American Primers & Readers: Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

The evolution of the modern reading textbook is in part 
the history of American education and in part the history 
of American culture.
—Richard L. Venezky


A section of an alphabet card from the Venezky
collection, ca. 1810, which illustrates the ABC approach
to introducing reading instruction popular at the time.
American Primers & Readers: Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky opens Monday, September 15, in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda on the second floor of the Bing Wing of Green Library, Stanford University. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Richard L. Venezky (1938-2004), the Unidel Professor of Educational Studies, professor of computer and information sciences, and professor of linguistics at the University of Delaware, and Stanford Ph.D. in linguistics (1965) was a leading expert in the history of literacy and reading. In 2005, Venezky’s family gave his extensive collection of American textbooks to the Stanford University Libraries, where it is housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives.

Robert Calfee, Professor Emeritus of Research in the School of Education, and former colleague of Venezky’s, commented, “The decision to contribute his collection of primers to Stanford reflected his appreciation for the ways in which Stanford contributed to his career, and his belief that the University Libraries would do an excellent job ensuring that the materials will be available to scholars. The Venezky collection, along with Stanford's already impressive collection of primary-grade textbooks and children’s literature, provides a significant resource to scholars for studying the progression of early literacy across the past few centuries. The complete story is laid out in Dick’s books and writings.”

Notes Kathy Kerns, Head of Cubberley Library in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, “These books give scholars access to various editions of many of the reading textbooks published in the U.S.—books of interest not only to historians of education, but also to social historians for the unique insight they give us into the past.”

American primers and readers published between the late 1700s and the middle of the twentieth century are on display in Green Library, paired with text excerpted from Venezky's published work in the history of literacy. Highlights of the exhibition include the New England Primer (1813), The Southern Primer (1860), various editions of the McGuffey readers as well as the Worcester readers that McGuffey was accused of plagiarizing, Lewis Monroe's guides to elocution, the Elson-Runkel readers that first introduced Dick and Jane in 1930-31, and an 1868 primer written in the Mormon phonetic alphabet.

A small companion exhibition in the lobby of the Graduate School of Education (Cubberley) building focuses on other aspects of Richard Venezky’s life and work.

American Primers & Readers Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky , which is free and open to the public, will be on display from September 15 through December 31, 2008. Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For Library hours, call 650-723-0931.

For further information, please contact Becky Fischbach at 650-725-1020 or via e-mail at

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

HOURS: Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931. 

From Monroe’s new fourth reader. Philadelphia:
Cowperthwait & Co., [ca. 1884-85]. For much
of the 19th century, readers stressed oral
performance and elocution. Monroe’s readers
are a prime example and one of the last as
the trend turned toward silent reading

Cover of The Southern primer, or, Child’s first
lessons in spelling and reading. Richmond: Adolphus
Morris, 1860. Relatively few textbooks were published
in the antebellum South, but those that were often
sought to defend its way of life against the attacks
of abolitionists.