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A link to Lincoln’s backwoods education
Slate owned by one of Abraham Lincoln’s first teachers is donated to Lincoln Presidential Library

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[June 09, 2014]  SPRINGFIELD - A backwoods cabin, a combination of teacher, preacher and farmer, and a room full of poor, virtually illiterate children. That was the scene nearly 200 years ago when a teacher named Caleb Hazel encountered a student named Abraham Lincoln.

Now Hazel’s slate, one that may very well have been used by Lincoln in that Kentucky classroom, has been donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The slate was donated by Hazel’s descendants: cousins Cathy Bowers Dixon; Marcia Lynn Tenney; Richard Douglas Byers; and Sue Ellen Sparks, in memory of their grandfather Erma Maurice Bowers. Hazel’s son was also a teacher and kept his father’s slate. Once Lincoln became famous, the family held onto the slate generation after generation.

The slate is 16 inches tall by 12 inches wide – larger than a standard computer screen. The wood frame has a hole so the slate could be hung on the cabin wall. Hazel likely used it to explain lessons to the whole class and then let each student come up to practice their writing or arithmetic.

The slate will be displayed in the museum’s Treasures Gallery." The display will also include a page covered with teenaged Lincoln's math practice, the earliest surviving writing from the future president, and a quill pen from his White House years.

“The descendants of Caleb Hazel have done a tremendous service by donating this slate so that everyone can see and learn from it,” said Amy Martin, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. “The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has benefited greatly from the generosity of people who want to share their Lincoln artifacts with the world.”

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Lincoln listed Hazel as the second of his five teachers when he wrote a brief autobiographical sketch in 1860. Lincoln was 7 years old when his parents scraped together a little money to send him and his sister, 9-year-old Sarah, to school after the 1816 harvest.

“As much as we prize Lincoln for his leadership in saving the Union and ending slavery, we greatly admire him as a writer. He was also very good with numbers, and here is the earliest surviving item to illustrate his boyhood beginnings at both of those skills. Lincoln proved that any kid could start small and become expert, maybe end in greatness,” said Dr. James Cornelius, curator of the presidential library’s Lincoln Collection.

Read the accompanying article by Dr. James Cornelius


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