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HODGINS, JOHN GEORGE, civil servant and author; b. 12 Aug. 1821 in Dublin, son of William Hodgins and Frances Doyle; m. first 22 Nov. 1849 Frances Rachel Doyle in Dublin, and they had five sons and one daughter; m. secondly 1889 Helen Fortescue Scoble, daughter of anti-slavery leader John Scoble*, one of whose other daughters married John George’s brother Thomas; d. 23 Dec. 1912 in Toronto.

John George Hodgins immigrated to Upper Canada in 1832 with his uncle and guardian, Robert Foster. After they settled in Galt (Cambridge), Hodgins clerked in his uncle’s dry goods store until 1838, when he accepted a similar position with the firm of E. and J. Stinson in Hamilton. Hodgins showed promise as a businessman, but he nevertheless enrolled in the Methodist Victoria College at Cobourg in 1841. He quickly became one of the leading students and attracted the attention of the principal, Egerton Ryerson*. Although Hodgins had been raised in a Methodist home, his relationship to that denomination was perfunctory. At the college he went through a serious religious experience, and after his conversion became a devout and earnest evangelical, espousing vigorously and vociferously all of the principal tenets of this style of Protestantism. His faith infused every aspect of his public and private activities. His family life would be that of a typical Victorian Christian home, with periods set aside for daily prayers and Bible reading which the children and servants had to attend.

Hodgins left Victoria College without finishing his program. For a brief period he articled with a law firm in Hamilton. When Ryerson was appointed superintendent of schools for Upper Canada in 1844 he immediately recruited Hodgins as his clerk to take charge of the education office while he toured facilities in Britain and Europe. Hodgins was to assist Ryerson in building a system of education open to all children, a task that was one of the consuming political issues of this period. In 1845 Ryerson sent Hodgins to Dublin to investigate the workings of the Irish educational system. At his own expense Hodgins remained in Dublin for a year, during which time he met Frances Rachel Doyle. On returning to Upper Canada in 1846 Hodgins was confirmed in the position of chief clerk in the education office and he immediately began to introduce many of the bureaucratic practices he had observed in the National Education Office in Ireland. At the same time he became the recording secretary of the Board of Education for Upper Canada, set up by the Common Schools Act of 1846 to advise the superintendent on major issues and, in particular, to review the content of new textbooks and the wording of proposed legislation and regulations. For 20 years he was responsible for all the correspondence and finances of this body (renamed the Council of Public Instruction by a new act in 1850) and for ensuring that its decisions were carried out.

From the start Ryerson reposed complete confidence in his protégé’s administrative ability and the two men rarely differed over matters of policy. They shared a vision of developing an educational system that would give children sufficient learning for them to be economically independent and that would instil in them a set of commonly shared values and attitudes. Hodgins held the Victorian belief in the inevitability of material and moral progress. For him education was one of the primary instruments for enhancing the growth of a prosperous and peaceful nation.

As chief clerk and, after 1855, deputy superintendent, Hodgins laboured in the education office to create an effective and efficient administration. Possessed of enormous energy and displaying a meticulous approach to detail, he was the ideal person to be placed in charge of the daily affairs of the educational system; Ryerson was thus freed to develop policy, make his well-known provincial and foreign tours, and negotiate with politicians. In the 1850s Hodgins exercised almost total control of the major instruments Ryerson had devised to expand the school system and to persuade the public of its benefits. In 1848 Ryerson had established the Journal of Education for Upper Canada, in which he published explanations of the school acts and regulations as well as articles on developments in education throughout the western world. Hodgins was the deputy editor from the outset, but after 1852 Ryerson gave him a free hand in editing it. The journal virtually became Hodgins’s own enterprise. A second instrument was a depository, created under the provisions of the 1850 act, for purchasing books, maps, and equipment at a low cost and selling these at a nominal price to local educational authorities and libraries. Under Hodgins’s diligent management the depository achieved remarkable success. Not long after its establishment, however, it became the focal point of bitter attacks by booksellers. Abetted by leading members of the Reform party, especially George Brown*, editor of the Toronto Globe, and later Edward Blake, they argued that the depository’s low prices undercut local businesses and that the government should not be involved in a business venture. Lastly, an educational museum and a library, established to provide examples of the best teaching methods and resources, were also placed under Hodgins’s control and he was quick to develop their potential.

