Biography of Andrew Sloan Draper


ONE of the foremost men in the promotion of the cause of education in our country to day, is the Hon. Andrew S. Draper, the present Superintendent of Public Instruction of the state of New York. His career is especially note-worthy and interesting as affording encouragement and inspiration to the youth of our land, who are seeking higher educational advantages.

Born at Westford, Otsego County, N. Y., on the 21st of June, 1848, the first seven years of his life were passed under watchful parental care, at his native place. The first school he attended was in the primitive cross-roads red school-house. In 1855 his parents removed to Albany, soon after which he was sent to the district schools of this city – a city which was to become his permanent residence. Winning a prize scholarship in the Albany Academy, when about fifteen years old, he became a pupil in that institution, from which after a thorough course of instruction he graduated in the summer of 1866. From his youth up he was of studious habits and active life. After graduation at the academy he taught in that institution and others for four years, during which time he also read law, and in the fall of 1870 he entered the Albany law school, from which excellent institution he was graduated in the summer of 1871, being admitted to practice at the general term of the Supreme Court in May of that year. It will be interesting to remark here, as indicating his early tastes and talents for public speaking, that in the presidential campaign of Grant and Seymour in 1868, Mr. Draper delivered over fifty political addresses in different parts of the state, before he had reached the age of twenty-one and he has spoken in every campaign since that time.

He lost no time, however, in engaging in the active duties of his profession, becoming a member of the law firm of Paddock, Draper & Chester. This firm existed till 1886 when, upon the death of Judge Paddock, it was succeeded by that of Draper & Chester, which, since Mr. Draper’s election to his present position, has also been dissolved, Mr. Alden Chester carrying on the law business alone. In the meantime Mr. Draper had been a member of the board of education of Albany, in which he seems to have familiarized himself with matters to which he has since devoted his best intellectual powers, acquiring a thorough knowledge of the educational system and the best methods of presenting it to the public.

But another field into which he was now about to enter, temporarily, and to achieve no inconsiderable success, was that of politics, a careful and comprehensive survey of which he had previously taken. He became early noted as an ardent and active young republican, highly popular with his party, and in the fall of 1881 he received the nomination for member of assembly from the second Albany district, and after quite a spirited canvass was elected by a plurality of about 500 over Daniel Casey, democrat, and Charles R. Knowles, independent republican.

Few new members of the legislature ever rose so rapidly into prominence as leading debaters during their first term as did Mr. Draper. He served on the committee of ways and means, judiciary, public education, and public printing, and at once participated in the debates with great confidence and boldness. His previous legal training, his readiness in debate, his natural gifts in repartee and his tenacity of purpose were of eminent service to him in legislative discussions. Perhaps his most earnest and stirring addresses in the legislature during the memorable session of 1881-2 were in favor of the return of the United States senators, Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Piatt, but in this he was finally defeated through the election of Messrs. Miller and Lapham. Seldom, if ever, has any member of a legislative body stood more steadfastly by personal or political friends than did Andrew S. Draper in advocacy of the re-election of Messrs. Conkling and Piatt to seats which they had, in the excitement of political passion, perhaps too hastily and unwisely resigned. It was the writer’s privilege to listen almost daily to those lively and often heated debates in the legislature, and well does he remember with what vigor, impressiveness and persistency Mr. Draper hurled his remarks against opposing forces. But it was in vain for any member to stem the popular tide which had set in so strongly against the return of the distinguished ex-senators, and so Mr. Draper gracefully yielded to the course of events and the choice of the majority.

