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#80 The Partridge System of Education Across America

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

Captain Alden PartridgeShortly after the Academy opened its doors in 1820, Partridge was already making plans to spread his ideas up and down the East Coast. He and other adherents to his educational philosophy eventually established over 20 schools across the landscape of the United States.

The earliest Partridge-backed academies after the one in Norwich were founded in Harlem, New York and Perth Amboy, New Jersey, both in 1827. The late 1820s and 1830s saw a boom in the opening of new military institutions around the country, from New Hampshire to Mississippi to Missouri. This coincides with the time period from 1825 to 1829 when the original American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy temporarily relocated to Middletown, Connecticut. It seems that our Captain Partridge was eager to move quickly on his vision for a national system of citizen soldier education.

Partridge’s close associates and protégés were key in establishing these new schools and spreading his ideas. Norwich alumni Truman Ransom, Ebenezer Williston, and James MacKaye all established schools under “the Partridge system” and served as superintendents thereof. They corresponded regularly with Partridge, informing him of their triumphs and failures.

Relatively few of Partridge’s network of academies survived for very long. Economic troubles, as well as devastating fires, were common. Some could not endure without the leadership of their Partridge-trained founder. Still others were disrupted by the outbreak of the Mexican War in the 1840s or the Civil War two decades later.

Wherever he went, though, Captain Alden Partridge was sure to leave a mark. Jefferson Military College in Washington, Mississippi, which adopted a Partridge-style military curriculum when Ebenezer Williston became president in 1828, remained in operation until 1964. Its historic buildings have been preserved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  The former Western Literary and Scientific Academy in Buffalo, New York became the site of Buffalo’s first hospital in 1844.

Contributions by Professor Gary Lord and the staff of the Sullivan Museum and History Center. Contact the Norwich University Archives if you’re interested in further research about the early history of Alden Partridge, his academies, and Norwich University.