Among the manifold responsibilities Hodgins assumed within the education office was overseeing the collection of large quantities of statistical information from local boards. Here he was in the vanguard of an important 19th-century movement, and he became an advocate in the use of statistics for policy purposes. Over the years an immense correspondence between local officials and the central office grew concerning every aspect of the system. In the early years Ryerson usually drafted the replies to letters but after a time Hodgins composed them. As the legal lineaments of the system became more complex, Hodgins realized that he needed expertise in this area. In 1856, the same year Victoria conferred on him an ma in recognition of his continuous support, he enrolled in the law course at the University of Toronto. Four years later he was awarded the llb degree, though he was not called to the bar until 1870.

From 1860 it became clear that Ryerson relied even more closely on Hodgins. When Ryerson’s health broke in 1862 his deputy superintendent substituted on many occasions, negotiating with political authorities, for example, or making trips overseas and to the United States to obtain supplies and to investigate educational developments. However, by 1870 Hodgins was becoming tired of his role and had decided he would retire and enter a law practice. Ryerson dissuaded him and Hodgins stayed for the rest of his life. He would be a public servant for some 68 years.

When Ryerson retired in 1876 education became a regular government department supervised by a cabinet minister. Hodgins was the deputy minister. His relations with his two ministers, first Adam Crooks* and after 1883 George William Ross, were initially cordial, but early on he began to sense that his position had changed. Even though he was still officially in charge, his advice was not always sought by the minister, and in addition many of his duties were transferred to others, by Crooks to his own private secretary and by Ross to the departmental secretary, Alexander Marling*. In fact, both Crooks and Ross issued office regulations which circumscribed the deputy’s authority. In 1877 the Journal was discontinued and in 1881 the depository was closed. Many Reformers had always disapproved of various features of the school system established by Ryerson and wanted to reshape it according to their own ideas. Especially after Ryerson retired they regarded Hodgins as a symbol of Ryerson’s regime and were determined to oust him from office. Finally, in 1888 Ross decided to remove him; after lengthy and acrimonious discussions Hodgins resigned as deputy minister in 1890 and was succeeded by Marling. Hodgins was appointed librarian and historiographer of the department, with a substantial reduction in salary. He was deeply hurt by his demotion, as he called it, seeing it as an act of political spite. There probably was some manipulation in this episode, but it is also clear that the department’s growth and diversification required a new style of management. The Liberal regime of Oliver Mowat* wanted to imprint its own design on the system and did not think that Hodgins was the right man for this task.

Hodgins retained his position as librarian until 1904 and applied his administrative skills to improving the service and to making it more useful to teachers and administrators. As historiographer, a post he held until his death, he collected, edited, and published a vast amount of documentary material concerning education, both public and private, in Ontario. These collections are virtually indispensable to historians but they must be treated with caution: Hodgins had a tendency in his editing to place Ryerson’s actions, and consequently his own, in the most favourable light.

Although subsequent commentators have generally put Hodgins in Ryerson’s shadow, in his own day Hodgins was invited to deliver lectures before international organizations and congresses on the Ontario school system and was showered with awards for his work. In 1861 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of his many textbooks in geography. The University of Toronto conferred the honorary degree of lld on him in 1870, and the French government decorated him with the Ordre des Palmes Académiques in 1879. The American Bureau of Education chose him to be one of its three jurors at the exhibition in New Orleans in 1885; at the same gathering he was selected as the honorary secretary of an international congress of education. Governor General Lord Lansdowne [Petty-Fitzmaurice*] awarded him the Confederation Medal for his services to education in 1886, and in 1903 the British government made him a companion of the Imperial Service Order.

