Jyväskylä University Museum
Uno Cygnaeus was born in Hämeenlinna, October 12, 1810. His
father, treasurer of the province of Häme, died when Uno was
only eight years old. Uno passed his matriculation examination in
1827. He started his university studies in Turku, but moved to
Helsinki after the Turku Academy had been destroyed in a
As a Young Theologian in Alaska
Cygnaeus took his Master's Degree in 1836, majoring in natural
sciences. He supplemented his studies with theology and was
ordained as a priest in 1837. For a couple of years he served as a
minister in Viipuri, after which he was appointed to Alaska as the
first pastor of the Sitka Lutheran congregation.
Cygnaeus sailed to
Sitka together with the
new Finnish-born Governor Arvid Adolf Etholén. The voyage
took them eight months. Cygnaeus worked in Sitka until 1845, when he
returned to St. Petersburg.
As Vicar in St. Petersburg
his return from Alaska, Cygnaeus served as an assistant clergyman
in the Swedish parish of St. Catherine in St. Petersburg for
a while. In 1847, he was transferred to the post of director at the
parochial school of St. Mary in St. Petersburg. During his stay in
St. Petersburg, Cygnaeus gained insight into educational issues and
studied the latest pedagogic literature. Based on his experience,
he drafted a proposal for the organization of popular education
in Finland. His views also reflect the influence of the years
spent in Alaska, where he had witnessed, for example, the profound
impact of education on the lives of women.
"The Father of Finnish Elementary School"
Cygnaeus was commissioned to draw up a plan for the Finnish
elementary school system. He prepared for the task by studying the
educational program and conditions at schools on a tour around
Finland. He also made a study trip via Sweden and Denmark to the
German States and to Switzerland. The kindergartens in Hamburg
awakened his interest in "work education through play".
However, above all he was impressed by the Swiss school system. In
his travel account Cygnaeus emphasized the idea of "promoting
work through work", and pointed out that apart from receiving
instruction in theoretical subjects, a person also needs training in
handicrafts. It was largely owing to this report that Cygnaeus was
appointed as Chief Inspector of elementary schools in
1861. Finland was the first country where handicrafts were
attached in the curriculum
of general education.
In his plan for the Finnish elementary school system, Cygnaeus proposed
that the Teacher Seminary should be situated in the vicinity
of Jyväskylä. The first Finnish-language secondary
schools, i.e. the Jyväskylä Lyceum and the
Jyväskylä Girls' School, were already situated in the
area. This seminary would have separate departments for men
and women alike. The type of elementary school Cygnaeus suggested
implied that class distinctions within society would diminish,
because children from all social ranks went to the same schools.
Cygnaeus also called special attention to child care and the
education of small children by incorporating a crèche into
Jyväskylä University Museum
|The Jyväskylä Teacher
Seminary is Founded
Cygnaeus's plans were implemented in the Elementary Schools Statute of
1863. A Teacher Seminary was founded in Jyväskylä, comprising separate departments for both male and female students. In addition to the duties pertaining to his actual office, Cygnaeus acted as its first director up until 1869. Between 1870 and 1887, he was a member of the Central Schools Board. Uno Cygnaeus died in 1888.