Joseph Ray, the oldest child of William and Margaret Graham Ray, was
born in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia), on November 25,
1807. The Ray farm was located near Battle Run, about two miles north
of the old National Road. William Ray remembered his son as a
precocious child who learned to read and to "enumerate to hundreds of
millions" before entering school at age six, where he quickly reached
the head of the class. By the time he was fifteen, Joseph was
studying algebra, geometry, and surveying at a school in West Liberty.
1807 - 1855
At age sixteen Ray began teaching in the rural schools near his home,
and in April, 1825, he enrolled in Franklin College at New Athens,
Ohio (not to be confused with Ohio University at Athens). He is
listed in the graduating class of 1828, although he had already begun
the study of medicine with Dr. Joel F. Martin of Warrenton, Ohio. The
following year Dr. Martin made arrangements for Ray to attend, free of
cost, a course of lectures at the Medical College of Ohio in
Cincinnati. By teaching in the summer and studying medicine in the
winter, Ray was able to complete his M.D. degree in the spring of
1831. With a promising medical career in view, he married Catherine
Gano Burt in August of that year, but the medical practice did not
prove successful, and financial needs soon caused him to again seek
employment as a teacher.
While Ray was busy completing his own higher education, the
foundations of publicly supported education in Cincinnati were being
laid. A Cincinnati businessman, William Woodward, had set up a trust
in 1826 for the purpose of "better educating of the poor children of
Cincinnati." In 1830 he granted a tract of land on Sycamore Street to
establish The Woodward High School. A charter was received from the
Ohio legislature the following January, and a two-story wooden
building was erected. In June 1831, T. B. Wheelock was hired as
Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
Opening exercises at Woodward High School took place on October 24,
1831, and three weeks later Dr. Ray was appointed as a teacher in the
Preparatory Department at an annual salary of $1000. The
"preparatory" curriculum included mental and practical arithmetic in
the first two years and bookkeeping in the third. There was a more
demanding "classical" course of study for "collegiate" pupils that
required the study of Latin and Greek, along with algebra, geometry,
trigonometry, conic sections, logarithms, surveying and navigation,
fluxions (calculus), and astronomy. Nearly 150 pupils attended the
school during its first year of operation.
In January, 1836, the Ohio legislature granted a new charter,
establishing The Woodward College of Cincinnati. A third story was
added to the building in order to accommodate the college classes, and
teachers in the high school were immediately appointed as Professors
in the College. By this time, Joseph Ray had moved from the
preparatory to the collegiate department, so he became Professor of
Mathematics. There was little, if any, significant change in the
As early as 1830, Cincinnati had become the center of the Western book
trade, and it was soon the country's fourth largest publishing center.
One of the most successful publishing houses was the firm of Truman &
Smith. In 1834 they published An Introduction to Ray's Eclectic
Arithmetic, which soon became the cornerstone for a series of
arithmetic and algebra textbooks that were among the most popular and
widely used American mathematics textbooks of the nineteenth century.
More than fifty titles (including revised editions) appeared in Ray's
Mathematical Series over the years, but the core of the series
consisted of six books: Primary Arithmetic, Intellectual Arithmetic,
Practical Arithmetic, Higher Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, and
Even after Ray's death in 1855, new and revised editions were issued
under his name. Later titles on geometry, trigonometry, analytic
geometry, surveying, astronomy, and calculus were authored by others
but listed in Ray's Mathematical Series. As late as 1913, annual
sales exceeded a quarter of a million copies, and total sales of the
arithmetic books alone are estimated at 120 million copies. A
web-based exhibit on
Teaching Mathematics in America at the
Smithsonian Institution shows the
of a later edition of Ray's
The success of Ray's Arithmetic prompted Truman & Smith to seek an
author for an "eclectic" set of readers. They eventually contracted
with William Holmes McGuffey, who had been teaching at Miami
University in Oxford. McGuffey later joined Ray on the faculty of
Woodward College, teaching in the department of languages from 1843 to
1845. The McGuffey Readers surpassed even Ray's Arithmetics to become
the most popular textbooks ever written.
Thomas J. Matthews,
a professor of mathematics at Transylvania College
in Kentucky, was elected as Woodward's first President in September,
1832. Ray, Matthews, and McGuffey soon became active in the newly
organized Western Literary Institute and College of Professional
Teachers, founded in 1832. This was the first professional
organization for the advancement of education in Ohio and the West.
