Allen, Nathaniel Topliff, son of Ellis and Lucy (Lane) Allen, was born in Medfield, Norfolk County, Sept. 29, 1823. His native homestead farm has been owned and tilled by seven generations of Allens, noted for longevity, sterling common-sense, and rugged worth; and there, during his boyhood, the subject of this sketch followed the pursuits of his ancestors, and laid the foundation of a vigorous constitution. Three years of his minority were spent in a Waltham cotton mill, where he acquired a knowledge of textile manufacture; he also received a good common-school education in the public schools, a family school kept by Rev. Joseph Allen at Northborough, and Northfield Academy.
Having chosen to become a teacher, he continued his studies in the Bridgewater state normal school, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, N. Y. He afterwards taught in the various public schools of Mansfield, Northborough, Northfield and Shrewsbury, until the spring of 1848, when he was appointed by Horace Mann, of the state board of education, to take charge of the model department of the normal school at West Newton. This position he filled with marked ability for nearly six years, when he established in connection with Rev. Cyrus Pierce, father of American normal schools, the institution of which he is now principal—the West Newton English and classical school.
Mr. Allen has been one of the most progressive and successful educators of the last half-century, always advocating the liberal and thorough education of both sexes, and ready to introduce into his own school whatever proved to be sound in theory and useful in practice. This school, with its industrial department at the homestead in Medfield, draws students from a wide region—the last enrollment showing boys and girls from seventeen of the United States, from Cuba, Buenos Ayres, Spain and Italy.
During a busy life in the class-room, Mr. Allen has held many other positions of responsibility and trust; he has been president of the board of direction of Pomroy Newton Home for Orphans and Destitute Girls ever since it was founded, sixteen years ago; he was trustee of the Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a member of the committee of examination in natural science at Harvard.
In 1869 Mr. Allen went abroad, and spent about two years in studying the school systems of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Austria, and, in particular, what is now included in the German Empire. This he did under that authority of the United States government, having been appointed an agent of the commissioner of public education, by Hon. Henry Barnard. The results of his observations of the secondary schools, gymnasia, real and volks-schulen of Prussia, Saxony, and Nassau are preserved in a valuable report published and distributed by order of the secretary of the interior.
Mr. Allen was married March 30, 1853, to Caroline Swift, daughter of James Nye and Rebecca (Freeman) Bassett, of Nantucket; and of their children, Fanny Bassett, Sarah Caroline, and Lucy Ellis are living; Nathaniel Topliff, their son, died in 1865.
Mr. Allen was a Garrisonian abolitionist, and an officer of the society when in those days it cost something to be identified with men of their belief. He was many times mobbed in their company, and naturally became an early member of the Free Soil party. He is at present a director in the American Peace Society, and president of the Newton Woman’s Suffrage Association.