Wayland, Francis (1796–1865)

The Reverend Francis Wayland exerted a strong influence over generations of American youth, including not only his own students at Brown University, but also the thousands who relied on his standard textbooks, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (1835), and The Elements of Political Economy (1837). Wayland was born March 11, 1796 in New York City to English immigrant parents. He graduated from Union College in 1813 and was preparing to become a doctor when he underwent a conversion experience and enrolled at Andover Seminary. After graduating in 1816, Wayland returned as a teacher to Union, then led the First Baptist Church in Boston, before being installed as president of Brown in 1826.

Wayland's legacy is as a reformer. Brown was a troubled institution when he arrived. Wayland embarked on a vigorous program to revivify the school, through a combination of increased student discipline and liberalization of the curriculum. He compelled faculty to live on campus and pay visits to students in their quarters. He insisted that all student infractions be reported to him personally, and he used the threat of expulsion to keep order. Yet Wayland compelled an enormous respect and admiration from many students. In contrast to his restrictive approach to student behavior, Wayland advocated opening Brown's pedagogy. For colleges to be competitive in the market for students, he believed they should offer classes relevant to the new professions of the nineteenth century. Wayland rejected the standard fixed university curriculum of classics, mathematics, and philosophy. He introduced classes in the sciences and engineering. Wayland also advocated for the expansion of the public school system in Rhode Island so that a greater number of youth might be prepared for college. His ideas about education are best expressed in his books Thoughts onthe Present Collegiate System (1842), and Report to the Corporation of Brown University on Changes in the System of Collegiate Education (1850).

Wayland's approach to raising his children mirrored his treatment of students. A personal essay published anonymously in The American Baptist Magazine in 1831 testifies to his intensive disciplinary efforts. The piece describes his reaction to the willful refusal of his fifteen-month-old son, Heman, to accept a piece of bread from Wayland's hand. To subdue Heman's temper, Wayland left him alone in a room, without food or drink, for a day and a half. He visited regularly to give Heman a chance to behave compliantly, until the infant finally relented his obstinacy. Wayland's discipline, while strict, was balanced with great openness and love. Heman and his older brother, Francis, Jr., fondly remembered wrestling their imposing father on the living room floor; and both expressed absolute respect and love for him in their personal letters. Historian William G. McLoughlin has suggested that Wayland's disciplinary technique, prompted by religious fears of infantile propensities towards sin, may have been archetypal of evangelical child rearing, and likely to result in "reaction formation."

Wayland retired from Brown in 1855, afterwards devoting himself to reform movements including temperance, antislavery, peace organizing, and prison and hospital reform. He died September 30, 1865, at the age of sixty-nine.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Discipline.


Cremin, Lawrence. 1980. American Education: The National Experience, 1783–1876. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

McLoughlin, William G. 1975. "Evangelical Child Rearing in the Age of Jackson: Francis Wayland's Views on When and How to 9: Subdue the Willfulness of Children." Journal of Social History 20–43.

Smith, Wilson. 1956. Professors and Public Ethics: Studies of Northern Moral Philosophers before the Civil War. New York: Cornell University Press.