Most meetings were held in Cincinnati, and Ray served as a Director
for the Ohio Section in 1837-38 and as Recording Secretary in 1839-40.
He was appointed to various committees charged with preparing reports
on the teaching of English composition, the science of arithmetic, the
use of blackboards, and the utility of cabinets in natural science
In 1851 Woodward College ceased operations as an independent
institution, and the building was turned over to the city of
Cincinnati for use as a public high school, with Joseph Ray as its
principal. That same year he delivered the annual address at the
Fourth Annual Meeting of the Ohio State Teachers Association. His
message, on "The Qualifications of Teachers," emphasized the
importance of what to teach, how to teach it, and ability to
Ray was President of the Ohio State Teachers Association in 1853. The
following year he agreed to be an associate editor of The Ohio Journal
of Education, where he initiated a "Mathematical Department," devoted
to the solution and discussion of mathematical problems. Over the
next six years, more than 100 readers were involved in the posing and
solving of nearly 75 problems. Among their names we find Joel
Hendricks, W. D. Henkle, Robert W. McFarland, Aaron Schuyler, Eli T.
Tappan, and W. H. Young.
Ray served on the board of school examiners and the board of directors
of the Cincinnati House of Refuge. He was also a devoted member and
an elder in the Disciples' Church. During a cholera epidemic in 1849,
he devoted much energy to aiding the sick and needy, thereby impairing
his own health and hastening his untimely death, from tuberculosis, on
April 11, 1855.
Ray's death was a great loss for the community of Cincinnati. The
Joseph Ray Mathematics Prize was established in his memory, to be
awarded annually to an outstanding Woodward High School student. A
monument to William Woodward stands in front of the present day
Woodward High School and, on one side of its pedestal, there is a
bronze medallion portrait of Ray. There is also a historical marker
along U.S. 40 at Willow Grove, West Virginia, commemorating "Ray's
Ray sought to carry out the teaching practices of Johann Pestalozzi
and Warren Colburn, providing pupils with mental training that would
enable them to think clearly. In the Preface to his Algebra of 1848
he wrote, "The object of the study of mathematics is twofoldthe
acquisition of useful knowledge and the cultivation and discipline of
the mental powers. [To] be able to reason correctly, and to exercise,
in all relations in life, the energies of a cultivated and disciplined
is of more value than the mere attainment of any branch of
Ray believed that the ultimate objective in teaching was to develop
high moral character. It is said that he would often interrupt a
lesson to call attention to some fault of a student and then tell a
story about the need for persons with high morals. Story problems in
his textbooks portray honest, hard-working men and women on the
frontier, plowing fields, planting and harvesting crops, building
walls, or buying and selling goods. Problems about boys and girls
characterize them as industrious and generous, sharing food and
possessions with each other. In one problem a boy receives a reward
for returning a purse to its rightful owner.
James Greenwood, Superintendent of Schools in Kansas City gave the
following assessment of the popular success of Ray's textbooks. "The
reason is, I think, obvious. Dr. Ray was, in a large sense, a
self-made mathematician and a self-made teacher. He had learned well
the lesson of self-help, and in the preparation of his books he always
kept before himself all the difficulties he had experienced in
mastering each topic. No one knew better just when and where and how
to bear down on certain points. In an eminent degree he possessed
that rare combination of assimilation and clear presentation. He knew
how to make the subjects stick."
Article by David E. Kullman
- Brammer, Mauck (1971). "Winthrop B. Smith: Creator of the Eclectic
Educational Series." Ohio History, 80, pp. 45-59.
Dennis, Jerry (1937). "Joseph Ray." Ohio State Archeological &
Historical Quarterly. 46 (1), pp. 42-50.
Gano, John A. et al. (1884). Old Woodward: A Memorial. Cincinnati:
Old Woodward Club.
Greenwood, James M. and Martin, Artemas (1899). "Notes on the history
of American text-books on arithmetic." Washington: Department of the
Interior, Annual Report 1897-1898, pp. 789-867.
Kullman, David E. (1998). "Joseph Ray The McGuffey of Mathematics."
Ohio Journal of School Mathematics, No. 38, pp. 5-10.
Ray, Joseph (1848). Algebra, Part First. Cincinnati: W.B. Smith &