Introduction and Summary

David Stow was a family man – two wives, five children, unnumbered relatives all living under the shadow of continual bereavement. He may be regarded as a pillar of the church community – Sabbath School teacher, deacon, elder, his persistent presence on endless committees rendering them both quorate and even constructive. We can judge him as a man of commerce – successful, wealthy, safely ensconced in a fine house in Sauchiehall Street and developing his business from the Trongate to a spacious, purpose-built factory in Port Eglinton. We can come to know him as a person – witty, kindly, delighted by the company of children, generous, moralistic, pedantic, inflexible. As with any personal story all of these, and more, are important facets of the unfolding character of the man over his three-score years and ten.

For the purpose of this account, however, what makes Stow different is his contribution to the growing demand for a national, universal and eventually compulsory system of education during the course of the nineteenth century. Stow’s tangible contribution survives in his writings, in the institutions he created, in the buildings he left behind. His lasting achievement, as Insh remarked, was ‘a life devoted consistently and strenuously to the furtherance of a clearly conceived idea’.[footnote] Insh, George Pratt. (1938). The life and work of David Stow, commemoration lecture delivered 22nd December 1937 to the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow. Edinburgh: Lindsay and Company, p. 5.[/footnote]

Stow understood childhood as a discrete period in human development, to be acknowledged and respected by adults and enjoyed by children. He emphasised the necessity of considering the child as a whole and of developing her/his intellectual, physical and, particularly, moral character. He came to recognise that educational provision had outgrown the parish and burgh structure and must move beyond its limited, parochial, agricultural and rural context to meet the needs of the densely populated, industrialised large towns and cities. To complement the new demand for educational provision in this urban expansion, he refined the specialised craft of the teacher – that body of knowledge, skill, strategies, conduct and duties which marks the professional. He raised the status, salary and conditions of teachers by improving their selection, training and evaluation and by constantly arguing for increased remuneration commensurate with increased worth. Above all, he contended that the burgeoning middle classes, like himself, who benefitted from the industrial and mercantile improvements of the period, had a duty – philanthropically, politically and nationally – to provide for the working classes who, by contrast, suffered from such economic advance.

The dates of Stow’s birth and death, 1793-1864, provide the simplest summary of his life. What matters, of course, is what he did with the hyphen. This web-site is an evaluation of the contribution of that hyphen to the proud, if troubled, history of education.