ELSON, WILLIAM H. (22 Nov. 1854-2 Feb. 1935), a progressive educator, served as superintendent of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS 1906-1912. He was also author of several popular series of textbooks which were adopted by many school systems both throughout the nation and overseas.
Born to Thomas and Hannah (Alexander) Elson in Carroll County, Ohio, William and his family moved to Indiana where he received his early schooling. He then moved on to Indiana University and the University of Chicago to earn his teaching credentials.
His years as a classroom teacher were few. By 1881 he was already a superintendent of schools in Parke County, IN. He moved on to Superior, WI, and then to Grand Rapids, MI, before coming to Cleveland in 1906.
In Cleveland he provided for the quarterly promotion of students, instituted one of the first technical high schools in the country (East Technical H.S. in 1908), and started a program of elementary vocational education at Brownell School. Though his contributions in Cleveland were enduring, his leadership suffered a blow when a deadly fire struck Collinwood School (see COLLINWOOD SCHOOL FIRE). Critics held held him responsible for inadequate safety provisions at the school. Elson resigned from the superintendency in 1912, and then went to Cornell University as a professor.
Elson's most lasting fame came from "The Elson Readers," a series of reading texts first published in 1909, which eventually achieved sales exceeding 50 million copies. They were in use in 34 countries.
Elson married twice, first to Minnie Trueblood on 20 June 1974. They had one son, Carl. On 19 Nov. 1879 he married Mattie Welch, with whom he had another son, Frank. Elson died in Chicago, Illinois.