George Downing on Philip's Schooling

Prior to the opening of the present century the people of color of New York had established elementary schools and they were merged into public schools. School No. 1 took precedence in point of time and No. 2 in point of rank. In the last mentioned school Mr. White was entered during a term of seven years. What the course of study provided and the text books furnished, that he learned. He said of school work that his lessons were never a task. He memorized all that was required, and always felt that had twice as much been demanded he could have accomplished the same with equal readiness and ease. He never felt the pressure of his work. Neither did he exhibit any precocity of genius. Indeed, he gave no evidence of special quickness, it was not as easy to teach him as it was to teach some others, for the whys and wherefores were always more important to him than the conclusions; processes attracted his attention; in results apart from these he had little interest. A supplementary course in Latin followed in ordinary school course; in this he became quite proficient. Historical reading, ancient and modern, interested him at this time. In after life when talking to school children, he used to draw largely from his store of classical and historical reminiscences. He was delighted to find in more recent text books and Latin courses of study ample provisions for acquaintance with these varieties of literary knowledge.

During the latter part of his school days he had an extension in his training on the teaching of adult classes, and was enabled to fasten in his mind the principles he endeavored to explain. To make what he knew available he had to mentally classify and arrange miscellaneous collections of facts, and the conscious power exerted in so doing stimulated him to increase the variety, extent and value of his literary acquisitions. These accumulated facts furnish material for thought, and in the effort of trying to think the mind began to expand, and with growth that is natural and normal, there is always proportion, harmony, and strength over and beyond the teaching. Another influence aided in giving freedom and direction to his intellectual development; a powerful factor in education often underrated. It was the peculiar environment of the home life that contributed largely in making Philip A. White the rounded man he afterward became. The youth, fell, unconsciously, into the habit of reading, of thinking, of talking about what he read. In compliance with his mother’s wish, after leaving school, Mr. White was placed under Mr. Patrick H. Reason to learn engraving. A three months’ probation satisfied parent and master that the apprentice had not the slightest aptitude for work. Then the youth’s own plan was discussed. At the expiration of a year it was arranged that he should study pharmacy under the famous McCune Smith. Then his life work began in earnest.

“After the first year of apprenticeship Philip A. White was advanced to the real control of Dr. Smith’s, the doctor from absorbing and arduous duties of his profession being absent the greater part of the time. The duties of a clerk under such circumstances were numerous, exacting and varying; his reading became limited to the “Dispensitory” and similar technical books; his practice included the various form of work nowadays distributed among a set of employees, from porter at one end to first clerk at the other. This was, however, of no little advantage to the ambitious young clerk; he had to face emergencies, to assume responsibilities, and to take risks without instructions; the stock had to be kept up, prescriptions compounded, while the trade over the counter was incessant in its transactions. Many preparations that to-day may be purchased at that time were home made, and the treatment of minor ailments came legitimately within the sphere of the duties of a druggist. All this made Mr. White more self-reliant than he could have possibly become in the same time in a larger store, with more clerks and an apparent increase in facilities. Here he formed his habits of application, of industry, and his perseverance and steadiness were developed and strengthened.”

From: “Downing’s Eulogy: Meeting in Memory of Philip White.” Brooklyn Citizen, March 27, 1891