Henry Harrison Straight, second president of Peru Normal School (now Peru State College), was among the earliest Nebraska educators to influence American public education. The inclusion of science as a basic school subject, especially in the elementary grades, and the development of modern methods of instruction both result in part from his efforts.
A Nebraska History (March 1954) article on Henry H. Straight’s accomplishments indicates that he was born in New York in 1846. An Oberlin College graduate, he was named president or “principal” of Peru Normal School in January 1871, serving in that capacity and as science teacher at Peru from 1871 to 1873. His work at Peru helped establish an early reputation for the Nebraska school.
In the spring of 1873 Straight joined the Science Department of Central Missouri Normal School at Warrensburg. That summer he and his wife, also a teacher, attended the Anderson School of Natural History, the first summer school in the United States conducted for naturalists and science teachers. The summer school director was distinguished naturalist Louis Agassiz. He and the small group of selected students from around the country became acquainted with Straight’s previous work at Peru Normal School in Nebraska. When Straight returned to Warrensburg, he attempted to put into practice the methods of scientific study learned from Agassiz and to combine them with the procedures of classroom teaching and teacher education which he had himself developed at Peru.
In 1875 both Straight and his wife resigned their positions at Central Missouri Normal School. Straight’s remaining teaching jobs were at Oswego (New York) Normal School (1876-83); and for a short time thereafter at Cook County Normal School in Chicago. He died November 17, 1886.
The success of Straight’s career does not lie in his publications or even in the large number of students he influenced. Rather he was significant because he influenced other persons who themselves became educational leaders.