"Every possible reezon that could ever be offered for altering the spelling of wurds, still exists in full force; and if a gradual reform should not be made in our language, it wil proov that we are less under the influence of reezon than our ancestors."
- Noah Webster describing the need for standardized spellings in his Collection of Essays and Fugitiv Writings
Noah Webster was born in West Hartford, Connecticut on October 16, 1758 where he lived until leaving to study at Yale University. After graduation in 1779, Webster taught at schools around Connecticut, studied law, and married Rebecca Greenleaf. He went on to work as a lawyer in Hartford before launching into his literary career by founding two newspapers in New York. In 1783, Webster published The Grammatical Institute of the English Language, his first book, which was used by generations of school children as an introduction to the proper way to pronounce, spell, and read the English language. Thanks to the book's success, Webster went on a nation-wide lecture tour from 1785-1786, encouraging the American public to change its dialect to signify America's newfound independence from Great Britain. During this time, he rubbed shoulders with political leaders like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, working with the Constitutional Convention and the new postal service. In 1812, Noah and Rebecca Webster moved to Amherst where they farmed while Webster published books and helped found Amherst College. After a decade, the Webster family moved back to New Haven, where Webster died in 1843.
Webster's greatest literary accomplishment was the publication of An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. This text added 5000 new words to American English, Americanized the spelling of certain words to differentiate from British English, and eliminated words that were not useful for Americans. When not working on his dictionary, Webster published textbooks, edited magazines, and corresponded with contemporaries about the politics of the day, debating topics such as copyright law, the strength of the federal government, universal education, and the abolition of slavery.
Outside of his contributions to lexicography, Webster is best known in Amherst for his commitment to local education. He helped to found Amherst College and served on the board of trustees. Webster also helped to found a school at the First Congregational Church to teach young children. In 1897, the community honored Webster's commitment to local education with a memorial statue that still stands on the Amherst College campus.
Webster owned a home where the Lincoln Building is located today. He and his family lived here from 1812-1822 with "the best garden in town." After the Webster family left Amherst, their home was converted into a hotel that was destroyed by fire in 1838. Although a new hotel was built on the location, it was demolished in 1909 to make way for the current building.
Directions to Next Stop
Continue east on Main Street for .02 miles to 280 Main Street.
To learn more about Noah Webster, check out the West Hartford museum dedicate to his life: https://www.noahwebsterhouse.org/
To do your own research on Noah Webster and his life in Amherst, check out the Webster Family papers at the Amherst College library: http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma74.html