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WILLIAM B. RUGGLES
WILLIAM Benjamin Ruggles was born at Bath, Steuben County, N. Y., on the 14th of May, 1827. He is the son of William and Mary Ruggles. At the age of thirteen he was in a Bath printing office, trying to work his way up from the printer’s case, with the determination of becoming some day an educated man. At the same period he attended a part of the time the public school of Bath, with a view of preparing himself for a collegiate course. ” We remember him,” writes one, ” when a boy, as a studious youth, and call to mind the hours when we found him stretched out evenings on the old ‘ bank ‘ of the printing office studying his books by the aid of a tallow dip, fitting himself for entrance to Hamilton college.” In 1846 he had the great satisfaction of entering Hamilton college, in the sophomore class, though still obliged during vacation to set type in order to secure the necessary funds to carry him through college. He went through, graduating in 1849, with the highest honors of his class. And we venture to say that no graduate ever left the halls of that excellent institution of learning with more scholarly pride and satisfaction than did young Ruggles with his diploma in hand. While he had experienced the truth that there is “no royal road to learning,” he had also found that his industry and perseverance had overcome all obstacles in the way; and he stepped out into the world ready for its more active and stirring duties – an educated man.
Soon after leaving college in 1849 he went to Atlanta, Ga., and took charge as editor and publisher of the Atlanta Intelligencer, a leading democratic organ at that time. In 1854-5 he was elected an alderman of the city of Atlanta, and from this date his public official career fully commenced – a career which has thus far been rendered conspicuous by a display of fine judicial acumen and high literary tastes.
Selling out his paper and leaving the “Sunny South” four years before the storm of civil war burst over the country he came to Clinton, N. Y. Here he commenced the study of the law under Prof. Theodore W. Dwight of Hamilton College, in the autumn of 1857, he was admitted to practice at Utica in the following summer. But after his admission to the bar he continued his legal studies for a year or two in the office of the late Hon. Charles H. Doolittle, of Utica, one of the judges of the Supreme Court. Retiring to his native village – the scene of his earliest struggles and triumphs – he there opened a law office, and soon rose to distinction as an able and successful counselor. In 1875 he was chosen a trustee of Bath. This was but a stepping stone to higher preferment. His abilities becoming more widely known and more highly appreciated, he was elected in the fall of 1875 as a democratic member of the state legislature from the county of Steuben, and in the following year was re-elected to the same office.
We may remark here that Mr. Ruggles has always been a firm believer in the democratic principles of Jefferson, Jackson and Tilden.
In the legislature, during the sessions of 1876 and 1877, he served with distinguished ability on the judiciary committee and contributed largely to the perfecting and passage of the Code of Civil Procedure, a measure of legal reform which he warmly favored and zealously promoted by legal arguments on the floor of the assembly.
He also took a leading part in the discussion of all educational matters, and was especially prominent in the several animated debates which took place in the assembly, in the year 1877, in relation to the normal school system of the state. Mr. Ruggles took decided ground against this system as an expensive luxury to the state and a great burden to the tax payers. He defended his position by able arguments and well-chosen words. No man favored the interests of higher education more than did Mr. Ruggles, It was the mode of conducting that education in the best and most practical manner and with the least expense to the state that called forth his ablest and most eloquent efforts in the legislature.
On the 30th of January, 1877, he delivered a stirring speech on the floor of the assembly in favor of the abolition of the normal schools of the state of New York, on account of their enormous cost and little use to the people. In closing his address he summarized the points which his arguments were intended to establish, in the following words:
“Finally, by way of summary, it appears to me that the following conclusions are justified:
“1. That these normal schools have become substantially, merely ‘ large graded schools, with teachers’ classes,’ with methods of gradation and courses of instruction not materially different from those prevailing in our numerous academics and union free schools having academic departments and teachers’ classes, which are now distributed generally-over the various sections of the state.
“2. Our normal schools have become essentially local schools, filled up almost exclusively with pupils from the particular localities where they are situated, and do not afford that general benefit to the whole state which was originally contemplated, and the expectation of which constituted the reason for their creation.
“3. They have failed to accomplish the special purpose, which was the consideration for their establishment and maintenance by the state, namely, the supply of a considerable proportion of the teachers employed in our common schools.
“4. The implied contract to teach in the common schools, as a return for the liberal bounty from the state, has been very generally disregarded by the pupils who have received this expensive special course of instruction, a large majority of them never teaching at all, and probably not intending to, when they declared their intention to teach, upon entering the normal schools.
“5. There is no longer any necessity for the normal schools as state institutions, since the state has provided other ample and adequate means for supplying competent teachers for the common schools, by the establishment of teachers’ classes in the academies and academic departments of the union free schools.
“6. By abandoning these eight normal schools to the several localities immediately interested in them, and which are receiving about the whole benefit derived from them, a saving will be effected of about $150,000 annually, without detriment to the general educational interests of the state.”
This speech, so searching and thorough in its review and criticism of the whole normal school system, attracted wide attention. It was very generally copied, and brought out a wide range of discussion and controversy in the newspaper press of the state, on the subject of the normal school system. While this system is still continued, it is conceded that the effect of this speech and the attraction of public attention thereby to the subject, has been to introduce into the state normal school system various improvements calculated to meet defects pointed out by Mr. Ruggles, whereby the system has been placed upon a sounder and more practicable basis.
In 1878 Mr. Ruggles was appointed first deputy attorney general of the state of New York, under Mr. Schoonmaker, and was retained in the same office under the administration of the republican attorney-general, Hamilton Ward. This important position came to Mr. Ruggles by his high judicial qualities, which were now widely recognized by the citizens of the state.
In 1882 his term of office as deputy attorney-general having expired, he was, on the 14th of March of the following year, by joint ballot of the senate and assembly, chosen as state superintendent of public instruction for the term of three years. Of his election the Troy Times, a leading republican paper, remarked: “Mr. Ruggles is admirably fitted for the position by natural gifts, training and previous official experience. * * * While a life-long democrat, Mr. Ruggles is a broad and liberal thinker, and no improper political bias may be looked for in his exercise of the important educational functions devolving upon him.”
On the 1st of January, 1886, Mr. Ruggles resigned his office as superintendent of public instruction to assume that of deputy superintendent and legal counselor of the New York state insurance department, a position which he now fills with marked ability.
Mr. Ruggles has published official reports to the legislature, opinions under the school laws, and addresses delivered before various educational institutions throughout the country.
He was ex-officio regent of the University of the State of New York, a trustee of Cornell and Syracuse universities, and chairman of the executive committee of the state normal school at Albany. In 1876 Mr. Ruggles was a delegate from the twenty ninth congressional district of New York to the democratic national convention, which met at St. Louis, and was an ardent advocate and supporter of Samuel J. Tilden for the presidency.
A true man in the highest sense of the word, with a warm and generous heart, a lover of good books in all departments of literature and science, a thoughtful student and an accomplished scholar, well-versed in all the intricacies of his chosen profession, William B. Ruggles stands before the country with a brilliant record, with clean hands and a pure heart, a typical American citizen, who has risen by his own unassisted efforts from the humbler walks of life to places of prominence, responsibility and great usefulness in the administration of public affairs, meriting the commendation of the great masses of his fellow citizens, and feeling the consciousness of having performed his official duties on the side of truth, justice and humanity. He is now in the full vigor of manhood, and in the complicated duties of his office, one of the hardest-working men in Albany.