Profiles in Philanthropy: Noah Webster

Noah Webster

Noah Webster, 1823, by Samuel F. B. Morse
Mead Art Museum
Bequest of Waldo Hutchins, Jr. AC 1842

By the time he and his family arrived in Amherst from New Haven, Conn., in 1812, Noah Webster was a household name. His American Spelling Book, which he had written and published in 1783, was in use in virtually every schoolhouse in the country.

Besides a schoolbook publisher, Webster had also been a soldier, lawyer, teacher, philosopher, essayist, political leader, orator, public official and crusading newspaper editor. Through all of his endeavors, Webster was committed to the success of the new American nation, whether by defining its common language or promoting its progress through the education of its citizens.

It was his desire to lead a simpler life in a quieter setting that brought him to Amherst, at that time a small, devout farming community in rural Massachusetts. Here he planned to work full time on his grandest project to date: the work that would become the American Dictionary of the English Language.

Events soon conspired to sound the call of public service, which Webster had never been able to ignore. He organized the townsfolk and raised funds to build a new secondary school, the Amherst Academy. He was elected to the Massachusetts General Court, where he fought to establish state-run public schools and hospitals. And when it came time to build a college in Amherst, it was Webster who led the fundraising efforts and defined as its mission nothing short of “raising the human race from ignorance and debasement, to enlighten their minds, to exalt their character and to teach them the way to happiness and glory.”

Thoughts on giving to Amherst: “The object of this institution, that of educating for the gospel ministry young men in indigent circumstances, but of hopeful piety and promising talents, is one of the noblest that can occupy the attention and claim contributions.”

This year, in honor of its most famous founder, Amherst College is debuting the Noah Webster Circle of the 1821 Society, which recognizes those individuals who make gifts of $10,000 or more to the college’s Annual Fund. To learn more about how you might support Amherst, contact: Laura Miller, Associate Director of the Annual Fund, Amherst College, Amherst, MA 01002-5000; (413) 542-2939;;