H. Allen was born in Mansfield, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, February 11,
1828. He received his early education in the common schools, taking
one term afterward in Condersport Academy. From here he went to Jamestown,
Chautauqua County, New York, with the idea of continuing his education.
He was compelled by illness to relinquish his desire for a higher education,
a spinal curvature producing such serious nervous disturbance that physicians
pronounced in necessary that he should give up all mental labor.
Here he entered a workshop, and learned a trade. Being of a strong
mechanical turn, he rapidly acquired skill in the various departments,
and was soon an expert cutler. His taste for mechanics has followed
him all through his life, and a “workshop” has been his principal place
From his place in the shop he was unexpectedly called to finish a term of school, the teacher—a former teacher of his—being compelled to resign because of ill health. Mr. Allen taught his first school here, at the early age of fifteen. With no though of becoming a teacher, he returned to the workshop at the end of the term, and resumed what he thought would be his life work. But it was ordered otherwise. His success in the school-room had been so marked that he was called back to the same school for a longer term, and at a considerable advance in the meager salary paid. During this term of school he read Abbott’s Teacher and Page’s Theory and Practice of Teaching, and from these learned that teaching is anything but drudgery. From the reading of these books, followed by “My School and Schoolmasters,” dates the beginning of his career as a teacher.
Mr. Allen taught in the common schools of western New York for several years, working at his trade during vacations. During this period he attended for one term a Regents, or Normal Class, in the Westfield Academy.
While teaching in Busti, New York, he was, upon the recommendation of the County Superintendent, granted a New York State certificate, a certificate granted only upon great excellence in the art of teaching.
He was now called to the Smethport Academy, in McKean County, Pennsylvania, where he soon became Principal, and began the training of teachers. At this period, also, began his institute work, which has continued all through his life.
His health failing, from overwork, he became a land surveyor for a few years. He held the position of surveyor for the German colony which settled upon the tract of land first purchased by Ole Bull for a Danish colony. During this period he regained his health, and, in addition, “picked up” a fair smattering of the German language.
From Germania he was called to Westchester, Pennsylvania, to take the position of Associate Principal of a Normal School. During the long vacation of the Normal School he went to Wisconsin, at the invitation of Chancellor Barnard, to take charge of several Teachers’ Institutes. Here he was induced to remain for several months, to complete the work and aid in compiling the proceedings. Chancellor Barnard was compelled to resign his position and give up his work in Wisconsin, upon which event Mr. Allen was elected agent of the Normal School Regents of the State, and given in charge the Institute work and the supervision and examination of the Normal classes, held then in some of the colleges, academies, and high schools. For several years he carried on this work, holding institutes in different parts of the State, and lecturing in almost every hamlet. Tiring of the perpetual strain of this severe labor, he opened a private Normal Class in the Madison High School building. At this time, also, he was made City Superintendent of Schools. The demand for a Normal School was clearly indicated by the patronage extended to this Normal Class, and before the expiration of a year the Regents of the University of Wisconsin invited Mr. Allen to take charge of a Normal Department in the University. He accepted the invitation, and entered the University as a Professor or Normal Instruction. To him belongs the credit of first opening the doors of the University to women. While holding the professorship in the University, Mr. Allen raised a company of students, and went to Memphis as Captain of the company. His company formed a part of the “Hundred day men,” of whom so much was said and written. Returning, “honorably discharged,” he resumed his work, but was again compelled to give up teaching by failing health. He resigned his position, and spent some months in a general life insurance office in Cincinnati. He was, however, soon called back, and made President of the first Normal School in Wisconsin, at Platteville. Here he organized the Normal School work of the State, and also took charge of the erection of the new building.
A severe attack of bronchitis compelled his again to give up his work, and hoping for the benefits of a change of climate, he went to Portland, Oregon, where he opened and carried on, for eight months, the Bishop Scott Grammar School, as head master. This work was not to his liking. The climate, however, restored his health, and he returned and worked a year as Institute Agent in Wisconsin. While at work in an Institute there, he received his notification of an election as Professor of Natural Science in the Normal School at San José, California. This position he accepted, and in a short time reported for duty. After serving one year as Professor of Natural Science, he was elected, August 4, 1873, Principal of the School.
