Monthly Archives: November 2015

Advancements in Education-1860’s &1870’s

By the late 1860’s, Lowell had a large part of its population in school. People signed up for night courses in the hundreds and for day courses in the thousands. This was a marvelous testimony to the school system, the School Committee, and the Administration. Night school was a relatively new phenomenon, and Lowell embraced the new method of study tenaciously. The Superintendent of the time was heard to say at a School Committee meeting that he would not have young boys quit school to scoop up the horse droppings left on the street every day.

In other cities, Lowell watched as some depressing news filtered in from school departments elsewhere in the nation. In Cincinatti, Ohio, a deranged woman was caught by the police hiding many butcher knives in her cloak. Her intent, she said, was to go to her daughter’s school and kill the pretty girls so the homely ones would have a chance in their romantic quests. She was put in an asylum. In Lowell, the Superintendent noted that the “…wear…of nervous energies were greatly reduced in 1868. Grading students was a new idea, and it was very rewarding. “This…(grading) of students has already justified itself and proved its own wisdom. The actual advantages gained by thus grading our schools have far otrun all (of) our theories and exceeded our highest anticipations.” (School Committee Minutes)

In a classroom where the pupil to teacher ratio was two hundred to one, this innovation greatly increased the time that the teacher could keep the student on task. Early Lowell school administrations used their influence over the citizenry to dictate new educational progresses. In one case, the decrease in enrollment at a school caused the School Committee to decrease the teaching staff by one person, who they then hired back as a teacher’s assistant.

One of my favorite sayings is in the Mayor’s Report to the Board of Aldermen, when the Superintendent said that “Idle hands shall not make idle heads.” That was, of course, during the Civil War when cotton was more difficult to get. Children working in the mills were expected to go to school. Each school offered extensive academic preparation. Over one thousand adults left work after a full day to go to school. Most wanted to go through at least seventh or eighth grade in order to fulfill the requirements to become a grammar school teacher in Lowell, or elsewhere in Massachusetts. All that was required was a seventh grade education. However, the eighth grade test was very hard. I once gave it to some teachers at LHS (Lowell High School), and most could not finish it. It was compounded by its difficulty which was caused by honing into the early history of the United States. It was very difficult.

In Lowell, at this time, a highly centralized educational system attempted to handle any problems that came through their pervue. Few of the major arguments over centralized control of the educational process, and the curriculum required to meet those goals were evident at anytime in the highly taxed 1800’s.
The school system was under strict control. The City Council still controlled the books, and school spending and were slow to react to school situations. This caused the School Committee to ask for control of its buildings, something that has not yet happened. The schools are administered by the School Committee, but ownership belongs to the city.

“In the faithfulness of the teachers and the conduct of the scholars there is always little to criticised (1800’s spelling) and much to commend.” the Superintendent wrote in his yearly report.

“Adjustable desks,” were a problem. The School Committee stated that each classroom put their desks, screwed into the floor, in the greatest light because they did not have lights. Every summer, teachers unscrewed some of the desks and placed them in such a way that the students who were the most troublesome would be separated from the well-behaved scholars. It vexed the school administration, the Principals and Vice-Principals in the school, to no end.

Desks were often out-of-place. The direction of light as it should fall on desks was an issue – as was the obviously strong teacher role. The Superintendent, in speaking of this issue, claimed that the “…evil of near-sightedness among children is increasing.” No reason is given in the School Committee Minutes for that conclusion. He stated that light should come from behind the student and to his left side. This is the reason the Moody School is in such a curious angle. It was built with huge windows to allow as much light as they could get in to enter the building. That is why the Moody School has such large windows, which have been modernized to reflect current lighting practices.

The desks, they said, were to be “…arranged entirely with reference to regularity and similiarity of appearance.” Teachers were vexatious to administration as far back as the 1860’s to the 1890’s. “In one instance, in this city,” it was written, “the desks, which had been properly arranged with reference with the eyes of the pupils, were changed so as to be more agreeable to the eyes of the teacher.” There was a solution, they said, “The teacher can move about the room and adapt herself.”

Thus, the teacher exerted her control over the room long before the 1900’s. This resulted in a bond between the teacher and students, and left the administration rattling its cage. There is no piece of history of the school department that says that this tension was ever worked out to the administration’s relief. The teachers seemed to have won this one. The administration was right in wanting the sun to light up the desk surfaces, but try to convince a teacher.
Not much seems to have been changed in the past one hundred fifty years.
Teacher control over their classrooms remains an issue.

