Monthly Archives: Agost 2015

Educational Happenings 1862

By the year, 1862, there were 47 primary schools, most were one room schoolhouses. There was 1 junior high school which was considered intermediate and was not well liked, 8 grammar schools, and 1 High School in Lowell. The programs, which were altered somewhat to appease those in the Civil War, included vocational training. Grading was discussed in a previous writing, it was very successful and kept the need for corporal punishment down from a high of ten incidents per day to a low of one punishment per day.

The role of the Principal changed markedly. The Principal no longer sat in one large school room with hundreds of students but in an office where his influence « …is more felt through all (of) the building under the plan of smaller rooms. » He was the chief authority figure in the school, and people liked the change, which also was instituted in 1862. It was a big year for change in the school system.

The « Intermediate School » was broken up and « absorbed into the various departments of the Grammar School… » There was « great disappointment » in the intermediate school. It was thrown out of « …the sphere of instruction… » (School Committee Minutes, 1862). There was an effort to try city-wide grading. One course was in Spelling, one in Reading, and one in « Physical Training. » Mr. Scripture was a person who taught « by having each student understand the office and power of each of the vocal organs. (ibid.). « The growth of the mind cannot be stayed. » according to the Superintendent. Lowell was a highly centralized school system and the Superintendent was a powerful player.

Grading, as discussed « Has already justified itself and proved its own wisdom. The actual advantages gained by thus grading our schools have far outrun all (of) our theories and exceeded our highest participation, » the Superintendent said at a meeting. « The wear of nervous energies is greatly reduced. » (ibid.)

There was one teacher in a hall of two hundred people, probably to save money in the classroom. There was a steady cry for grading and pressure to get rid of excess teachers, especially since the number of students decreased during the war. The Appropriation of money was playing a major part in academic considerations – returning measurable financial investment per student was considered essential by City Fathers.

While the City Council could direct or advise the School Committee, the committee was not a city committee or agency. All existing records point to it being autonomous. (Mayor’s Report to the Board of Aldermen). « Despite the war, » the Superintendent said, « …the year has not failed to bring its full proportion of responsibilities and duties. » (ibid) « Our public schools have not been neglected, and the work of education must go on. »

While admitting that the lack of educational progress was offset by education and its processes, the Superintendent noted that, in spite of, or because of , the Civil War, the « …cherished and noble plan was passing through fierce trials. » (Superintendent’s Report of 1862) « The plan is to provide a decent education to all who want it. In spite of the conflict, he reported, « Idle hands will not remain idle heads. » (ibid). To guarantee that, the school system continued to offer both evening and morning classes, with vocational curriculum was the mainstay of the evening classes, even though an academic offering still existed. Academic pursuits continued as the core of the daytime program.

We learned, in Lowell’s educational system, to « press on » and how did we do that in earlier times? « Records show that we did it with sheer tenacity. » Our nation was in a fratricidal war, but we continued teaching and learning. What was our curriculum? What was our promise? We manufactured it in the same way as those people at the time manufactured cloth. We refused to give in. To the war, or to the naysayers in the educational system. In « The Field of Dreams, » James Earl Jones tells Kevin Costner that the game of baseball was the constant. In Lowell’s educational system, it was the consistency of our academic excellence that was constant. We taught vocational training, but we excelled in academic excellence.

Progress at the High School was rewarded by the Carney Medals. The medals recognized the top six students in the class, three males, and three females. The school building program was underway in eighteen years, during the 1880’s. The three « jewels » were the Coburn, the Moody, and the Butler. The Pawtucket Memorial was built in 1880 along the same design as the Butler. Both have been torn down. They were magnificient buildings and I miss them. The Pawtucket Memorial had only four principals including Mr. Leonard Flynn who served approximately thirty two years. Mr. McAvinnue served over thirty years and brought the school to Mass at St. Rita’s every Holy Day in the Catholic Church. He did not seem to care if the students were Catholic or Protestant. Mass was Mass.

My mind is on the school system tonight. More on that at another time.

