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Washington McCartney (1812 – 1856), was a uniquely gifted professor at Lafayette College.15  He was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and orphaned at an early age.16  A prodigious scholar, he graduated as the valedictorian of his college class of 1834 at Jefferson College (in Cannonsburg, western Pennsylvania, later known as Washington College).  He delivered his valedictory address in English, but also translated it into French, Latin, Greek and ancient Hebrew.17  He then became a professor of mathematics at Lafayette College in Easton for a year;  returned to Jefferson to teach mathematics and modern languages for a year;  and then came back to Lafayette College for much of the remainder of his career (aside from a couple of intervening temporary resignations for various reasons).18  McCartney’s Differential Calculus was “for many years . . . the text-book on that subject used in our best colleges.”19  

Washington McCartney20

Professor McCartney’s devotion to learning became a hallmark of his teaching style.  “He was one of those positive teachers, of rugged personality.”  Dressed in a “blue coat with brass buttons[, w]ith his hands clasped behind his back he slowly paced the [class]room while the questions came thick and fast”.  When he first started teaching, he had no blackboards on the walls, but only three trestle tables topped by slabs of slate donated by one of the first Pennsylvania slate quarries.  To present their problem solutions to the class, students would chisel inch-square cubes of chalk from a “huge piece of rock standing in the room”, and then chalk their answers on the table slates.  In

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