Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Greene, Samuel Stillman

Samuel Stillman Greene (1810-1883), professor of didactics, mathematics, natural history, astronomy and logic, was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, on May 3, 1810. He was the eighth of eleven children of a farmer who also taught in the district school, and in his youth was occupied with work on the farm and such education as he could acquire at the district school in the intervals between work. When he was about eighteen, he spent a year at a private school kept by his brother, Reverend John Greene. When he was nineteen, he began to teach in the district schools himself. Since he was underage, for his services he was “boarded ’round,” and ten dollars a month was paid to his father. He entered Brown in the fall of 1833 at the age of twenty-three and found himself ill prepared for college, but he used his vacation to catch up and graduated with the highest honors of his class in 1837. He taught at the Worcester County Manual Labor High School (later Worcester Academy) for the next three years, the last two as its second principal, and developed a lasting devotion to the school. His resignation was accepted in August 22, 1840, “with regret that the state of his health obliged him to resign.” For two years he was superintendent of schools in Springfield, the first office of its kind in Massachusetts. From 1842 to 1849 he taught in the public schools of Boston, and then took on another newly created office, that of agent of the Massachusetts Board of Education. In 1851 he succeeded Nathan Bishop 1837 as superintendent of schools in Providence, and was at the same time appointed professor of didactics at Brown. In 1852 he and others opened a private normal school in Providence, which the next year received the support of the city, and in 1854 became the Rhode Island Normal School (later Rhode Island College of Education and then Rhode Island College).

The teaching of didactics ceased in 1854. The versatile Greene went on to serve as professor of mathematics and civil engineering from 1855 to 1864, and professor of natural philosophy and astronomy from 1864 to 1883, with a change of title to professor of mathematics and astronomy in 1875. Meanwhile he edited a number of grammar textbooks, including Analysis and Classification of English Sentences in 1848, and in the same year a simplified The First Lessons in Grammar. There followed The Introduction to the Study of English Grammar in 1856 and A Grammar of the English Language in 1860, these two being part of a series which ended with the Analysis. He revised these works considerably during the next fifteen years. He was a member of the school committee of Providence for eighteen years, president of the Rhode Island Institution of Instruction from 1856 to 1860, president of the National Teachers’ Association in 1864-65 and president of the American Institute of Instruction in 1869-70. He continued his connection with Worcester Academy as trustee from 1852 until his death, and is credited with the rescue of the Academy from a proposal to close and turn its endowment over to the Newton Theological Institution, and also with the relocation of the school to a better location in 1869.

He had three sons, Frank Bartlett Greene 1872, the son of his first wife, and John Stimson Greene 1882 and Samuel Stuart Greene 1883, the sons of his second. The two younger sons were members of the baseball team at Brown, and thus it was that in 1880 Professor Greene undertook the supervision of the laying out of Lincoln Field as a baseball field, investing his time, money, and manual labor. His death on January 22, 1883 was sudden, occurring two days after he was stricken with paralysis while on his way to class. Greene was fondly recalled by Benjamin Ide Wheeler in Memories of Brown:

“As the faculty sat before us in chapel, winged out like a coat of arms on either side of the high presidential box, there was no kindlier face than that which shone out from the first seat of the north, the cold scientific side, – the fatherly face of Professor Samuel S. Greene, whom we rejoiced to call ‘Betsey.’ It was not only on account of Greene’s English Grammar that we thought him great. He was unmistakably inspired of pedagogics whatever it might be he taught. There was not much pedagogics abroad then in the land, neither had child study nor the psychological laboratory yet preëmpted all the ‘method’ claims, but ‘Betsey’ Greene was a teacher and devoted to teaching per se. It mattered little to him what the subject was – algebra, mechanics or grammar, if only he could seem to set a mind aworking. His faith in the value of pure and naked mind and in the etymology of the word education was so firm and great that it became his peculiar pleasure to educe the lesson of the day out of the pure mind substance of a pupil innocent of all special knowledge thereof. For illustrative apparatus in astronomy, mechanics, trigonometry there mostly sufficed him a black globe, a lead-pencil and an ink-bottle, and he was withal a lovely soul and much beloved.”
Professor Benjamin F. Clarke made a similar observation:
“He possessed ... a remarkable faculty of drawing out the pupil beyond and outside of the text, and inspiring him with the feeling that he was investigating for himself.”