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John Amos Comenius (1592-1670):
John Amos Comenius (Jan Amos Komensky) was born in 1592 in the town of Nivnice in Moravia, a Province of Bohemia now in the Czech Republic. When Comenius was only twelve he was left an orphan when the plague killed his parents. However, his commitment to the Protestant group Unitas Fratrum (a.k.a. Unity of the Brethren or the Moravians) was firmly implanted by this point in his life.
During the Thirty Years' War Emperor Ferdinand II decided to re-Catholicize Bohemia. Unwilling to accept this, Comenius first went into hiding and then fled to Poland. He has been credited with keeping the Moravian Church alive in its darkest hour and was appointed a Bishop of the Moravian Church.
While in Poland he began to plan his return to his homeland. These plans included reforming society and using education as a means to that end. In the pamphlet "Universal Education," Comenius argued that "the whole of the human race may become educated, men of all ages, all conditions, both sexes and all nations." This universal education would require radical reforms in pedagogy and educational institutions. Over the course of his life Comenius worked to develop and implement the reforms.
Today the concept of universal education does not seem novel but to Seventeenth Century Europe this was a new idea. Women were rarely educated and children's education was dismal. In 1658 Comenius developed the first picture book as a teaching device. His most famous work, The Great Didactic, concerns reforming education. As a result of his work many invitations were offered including the presidency of Harvard College, Cardinal Richelieu's invitation to France, an invitation to establish a college in London, and the Swedish government invitation to help reform schools.
Comenius' travels took him around much of Europe but the bitter wars of religion that raged around him meant that he was never able to return to his beloved Bohemia. Eventually, the war forced him to flee to Amsterdam where he remained the rest of his life, dying in 1670. Comenius' vision has always been respected, and he is considered the father of modern education.
Comenius Hall was built in 1892 when Moravian College moved to the North Main Street campus. Designed to house the dorms, classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and gym of the college, this large gothic building was a landmark. Sadly, a fire on Halloween night in 1913 gutted the top three floors. The 1914 remodeling replaced the dorms, gym and cafeteria with more classrooms and offices. Today Comenius Hall houses classrooms, faculty offices, the office of The Division of Continuing Studies and Borhek Chapel. In front of the building stands a statue of Comenius that was a gift to the College from Charles University of Prague and the Moravian Church of Czechoslovakia.