees of three to be elected for a term of one year. This school law also provided for state funds to be used for denominational schools and for charitable schools, such as orphan asylums.

During his three years as State Superintendent, further legislation provided for a State Board of Education, a teachers' professional organization, and the formation of school districts.

The school administration of John G. Marvin might have continued for another term of three years. His advocacy of the cause of public education, his championship for the standards of public school teachers, good school houses and the adequate support as well as his recommendation for the administration of school lands appear to have been well received. His undoing was his advocacy of aid for church schools. In 1853 Marvin lost his nomination to Paul K. Hubbs.

Marvin then returned to the editorship of the "Sonora Herald" and practiced law. Shortly thereafter his health broke and because of his acute tubercular condition he sought care in the Hawaiian Islands. He arrived in Honolulu on December 1, 1857 to stay with friends and in the hopes the climate would improve his health. However, on December 19 he died and was buried there in the Nuuanu Masonic Cemetery.

John G. Marvin's education contributions to California were large-scale and far-sighted, and for his time, hopelessly idealistic. He deserves, more than any other man, to be called "The Founder of the California Public School System".

Facts about John Gage Marvin were taken from the book, Judge Marvin and the Founding of the California School System, by David Frederic Ferris.

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