Meanderings on Wayne Peters and Paul Tsongas

Voltaire said, “I had more sense than to contest with him, since there is no possibility of convincing an enthusiast.” I dare say that we all run into people who affect us like that person did to Voltaire. We have other, less nice descriptions of such people which we use frequently. Stubborn comes to mind. So do other words. But enthusiast echoes the reality of the situation.

I recently wrote a post on the Lowell City Library and I wrote that I disagreed with the 1980’s renaming of a library that was dedicated to those who died in the Civil War. I guess on that issue I fall into the position of being one of those enthusiasts. Its source is the belief that you cannot rename a memorial to dead veterans. My father was one of those veterans who have passed, and I got a room named for him at Lowell High School. But it was unnamed before that plaque was affixed to the wall.

I find that, the older I get, the more like my father I become. He was extremely well-educated, with a Ph.D in School Administration. His thesis was on something that was very boring, I believe it was in his experiences as a young teacher making sure that people received the same treatment in the allocation of space in a school. Every student deserved his own space, he wrote, and it was his duty as the Superintendent to make sure that happened. Little did he know that one of those areas was the locker which his son (me) would be locked in on the days he did not call school off if there was a snowstorm. He checked the snow himself, getting up at 4 AM and going out in the snow, listening to the news, and making his decision. His decision was usually to hold school. On those days, teachers and students would stop everything to put him down. And, they did it primarily to me.

Growing up in schools with your father as the head, was very difficult. I had to toughen up. I did. Once a teacher told me that my earned grade in Chemistry was a 74%, but “I am giving you a 64% to show your old man that I could not care who he is.” So I failed Chemistry and Algebra for the same reason, because I was my father’s son.

Years later, he wrote a beautiful poem to me, extolling my sacrifices made on the altar of family relationships. It never occured to me to be upset with him, it was not his fault. He just thought I failed Chemistry and Algebra.

I got heavily involved in politics, even majoring in it in college. I was not supposed to get into college, but Dr. MacGovern was the admissions guru, and she found enough college work in high school to get me into Lowell State College. I believed that politics was a science. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in a Bachelor of Science program. I am looking at my Bachelor’s degree now, and I am a recipient of a Bachelor of Science degree, Cum Laude.

My first year in college I had broken up with a girl, and I spent all of my time studying, getting straight A’s in my first semester. I owed that girl a debt, because I had a rough time getting back to work, but I studied on average six to eight hours a day that semester.

Later, I would be glad that I had that level of experiences because I married Vicki Tsongas, Paul’s sister. We just celebrated our fortieth Wedding Anniversary. We got married while we were still in college because it seemed the thing to do. Vicki was spoken to by her entire family. We were so young we did not even know, or at least I did not, what roles were played at a wedding. We did not know that you could smash the cake into each other’s mouths, for instance, and there were other things we had not learned at twenty-one and twenty. We still had a year of school to complete. Vicki did it best, going to school for nine years, getting her degree, getting her Master’s degree, and getting her CAGS. She is more educated than I am. It was hard but she did it.

Being the brother-in-law of a United States Senator was kind of like being the son of the Superintendent. You had to watch your step. Once, Paul, on the night before he was to be sworn in, took me to his new office. The guards knew him by facial recognition and he said to me, “There is no one in this office who did not start out as a City Councillor or School Committeeman.” I was duly impressed, but I was more impressed a few days later when he told me he had gone up to Boston and met Celtics Manager, Red Auerbach. I was even more impressed when I answered his phone and his caller said, “This is Bobby Orr, is the Senator there?” I mean, I talked to Bobby Orr!

Paul’s mind was always going, even when, or perhaps especially when, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgekins Lymphoma, a cancer I now have. I understand his wanting to finish things, run for President, and do things that mattered like saving Walden Woods and Walden Pond. He once told me, when I turned down a job offer to be the Town Manager of Cavendish, Vermont, that I had made a serious mistake. I ended up teaching, and that negated the serious mistake. But, I knew he had a point.

Later, he would tell me, after spending six weeks in a solitary bed and room while undergoing cancer treatments, that he understood my thought processes better because of what he had gone through. I never felt closer to him, and I had spent a lot of time feeling close to him.

