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Biography: John Mitchell Birch

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Linsly Headmaster and City Superintendent of Schools.

July 7, 1851 - May 13, 1911

-From the "Wheeling High School Record," 1911 Commencement Edition. Written by John E. Day.

Professor John M. Birch, Wheeling High School Record Photo, 1911The death of the Hon. John Mitchell Birch on Saturday, May 13, was a profound shock to this community in which he had lived so long and well; and, outside of his intimate personal friends, his loss is most keenly felt in educational circles. While his name is imperishably connected with the Linsly Institute, his work as City Superintendent of Schools has left an indelible impress on the educational system of Wheeling. It is true the High School was not established during his service as superintendent, yet he was one of the warmest advocates of the project, and it is not too much to say that the installation of the graded system in the public schools through his initiative paved the way for the present excellent High School, which has secured for the youth of Wheeling the opportunity for higher education. He was a born educator, his temperament and talents admirably fitting him for this exalted profession. Superior executive and teaching capacity are seldom combined in one man, but both shone resplendent throughout Professor Birch's career.

We little know what fruitful seeds we are planting in our lives, seeds that ripen in the better womanhood and manhood of citizenship. These things were accomplished by Professor Birch through his administration as principal of the Linsly Institute. Men rise to distinction and eminence in the professions and the various activities of life, but when they pass away they are soon forgotten. It is the influences we leave behind us that make most for memory after death, and it was the impress that Professor Birch made upon the students of Linsly Institute that has raised up for him a commemorative tablet more enduring than marble or bronze. How true it is, "by their works shall ye know them," and what greater accomplishment is there than developing, guiding and training the boy for a useful life and Christian citizenship? The boys of yesterday are the men of today found in the successful merchants, in the professions and various callings. They and their children's children will be the perpetuation of the honor so seldom secured to the prophet in his own country. Above all things he promoted the cultivation of the morals as well as the mind.

One of the clear, outshining elements of Professor Birch's character was his innate modesty, a rare virtue, indeed. No one could have been associated with Professor Birch, intimately or casually, without being impressed with his gentleness, his delicate consideration for others and his charm of manner. He was the distinct exemplification that is not so much what we do for ourselves but for others that counts best in the final reckoning.

He was a great lover of fairness and justice, strong in his convictions and steadfast in his friendships. Professor Birch won distinction in the diplomatic service of the United States, as consul at Nagasaki, Japan. It was during his residence in Japan he was selected by Portugal to represent that government in a controversy with Japan, involving some delicate diplomatic points. His successful conduct of the Portuguese contentions were officially acknowledged by that government in bestowing upon him a certificate of membership in one of the high orders of that country. But these honors are not comparable with his achievements as an educator. The teacher and instructor will live in memory and influence when the diplomat has long been forgotten. It was our gain that he lived with us, and it is comforting to reflect that the grave has not ended all for him.

Professor Birch died May 13, 1911. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery.

Additional Resources

West Virginia Division of Culture and History Vital Research Records (
▶ Death certificate: May 13, 1911

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