Noah Webster was America's greatest lexicographer, with mastery of twenty languages that included Chaldean, Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian. Born in West Hartford, Conneticut, in 1758, he graduated from Yale with the degree of B.A. He taught school for a few years as he studied to get his law degree. Though he was admitted to the Bar in 1781, he did not go into active practice until 1789. He found that law was not to be his calling.
In 1782 Webster taught school in Goshen, New York. During this time he identified the need for American schools to have textbooks on the American language and experience as opposed to the British texts which they currently used. Thus he wrote a three-volume work, the first volume of which was a speller. This speller, known as the "Blue-backed Speller" because of its blue binding, became widely used in American schools for a long time. Though the remaining two volumes, a grammar book and a reader, were less popular, Webster is still remembered in education today for the speller, which was officially named "The American Spelling Book".
His other contribution to American culture at large was his publication of the first uniquely American dictionary. He worked many years to create a dictionary in the language Americans used instead of following dictionaries made in the British tradition. Though he was widely criticized during his work on this project, when the dictionary was published in America in 1828 it drew acclaim both in the United States and England. It was called "An American Dictionary of the English Language" and was adopted by Congress in 1831 as the national standard.
1. GROLIER, INC. CD-ROM. 1993.
2. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EDUCATION. vol. 8. U. S. Macmillan, pp. 543-546.
3. Ornstein, Allan C. and Daniel U. Levine. FOUNDATIONS OF EDUCATION. 5ed. Boston: Houghton, 1993. p. 179.
Prepared by Linda Ebersole Weidner