A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 01, 2013
School of Hard Knocks (University of Hard Knocks)

The “school of hard knocks” (also the “college of hard knocks” and the “university of hard knocks") means something that is learned from adversity, rather than formal instruction at an educational institution. Reverend Dr. Thomas De Witt Talmage (1832-1902), who gave nationally popular sermons at Philadelphia’s Second Reformed Dutch Church and (from 1869) at Brooklyn’s Central Presbyterian Church, gave this 1868 sermon at Philadelphia’s Music Fund Hall:

“We all graduate at the college of hard knocks. Misfortune, fatigue, disaster are the professors; kicks, cuffs and blows are the curriculum. The day we leave the world, is our graduation. Some sit down and cry. Some turn their face to the wall and pout, others stand up and conquer.”

Talmage made “hard knocks” his catch phrase, using the term in many sermons. The term “school of hard knocks” has been cited in print since at least 1870 and “university of hard knocks” since at least 1878.

A term similar to the “school of hard knocks” is the “university of life.”


Wikipedia: School of Hard Knocks
The School of Hard Knocks or University of Hard Knocks is an idiomatic phrase meaning the (sometimes painful) education one gets from life’s usually negative experiences, often contrasted with formal education. The term is frequently misattributed to George Ade, but was actually coined by Elbert Hubbard in a piece he wrote on himself for Cosmopolitan in 1902. The term was re-popularized by the song “It’s the Hard Knock Life” from the 1977 musical adaptation of Annie, which chronicles the life of poor, uneducated orphans. The song was also later popularly sampled in the 1998 song “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” by Jay-Z.

It is a phrase which is most typically used by a person to claim a level of wisdom imparted by life experience, which should be considered at least equal in merit to academic knowledge.
(The Wiktionary gives an 1870 date for this phrase—ed.)

Wikipedia: Thomas De Witt Talmage
Reverend Dr. Thomas De Witt Talmage (7 January 1832 – 12 April 1902) was a preacher, clergyman and divine in the United States who held pastorates in the Reformed Church in America and Presbyterian Church. He was one of the most prominent religious leaders in the United States during the mid- to late-19th century, equaled as a pulpit orator perhaps only by Henry Ward Beecher. He also preached to crowds in England. During the 1860s and 70s, Talmage was a well-known reformer in New York City and was often involved in crusades against vice and crime.

During the last years of his life, Dr. Talmage ceased preaching and devoted himself to editing, writing, and lecturing. At different periods he was editor of the Christian at Work (1873–76), New York; the Advance (1877–79), Chicago; Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine (1879–89), New York; and the Christian Herald (1890–1902), New York. For years his sermons were published regularly in more than 3,000 journals, through which he was said to reach 25,000,000 readers.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
school, n.
colloq. (orig. U.S.). the school of (the) hard knocks: the experience of a life of hardship regarded as a means of instruction.
1870 Men who Advertise 161 Trained, however, in the school of hard knocks, he now had learned the theory of success.
1912 G. Ade Knocking Neighbors 24 They had been brought up in the School of Hard Knocks.

19 September 1868, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 2, col. 4:
THE TEACHER’S INSTITUTE—LECTURE BY T. DE WIIT TALMAGE—“THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THINGS.”—Last evening the Musical Fund Hall was filled by a large and fashionable audience, composed mostly of ladies, to listen to the address by the Rev. T. De Witt Talmage, on “The Bright Side of Things.”
(...)
We all graduate at the college of hard knocks. Misfortune, fatigue, disaster are the professors; kicks, cuffs and blows are the curriculum. The day we leave the world, is our graduation. Some sit down and cry. Some turn their face to the wall and pout, others stand up and conquer.

Google Books
The Men Who Advertise:
An Account of Successful Advertisers, Together with Hints on the Method of Advertising

New York, NY: Nelson Chesman, Publisher for Geo. P. Rowell & Co.
1870
Pg. 161:
Trained, however, in the school of hard knocks, he now had learned the theory of success, and from that time on has had it.

9 June 1877, The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), pg. 5, col. 1:
Rev. Mr. Talmage says “Wisdom comes by hard knocks.” The reverend expounder would have the world believe that he has been hit by a dead ball in a match game.

11 December 1877, Lowell (MA) Daily Citizen, pg. 1, col. 6:
The School of Hard Knocks.
A great deal of useless sympathy is in this day expended on those who start in life without social or monetary help.

