More than a quarter century ago Walter Eugene Ranger achieved the unique distinction of being the first chief educational officer to be drafted directly from service in another State; he came to Rhode Island in 1905 to be Commissioner of Education after five years as State Superintendent of Education in Vermont. He was born at Wilton, Maine, November 22, 1855, son of Peter and Eliza Minot (Smith) Ranger. His descent on both sides was from families settled in New England during the colonial period. He was educated in the schools of his native town, and at Wilton Academy, and was graduated from Bates College in 1879 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He had already begun his career as an educator, having taught several terms while a college student. Upon graduation he continued, first in the field of secondary education, as principal of Nichols Latin School at Lewiston, Maine, 1879-80; principal of the high school at Lenox, Massachusetts, 1880-83; and principal of Lyndon Institute, at Lyndon, Vermont, 1883-96. In seventeen years he had been a high school or academy principal in three New England states. In the instance of Lyndon Institute, the enrollment of students increased from fifty-three to two hundred and forty during the Ranger administration, and the academy achieved a reputation that was not limited to Vermont. His next service in education was as principal of the State Normal School at Johnson, Vermont, 1896-1900. He was elected by the Legislature of Vermont to be State Superintendent of Education in 1900, continuing by annual election until, in 1905, he accepted election by the Rhode Island State Board of Education as Commissioner of Education. In this connection it is interesting to note that Rhode Island in 1845 selected Henry Barnard, a native and citizen of Connecticut, as the first Commissioner of Public Schools, and that Rhode Island was the first State to follow the precedent by inviting Walter Eugene Ranger from Vermont. Since 1900 other States have sought chief educational officers beyond their borders. In the twenty-seventh year of service in Rhode Island Dr. Ranger is nearing the long record of his predecessor, who held the office thirty years. In combined service of thirty-two years in Vermont and Rhode Island, Dr. Ranger’s career is unique.
In Vermont as chief educational officer he achieved signal success in the promotion of public education through his leadership in obtaining favoring legislation. In Rhode Island, after a year devoted to the study of Rhode Island public schools, Dr. Ranger announced an educational program capitalizing improvements to be attained through progressive legislation. In his years in Rhode Island he has seen the program of 1906 completed both in principle and in detail, and has had the opportunity to achieve additional forward measures. The limits of a brief biographical sketch preclude mention of all the measures for education which Dr. Ranger has promoted to the goal of achievement, but the following should not be omitted: Medical inspection and health education as one of the most important elements of the curriculum; patriotic education through exercises in the public schools and publication of patriotic literature in pamphlet editions reaching 100,000 copies; consistent improvement in the training of teachers, and recognition of professional attainment through higher types of certification and better salaries; tenure for teachers, and a statewide, universal teachers’ pension, the most generous in America, because it is supported exclusively from the general treasury; an extension of adult education through evening schools and public libraries, besides the recent promotion of Americanization classes intended to reduce illiteracy; a mandatory high school law, insuring the advantages of secondary education throughout the State; a complete reorganization of school finance and administration in all departments; increase in appropriations from the general treasury for distribution to towns for the support of public schools. Among other accomplishments to which Dr. Ranger has given unstinted service personally and by reason of his office have been the development of Rhode Island State College, the reorganization of Rhode Island Normal School as Rhode Island College of Education, the extension of opportunities for collegiate education on State scholarships at Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University and Rhode Island College of Pharmacy, the expansion of public library service and the supplementary activity of traveling libraries. To these major enterprises should be added cheerful cooperation in promoting welfare and educational enterprises of all sorts; in spite of the demands upon his time made because of a constantly broadening official responsibility, Dr. Ranger never has failed to respond to a call for assistance.
Honors have followed recognition of unusual attainment. Bates College recalled Dr. Ranger twice, to confer upon him in 1883 the honorary degree of Master of Arts, and in 1907 the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. The University of Vermont granted the degree of Master of Arts in 1902, and Rhode Island State College, that of Doctor of Education in 1922. The teachers of Rhode Island in 1930 celebrated the completion of a quarter-century of service in Rhode Island by special exercises during their annual meeting, a dinner and a shower of gold coin with a watch chain engraved with the name of every town and city in Rhode Island. He has served as trustee of Bates College and of Lyndon Institute, as president of the board of managers of Rhode Island State College, as trustee of Rhode Island College of Education, and as trustee of Rhode Island School of Design. He has been honored in educational associations, among which he has been the chief officer of: The American Institute of Instruction, the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, and the Barnard Club of Rhode Island. When a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was organized at Bates College, Dr. Ranger was elected as a graduate member, in recognition both of his scholastic attainment as a student and of his achievements after graduation. He is a Congregationalism and member of the Barnard University and Congregational clubs.
Dr. Ranger married Mary M. Showman at Wilton, Maine, in 1879, deceased 1885. He married Mabel C. Bemis at Lyndonville, Vermont, in 1889. Two children of the first marriage, Walter Harland and William Eugene, died in early childhood. Of the second marriage, the children are: Arthur Forest, Ruth Mabel, and Robert Walter.
While Dr. Ranger has been affiliated with many fraternal and social organizations, his major activity has been in Freemasonry. His Masonic record is as follows: (1) made Master Mason June 28, 1889, Crescent Lodge, No. 66, Lyndonville, Vermont; (2) made Royal Arch Mason November 7, 1890, Haswell Chapter, No. 11, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; (3) made Royal and Select Master, April 13, 1894, Caledonia Council, No. 13, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; (4) made Knight Templar April 7, 1891, Palestine Commandery, No. 5, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; (5) received the fourteenth degree March 20, 1895, Mizpah Lodge of Perfection, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; (6) demitted to Haswell Lodge of Perfection, Burlington, Vermont, in 1898; (7) received the sixteenth degree June 13, 1898, Joseph W. Roby Council, Princes of Jerusalem, Burlington, Vermont; (8) received the eighteenth degree June 13, 1898, Delta Chapter of Rose Croix, Burlington, Vermont; (9) received the thirty-second degree June 13, 1898, in Vermont Consistory, Burlington, Vermont; (10) created Knight of the Red Cross of Constantine in June, 1905, Burlington, Vermont; (n) received the thirty-third degree, the last of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, September 20, 1904, Boston, Massachusetts; (12) has held the following offices: Senior Deacon, 1890-92; Junior Warden, 1892-94; Senior Warden, 1894-95; Worshipful Master, 1896-97 (all in Crescent Lodge); all principal offices in all the bodies of the Scottish Rite of which he is a member; and was Commander-in-Chief of the Vermont Consistory, thirty-second degree; in Grand Lodge of Vermont, Grand Lecturer, 1900-01; Grand Senior Warden, 1901-03; Deputy Grand Master, 1903-05; Grand Master, 1905-06; in Vermont Council of Deliberation, Grand Prior, 1899; Grand Minister of State, 1900; Second Lieutenant Commander, 1901; First Lieutenant Commander, 1902.
Dr. Ranger, besides his active career in education and in Masonry, has found time for writing and lecturing, and has been a well-known figure at educational conventions and conferences. His colleagues have recognized the wisdom of his counsel, and the judicial attitude with which he approaches the solution of problems. His kindly and genial personality have won him warm friendships among his associates; his active and worthy service in public education the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and of those engaged in education throughout the Nation.