Famous Homeschooler List – Because Sometimes it’s Nice to Know About Others

I wrote this famous homeschooler list over a decade ago. I was reminded of it recently while talking to a young homeschooler about General Patton. Patton was homeschooled and his father read military history to him until he was ready to read at age 12. I’ve always thought that was an inspirational story for all the young children who don’t learn to read at age 5 or 6, and of course their parents!

General Patton, photo by mbtrama

Homeschooling is not new, and the names of famous people who have been homeschooled can be found throughout history. While that does not mean that all homeschoolers grow up brilliant and famous, it does appear that homeschooling certainly doesn’t hold people back. For some very creative famous homeschoolers, it probably made a difference in what they were able to accomplish, and the same is often true for today’s homeschooled children.

Some well known people were educated at home because they had learning problems when they were young. For those homeschoolers who are struggling with math or reading, it might be a comfort to see that some exceptionally capable people also struggled when they were young. Other famous people were discipline problems in school and couldn’t adapt to the one-way-fits-all method of mass instruction, just as some children today can’t.  At home, they thrived.

Others appeared so gifted at an early age that they were not sent to school, so that they could learn at their own accelerated pace. Others, for a variety of reasons, were either self-taught or were given a great deal of freedom to learn what they wanted. We might consider them autodidacts or perhaps unschoolers today, and for those who are taking that direction in their homeschooling, it’s interesting to see that some very accomplished people have thrived in an environment where they determined their own education.

Some famous homeschoolers were completely educated at home, and others also attended schools for part of their childhood, the same as today’s homeschoolers. Some had tutors, just as some parents today find mentors to help their children in certain subjects. At times, the parents of these famous homeschoolers broke with custom and tradition to give their children the education they knew they needed.  Parents who choose to homeschool are doing the very same thing today.

The following is a partial list of some well-known people who received all or part of their education at home:

Abigail Adams, First Lady and also Mother of a Homeschooled President.  She learned at home at a time when girls typically did not receive an education. “I regret the trifling narrow contracted education of the females of my own country.”

John Quincy Adams, 6thPresident. He was educated at home by his mother.

Ansel Adams, Photographer  and Conservationist. He was home educated after age 12 because he couldn’t sit still in school and got in trouble there.

Susan B. Anthony, Women’s Rights Activist. She was taught by her father until she was sent away to school at age 16.

Clara Barton, Founder of Red Cross. She was educated at home until age 15.

Alexander Graham Bell, Inventor of Telephone. He was taught at home until he was 10.

Pearl Buck, Author, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1938 (Literature). The child of missionaries in China, she was primarily taught at home by her mother and a Chinese tutor.

Agatha Christie, Author. She was educated at home. “I . . . had a very happy childhood with practically no lessons and lots of time to roam about the garden and imagine things. It was my mother who told me to write. She was a woman of great charm and great character, and was always convinced that her children could do anything!”

Winston Churchill. British Leader, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1953 (Literature). He began school at 12, did poorly, and continued learning after he left school.

Pierre Curie. Physicist, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1903 (Physics). He was educated at home until he attended the Faculty of Sciences.

Thomas Edison. Inventor of Light Bulb. He began school at 7, but his teacher thought he was dull and couldn’t learn, and complained that he asked too many questions.  He also didn’t like math. His mother brought him home to learn.

Benjamin Franklin. Inventor and Statesman. His formal education ended early. He was primarily self-educated, and never stopped learning. He taught himself advanced math, navigation, history, science, grammar, and five other languages, along with reading everything he could. “The doors to wisdom are never shut.”

George Gershwin. Composer. He didn’t like school and was a discipline problem. At age 15, he dropped out of high school to begin working as a pianist.

William Henry Harrison. 9th President. His early education was at home. He attended college, but didn’t graduate.

Patrick Henry. Lawyer, Patriot, and Orator. He was educated at home by his father, and self-taught in law.

Florence Nightingale. Nursing Pioneer. She received a classical education from her father.

James Joule. Physicist. He was educated by his parents until they sent him to Cambridge at age 16.

C.S. Lewis. Author. He was educated by his mother until she died, when he was 10.

Abraham Lincoln. 16th President. Although Lincoln occasionally attended school, it totaled less than a year, and he was primarily self-taught.

James Madison. 4th President. His fundamental instruction was at home, followed by prep school, then college, where he received a classical education.

Margaret Mead. Anthropologist. Although she did attend some schools, her family traveled so often that she was sometimes homeschooled by her grandmother. “My grandmother wanted me to have an education so she kept me out of school.”

Felix Mendelssohn. Composer and Musician. His education was supervised by his parents, with private teachers employed for science and arts.

Wolfgang Mozart. Composer and Musician. He was taught at home by his father, and also performed and traveled, starting at a young age.

John Muir. Naturalist. He left school at age 11 to help his family, and continued learning by reading.

Albert Jay Nock. Philosopher. He was primarily self-educated, with instruction in Latin and Greek from his father, then attended a prep school before college.

Blaise Pascal. Mathematician. He showed exceptional ability as a child, and his father directed his home education.

George S. Patton, Jr. WWI General. Patton was a late reader. He was home educated, with his father reading to him extensively, until he learned to read on his own at age 12.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President. He was educated at home until he left for a private school to prepare him for public service.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1906 (Peace). He was a sick child, and was tutored until college.

Erwin Schrödinger, Physicist, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1933 (Physics). He was taught at home by his parents and tutors until he was 11.

Herbert Spencer, Philosopher. He was taught informally by his father, a teacher.

Fred Terman, President of Stanford, Engineer, Chemist, “Father of Silicon Valley”. His father taught him through grade school, where he learned at an accelerated pace.

Phyllis Wheatley, Poet. Kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery at age 7, she was a quick learner, and the family that bought her educated her with their children at home.

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President, Awarded Nobel Prize in 1919 (Peace). He was dyslexic, and did not learn to read until he was 10. His father taught him at home until he was 13.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect. His academic instruction came from his aunts and his mother at home.

Orville and Wilbur Wright, Inventors of the First Successful Airplane. While both brothers attended schools, formal schooling was sometimes interrupted by their other interests.  Orville spent what would have been his last year of high school studying special subjects. “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.” — Orville Wright

Andrew Wyeth, Artist. He was home educated after 3rd grade. “I cherished the time alone because it made me utilize every moment.”

Although not included on this list, many of the constitutional convention delegates – the original leaders of our country – were also homeschooled. One can only imagine who might be on famous homeschooler lists of the future.  We do know that homeschooled children can dream as big as they want to!

Originally published in “The California Homeschool Guide” in 2001.

Karen Taylor’s always homeschooled son attended a local community college after graduating from homeschooling. He transferred to UC Berkeley as a junior, and received a PhD in neuroscience from UCSF.  She shares homeschooling comments and links on Facebook, Pinterest, and this blog.