Hodgins’s energies were also poured into a variety of religious and philanthropic endeavours. Although he had been an ardent Methodist, in the mid 1850s he and Ryerson quarrelled with the church over its requirement that members attend weekly class meetings. After serious reflection Hodgins joined the Church of England. Shortly afterwards he was elected a lay delegate to the synod of the diocese of Toronto and in 1870 he became its honorary lay secretary, a position he held almost continuously for 25 years. He undertook many of the duties of organizing the annual synod, became a recognized authority on canon law, and compiled handbooks on the responsibilities of parish clergy and churchwardens. He served on numerous committees of synod and was often a delegate to the synod of the ecclesiastical province of Canada. Consequently, he was one of the most prominent laymen in Canadian Anglicanism.

Hodgins had not deserted his evangelical faith when he became an Anglican; instead he carried it into his adopted denomination. His championing of evangelical principles projected him into the bitter disputes between the high and low church parties in the 1860s and 1870s. He played a leading role in the campaign by evangelicals to curtail the sacerdotal and authoritarian aspirations held by most of the clergy, who adhered to high church tenets and who were abetted by Bishop Alexander Neil Bethune*. One focal point of the controversy was the ritualistic practices introduced by the Oxford Movement. The evangelicals feared these Romish practices would undermine the Protestant character of their church, but they made little headway in preventing clergy from using them. Another, and perhaps more significant, series of disputes revolved around the right of the laity to have a voice in the conduct of the church’s temporal affairs. Perhaps the most divisive among the many issues was the right to appoint a clergyman to a parish. Evangelicals argued that parishioners should have a voice in the selection while high churchmen preferred to leave it in the hands of the bishop. Hodgins joined Henry James Grasett* and others in organizing in 1869 the Evangelical Association (after 1873 the Church Association of the Diocese of Toronto) to combat their opponents. The evangelicals waged a stout campaign in synod, where Hodgins’s voice was constantly heard in defence of evangelical views, and they ultimately won several major concessions which resulted in the laity obtaining a substantial voice in the conduct of the church’s business.

The evangelical party also disliked the type of training ministerial candidates received at the high church Trinity College in Toronto. They decided to establish a seminary in the city more in tune with their views. Although Bethune denounced their efforts, a new institution, the Protestant Episcopal Divinity School, opened in 1877 with James Paterson Sheraton* as principal. Hodgins served as a member of the first board of management of the college, which was renamed Wycliffe in 1885, and became a public defender of its brand of Anglicanism.

Like many other evangelicals Hodgins was active in a plethora of charitable organizations, serving on many boards. For 30 years he was secretary of the Upper Canada Bible Society. He became president of the Prisoners’ Aid Association, a vice-president of the Toronto Humane Society, and one of the founders of the Royal Canadian Humane Society. Always solicitous of the welfare of his Irish compatriots, he was president of the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society. Active in local militia affairs, he helped to form the Queen’s Own Rifles in 1862 and served as an officer.

These activities placed severe demands on his time, energy, and finances. His charitable donations, along with the expenses of his extensive household and the cost of paying for private schools (three sons attended Upper Canada College), put him in a state of almost constant debt. His correspondence is littered with complaints about his inadequate income. He tried to supplement it through writing. His publications included textbooks, monographs, collections of documents, and articles on education, Canadian history, scientific topics, and religious affairs. The textbooks dealt mainly with the history and geography of the British empire and gave him the opportunity to enunciate his deeply held respect for the monarchy and British institutions. As one of Ryerson’s literary executors, Hodgins edited his autobiography, “The story of my life” . . . (Toronto, 1883). His numerous articles and speeches on educational affairs remain valuable commentaries on 19th-century Ontario education. His most important collection is the 28-volume Documentary history of education for the period from 1791 to 1876. He also wrote articles for newspapers, especially the Evangelical Churchman (Toronto), on whose board of directors he served. During the 1850s he was the Canadian correspondent for the New York Commercial Advertiser.

Hodgins was an intense evangelical Protestant who unabashedly proclaimed his faith throughout his life. As a consummate administrator he moulded the emerging system of public education in Ontario and was in large part responsible for its success in attracting public support. Widely admired, with a host of friends, he was constantly in demand as a speaker and a leader in organizations. He possessed a charming and attractive personality, although at times he exhibited a sensitive and prickly nature and he was quick to react to snubs or criticism. He could be very combative in defence of those principles and values he cherished. His largesse was extended to the destitute, immigrants, children, and animals. As a cultured man with a wide range of literary and scholarly tastes, Hodgins was regarded by his contemporaries as a notable author and editor.