In 1880, ’81, ’82, Mr. Draper was chairman of the republican county committee of Albany County, and in 1883 and 1884 he was a member of the republican state committee, serving also as chairman of the executive committee in the presidential campaign of 1884. In this campaign he conducted the entire correspondence of the state committee, and had charge of all the arrangements for and accompanied Mr. Blaine in his two memorable trips through the state. In the same year returning, perhaps, to more congenial and fruitful fields of labor, he was appointed a member of the executive committee of the Albany State Normal School; in December of the same year he was selected by President Arthur a judge of the court of Alabama claim; his associates being the Hon. James Harlan, for many years United States senator from Iowa, and the Hon. Asa French, of Massachusetts. In this office Judge Draper accomplished a large amount of judicial work in the interest of the government, over two thousand cases being tried before that tribunal during his year of judicial service. His reputation as a scholar and his efficiency as a judge were thus largely increased by his successful discharge of those judicial duties, and he was not long in being called to another department, to which he was admirably adapted by special training and general accomplishments. His whole heart had for a long time been enlisted in the system of popular education, and it was putting the right man in the right place when on the 1Oth of March, 1886, the legislature in joint session elected him Superintendent of Public Instruction of the state of New York. It was indeed a most judicious choice. Judge Draper was now in his true element, and his executive ability, quick perception and sound judgment were brought into full exercise. And he immediately set himself to work in improving, elevating and perfecting the educational system of the state. His task has been by no means an easy one. He has devoted his whole time and ripest mental powers to the personal supervision of his chosen work, and with watchful care has visited nearly every county in the state, delivering earnest practical addresses, at state conventions, teachers’ institutes, associations, normal and high schools. These addresses, characterized by forcible utterance, propriety of language and directness of purpose, containing many valuable suggestions, have been listened to with absorbing interest by his hearers. Among the most important of his school addresses which have been published and which are worthy of careful consideration are those delivered to the state teachers’ association at Elizabethtown, N. Y., in July 1886, on “Our school law;” before the teachers of the city of New York, on ” What ought the common schools to do; how can it be done?” before the association of school commissioners, at Binghamton, in January, 1887, on the “Law relating to school commissioners and how to improve the country schools,” before the department of superintendence of the national association, at Washington, in February, 1887, on “The qualifications of teachers, how shall they be determined? ” and before the New York state teachers’ association, in July, 1888, on ” The powers and obligations of teachers; ” before the state teachers’ association in Brooklyn in July, 1889, on “School administration in large cities;” before the national educational association at Nashville, Tenn., in July, 1889, on ” The legal status of the public schools; ” before the presbytery of Buffalo in September, 1889, on “The Indian problem of the state of New York;” before the State Teachers’ Association at Saratoga in July, 1890, on “The Origin and Development of the New York Common-School System,” and before the State School Masters’ Club of Illinois, at Peoria, in October, 1890, on ” The Authority of the State over the Education of her Children.”

His annual reports to the legislature are prepared with great care and research, and contain a wide range of thought, with eminently suggestive propositions, which have received most favorable comment and been generally adopted as legislative measures. As an indication of what has been accomplished upon his suggestion, in a single year we may mention as having been molded into laws by the legislature of 1887:

Authorizing school commissioners to condemn unfit school-houses without the concurrence of the supervisor; apportioning school moneys upon the aggregate instead of the average attendance; providing for the filing of collectors’ bonds; providing a system whereby the state secures absolutely the full quota of state scholarships at Cornell university, by filling vacancies which may occur in one county by appointment from another; requiring teachers’ wages to be paid at least as often as at the end of each month, and requiring trustees to deliver to teachers a written memorandum of contracts made; providing for the free distribution of the revised code of public instruction among all the school districts of the state; providing for the free distribution of the annual reports of the department among all the school districts of the state; providing for the preparation and publication of architects’ plans for school buildings; requiring every school district in the state to provide suitable outbuildings, in default of which public moneys may be withheld; establishing a plan for the uniform examination of teachers for commissioners’ certificates.

The legislatures of 1888, 1889 and 1890 also passed many important measures upon the recommendation of the Superintendent. Among these may be named the following: An act authorizing him to grant teachers’ certificates without examination to graduates of colleges and universities who had taught three years successfully and also to indorse diplomas granted by normal schools in other states, so as to make them good in this state; an act providing for improvements in school furniture; an act prohibiting trustees from issuing money orders for teachers’ wages unless the money was on hand to meet the order; an act establishing ” Arbor day;” an act transferring the supervision of teachers’ training classes from the regents to the department of public instruction; an act extending the minimum school year from twenty-eight to thirty-two weeks; an act providing that no trustee shall employ a teacher for a less term than sixteen weeks or discharge one in the middle of a term except for a cause which is approved by the superintendent; an act authorizing districts to levy taxes for teachers’ wages in advance; and a most important act compelling attendance upon school in cases where necessary. In fact every recommendation made by him to the legislature has received prompt and favorable attention.