The New Role of Grading to Increase Discipline and Scholarship

There was a time when the City of Lowell did not have grades on student’s papers. This was not because we were out-of-touch, or imbecilic. Grades were new and we had not implemented them yet. Students were judged for their penmanship, writing talent, and mathematics skills, but they were not graded. Grading came about in approximately 1860. The period between 1860 and 1870 was a time of great change in the Lowell school system. Teachers were asked to study the idea of grading, and they whole-heartedly supported it. The new Pawtucketville Memorial School was one school that saw many of these changes and embraced them.

The Pawtucketville Memorial was built in honor of those men from Pawtucketville who gave their last gasp to hold the Union together. It was the site of the names of those men from Pawtucketville who gave their all to preserve the Union. I had the opportunity to interview the last Principal, who noted that the school had been renamed « The McAvinnue » after one of the most well-loved principals in educational history in the city. When it was built, grading was a new concept. Grading involved following the curriculum, and charting progress. Curriculum requirements were met yearly, not quarterly as they are now. There is ample evidence that the educational community felt that they were on the cutting edge of a new educational innovation; the graded school. By grade, we do not mean the grades in place in schools already, First through Twelfth, for instance. By grade, we are talking about a graded system of checking whether or not the student understood the lesson by establishing a system from one to one hundred and using A, B, C, D, E, and F to show understanding.

In his first notice to the School Committee on the new practice of grading, the Superintendent noted that;

« This (grading each student)…has already justified itself and proved its own wisdom. The actual advantages gained by thus grading our schools have far outrun all (of) our theories and exceeded highest anticipations. » Grading was here to stay. The School Committee in the same meeting established the practice of grading.

Grading performed a valuable function, he wrote. It increased classroom discipline and decreased the need for each school to inflict corporal punishment from an average of ten times to one. In a classroom where the pupil/teacher ratio could be as high as two hundred to one, this innovation greatly increased the time the teacher could keep the student on task. The Superintendent used his role and standing in the community and early Lowell school administrations used their influence over the citizenry to dictate new educational progress. « The wear of nervous energies was greatly reduced. » he noted.

Curriculum exhibited a heavy emphasis on English as the primary language. « Spelling » was an important course. In Lowell, which had a centralized school system, control was exercised predominantly by the City Fathers. Curriculum was by the city, and implemented by a heavy planning process. As stated, it was measured by grading after 1862. « Idle hands, » the Superintendent noted, « will not remain idle heads. » Citing studies, as well as the experiences of students in the city schools, both younger and night school students, the Superintendent could only compliment the system that saw the use of grades to teach more quickly and determine the abilities of the students through grading.

Every evening, thousands of mill workers were able to take part in adult educational classes (Lowell School Committee Minutes, 1862). Lowell educators saw each mill girl’s life carefully dictated by the clock, the supervisor, and the like. That seemed to influence the curriculum in the classroom. Students were expected to be on time and prepared. By 1862, Lowell’s citywide school system consisted of forty-seven primary schools, one intermediate school which was widely criticized, eight grammar schools and one High School. (ibid.)

The mill owners had a strong interest in the Lowell educational system. They maintained a constant vigil, were pleased with the grading system, and hired more educated persons. Since we are primarily looking at 1862, it is helpful to determine the effect to the city of the lack of cotton from the South. The city was in the midst of a depression. Education was seen as a means of keeping women working. Men, in many cases, went to war.

In the next blog, I will attempt to show a relationship between the city and school department.


I have been totally driven to explain the early years of the Lowell school system, and I have not taken time to see what is on my mind. My wife, Vicki, who can do anything, is going to help out Jackie Doherty and be her Campaign Manager. Jackie has her own agenda, and Vicki will have to push that forward, while giving her best effort to the campaign and making it successful. I, for one, find it remarkable that the outgoing Deputy Superintendent garnered close to ninety two thousand dollars in unused sick and vacation time. If a person in business does not use his sick or vacation time, he or she generally loses it. On it goes.

When my father was alive he told me that at some point I would have to write, because that is who I am. In fact, and strangely enough, the day after he died, a pen rolled off of one of my tables and fell on the floor. I thought that was kind of neat. The next day, I was up early again and the entire cup of pens fell off of the same table at the same time of the morning. I looked up and told him « Alright, I will write. » I have and it is one of the most enjoyable things that I do. No one but I was awake that morning. I was ten feet from the pens when they fell. I am under the impression that there are things that happen that we cannot readily explain.

