Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reaumur Coleman Stearnes (1866-1945)

From the Virginia Times Dispatch, April 17, 1907.

    A distinguished figure in the annals of Virginia state government, Reaumur Coleman Stearnes was for many years at the forefront of educational matters in the "Old Dominion" State, holding a seat on the state Board of Education and later served a five year term as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I first discovered this interestingly named man several years ago, courtesy of the Who Was Who In America 1943-1950 edition. Listed under his full name, Mr. Stearnes received a substantial write-up in Who Was Who, a lasting testament to his lengthy role in the Virginia educational system.
   Born in Dublin, Virginia on April 8, 1866, Reaumur C. Stearns was the son of Dr. John Lewis and Phoebe Ann McDermed Stearnes, both residents of Pulaski County. His unusual first name is noted as being pronounced "roamer", and the December 12, 1940 edition of the Hempstead, New York Sentinel notes that Stearnes received his odd name in honor of "the French scientist Reaumur, who produced the heat measuring scale bearing his name." 
  Stearnes attended schools in his native town of Dublin and later graduated from the Richmond College in 1887, the valedictorian of his class. He embarked upon a teaching career while still studying at college, and continued in this profession after graduating, teaching at the Allegheny Institute at Roanoke, Virginia for a time. Stearnes married on December 27, 1888 to Mary Elizabeth Arnold (1865-1960) and later had three children, Bessie (1890-1982), John Lewis (died in infancy in 1893) and Reaumur Jr. (born 1901).
   The early 1890s saw Stearnes continuing to teach as well as practing law in Salem, Virginia. In 1892 he was elected as Superintendent of Roanoke County Schools. His fourteen year tenure in this post was remarked by the January 1913 edition of the Journal of Education, New England and National  as "having made a national reputation, the first made by a county superintendent in West Virginia, if not the first in the South."  During his time as Roanoke superintendent Stearnes was also a leading light in the establishment of the Cooperative Educational Association of Virginia, and from 1901-1906 served as the President of the Virginia State Teacher's Association.
   Stearnes served as the head of the Roanoke school system until 1906, and in that year was appointed as secretary to the State Board of Education. His term lasted six years and in December of 1912 his public profile received a significant boost when he was "by unanimous vote" elected by the state board of Education as Virginia's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, succeeding outgoing superintendent Joseph Eggleston, who had resigned a few days previously. A write-up on Stearnes' succession to the office appeared in the Virginia Dispatch in December 1912 and is shown below.

From the Virginia Times Dispatch, December 24, 1912.

   Stearnes' ascension as Virginia's top-ranking educational figure was viewed in many sources of the time as an outstanding choice, certainly due to the fact that Stearnes' had been intricately involved in education affairs of the state for over two decades. In 1914 he was elected to a term of his own as Superintendent and served until 1918, when he was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection. Following his defeat, Stearnes joined in the ongoing war effort and took on a position as community organizer for the War Camp Community Service in Atlanta and remained with this organization until 1922, when he became a student at Columbia University in New York, where he also lectured.
   In 1925 Stearnes relocated to Stony Brook University where he taught mathematics until 1929. He later took on a similar teaching position at both the New York and Hofstra Universities, remaining at the latter school until 1939. In addition to these posts, Stearnes was also a lecturer on "business administration and secretarial studies" at the Merchant and Banker's Business and Secretarial School, also located in New York. Stearnes resided in Hempstead, New York during his twilight years and died at his home there on May 27, 1945 at age 79. He was survived by his wife Mary Elizabeth and two children and was later returned to Dublin, Virginia for burial at the New Dublin Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

Reaumur C. Stearnes in his later years, from the Jan. 21, 1943 edition of the Hempstead Sentinel.

From the May 29, 1945 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle.

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