W. Minns was born in the City of Boston in 1813, and received his early
education in a private Primary School and in the public Grammar and English
High School of that city. He was fitted, under private tuition, for
Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1836. For two years
he attended the Howard Dane Law School, receiving the degree of LL.B.
H then entered the office of the Hon. Rufus Choate, where he remained for
two years, and was admitted to practice law in all the Courts of the State.
In 1854 he came to California, via Cape Horn. Through the failure of Page, Bacon & Co., with whom he had been advised to deposit his money, he was left penniless, and learned, as many others have, “that even heavy gold has wings and can fly away as swiftly as paper money.”
The succeeding failure of Adams & Co., and of other bankers, caused great business depression, and Mr. Minns, seeing from an advertisement that the City Board of Education intended to establish a High School, with liberal salaries, applied for and was elected to the Professorship of Natural Science. He did not receive his appointment, however, until he had stood a running fire of examination, conducted by members of the Board, and by doctors, lawyers, and ministers, for about three weeks. He accepted this position, as there was very little law business, and he desired to have his family with him; but, he adds, “none of the liberal promises made by the Board were fulfilled.”
He was connected with the school about ten years – as long as both sexes attended. On the separation and the establishment of the Girls’ High School, he was offered the choice of the Principalships, and chose that of the Boys’ High School, being its first Principal. After holding this position one year, he was called to the Principalship of the State Normal School, then in San Francisco. This was done, although at the time the Superintendent of Public Instruction held a letter from Mr. Minns declining to be a candidate. This letter, he informed Mr. Minns, he had “kept in his pocket.” Mr. Minns held the Principalship of the Normal School but one year. He returned to Boston, and for nearly fourteen years taught in the east. He was connected with the Eagleswood Military Academy in New Jersey, with Washington University in Missouri, and with the Boston Latin High School. After this he established in Concord, Massachusetts, a private school, in which he fitted young men for Harvard.
At the instance of John Swett, his intimate friend, he was invited to a position in the Girls’ High School, of San Francisco, in 1880. Thinking that a change of climate might be beneficial to the health of his children, he accepted this position, which he held until 1888.
During the latter part of this time, he was visited by a serious calamity, viz.: a cataract in each eye. An operation was performed and both crystalline lenses removed. His eyes are now so strong that he can read fine print.
His present residence is in the town bearing the distinguished name of Newton, in the State of Massachusetts.
From Mr. Minns’ autobiographical
letter the following is taken verbatim:
For five years I was Principal of the City Normal School of San Francisco. I lectured before the first State Teachers’ Institute held in California, and at various times since. I hold the first certificate issued to a teacher by the State Board of Education.
My work in a literary line has been contributions to college magazines, to law reviews, and the preparation of a series of lectures or essays on the most eminent American poets.
I have spent the best part of my life in teaching. The life of the faithful teacher is laborious. It can truly be said that most teachers are overworked and underpaid, and yet there are compensations. The teacher is amply rewarded for all his toils who creates in those under his charge a love of knowledge, who gains their good will, esteem, and affection. Teaching, like the quality of mercy, is twice blessed: “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” There is a quid pro quo of considerable value to be derived, not only from the diversions many and various which recesses and school hours afford, but also from the contemplation of many various and good points of pupils. Their thoughtlessness may lead to many objectionable traits and habits; as, for example, idleness, mischief, disobedience. On the other hand, nearly all of them are open, generous, good natured, very affectionate, forgiving everything in their teachers except partiality and injustice. That teacher is less adorned with graces than are the average of his pupils who cannot say of them, “With all their faults, I love them still.”
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