I must finish up by saying that I miss him. One man said that he was the eight hundred pound gorilla that kept the downtown going. Niki Tsongas once told me that he saw Lowell, Massachusetts as the “Center of the Universe.” It has become so to me. So here are my few words on my father and Paul Tsongas. Both men formed me, and I hope I reflect their strongest sides. No one could have foreseen how important to me both men would become. Being the son of the Superintendent and the brother-in-law of an Icon, is just about as cool a growth opportunity that you could get. I have loved every minute of it.

Lowell City Library

Lowell has one clear, historical fact that predates any other city, I have been told, and that is the Lowell City Library. The Pollard Memorial Library is part of that. It is a part, not the entire library. When the City Fathers decided to name the library, it was in 1841, four years before the Boston Public Library was formed.

Lowell was an up-and-coming city in 1841, and the city needed a library. At the time, there was no other place on earth that would form a ;public library like Lowell’s. There is a great deal of information on the library in the “Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.” which was written sometime before 1893, but published after that year. This, then, is the history of the Lowell Public Library, which was named that long before any of us were borne. It was named the Lowell Public Library by the City Fathers in an ordinance which passed the City Council in or around 1843. That law was never rescinded by any City Council. The name of the library was set in the 1840’s. It was not named the Memorial Library for years. It was named the Pollard Memorial Library without a study of the actual naming of the Lowell City Library. The actual library, according to the City Fathers, was named the Lowell City Library while the upstairs library was named, after the City Fathers wanted a place to commemorate those who died in the Civil War. The Basement was for the storage of old newspapers and magazines. The first floor was the Memorial Library. The second floor was named the Memorial Hall by an act of the City Council, in the 1870’s. The City Library was on the first floor. The Memorial Hall was on the second floor. The third floor was for offices.

It is my opinion that something that is named after Veterans should not be renamed. That was not the case after Samuel Pollard died and Mayor Rourke made a motion to make the library after him.
The Mayor decided to rename the library after Samuel Pollard. He said that the building, which was named the Memorial Library, be renamed the Pollard Memorial Library. It could not have been named after Samuel Pollard without making the distinction that the upstairs was the Memorial Hall. Mayor Raymond Rourke’s motion renamed the entire edifice after Mr. Pollard. It already was named and nowhere in the motion was there a motion to rename the Memorial Hall after Mr. Pollard or anyone else. The hall was never designed to be renamed. It was also, by edict of the original City Council, only a small part of the building, specifically the first floor, which was the only part of the building designated as the Lowell City Library.

“Libraries have probably existed in some form in the world from the earliest times known to the history of man. It would appear to have been his purpose to record either upon tablets, scrolls, or the printed page a record of his thoughts and his deeds. Eventually, manuscripts became printed books, and the place where these books were stored became a treasury or library, where the records were stored became a treasury, or library, where the records of past thought and action were preserved.” (Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.)

“Within small communities, social or proprietary libraries were started by interested citizens.” (ibid.) Libraries of this character have existed within the United States for more than a century.” (ibid.) “The midnight oil or the midnight candle was frequently burned in order to finish their contents before the time of returning.”

The idea of a library supported by taxation of a municipality for the benefit of all its inhabitants is American and recent.”

“There are books, which, from their cost, size, and variety, and value merely as books of reference, cannot be generally circulated, but can (only) be consulted within the walls of the building itself. It would be impossible for a public library to exist without such books Still such libraries are essentially free, and the name Free Public Library is appropriate for them. …use, benefit, and improvement of the people.” (ibid.)

“Its relation, therefore, to the intellectual life of any city cannot be overestimated…In short, it broadens everything…”Technically its name is “the City Library.” (It) has depended for its prosperity entirely upon municipal action. No citizen of large means has endowed it either with building or fund.”

“It is a creation pure and simple from the resources of the city.” Thus, it predated the same form of a library in Boston by four years. “The first librarian in Lowell was Josiah Hubbard. And, for a purpose of circulating information,..and the Mayor was asked to draw from the City Treasury a sum of $2,300 for the “purchase of books.” He continued his service for thirteen years. The early library had “various quarters.” It started out in a building owned by a Mr. Hosford in 1872. It was founded on May 22, 1844 by an act of the City Council. Prior to Mr. Hosford’s time, it was placed in the schools. It was named, originally, the “City School Library.” In 1860, by enactment, the name changed to the
“City Library of Lowell.” The City Council named it.

“It was finally determined by an Act of the City Council, to change its name to “Memorial Hall.” It had changed its name to the City Library of Lowell. which was the official legal name of the library. As stated, the library itself was on the first floor, the Memorial Hall above was for all of those who lost their lives in the “Great War.”

