Lowell High School 1831

Lowell High School has a long history which is the subject of many documents and pages of historical books. One of the members of the first class of LHS was the future General and Governor, Benjamin Butler. Butler is now chiefly remembered as the person who started the outgoing governor’s lonely walk. He was such an unpopular governor, history claims, that no one would walk out of the State House with him on his last day, so he had to walk out by himself, starting a tradition that is carried forward by every governor since Benjamin Butler. So wrote someone in the Boston papers a few years ago.

In his younger days, the abject governor-to-be, was a member of the first class of Lowell High School. At that time the high school was on Middlesex Street. Here is what the most famous member of that class had to say in his autobiography:

“There were eight of us in that first class, the classification being made according to apparent advancement in scholarship (the academic standiing of each member was catalogued and listed). The one alphabetically at the head, whose education went no farther than in that one school, became afterwards a Boston man of high standing, and later still, a merchant in the State of Vermont. Another (who was) fitted for college in the class, became a graduate of Dartmouth, and died young, standing very high in his profession as a surgeon. Another, whose education was ended there, became a civil engineer of the very highest standing, founded the manufacturing city of Manchester, New Hampshire and was, for several years, Governor of the State (of New Hampshire). …Another, going from this class to medical school, fitted himself for his profession, as surgeon, and before his untimely death became one of the most successful and best known surgeons of the country. Two others became reputable and somewhat distinguished citizens. The remaining one is the writer.”

He offered up the comment that “This is, indeed, a glorious record of the first class of Lowell High School, and one to spur the alumni of later classes to emulation of its splendid career.” [Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.’ publisher is not listed}

The high school antedates the incorporation of Lowell as a city. That happened in 1836. The school was started in 1831 with first principal Thomas M. Clark, “now Bishop of Rhode Island” as its first Principal (not Headmaster, which was interesting. Mr. Clark, who was a young man, served as Principal for two years, afterwhich he left for Divinity School. His assistant, a Mr. Clapp, became the editor of the Charlestown ‘Mercury.’

There is, included, a picture of the high school at its inception. The building is still used today, and is considered the best built building in the high school, by many. The school distributed three and four year diplomas, and the classes were expected to go on to college in many cases.

It was the feeling of the early citizens that a public education was as important an acheivement that you could get in life. In fact, a public education was something that the School Committee wanted for everyone in Lowell, including those miscreant Catholics. On this issue, the author of the Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass. says “The best of feeling exists, however, as all recognize that the Catholics are doing a noble work in striving for the highest educational standards. The regret of school authorities is due to the fact that they consider the public school system the one means to break down all barriers of race or religious prejudice and place all on a footing of equality by (through) the force of early association.” {ibid}

What does that say about Lowell? It proves that Lowell, even in its earliest years, was dedicated to the concept of equality and fairness, as well as the offering of a top education to all citizens of the city, regardless of their background or religion, or race, for that matter. It literally offers the educational system to all members of the educational body. This included adults who were later learners. Lowell was one of the first school systems to father adult learning for the population as a way of taking up some of the slack in mill hours worked during the early 1860’s. That, of course, was during the Civil War.


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