I have been painting my house. The front porch is done, the trim is almost done, and the back deck needs to be stained. It is a work in progress. I finished building the basement bathroom. We now have one and one-half bathrooms. We have joined society by eliminating our « functional obsolescence » as they call it in real estate classes. We raised four children in a one bathroom house. Their homes have more than one bathroom, they do not want to live through the alternative again.

My three shows are doing well. Thanks to John McDonough and George Anthes for making me Co-Host of Citylife. I am trying to convince the Superintendent to do a show, and we are hopefully in a state of some form of negotiations. I think he was surprised that we start at six in the morning and go until eight. If he wants to start at seven and go to eight, I think that would be fine. « Peters’ Principles » is very busy, it is election season and we do provide some modicum of exposure. The School Committee race seems to be the most heated this year what with the new high school addition and the ‘Core Curriculum’ taking the place of George Bush’s perogatives. I did not realize that George Bush received $100,000.00 for an appearance at a Veteran’s Group’s invitation for an appearance. I hope it is not true, I read that it was this evening. The source was fairly good.

My last show is « This Town’s Character. » Not like a character, but a person who has lived an exemplary life and devoted himself or herself to the betterment of mankind or womankind. Thusfar we have had Bopha Malone, who was recognized for her work with the CMAA (Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association), David Fanuef, the evening News Manager at WBUR radio, and Gerald Durkin who has helped virtually hundreds get through the doors of the University of Massachusetts/Lowell. Gerry is the Transfer Admissions Office Manager who has done incredible things with people wishing to attend UMASS/Lowell. All of my shows are on Channel 8.

Finally, I am reading Carl Sandburg’s « History of Abraham Lincoln. » I find it very concentrated with very small print, but also quite readable. He bemoans the fact that he has to list his sources in the Foreword, at least he lists that as a problem in the Foreword. But he has a very easy reading style, and I am enjoying the read.

I must admit that I have a copy of and have to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s « Lincoln. » That is the one the movie was based on. I have read tons of books on Lincoln, who was my favorite President. The chances are good that he, too, was a Manic Depressive or Bipolar. I have yet to read Ms. Kearns Goodwin’s depiction but I look forward to it.

Well, that completes my Meanderings for tonight. I invite you to buy my piece on the history of the Lowell Motor Boat Club when it finally comes out as a book. That will happen when the Commodore, « Butch » Milot says that it will. It is a pretty small book and hopefully is readable, like Carl Sandburg’s « Abraham Lincoln. » It is a lot shorter, and has pictures. Mostly pictures of boats. The club has been there since the late 1800’s when it was chiefly interested in canoes. It has had sailboats, canoes, and motorboats. Its story starts in 1803.

First Years of a New Educational System

The 1800’s were a period of tremendous growth in the educational system. During the 1800’s, the educational system had grown rapidly. Local Government got involved with the education of our ancestors. Today, we are basically going to look at the year 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell was known as an industrial center, and a great many of our ancestors took advantage of Lowell’s prominence to promote educational perogatives and changes. Some of those will be discussed. Suffice to say that the period between 1826, when Lowell was founded, and 1900, the beginning of the new century, the educational system handled a great many problems. These problems included the formation of the new school system, its curriculum, the number of students, and how to begin a new system designed to be held in the evenings.

There were a large number of schoolhouses, all of them run by schoolmarms, not male teachers. The fact was that the schoolhouses were handled by female teachers, while the mills were enlisting the employment of females. Why the educational system did not have male teachers could have been due to small salaries, but there is no concrete proof of that, or some other unexplained reason. In the beginning there were a number of small one-room schoolhouses. By the end of the 1800’s, most of these schoolhouses had been replaced by large school buildings. Also, in the beginning and for most of the century, the schoolhouses remained in predominantly female hands. Early on, there were two or three large schools. The Highland School is difficult to chart, so let us stick to the South Schoolhouse. It was a large wooden building. It was dedicated to teaching 101 males and females, which was very progressive for that time period, who wanted an education.

