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Famous Homeschoolers of Arizona

Some grew up in Arizona, others moved here later in life, and a few were just passing through. They all left their mark on our state. Each of them was homeschooled or self-educated!

Kit Carson

Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson (1809-1868) was a frontiersman, soldier, trapper, and one of the most dependable guides in the early West. Carson never went to school, and it wasn’t until later in life that he learned to read and write. At age 16, he joined a wagon train heading to New Mexico. Once out West, Kit remained there. He became fluent in several Indian languages, as well as Spanish and even French. In the Spring of 1829, Carson went on his first official expedition as a trapper. His party journeyed deep into unexplored Apache country along the Gila River. They continued across Arizona, went up the Colorado River, and crossed the Mojave Desert into California. Theirs was the first American trapping expedition to reach the Pacific Coast from New Mexico. Read more about Kit Carson at

John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) was born with a keen interest in science and nature. Beginning in early childhood, he studied botany, zoology and geology without the aid of a teacher. As a youth, he went on many collecting and exploring trips throughout the Midwest. After serving in the Civil War, Powell became a museum curator and lecturer on natural history. In 1869, Powell embarked on his first voyage down the Colorado River to explore the Grand Canyon. Powell surveyed and mapped the region while naming many of its features.

John Muir

John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Scotland but grew up in the backwoods of Wisconsin. From the age of 11 to 21 he worked on his father’s farm, where he developed a love for nature and animals. Muir received no formal schooling during this time but taught himself math, geometry, literature and philosophy. He became especially interested in poetry and botany. In 1905-1906, while living in Adamana, Arizona, Muir explored the Petrified Forest region and discovered the “Blue Forest” of petrified wood. He wrote a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt asking him to protect it. Muir is also given credit for helping to save the Grand Canyon.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was schooled at home as a child in New York. His parents offered him a wide choice of reading material and did not force him to study any particular books. Roosevelt also traveled extensively with his family. During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was lieutenant colonel of the Rough Rider Regiment that contained about 200 men from Arizona including Bucky O’Neill, former mayor of Prescott. Between 1901 and 1919, President Roosevelt worked to preserve more than 170 million acres as national parks and monuments. Roosevelt’s legacy includes the Grand Canyon National Monument, Montezuma Castle, Petrified Forest National Monument, Roosevelt Dam, Tonto National Monument, and Tumacacori National Monument. Read more about Theodore Roosevelt at

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was born in Wisconsin. Wright’s mother took an active interest in his education and began home schooling him at the kindergarten level. Although Wright never attended architecture school, he eventually became America’s most famous architect. In 1939, he built Taliesin West in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains northeast of Scottsdale, Arizona. Wright lived and worked there during the winter months for the next twenty years. He designed about a dozen homes and buildings in the metro Phoenix area. Read more about Frank Lloyd Wright at

Sharlot Hall

Sharlot Hall (1870-1943) was largely self-educated and highly literate. Although Sharlot attended a few terms in a log-and-adobe schoolhouse near her family’s Lynx Creek homestead and boarded in Prescott for one year of school in town, most of her learning took place on the ranch. In addition to being a poet and newspaper reporter, Hall was appointed Territorial Historian, the first woman to hold a public office in Arizona.

Henry Fountain Ashurst

Henry Fountain Ashurst (1874-1962), one of Arizona’s first two United States senators, was born into a pioneer ranching family. Ashurst briefly attended public school in Flagstaff, but most of his education was obtained from ranch hands of various backgrounds. His learning was enhanced by reading the classics. Ashurst was well known as a gifted and colorful orator who loved to quote Shakespeare. George F. Sparks, the editor of Ashurst’s diary, explained: “His real teachers were the centuries of eloquence, the classical writers whom he never tired of reading…. From them he acquired the long view across the sea of politics, and the loving command of rich language that flowed through a lifetime of oratory.” Read more about Henry Ashurst at

Did You Know…? Ashurst Cabin, now located at Pioneer Living History Village, was the childhood home of Henry Fountain Ashurst in 1878.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was home schooled as a child by his father and aunt. The boy’s studies included the English classics, Greek, algebra, and field trips to the ocean, dunes, and rocky beaches around his home near San Francisco. When Adams was twelve, he taught himself to play the piano and read music. One year, his daily visits to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition provided a rich source of informal learning about the world. Adams was also self-taught in photography, a medium that he made into an art form. Adams traveled extensively around the Western United States including Arizona, where he photographed such places as the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Saguaro National Monument, San Xavier Del Bac, and Hoover Dam. In 1975, Adams co-founded the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Read more about Ansel Adams at

Sandra Day O’Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor was born in 1930 to a ranching family. The isolated location of their cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona, made formal education difficult. At first, O’Connor was taught at home by her mother. She read profusely, went on long nature walks, and learned valuable lessons from everyday life. Then she was sent to a private school for girls in El Paso, Texas, where she received the majority of her education. O’Connor later acknowledged, however, that she would have rather spent her days “reading and riding” on the ranch. O’Connor began her career in Arizona state government. In 1981 she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more about Sandra Day O’Connor at

Pat McMahon

Pat McMahon grew up in a show-business family and was home schooled on the road using curriculum from The Calvert School. McMahon starred in the The Wallace And Ladmo Show, which aired on KPHO-TV from 1954 to 1989. He played a variety of characters, most notably Gerald, the spoiled rich kid. The one-hour show was on five days a week for a record-setting 35 years, the longest running locally produced children’s television show in history. Three generations of Arizona kids grew up with Wallace and Ladmo. Among the show’s fans were Steven Spielberg and Alice Cooper. The Wallace and Ladmo Show is such an important part of Phoenix history that the Arizona Historical Society Museum created a “Wallace, Ladmo and Company” exhibit.

Teri Ann Berg Olsen, home educator and author of Learning for Life: Educational Words of Wisdom, has lived in Arizona since 1976. She is researching Arizona’s home school history for her next book.


If you were involved in the homeschooling movement in Arizona during the 1980’s or earlier and would like to share your story, please e-mail. We are also looking for information about your homeschooling ancestors, and historical photographs related to homeschooling in Arizona. This is for a book on the history of homeschooling in Arizona.

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