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Parents often taught from 'The Golden Robin,' a hymn book that many brought with them when they came to Oregon

Prior to formal schooling, adopted textbooks and trained teachers, early pioneer families schooled their own children in their homes, or children gathered in a neighbor's home.

Parents often taught from "The Golden Robin," a hymn book that many brought with them when they came to Oregon. Written by William Oscar Perkins in 1863, the hymn book contained a song about leaving the homeland that many pupils learned to recite/sing as a part of their lessons:

"Farewell to the homestead, the place of my birth, my heart clings to thee with a love that's sincere, The home of my childhood, of all I hold dear. The thought that forever from thee I must go, Has filled me with sorrow, with anguish and woe."COURTESY PHOTO - 'The Golden Robin' by William Oscar Perkins was a popular hymn book used by parents who taught their own children prior to formal schooling.

Born in 1831 in Stockbridge, Vermont, Perkins studied music under private tutors in Europe and at the Boston School of Music Arts. He earned a music degree in 1879 from Hamilton College. Although he worked primarily as a conductor and voice teacher, he also composed many songs and hymns and compiled and edited collections of vocal music, many of which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints use today. William Perkins died in 1902 in Boston.

School children in Oregon were not required to bring specific textbooks to school until 1874. Parents bought from a variety of publishers. This meant lack of consistency in content which created a hardship for teachers having to use many different books. Our county superintendent stated in 1860, "We just teach any kind of books the scholars happen to have." In 1873 Oregon adopted the Pacific Coast Series textbooks.

The Pacific Coast Series comprised five readers published by A.L. Bancroft & Co. in San Francisco. A.W. Patterson, a medical doctor from Eugene, wrote a speller and the first three readers in the series; Oregon poet and journalist Samuel L. Simpson wrote much of readers four and five. What he didn't write he compiled from major well-known English and American authors in prose, poetry and scenes from plays. Definitions of new words appeared at the beginning of each selection.'The Gold-Gated West' collected the works of Oregon poet and journalist Samuel L. Simpson.

Simpson's work is often compared to that of Robert Burns — one of his favorite writers — and Edgar Allan Poe. He wrote his most well-known poem, "The Beautiful Willamette," when he was only 22. Many students in the early 1900s learned to recite this poem from memory. You can find the poem at History Connections-Oregon

Other members of the Samuel L. Simpson family also played major roles in the adoption of Oregon's Pacific Coast Series textbooks. His 29-year-old brother Sylvester Simpson served as chief clerk of the Oregon Senate and later as state superintendent of instruction. Ben Simpson, his father, represented Benton County in the House of Representatives and was also an influential businessman. A great deal of controversy surrounded Sylvester Simpson concerning the adoption and eventual demise of the readers. For more details go to History Connections-Oregon

Simpson grew up in Yamhill county and wrote about the Willamette Valley; but he wasn't born here. His parents brought him from Missouri to Oregon across The Oregon Trail as an infant in 1846 settling near the Grand Ronde Reservation. He learned the alphabet at 2 from his mother who drew the letters in fireplace ashes.

A graduate of Willamette University, Simpson studied law, passing the bar exam in 1867. He set up his own law practice, but facing failure as an attorney, he turned to newspapers in 1870, writing and editing for several. Many of Simpson's poems — and stories — were published in regional magazines and newspapers from the 1870s into the 1890s. Ten years after his death, in 1910, his sister and brothers published his writing as a book "The Gold-Gated West: Songs and Poems," edited by W.T. Burney. Samuel L. Simpson died June 12, 1899 as a result of an inebriated fall outside the St. Charles Hotel in Portland. He is buried at Lone Fir Cemetery.

Sources: Oregon's Iron Dream by Mary Goodall, Mike Chasar Poetry and Popular Culture blog, article by Lee Lau on History Cooperative blog titled Oregon's First State-Mandated Uniform School Readers Politics and Education, Oregon Historical Quarterly.

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