Schools of the 1870’s

We are skipping an important period of time in this blog. We will get the school history of the post-Civil War era and the implementation of curriculum and our method of coping with the losses of the war. But, in order to do this, we have to find the necessary documents, which have not been easy to acquire. So today we skip a decade, to the late 1880’s. This was a period of great growth in the schools, with the addition of three new junior high schools, which were the Varnum, the Moody, and the Butler. There were various changes to the school system; new buildings like the new Green School, built with the same name as its predecessor, which was built next to a tannery where they made leather out of dead animal skin. The stench was such that they felt they had to move the original wooden building and build another.

Another school that was then new was the grammar school named after Lowell’s most famous cleric. He was said to be the Cardinal that they patterned the person in the famous movie, “The Cardinal,” after, a seasoned veteran of politics perhaps learned in the political atmosphere of Lowell, even back then. Cardinal O’Connell has a fountain dedicated to him next to City Hall. He was a great clergyman who is remembered through history as the clergyman who was as famous as John Eliot, the man who converted the local Native American to temporary Anglicanism. Temporary because the Chief chose to return to his Native American religion later in life. That religion made him a God, who could supposedly take the form of fire when in his home.

The High School took many hits in the early days. The Superintendent in the early 1800’s closed the high school for a period of months because “It may be observed that if all of the schools then in operation were continued…the expenditure would exceed the sum granted…By closing the High School a greater response was curtailed.” (The Minutes of the Lowell School Committee). So the high school was closed in January, saving the cost of heating and keeping teachers.

By 1888, the School Committees Standing Committees included:

1. Accounts
2. School Hours and Hygiene
3. Teachers
4. Referrals and Printing
5. Books and Supplies
6. Salaries
7. Penmanship and Drawing
8. Music
9. Evening Schools
10. Rules and Regulations

Schools consisted of the Varnum, the Prince, the Green, the Reform School, the Colburn, the Franklin, the Bartlett, the Moody, and the Pine Street schools.
Grammar schools consisted partly, but not only of the Race Street, Cabot Street, and the Highland Schoolhouse (I told you that one existed, but this is the first time I could prove it). There was also a Committee on School Houses. Imagine how the system would be now if all of these committees still existed.

Lands and buildings were overseen by the city, and to this day, there is an ordinance which states that the land the schools are built upon are owned by the city, not the School Department. The Superintendent of Public Buildings oversaw the condition of the buildings and their location. My father taught me that when I was still in high school.

In a lighter observation, it was voted on a motion by Dr. Osgood that the privys should be inspected at each school house, with part of the motion reading, “what changes are needed to improve their sanitary conditions.” This motion was designed to “make them suitable for the accomodations of the scholars.” (School Committee Minutes of 1888).

Meetings started at “Seven thirty o:clock.” There was at this meeting an observation that the Committee on Sanitary Conditions needed more time and they were granted more time. (Page 7, ibid.)

A Mr. French and Miss Hattie petitioned the School Committee grant them inclusion in the Lowell High School system because they both hailed from Tewksbury. It was decided to include them for a stipend. They had to pay a fee.
They also had to pass an examination, showing they were fit for inclusion in the High School.

The School Committee was based on the then-used Alderman system of elections and they were voted in by geographical area. Now the system is broad-based and prone to vote in a city wide election of School Committeemen and women. The High School Committee, it was recognized, had full powers.

Teachers were certified by Committee. They liberally used Executive Sessions in their governing of the school system. The classes available were:

1. Writing
2. Drawing
3. Music
4. Reading
5. Spelling
6. Geography
7. Grammar
8. Arithmetic

Those were the components of the curriculum. They are not broken down into individual expectations. In the first few blogs on the school system it was not easy to discover what the curriculum was about, or where and how students were placed. This list provides us with a fairly comprehensive view of the interests of the day. There is a great change in teaching how you learn, but very little change in the subjects which were taught. Lowell was intensely interested in what was taught and it must be surmised, how it was taught.

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