The total number of grammar school students, in 1834, the first year for which there are firm records was five hundred twenty eight students, with an additional one hundred one students attending a well formed night school program. At this time, you needed a seventh grade education to be a school teacher. There were no grading issues yet, because there was no grading. In T. Edson’s Report on the Schools, in 1834, on January 8th., it was noted that there were eleven primary schools, largely consisting of students under the age of seven which were maintained, and this is a direct quote from the report, of « female teachers » {Illustrated History of Lowell, Massachusetts, late 1800’s, no publisher listed}. The report estimated that each teacher had approximately one hundred studentsbringing the total number of students to eleven hundred « to a school {ibid}. »

The South School House was the gem of the early schools in the town. Lowell had not been incorporated as a city by this point. « It was ascertained that if all the schools then in operation were continued through the year, the expediture would exceed the sum granted by the town for the support of the schools {Lowell School Committee Minutes, 1834}. » In addition, there were fifty students ready to move up from the primary schools to the grammar schools. By « Grammar School » they meant a school catering to the intermediate grades. The reason I question the Highland School starting in 1826 was because of the record that this grammar school would bring the total number of grammar schools to three.

Meanwhile, at the High School, started in 1832, (their capitalization), the fierce winds of winter caused the school to close in January and wait out better weather. If you could become a teacher at completion of the seventh grade, then high school was more like a current college education.

« These facts (the heavy preponderance of seven year olds, plus the great number of grammar school students), show the necessity of opening a third grade school immediately, » bringing the number of grammar schools to three.

By 1834, the high school had 192 « different pupils » {ibid.} leading Mr. Edson to theorize that « Thus it will be seen that the town did not provide an unnecessary amount of school room. » The most amazing thing about the high school, in its day, was the fact that males and females studied together and were given equal chances to prove their academic abilities through the Carney Medal Awards. These Awards were given out, albeit later in the century, to the top students and separated by male and female awards. An equal amount of persons were recipients of male-awarded Carney Medals and female-awarded Carney Medals. This was at a time when females did not have rights to property, or even the right to vote, yet they competed on the same level as the male students.

It may be observed that, if all of the schools then in operation were continued…the expenditure would exceed the sum granted (to maintain operations)…By closing the High School, a greater expense was curtailed… » {Report to the School Committee}. « The whole number of pupils connected with the town schools is about two thousand and four hundred. {ibid} The number attending was put at one thousand three hundred and fifty. » {ibid.}

By 1835, they had increased class size, hired moe teachers, opened a school in Belvidere and these fourteen schools are kept by many female teachers. »

The South School House was more populated than Mr. Hill’s North Schoolhouse. All consisted of one master, one assistant master (males), and two female teachers, who were employed at each large school house. That breaks down to two females for hundreds of students.

The curriculum was rote. In 1952, Piaget said that students logical thinking occurs in stages according to age and experience. « Students learn through involvement… » {The Principalship; 1987 by Allyn and Bacon;
Thomas J. Sergiovanni} Students of the 1800’s learned by memorization and reiteration. The curriculum of the day does not necessarily include academic excellence through involvement. And, at an early age, they were expected to work if necessary. Education was a luxury few could afford. It appears that that still stands, at least at the college level.

Lowell’s Early School System

All of the information listed has been verified by the writer through the use of the Annals of the School Superintendent’s Office, dating back to 1826; the City Clerk’s Office, dating back to 1826; and private correspondence between people both living or deceased who put their observations down in writing. Most of the information is the result of studying the School Committee Records going back to 1826, the year that the Lowell Public School System was founded.

Most of the information was part of my Master’s Thesis. I lean heavily on those notes in the writing of this historical blog. Lowell’s educational history started with the womaning of 47 country day schools in the years preceding the incorporation of the town of Lowell in 1828. According to the Clerk of the School Committee (not its proper title but a little more understandable in todays lexicon), Lowell, in 1828, built the only K through 8th. grade school in the United States. It was known as the Highland School, and one former administrator of the Morey School, on which site the school was built, remembers that when he was attending school there, a wooden structure was attached to the red brick of the Morey School. The « Highland School » was listed as being on the site of the current Morey School. Verification of this school’s existence is sketchy, but it is listed in School Committee Minutes as being in existence. Now, there are a few problems inherent in this school’s existence. In the first place, Kindergarten was not in place in most school districts until the 1900’s. So, it is difficult to determine if a K through 8 school could exist at this time in history. But, the fact is, that on that site stood a wooden structure dating back to the 1940’s. The school itself was supposed to be wooden. This is a stretch in educational history in the 1800’s, but it was read, and in the reading, specifics of the school were attested to, like the need for a larger building than the pre-existing one-room schoolhouses that dotted Lowell, Dracut, Tewksbury, and Chelmsford.

