Abraham Lincoln, the farmhand and flatboatman, began the study of grammar at twenty-two and of law still later. Elihu Burritt, “The Learned Blacksmith,” who lectured in both England and America, taught himself languages and sciences while working eleven hours a day at the forge.
We enjoy the acquaintance of a woman physician of considerable prominence who did not enter medical college until she was more than fifty years of age. Henry George was a printer who studied economics after he was twenty-seven years old. Frederick Douglass was a slave until he was twenty-one, yet secured a liberal education, so that he became a noted speaker and writer. The following from “Up from Slavery," by the late Booker T. Washington, shows what can be done by even a poor black boy, without money or influence, to win an education:
[Footnote 3: Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York.]
I determined when quite a small child that, if I accomplished nothing else in life, I would in some way get enough education to enable me to read common books and newspapers. Soon after we got settled in some manner in our new cabin in West Virginia, I induced my mother to get hold of a book for me. How or where she got it I do not know, but in some way she procured an old copy of ‘Webster’s Blue-back Spelling-book,’ which contained the alphabet, followed by such meaningless words as ‘ab,’ ‘ba,’ ‘ca,’ and ‘da.’ I began at once to devour this book, and I think that it was the first one I ever had in my hands. I had learned from somebody that the way to begin to read was to learn the alphabet, so I tried in all the ways I could think of to learn it—all, of course, without a teacher, for I could find no one to teach me. At that time there was not a single member of my race anywhere near us who could read, and I was too timid to approach any of the white people. In some way, within a few weeks, I mastered the greater portion of the alphabet. In all my efforts to learn to read my mother shared fully my ambition and sympathized with me and aided me in every way that she could. Though she was totally ignorant so far as mere book knowledge was concerned, she had high ambitions for her children, and a large fund of good hard common sense, which seemed to enable her to meet and master every situation. If I have done anything in life worth attention, I feel sure that I inherited the disposition from my mother.