Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd. ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 151-154.
JOHN FREDERICK EBERHART, fifth child of Abraham and Esther Eberhart (nee Amend), was born January 21, 1829, at Hickory, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, his early years being busily spent upon his father’s farm, situated in the then new-settlement region. In 1837 he moved with his parents to Big Bend (on the Allegheny), in Venango County, Pennsylvania, still occupying himself with agricultural pursuits, save in winter, which time was given over to district schools. At sixteen he left school, becoming himself a country pedagogue, his first charge being located at the mouth of Oil Creek (near Franklin), Pennsylvania, where, after the manner so eloquently depicted by Eggleston in “The Hoosier Schoolmaster,” he “boarded ‘round” and received his few dollars per month for “teaching the young idea how to shoot.” The following year he took advanced tuition in drawing, writing and flourishing, afterward teaching these accomplishments to others. After some further schoolteaching, and having himself completed the curriculum of the Cottage Hill Academy at Ellsworth, Ohio, he entered Allegheny College, in 1849, whence he graduated July 2, 1853, having, like many another contemporary who has since “made his mark,” worked his way through college by teaching and working upon farms. He always took a leading part in his classes, as well as in many field sports, outlifting, outjumping and outrunning all his several hundred classmates. Perhaps we may allow this to speak as a prophecy of later superior achievements. In oratory he was proficient, as is sufficiently attested by the plaudits of the several thousand auditors who attended his Fourth of July oration near his old home at Rockland, Pa., two days after his graduation. The succeeding fall he assumed the duties of Principal of the Albright Seminary at Berlin, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. This first institution of letters founded by the Evangelical Association developed and prospered under his fostering care. And here a digression is briefly made in order to call attention to the fact that the Rev. H. W. Thomas, now pastor of the People’s Church, Chicago, was a pupil of his at this time. The first serious disappointment in his life work, as Mr. Eberhart had first planned it, occurred after two years’ confinement over school duties, at which juncture several consulting doctors of medicine prognosticated a growing consumption, which he could not outlive beyond a few months at the furthest. Packing up his possessions, he set his face toward the great West, a country destined to give him that abundant measure of renewed life which he has since spent in the interest of others as well as himself. April 15, 1855, was the date of his first coming to Chicago, at which time in the then “Muddy City” he remained only a short interval, on his way to Dixon, Illinois, where for a time he edited and published an early newspaper, called the Dixon Transcript. About this time he also prepared and delivered lectures upon chemistry, natural philosophy, meteorology and astronomy, they being among the first popular lectures to be illustrated by practical apparatus. He also at this period traveled for New York publishing houses, and was largely instrumental in establishing district-school libraries in the state. But, best of all, in this invigorating climate, with its changes of diversified labors, attended by abundance of outdoor sports and healthy exercises, he regained and fortified that healthful virility which through more than three and a-half decades has amply sufficed to keep him well engaged in honorable pursuits; until at this writing, through untiring self-efforts, he stands prominent and time-honored among the early educators of Illinois and the West. On locating in Chicago, he purchased and for three years edited and published, “The Northwestern Home and School Journal,” interspersing such labors by lecturing before and conducting teachers’ institutes, not only in Illinois, but also in other western states, coming thus into personal contact with the leading educators of the day, such as Elihu Burritt, Henry Barnard and Horace Mann. He was elected Superintendent of Schools of Cook County in the fall of 1859. This office he uninterruptedly held for ten years, during which time he earnestly labored to arouse a unanimity of interest and enthusiasm of which our local school history affords no parallel. Our free schools in the county up to this time had never been under proper supervision, and were when he assumed the duties in a neglected condition. But he began a thorough systematic visitation of schools, conferring with teachers and directors, organizing institutes, etc.; until, finding it impossible to secure otherwise the services of adequately qualified teachers, he began his agitation for a county normal school, and with such success, that in 1867 a school was opened at Blue Island, through provisions made by the Board of Supervisors. This school, since removed to Normal, has grown to be a power in the land, being sought by many pupils coming from long distances, and always having a large attendance roll. Among other noteworthy acts we may call to mind the following: Mr. Eberhart was among the organizers of the Illinois State Teachers’ Association, the first seventeen consecutive sessions of which he attended; he assisted in establishing the State Normal University, and in making many valuable changes in the state school law, including the original act authorizing counties to establish normal schools, and was the principal mover in forming the State Association of County Superintendents, which chose him for its first President. As President of the County Board of Education, he was the means of introducing the “kindergarten” into the Cook County Normal School, and also aided in establishing the system of free kindergartens in the city. During all this time he was a member of the American Institute of Instruction, as well as one of the first life members of the National Teachers’ Association. Mr. Eberhart received many overtures to accept professorships and presidents’ chairs in some of our leading institutions of learning, but he always declined, principally because he did not again wish to risk his health and life in such work. Always imbued with a liking for travel and outings, and with generous tastes for a liberal, rational enjoyment and improvement of life and its grand possibilities, after a quarter of a century spent as before briefly indicated, he set about accumulating a fortune out of real estate. At the time of the panic of 1873 he was esteemed one of the millionaires of the city. However, through joint interests with others, which he had to settle, he lost his possessions, but is now again a wealthy man, and is content in making a wise use of his powers and gifts, being a liberal parent and husband, and munificent in charity donations.
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