Judge Draper is one of those progressive educators who do not like to stand still or move but slowly onward in the old beaten paths of our fathers in furnishing the means of education to the masses; but whenever any improvement has seemed desirable in the way of reorganization or more efficient methods in conducting public instruction, he has always been foremost in advocating and pressing such measures to a successful issue. It is his desire to keep abreast with the spirit of the age, which seems to demand a more perfect system in the education of the youth of our land. His decisions in appeal cases have been uniformly judicious, clear and firmly expressed, with apparent fairness to all parties concerned. In his last annual report to the legislature (Jan. 10, 1889), Judge Draper, in a most comprehensive and elaborate review of the activity and progress in educational work, remarks:

” It may properly be said that the year has been one of marked educational activity. The department has had its hands more than full, while superintendents in the cities, commissioners in the country, and the great body of trustees and teachers everywhere, have been industriously at work. It is more than doubtful if any other year in the history of the state has witnessed so much of interest, so much of effort, and, it may be added, so much of accomplishment, on the part of all grades and classes of educational workers, as the one which has just closed.”

” More study is being given to the history and the philosophy of education than ever before. It must be confessed that we have been slow to look upon the work of the schools from a scientific standpoint, or to believe that it should be intrusted only to hands which are professionally trained and equipped for its scientific prosecution. But Americans are proverbial for treating a subject vigorously and energetically after once seizing upon it. The idea that a teacher must not only have fair technical scholarship, but that he must know something of the world’s efforts at educational progress, something of the developing processes of the human intellect, must understand how to arouse, direct and sustain mental activity and so promote the healthful growth of the mind that it will digest and assimilate knowledge, seek more knowledge and gather strength for self-action, and that these requirements are no less essential in the primary than the advanced schools, is gaining strong foothold and making rapid headway throughout the state.”

In the same report he makes suggestions which must ultimately be regarded in a most favorable light by the legislature and the people of the state regarding the encouragement and proper maintenance of school or public libraries, and the plan of changing them from district to township libraries, ” thereby providing for a larger library which should be centrally located, or perhaps moved about the town, remaining a few months in each school district.”

His habits of mind and his method of treating public affairs are well indicated in the following paragraphs with which he closes his recent (1890) annual report to the legislature:

” The mere presentation of figures which show a continually-increasing population, increasing number of schools, increasing attendance, and rapidly-increasing expenditures for school purposes, fails to satisfy any thoughtful mind of the real work of the schools. The character of the work being performed and the spirit and disposition of the workers are to be considered. The numerical growth and development of the schools is by no means to be accepted as the measure of the state’s educational progress. Rather, we must inquire what is being done, how it is being done, with what end in view, and how much, how intelligently and profitably is effort and money being expended to accomplish that end.”

” There is certainly no justification for entire self-complacency and satisfaction on the part of those who are charged with the business management and the professional supervision of the public schools. There never will be. Perfection will never be attained. The desired end will never be fully accomplished. Our public school system is yet in a crude state. The legislation which shapes and controls it, the management which directs it, the teaching-service which determines its tone and character will necessarily be greatly improved and strengthened in the coming years. The common sentiment of the people will gradually come to appreciate, authorize and direct the things necessary to be done in order that the capital of money and brains invested in the schools shall be most profitably employed.”

” Yet, if we compare the work of the last year and the intelligence and spirit which has characterized it with that of preceding years; if we compare the public school work of New York, its progress and its prospects, with the public school work of states all about us, it is not difficult to find abundant occasion for congratulation and encouragement.”

On the whole, the results of Judge Draper’s labors as superintendent of public instruction have been highly approved by the most competent and successful educators, from college presidents down to common school teachers. The work in his department at the capitol moves on with the greatest regularity and completeness, where he is ably assisted by his deputy, Hon. Charles R. Skinner, and others. The large, varied, and daily increasing correspondence is promptly attended to, and no one has just reason to complain of neglect, amidst all the manifold duties performed in the office.

The versatility of Judge Draper’s genius is worthy of note here. He has proved himself capable as a lawyer, a legislator, and an educator, in the last of which he has, perhaps, won his brightest laurels; for it is doubtful whether the state ever had a more accomplished and efficient Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Rather retiring in his manners, without the least outward show, courteous in his treatment of all persons having business relations with the department, Judge Draper, at the same time, seems to be engrossed in the responsible and onerous duties of his special public service.



Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

1 thought on “Biography of Andrew Sloan Draper”

  1. I believe the school, PS101, which my mother attended while growing up in East Harlem, Manhattan, NYC (1930’s), was named after Andrew S. Draper. It is located at 141 E. 111th Street. She spoke about attending that school many times but it wasn’t until recently that I became curious enough to find out who Andrew S. Draper was.

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