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Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Rufus William Bailey (13 April 1793–25 April 1863), educator and author, was born in North Yarmouth, Maine, the second of six sons and second of eight children of Lebbeus Bailey, a respected clockmaker and bell founder, and Sarah Sylvester Myrick Bailey. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1813 and spent the next year teaching in Salisbury, New Hampshire, and the year after that reading law with Daniel Webster. Having decided that his true vocation was the ministry, he attended Andover Theological Seminary from 1815 to 1816. He served as a tutor at Dartmouth in the academic year 1817–1818 and returned to deliver the annual Phi Beta Kappa lecture there in 1821. Bailey was ordained on 24 November 1819 and began his ministry at the Congregational Church in Norwich, Vermont. He also taught moral philosophy at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in Norwich (now Norwich University). In 1820 he married Lucy C. Hatch. They had three daughters before her death in November 1832.

From 1824 to 1827 Bailey served as pastor to the First Congregational Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and during his tenure there he also founded the Pittsfield Female Academy. Bailey had become a trustee of both Williams College and the University of Vermont before 1827, when for health reasons he left Pittsfield and joined the Presbytery of South Carolina, where he remained for twelve years. He served as pastor of Presbyterian churches in Darlington, Sumter, and Cheraw, and in 1827 he founded Richland Normal School and later served as principal of Rice Spring Military Academy. Bailey moved in 1839 to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he directed another academy for young women and began acting as an agent for the American Colonization Society.

By 1842 Bailey had married Marietta Perry Lloyd of Waterbury, Connecticut. They had a son and in 1842 moved to Staunton, where Bailey persuaded a number of local Presbyterians to found the Augusta Female Seminary (later Mary Washington University). During his seven years as its principal, Bailey placed the school on a firm foundation. He won the admiration and financial support of the community, designed an academically demanding curriculum, secured a charter from the General Assembly in 1845, and oversaw the construction of and may even have designed the first buildings. Bailey embraced formal education for women and believed them as capable of serious academic study as men. He required his pupils to study philosophy and the natural sciences, but he also insisted that morality and the Bible were the bases of all education. He and his wife, daughters, a niece, and a cousin constituted the faculty. Among his first pupils was Mary Julia Baldwin, who later headed the school for many years and for whom it came to be named. Bailey also occasionally served as supply pastor to the First Presbyterian Church in Staunton, and when he left the city the congregation presented him with an engraved silver coffee service. Hampden-Sydney College awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1859.

In 1849 Bailey resigned from the seminary to become Virginia agent for the American Colonization Society. Although he worked sporadically for years to raise money to send free African Americans to Africa, Bailey did not oppose slavery. His first book, The Issue: Presented in a Series of Letters on Slavery (1837), had begun in 1832 as letters in the magazine Christian Mirror that were highly critical of northern antislavery writers. The Family Preacher: or, Domestic Duties Illustrated and Enforced, in Eight Discourses (1837), contained a discussion of religion and slavery that stood squarely in the center of an emerging body of literature defending the institution of slavery on moral and theological grounds.

Throughout his career in the ministry and in education Bailey wrote industriously. In addition to composing pieces and editing for the magazines Patriarch and Family Library Magazine in the 1840s, he published some sermons and several other books, including A Mother's Request Answered in Letters of a Father to his Daughters (1837); Daughters at School Instructed in a Series of Letters (1857); and Domestic Duties: or, The Family a Nursery for Earth and Heaven (n.d.). He achieved his greatest success with two works on the English language, English Grammar: A Simple, Concise, and Comprehensive Manual of the English Language (1853), a textbook that was reprinted ten times by 1857, and The Scholar's Companion: or, A Guide to the Orthography, Pronunciation, and Derivation of the English Language, based on Henry Butter's 1836 book of the same title, which with Bailey's revisions was reprinted more than one hundred times after 1856 and sold more than half a million copies before the end of the century.

Bailey left Virginia for Texas in 1854. He lived in Huntsville, where in 1858 he was appointed professor of languages at Austin College. He remained active in church affairs and served as a commissioner of the First General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1861, and in 1862 he was moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of Texas. In the latter year he was appointed president of Austin College. Rufus William Bailey died of pneumonia in Huntsville on 25 April 1863 and was buried there.


Sources Consulted:
Biography of 1905 by F. B. Bailey in Historical Foundation of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Montreat, N.C., with copy in Mary Baldwin College Library, Staunton, Va.; birth date in George T. Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College (1867), 163, confirmed in family records of Lebbeus Bailey Sr. and Sarah Sylvester Myrick in Mary Baldwin College Library; General Catalogue of the Theological Seminary, Andover, Massachusetts, 1808–1908 [1909], 50; great-grandson Edmund D. Campbell supplied additional information; some Bailey letters in Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC) and in American Colonization Society Papers, LC; Bailey explained his educational theories in Staunton Spectator, 20 June 1844; Mary Watters, The History of Mary Baldwin College, 1842–1942 (1942), 6–50 (portrait opp. 48); Patricia H. Menk, To Live in Time: The Sesquicentennial History of Mary Baldwin College, 1841–1992 (1992), xii (portrait), 3–7, 110.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Patricia H. Menk.

How to cite this page:
Patricia H. Menk, "Rufus William Bailey (1793–1863)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998, (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Bailey_Rufus_William, accessed [today's date]).


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