Those schoolhouses were run by one schoolmarm. That lady was responbible or everyth9ing that went on in that school. They had to get there early to start the fire, and warm the school. They had to have good knowledge of all subjects. They had to leave at the end of the day and leave a lesson plan of sorts, with a synopsis of difficulties of the day’s activities. They would be paid dependent on how well they ran their schoolhouse which was measured by:

*How warm they kept the schoolhouse.

*How pleasing of an appearance they presented of themselves.

*How clean their schoolhouse was.

*Their attention to the pedagogy of the day

*Whether or not they attended the Superintendent’s presentation of « White’s Pedagogy » at the District school department offices every Saturday.

*They had gotten married. If they had they had to leave their job because, after all, they might be showing.

*They swept the schoolhouse daily,

The exterior and interior of the schoolhouse was also their responsibility, And, they had to choose between school and marriage, as stated.

The school department was very progressive. The educational system in Massachusetts had been forged by the Pilgrims, who arrived in 1620. They immediately sent their children to school to learn to read the Bible. They believed in corporal punishment and passed it out liberally. However, they did teach their children to learn, they took part in the formation of various colleges including Harvard. They used their expertise with the written word to take over much of early Massachusetts.

Lowell struggled with the twin demands placed upon the new city. Those twin demands were the manufacture of cotton cloth and the need to educate our children. We came from a forthright community which stood up for education for all. I mentioned in last week’s blog that we were, at least in writing, comfortable with the idea of mixing all races and nationalities in our schools. This integration was unexplored territory at that time.

In my thesis, I had to compare Lowell to a co-relating Midwestern school system. Cinncinati, Ohio was my choice for a city. I can safely say that, fifty years before the founding of middle western school systems, Lowell was chugging along. We had, by the 1850’s and 1860’s, started a technical education program to teach young workers how to run the textile looms. We had, by the 1860’s, a fully funded evening school experience. That was partially to give the workers something to look forward to in the evening. A famous report, « The Report of the Committee of Ten, » was over three decades in the future when the Superintendent of Schools reported in 1862 that the Civil War would not disturb the education of the determined despite a depression in the city’s economy.

1862 was the year that a new graded system was introduced to Lowell. It has been in place ever since. It seemed to have a beneficial effect on the student learning. Sociology was in its infancy, not really even invented yet but the Superintendent lamented the lack of adequate space and stated that;

« Children in a primary school should never be put to thrashing old straw because there
is not room in the schools. » (‘School Committee Minutes, 1862)

The end of the Civil War saw us with a massive number of new buildings needed to teach at and learn from, and this included a hated intermediate school in the city. No location was given. It was replaced by the « Jewels in the Crown, » the Varnum School in Centerville, the Moody School in Lower Belvidere, and the Butler School on Gorham Street. People were proud of their schools. Soon a new Lowell High School would join them at the Kirk Street location. It is still used today, and is considered to be in the best shape of any of the high school’s buildings.

Curriculum was something else to deal with, and I mentioned the early teachers needing to go to the Administration building to study « White’s Pedagogy. » Pedagogy is a simple word for teaching. They were forced to study how to be a teacher. A woman who got married was instantly without a job. She might get pregnant and show and that was to be handled at home, not school. That is why Lowell High had so many « misses » in the 1960’s. My favorite one was Miss Rita Sullivan, English teacher. I intend to get more into curriculum strategies and questions later. This morning, I watched my show « Peters’ Principles, » on television and Veasna Nuon was hammering away at the idea that we want the best person in that classroom. That is basically what all of my candidates on the show have had to say. How do we determine the « best? » That is the subject of a different blog