When you name the Memorial Hall or combination of that name and the Lowell City Library in the building named that, you dedicate the building to the dead of the war. There were over 500 names on the walls of the Memorial Hall, upstairs and down. The building had a name. It you pick up an old postcard, the name of the building on the postcard is “Memorial Hall.” You cannot, in my opinion, take an already named Memorial Hall after a man who did not even exist when the hall was first named. Mayor Rourke, in my opinion, overstepped. By 1897 there were 55,398 volumes in the Lowell City Library. That is a well-funded institution. The number of volumes in the Reference Room, now Memorial Hall, was 18,111 volumes.

When the Howe Bridge was built, the men who died from the Lowell Technical Institute who fought the battles of WWII, were listed on the replacement stone. That was a new bridge, but the City of Lowell decided to make their sacrifice, known only to a few people, myself included, was included on the stone. Mr. Howe never seemed to have a problem with remembering their sacrifice. The original bridge was a Memorial Bridge. The people who lost their lives were remembered.

I believe, as I said, that you do not rename a building meant to remember those who lost their lives in a war of freedom, after someone else. I believe, further, that you do not commemorate anyone by renaming a memorial to them. Mr. Pollard can have the library, I suppose, but he cannot have ownership of the entire building. His specialty is the City Library. Name the first two floors after him if necessary, but let’s not forget those 500 plus men who died in the Civil War. The architect, Mr. Stickney, said that “The new library building will extend eighty-nine feet on Merrimack Street and 121 on Colburn Street, the Main entrance being on Merrimack Street. The entrance hall will have marble flooring, with a stair-case eight feet wide, leading to Memorial Hall above.”

“The first floor will contain a delivering-room 27×27, a reference room on the left 27X43, with a smaller reference-room for periodicals 37×38, two fire-proof bookstack-rooms to take 150,000 volumes, and the Librarian’s room 18×37.” “The second floor will contain Memorial Hall and ante-rooms.”

“The basement will contain a reading room for newspapers 37×38, a repairing-room a store-room for bound volumes of newspapers, and an unpacking room.”

Now, Richard Howe, Jr., has written a great paper on the library. But the conclusion that the entire building was named for one man may have had its impetus because no one took the time to see who the building was built to memorialize. It was named for a great group who we would now refer to as “Heroes.” If we are going to name it after anyone, then Mr. Pollard is fine. But let’s follow the code of reason placed by those people who first specified what and who the building was named for; those people who lost their lives in the bloodiest war ever fought in America. They were very specific on the uses of the building and they were, after all, first.

Educational Advances in the 1860’s

In spite of the Civil War, or maybe because of it, education in Lowell was treated basically the same during and after the war. There was love of the written word, testing to get into the High School, and a reliance on the Classics. Many students came from Tewksbury trying to get into LHS, which was the most urban setting. The war robbed over 500 men their lives, but the attitude was to keep their memory alive in the Lowell City Library, which was the oldest library of its type in the world. The Boston Public Library claims to be the oldest of its kind, but they opened in 1849 and Lowell opened in 1844. There is a five year difference there.

We already did the post on the 1870’s, so we are backpedaling a little. We are covering the time after the war. Incidentally, nowhere in the School Committee Minutes is there reference to the war. Lowell’s attitude was that the war was over and it was time to take over managing the schools and making them the best in the Commonwealth. That was not formally stated, just implied. But, it was there.

To maintain this thrust, there were the then standard thirteen members of the board. On January 1, 1866, the School Committee adopted a report prepared in 1865 on the condition of the schools. The thirteen members voted to accept the report. They listed the Standing Committees, which were:

On Account
School Houses
On Teachers
On Reports – a Committee that the Chairman wanted to get out of it. Motion denied.
On Books

The School Committee voted to accept the resignation of Miss Brady, who got married and therefore could not be a teacher anymore. Elizabeth B. Russell was nominated and a motion voted to accept her.

Grading was an issue. It was determined that the Subcommittee authorized that the Superintendent, “In accordance with the Superintendent’s suggestion.” That battle opened up grades instead of the lengthy reports that preceded the use of grading in the classroom. I wrote about the use of grades and its effect on the classroom in a prior blog.

There was another motion to allow teachers to take a day and visit another school for a full day. The plan was to share the best educational practices, and I believe it was unique to Lowell. Specifically it said:

“With the consent of the School Committee, teachers could observe
their same grade in other City schools. They could close down, once a
year, and visit another city school.” (Minutes of the School Committee, 1866).