(AMERICAN PERIODICAL SERIES)
THE UNIVERSITY OF HARD KNOCKS.
Advocate of Peace (1847-1906). Washington: Nov/Dec 1878. Vol. 9, Iss. 5; p. 2 (1 page)

29 March 1880, Indianapolis (IN) Daily Sentinel, “Wisdom from Talmage,” pg. 2, col. 1:
A man must graduate in hard knocks before getting his final diploma.
(Rev. T. De Witt Talmage, speaking at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—ed.)

15 November 1881, Boston (MA) Herald, “Talmage in the Temple,” pg. 4, col. 2:
We may not all be able to graduate at Yale or at Harvard, but we can graduate at the college of hard knocks.
(Rev. T. De Witt Talmage, speaking at the Tremont Tabernacle—ed.)

11 March 1884, The Evening Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), “Talmage at the Capital,” pg. 1, col. 3:
We are graduates from the school—the school of hard knocks.
(Rev. T. De Witt Talmage, speaking in Des Moines—ed.)

Chronicling America
19 November 1885, Daily Yellowstone Journal (Miles City, MT), pg. 4, col. 2:
Mighty Men of One Occupation.
(Dr. Talmage’s sermon.)
(...)
They go from disappointment to disappointment until they graduate at the university of hard knocks.

Chronicling America
10 November 1886, Staunton (VA) Spectator, pg. 1, col. 4:
“The School of Hard knocks.”
THERE IS NO WAR BETWEEN RELIGION AND BUSINESS.
THE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS LIFE.
(The sermon, by Rev. De Witt Talmage of Brooklyn Tabernacle, does not specifically mention the title phrase—ed.)

Google Books
A Golden Inheritance
By Reese Rockwell
New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt
1887 (The copyright date is 1884—ed.)
Pg. 61:
“After you have been disciplined for a time in the school of hard knocks you will round out most gracefully.”
“Is the school of hard knocks a necessary course?”
“To most natures it is. There are some exquisitely fine ones which do not seem to require such rough tutelage, but as a general thing the storms of life are indispensable to the fruitfulness of the human heart.”

May 1887, Godey’s Lady’s Book, “Belle Fraser’s Girlhood: Going for a drive, Miss Minnette” by Hollis Freeman, pg. 456:
“Ah, yes, but I have received my outside coating of wisdom by graduating in the college of hard knocks. There’s nothing like that to take the gilt off your best peep-show.”

Google News Archive
28 February 1890, The Weekly Herald (Baltimore, MD), ‘Talmage on Grady: Speaking on the Career of the Great Editor,” pg. 4, col. 5:
What other boys got out of Yale or Harvard you got in the University of Hard Knocks.
(Rev. T, De Witt Talmage, speaking at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—ed.)

Chronicling America
7 December 1891, St. Paul (MN) Daily Globe, pg. 8, col. 3:
The School of Hard Knocks
Was where Andrew Carnegie gained his start; forty years ago a poor Scotch boy—today, prince of manufacturers, author and philanthropist. It is from his own experience that he is to write for The Youth’s Companion on “Habits of Thrift.”

Google Books
Wheelbarrow on the Labor Question
By M. M. Trumbull
Chicago, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company
1895
Pg. 66:
I had no time to study books, and the principles of life that I learned, such as they were, I had to gather in the college of hard knocks.

July 1899, Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation, “Kennel: Dogs of To-day: The Airdale Terrier,” pg. 415:
The colliers were a rough, hardy set, ready for anything, and their favorite dogs were bright disciples of the school of hard knocks.

OCLC WorldCat record
The university of hard knocks and its courses in efficiency, concentration and man building; baccalaureate address delivered at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Va., June 11, 1918,
Author: Clarence Hodson
Publisher: Richmond, Va., Whittet & Shepperson, printers, 1918.
Edition/Format: Book : English

Google Books
December 1919, Munsey’s Magazine, “Wall Street’s New Leaders” by Wilbur Wamsley, pg. 412:
The new captains of finance have come to the front by various paths, by devious highways and byways, most of them via the University of Hard Knocks; but they have arrived, and their feet are firmly planted.

OCLC WorldCat record
The prospectus of life in the University of Hard Knocks : containing announcements, pronouncements, colleges, courses of study, teachers, honors, illustrious graduates
Author: Thomas Parker Boyd
Publisher: San Francisco, Calif. : T.P. Boyd, ©1920.
Series: Good medicine books, no. 3.
Edition/Format: Book : Biography : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Tuesday, January 01, 2013 • Permalink