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Thomas Cooke McCracken (5 January, 1876-9 March, 1961), the third child of James Erskine McCracken (1849-1923) and Mary Linda (Cooke) McCracken (1852-1939), was born near Bellefontaine, Ohio, a western Ohio farming and railroad town located halfway between Cincinnati and Toledo. He was the couple’s second surviving son: their first child died at or near birth in 1871, and an older brother, Arthur James McCracken, born in 1873. McCracken had three younger siblings as well: Myrtle, Charles, and Florence. McCracken’s father was a farmer, market gardener and greenhouse worker, and his mother was a homemaker (Ancestry.com 2007).

Upon graduation from high school in 1894, McCracken immediately began his teaching career at the tender age of 18 (Anderson 1999). One humanizing incident early on may very well have brought an abrupt end to his career as an educator, however. Perhaps it was the stress of four years of teaching or just a single frustrating student or event, but in a brief article relating local Ohio news in the Marion Daily Star, when McCracken was just 22 years old, the newspaper reported that “Thomas McCracken, Bellefontaine schoolteacher, has been bound over to court for whipping Johnny Christian too hard” (Marion Daily Star 1898). Whether McCracken was found guilty or not is the subject for further scholarship. Regardless of the outcome of the case, it does not seem to have had an adverse effect on his otherwise brilliant career and significant contributions to the field of education.

Within a few years of the whipping incident, McCracken began his undergraduate work at Monmouth College, a Presbyterian Church-affiliated liberal arts college in Monmouth, Illinois. He graduated in 1904 with his Bachelor’s degree, and while an undergraduate, he served as an assistant in the Mathematics Department and was a member of the Eccritean Society, a literary group founded at Monmouth in 1857 to promote debating and public speaking. McCracken went on to serve as the head of the Preparatory Department at Monmouth where he taught Latin. He also served as principal of Monmouth High School before beginning work on his master’s degree in 1909 at Harvard University which he completed in 1911 (Anderson 1999). In 1913, at the age of 37, he was married to Lillian Holgate, a nursing program graduate of Monmouth College. Later that same year, a daughter, Margaret, was born (Ancestry.com, U.S. Census 1920).

Between 1913 and 1914, McCracken left Ohio and accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City for one year before being named Dean of the Graduate School at Colorado State Teachers’ College (later the University of Northern Colorado) where he served eight years until departing in 1922 (Anderson 1999). During this time McCracken registered for the draft for World War I at the age of 42 in 1918 (WW I Draft Registration Card), but likely avoided active military duty since an Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, ending the “great war” between nations. He continued his education during this time frame (1911-1918) with work on his doctoral degree which he received from Harvard University in 1918 (Anderson 1999).

In 1922, McCracken returned to Ohio to become Dean of the College of Education at Ohio University in Athens. In 1936, he became the university’s Provost and national president of Kappa Delta Pi (Anderson 1999). According to various newspaper accounts, McCracken was frequently called upon to speak at local high school graduations and other education-related events. He wrote several books on the importance and practicality of vocational education beginning with children of kindergarten age. As an additional indication of McCracken’s forward-thinking regarding vocational education, in a review of McCracken’s Occupational Information in the Elementary School written in 1923, Ward G. Reeder noted that “It [the book] should do much toward insuring against the narrow social and occupational outlook all too common among both teachers and pupils” (Reeder 1924).

Upon his retirement from Ohio University in 1946, McCracken was named Dean Emeritus. In addition, the university’s College of Education building was renamed McCracken Hall in his honor (Anderson 1999).

McCracken, a dedicated teacher, educator, writer, and leader, died at the age of 85 on March 9, 1961 in Athens, Ohio. He was buried at the West Union Street Cemetery (Anderson 1999). Subsequently, the Thomas Cooke McCracken Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in his honor at Ohio University for residents of Athens County, Ohio who are majoring in Education (Ohio University 2007).

Submitted by Reuben Wesley Ballard

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