On 1/1/66, A.J. Phipps was name Superintendent and Secretary. One of the first things he did was pass a vote to have all teaching candidates adhere to taking a yearly test for certification. The Motion carried, at a later date, 1/29/1866.

An open meeting listed the amount of money each teacher would receive. Yearly amounts for a standard four teachers were as follows:

“Salaries: $153.25 to Nellie Hunt
$145.70 to Elizabeth McDaniels
$141.95 to Sarah Elizabeth French
$135.55 to Sarah Crosby

At sometime in this year, they built the Kirk Street School, which still stands, although it is no longer used for education.

At the meeting on March 26, 1866, Mr. Warren, of the School Committee tried to push through an amendment to salaries that “all having a ranking of 105 and upward receive certificates.” While it sounds reasonable, it was defeated. Then Mr. Kimball moved that it be a policy that everyone with a score of 110 or higher be receivers of certificates. Once again, the School Committee said no. The Board eventually voted by individual teacher, a time-consuming process, and hired many teachers back. On that day, however, only three teachers were renewed. (Ibid.)

There was a census of students in school, by Ward, and it found that then Ward Five had the highest number of “scholars.” It had 1305 students. The total population of the entire school system yielded a total of 5,978 “Scholars.” That was the word they used to describe students. That was 853 more students than in 1865, and 1,049 more than in 1864. Lowell was maturing.

The School Committee made the standard for admission for Lowell High School to be a standardized test. A number of outside scholars were accepted, with a fee, and they started at LHS.

The LHS Principal, not called the Headmaster yet, was Charles C. Chase. He had four assistant administrators, two female, two male. We had many women in administration. Some of the original 57 schools were closed down and five principals were dismissed. There were forty-eight schools still open in the city.

Lowell was being reborn. The cotton mills were filled with bales of cotton. One bale weighed seven hundred pounds and can be seen at the Tsongas Museum. Check it out, it is unbelievable that they were able to move this much cotton with the tools of the day. On August 27, 1866 there were a number of changes that I will write about in the next blog. Remember, it is JimPetersblog.com.

Women on the Ballot

It amazes me that the American Federation of Teachers and the Lowell “Sun” both refused to endorse any woman except perennial front-runner Rita Mercier to a spot on the School Committee or City Council. There are three women running for School Committee, and they deserve endorsements. Two of them, Connie Martin and Jackie Doherty, have served multiple combined years on the Committee.

It is not that Lowell has no record of women in educational offices. Two of our Assistant Superintendents are women. Those would be Jean Durkin, wife of former member of the School Committee and City Council, Gerry Durkin. There is also Claire Abrams, sister of playwright Jack Neary, who has carved himself a nice little niche in Lowell’s writing community. He is quite popular. His brother, Jim, is in School Administration.

Well, if it is OK to be a woman in school administration then where does the AFT and the Sun get off refusing to endorse three very fine and active women in the School Committee? As I have pointed out in other blogs, women were the predominant players in the advent of the new school system. By 1859, there were 57 school houses in Lowell, with almost all of them being run by women who gave up marriage and children because the male-dominated School Committee did not want to have to explain pregnancy to their children and “scholars,” as they called them.

I firmly believe that it is time to come out of the 1850’s. Women would be an asset to the school department. After all, there are over 50% teaching at this time in Lowell. If they voted as a group, they could greatly upset the apple cart that the AFT and Sun have spent so much time cultivating.

If Rita Mercier is their mutual example of a fine candidate, then they are absolutely right. If Rita Mercier is an example of women in government in Lowell, imagine how great the government of this city could be if they elected additional women in office.
If the three women running for School Committee could serve as well as Rita, what a city we would have!

Most teachers are women. They deserve gender recognition in the School Committee. The AFT and the Lowell “Sun” have made a major mistake in giving the impression that they are banding together and offering just men for a position in the School Committee.

I believe that the reason the AFT did not endorse the women is because those women voted against unrealistic pay raises in past votes. Would it be possible to have a man standing up like that to the union? Connie Martin and Jackie Doherty both have records, and they are willing to stand by them. Show me some guys in that situation, and they would be worthy also of a vote for School Committee. I intend to vote for the best candidates, not those who might be more controllable. Do not get me wrong, some of those men deserve a seat. They too, have records. But it seems awfully strange that there are no women who qualify for the School Committee. Women, get out your vote! It might be the best time to show Hilary Clinton and Niki Tsongas that you are a force to be reckoned with.