Of Mr. Allen’s work in California, both as the head of the Normal School and in Institutes, little need be said. His educational ability may be best estimated by a study of the growth of the School, and his method of work, by the extracts from his reports, to be found in the body of this work. That his duties have been various and heavy, no one can doubt. In addition to the labor of Principal, he has had charge of the completion of the old building, the erection of the present building, the improvement of his grounds, and the erection of the building at Los Angeles; and the Normal School building at Chico has had also a share of his time and attention.
The wonder is not that, after nearly seventeen years of work in California, his health should give way, but rather, considering the nature and amount of work he has accomplished, that it has not give way before.
With an experience that few men have had, Mr. Allen retires to his mountain ranch, to enjoy the evening of a busy life.
This sketch of the life and work of Mr. Allen cannot be more fittingly closed, than by giving in full the official resolutions unanimously adopted by the Board of Trustees, on accepting his resignation:
Among the customs or rules that a refined civiliation has given us, none is imbued with more gravity than that which is devolved upon collective bodies, both public and private, of expressing, upon the death or retirement of a fellow member or employé, the regard and esteem in which he is held, and to which he is entitled by reason of his mental and moral worth, and his faithful, valuable, and long-continued services.
This custom is sanctioned by the most elevated sentiments that find lodgment in the human breast; and the outward expression, while exhibiting the gratification of conscientious duty in a worthy personal cause, is yet tinged with the sorrow and regret of a personal loss.
The Board of Trustees of the State Normal School, at San José, are called upon to avail themselves of this custom, to discharge themselves of this trust.
We have made it our duty--pleasant in that which affects a knowledge of the past, unpleasant in that which looks toward the narrow line dividing the past from the future, and which shows a vacuum that can never be filled while old associates hold a place in our memories--to say for you all what individually we know you would say, and much better, for yourselves.
Professor Charles H. Allen is about to leave us. His connection with the shcool is soon to be closed. We have been compelled, sorrowfully, to accept his resignation, on account of his continued ill health, a long abstinence from work being imperative. In a word, he asks us for his life; and, as physicians, who are his friends, we are obliged to present the only prescription that will meet his case. And we do this in the sincere and earnest hope that rest and relaxation may bring back the strength he has lost, and that his future days may be long and happy.
For seventeen years he has been connected with the school, sixteen as Principal; seventeen years of faithful, conscientious, laborious work. His influence has been deep, strong, far-reaching. By his teaching, by his management, by his labors on the State Board of Education, by his personal advice and counsel, and by his example, he has shaped the destinies of hundreds of men and women, many of whom are now highly honored by the State, and are the pillars of its present strength, and the hope of its future prosperity. His guidance has ever been in the line of truth and right, as well as purely intellectual application, and the power of his kindly Christian mind has been exerted upon all whose good fate has led them, as seekers for knowledge, within the portals of this gran educational edifice.
California--the whole coast, in fact--owed him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
In view of all these facts, it is meet that this Board should give its appropriate and emphatic expression of its sentiments; therefore, be it
Resolved, That in the retirement, on acount of ill health, of Professor Charles H. Allen, the State Normal School at San José is deprived of the services of a competent and faithful educator, a wise counselor and friend, a conscientious, painstaking, and talented fellow laborer, and an honest, large hearted, Christain [sic.] gentleman; that we part with him in unfeigned sorrow and regret, not only on account of personal esteem and regard for his many able qualities, but also by reason of the vast scope, important, and high moral and intellectual character of the work that he has accomplished during his connection with the school, the Board, and the educational affairs of the State generally; that the State ought not to forget, as it assuredly never will, one who has done such grand work in her moral and intellectual behalf.
Resolved, That the foregoing preamble and resolutions be spread upon the records of the Board, and that an engrossed copy be preparted under the direction of the
Executive Committee, and presented to Professor Allen.
San José, California,
June 24, 1889.
Ira G. Hoitt,
Committee on Resolutions.