San Francisco County






JOHN SWETT, City Superintendent of Common Schools of San Francisco was born in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, in 1830. When he was twelve years of age his father died, and from that time he was thrown to a great extent upon his own responsilities. He managed to secure a good education, and at the age of seventeen years he was tendered a position as a teacher near Pembroke Academy, where he was a student. His father had been a teacher before him, and he inherited those traits which characterize the successful instructor. His next school was at Randolph, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed the privilege of attending lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker. These great teachers laid the foundation for a cultivated, refined, literary taste in their eager listener.

      Mr. Swett arrived in California early in 1853, and after a few months in the mines he began teaching in San Francisco, as Principal of the Rincon school. He remained in charge there until 1862, when he was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction for a term of one year. He was re-elected in 1863 for a term of four years, and was re-nominated in 1867, but was defeated with the entire Republican ticket, the campaign being led by George C. Gorham. The most notable work of his administration was the drafting and securing of the passage of the “Revised School of Law,” which became the permanent foundation of the free school system in California. One prominent feature of this law was the provision for life diplomas and for boards of examination composed exclusively of professional teachers. In 1868 he was appointed principal of the Denman school; in 1871, deputy city superintendent of schools, and in 1873 he was again made principal of the Denman school. In 1876 he was elected principal of the Girls’ High School, which position he held until 1889, when he resigned. One of the most important ends accomplished by Mr. Swett in later years was the organization of a normal department for the fitting of graduates from the high school to become teachers. As a result of this enterprise nearly one-half of the public school teachers of the city are graduates of this institution. In 1872 Mr. Swett read a paper before the National Educational Association, at Boston, against the continued re-examination of teachers and the annual election of teachers. It was remarkable as being the first educational address on record in the United States upon this subject. It attracted marked attention all over the country, and led, ten years later, to the tenure-of-office law in Massachusetts. In 1870 he attacked the annual election of teachers in San Francisco, which led to the present tenure-of-office rule in this city.

      In November, 1890 Mr. Swett was elected Superintendent of the Schools of San Francisco, with overwhelming majority of 11,000,-- a splendid victory, and a free, heartfelt offering from an army of enthusiastic admirers.

      He is the author of several excellent works whose merits are well known to the profession: “Methods of Teaching,” “School Elocution,” “Examination Questions,” “Normal Word Book,” “History of the Public School System in California,” etc. He was also associated with Professor Swinton in the compilation of the “Language Lesson Series” and  Swinton`s Geographies.”

      Our worthy friend and benefactor was married in 1862, to Mary L. Tracy, daughter of Judge Frederick P. Tracy, and is the father of two sons and two daughters.


Transcribed by Kim Buck.

Source: "The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 2, Pages 526-527, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.

© 2006 Kim Buck.


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San Francisco County


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