The Horace Mann papers date from his early career as a lawyer until 1857, two years before his death (plus a single outlying 1876 item). The collection contains 51 letters (1823-1876), 83 bills/receipts (1824-1833), 15 legal documents (1824-1837), 2 promissory notes (1826; 1829), 4 graphic items, 1 printed bibliography, and 6 autographs, notations, and miscellaneous items.
Beginning with a letter to Ira Barton, in which he praises Barton's oration at the previous year's Independence Day celebration (March 20, 1823), the forty-eight outgoing letters of Horace Mann cover a variety of topics. Eloquently written, these letters provide information about Mann's own thoughts and perspectives. Many of them contain responses to requests to give lectures and others pertain to his perpetually full schedule. They include remarks regarding opposition to the Massachusetts Board of Education in the years following its formation, discussions with P.M. Upson (a Eutaw, Alabama teacher) about his annual reports and the Common Journal (1845), suggestions to J.B. Vandever for the construction of a school (1851), plans and details surrounding the formation of a teachers' institute at Fitchburg, Massachusetts (in correspondence with Charles Mason, 1845), comments on his nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848, efforts to procure funds to send Mr. Pierce to the World Peace Convention in 1849, friendly conversations with and advice to Samuel Downer, Jr. (from Antioch College, 1854-1857), and other subjects.
Horace Mann did not write three of the letters in this collection. One, by Edward Everett, nominates an unnamed person to a position on the Massachusetts Board of Education (to fill Edward A. Newton's vacant seat). Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) wrote one letter from Portsmouth, Rhode Island, May 14, 1860, in which he expresses his frustration with fund-raising efforts for a statue of Horace Mann. Another, written in 1876 by Mary Mann to Miss Jacobson (who was inspired by Horace Mann's work), encloses a fragment from one of his manuscripts.
The 83 bills/receipts include itemized fees for Horace Mann's services as prosecuting attorney for clients in Norfolk County. Each of these financial documents include fees for writs, entry and court dues, travel expenses, trial attendance, and individual tasks, such as receiving and swearing in the complainant and summoning witnesses.
The 15 legal documents are miscellaneous, related to almost as many different court cases. Most of them regard financial claims and are signed by Horace Mann as attorney for the plaintiffs. One document stands out above the others: the appointment of the first Massachusetts Board of Education, dated May 25, 1837. Signed by Edward Everett and Secretary John P. Bigelow, this item names James G. Carter, Emerson Davis, Edmund Dwight, Horace Mann, Edward A. Newton, Robert Rantoul, Jr., Thomas Robbins, and Jared Sparks to the Board. It bears the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Four graphic items in the collection include three portraits of Horace Mann and a single negative. These images are: one reproduction of an illustration; one hand-colored and mounted albumin print (oval vignette); and one modern photographic reproduction of an earlier touched-up reproduction of a daguerreotype (with an accompanying negative).
The collection contains a printed 31-page "Bibliography of Horace Mann," prepared by Horace Mann’s son, Benjamin Pickman Mann, December 9, 1896. This bibliography was published in the US Bureau of Education, Report of the Commissioner for 1896-1897, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1898).
A small selection of quotations, notations, autographs, and miscellany completes the collection. One signed quotation reads: "I would rather imitate the actions of one good man than to possess the autographs of all the great men in the world." Another small sheet contains the autographs of several Massachusetts Congressmen. Other miscellaneous items include fragments of papers on the responsibilities and jurisdiction of a town's school committees and rules for proper behavior.