Judson D. Purdy

[During his long career John George Hodgins composed or edited an enormous number of books, pamphlets, and articles. The following are among the more significant books: The geography and history of British America, and of the other colonies of the empire . . . (Toronto, 1857); Sketches and anecdotes of her majesty the queen, the late prince consort, and other members of the royal family (London and Montreal, 1868); Irishmen in Canada: their union not inconsistent with the development of Canadian national feeling (Toronto, 1875); Lovell’s advanced geography: for the use of schools and colleges . . . (Montreal, 1880); Hints and suggestions on school architecture and hygiene . . . (Toronto, 1886); Ryerson memorial volume . . . (Toronto, 1889); Documentary history of education in Upper Canada . . . (28v., Toronto, 1894–1910); The legislation and history of separate schools in Upper Canada: from 1841, until . . . 1876 (Toronto, 1897); The establishment of schools and colleges in Ontario, 1792–1910 (3v., Toronto, 1910); and Historical and other papers and documents illustrative of the educational system of Ontario, 1792–1871 . . . (6v., Toronto, 1911–12).

The most extensive collection of Hodgins’s personal correspondence is in UCC-C, Fonds 3141, consisting mainly of letters addressed to him. The Egerton Ryerson papers in the same repository, Fonds 3209, contain a number of letters exchanged between the two men. There are 25 boxes of miscellaneous materials including a limited amount of personal correspondence in the Hodgins papers at ACC, General Synod Arch., Toronto, M73-1, and Hodgins family letters in the J. L. Biggar corr. in MTRL, SC. Another Hodgins collection, at AO, F 1207, includes a scrapbook of his letters to the editors of various newspapers and the articles he published in the New York Commercial Advertiser, as well as a typed listing of most of his publications. The AO also possesses the records of the Education Department (RG 2).

The Annual report (Ottawa, etc.) of the Province of Canada’s Dept. of Public Instruction for Upper Canada (1846–66), the Annual report (Toronto) of the Ontario Education Dept. (1867–77), and the Report of the minister of education (Toronto) of the Ontario Dept. of Education (1878–1912) offer a splendid review of the department’s activities; until Hodgins’s resignation as deputy minister he was responsible for compiling the reports, and after that they contain his annual reports as librarian and historiographer and provide insights into his methodology as a historian. The Church of England, Diocese of Toronto, Journal of the synod for 1870–95 records Hodgins’s role as honorary lay secretary.

Dianna S. Cameron studied Hodgins’s educational activities in “John George Hodgins and Ontario education, 1844–1912” (ma thesis, Univ. of Guelph, Ont., 1976), which also contains what is probably the most comprehensive listing of his publications.  j.d.p.]

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. Globe, 24 Dec. 1912. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. R. D. Gidney and W. P. J. Millar, Inventing secondary education: the rise of the high school in nineteenth-century Ontario (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1990). A. L. Hayes, “The struggle for the rights of the laity in the diocese of Toronto, 1850–1879,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal (Toronto), 26 (1984): 5–17. S. E. Houston and Alison Prentice, Schooling and scholars in nineteenth-century Ontario (Toronto, 1988). The jubilee volume of Wycliffe College (Toronto, 1927). D. C. Masters, “The Anglican evangelicals in Toronto, 1870–1900,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal, 20 (1978): 51–66. Egerton Ryerson, My dearest Sophie: letters from Egerton Ryerson to his daughter, ed. C. B. Sissons (Toronto, 1955). C. B. Sissons, Egerton Ryerson: his life and letters (2v., Toronto, 1937–47). R. M. Stamp, The schools of Ontario, 1876–1976 (Toronto, 1982). H. E. Turner, “The evangelical movement in the Church of England in the diocese of Toronto, 1839–1879” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1959).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Judson D. Purdy, “HODGINS, JOHN GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hodgins_john_george_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hodgins_john_george_14E.html
Author of Article: Judson D. Purdy
Title of Article: HODGINS, JOHN GEORGE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: September 18, 2014