Nathaniel Parker Gage

The Teacher

Nathaniel Parker Gage (1838-1903) was born in Pelham, New Hampshire and educated at Phillips Andover Academy and Dartmouth College. Graduating in 1862, he was appointed as teacher of a male grammar school in the Second District in Washington, D. C. The school met at first in an old fire engine house which was later remodeled and enlarged as the Abbot School. In the fall of 1870 Gage and his class moved to the new Seaton School on I Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets, N. W. Seaton was one of the model schools designed by German American Architect Adolf Cluss as the nucleus of the new District of Columbia School System. Gage served as principal of that school until 1877 when he was named supervising principal of the public schools in the 2nd Division. He served in that position until his death in 1903.

Gage was an educator of extraordinary ability exemplifying the fine quality of instruction for which the District’s public schools were then known. A beloved teacher, students from his earliest classes arranged an elaborate memorial service at the First Congregational Church, 10th and G Streets, N. W., where Gage had been a member. Commissioner H. B. F. MacFarland, presided, noting that Gage, while not rich nor powerful nor famous, had lived the spiritually rich life of “those who minister, rather than those who are ministered unto, while it reminds us that there are many who are living in just that way, and in themselves and in their example and teaching keeping alive the true American spirit and advancing the best interests of their country.”

Joseph Stanley-Brown, a student from his first class, recalled the regrettable state of District public schools just before Gage arrived, the changes that were made, and the revolution of the free school system in the District. He described the trepidation with which the boys awaited the arrival of the new “Yankee” teacher at their makeshift school building at 14th & P Streets on the outskirts of town. Accustomed to classroom discipline enforced by beatings, the boys were surprised to find Gage’s teaching method was entirely different–leading by quiet example and providing a course of study sufficient for college entrance although the boys were under fifteen years old at graduation. Gage established a school paper, organized a debating society, and provided the nucleus of military training by drilling a company equipped with wooden guns.

At the dedication of the Gage School on February 15, 1905, a large number of Gage’s former pupils from that first Seaton grammar school class presented a memorial bronze tablet which was inscribed--

In memory of
Nathaniel Parker Gage,
Supervising Principal, Second Division,
Public Schools of Washington, D. C., 1874 to 1903.
Born 1838. Died 1903.
Teacher of Male Grammar School, Second District,
1870 to 1878.
This tablet is erected by his former pupils
of the classes of 1871 to 1877.

The teachers of the Second Division presented a portrait of Gage to hang in the new school praising Gage's clear vision, compassionate spirit, and gentle heritage. Clayton E. Emig, president of the North Washington Citizens' Association, thanked the Commissioners for building the school in this central and accessible location which the Association had favored.