Interesting Facts About Lowell’s School System over the Past Century

I thought I would record some interesting facts about Lowell’s unique educational system.  I am privy to some interesting facts about the system due to my review of items of interest in the period from 1826 to 2017.   That seems like a better use of my time than what I have been doing.

The course of study for Primary Schools shows that the grammar schools were supposed to use Munroe’s Charts and Franklin First Reader.  “Begin with words written upon the blackboard, using the names of familiar objects, and words expressing familiar acts.”  Thus read the “Course of Study for  Primary Schools.”  “Spell the words in columns, by sounds.”  That seems pretty much the same thing as that which happens now.  In addition, it was said that the teacher should, “Develop the idea of number to ten, by the use of objects.  Count to one hundred on the numeral frame,” which was, I believe, a chart that showed all of the numbers from zero to 100.

“Teach the construction of letters and figures…using slate and blacboard.”  It was pretty clear that the teacher was supposed to teach the students according to the patterns used in the ‘Course of Study.’  There was not much room for interposition.  In the Second Half of the year you again were supposed to use “Munroe’s Charts,” again and “spell by sounds.”  You were supposed to write words or groups of words and sentences upon the blackboard, and “require the pupils to copy upon the slate.”  The slate was a small, handheld blackboard which each student had.  Students were supposed to have familiarity with numbers up to “L.” (fifty)

By the time they were in the Second Grade, they were supposed to be able to do Roman Numerals up to “M.”  And you were to “Practice Object Teaching,” using objects that are familiar to the child.  Again, there is very little room for spontaneity.  You were doing “Enunciation Exercises daily.”  You were learning the simplest form of script letters.  You were learning Arithmetic orally.  You continued the enunciation exercises in the last half of the second year.  You were still doing Roman Numerals up to M.

In Arithmetic, in the Second Grade, you were to teach the multiplication tables to 8 x 8.  Your progress was only measured by your determination and desire.  Obviously, parents had to be part of the learning process.  By the time you got to high school you were immersed in American History, although not that dealing with the Native Americans.  Your grammar schools included:

Ames Street

Central Street

Chapel Street

Charles Street

Training School


Cottage Street

and that also included the

Edson School on the corner of Favor and Summer Street.

This was standard for the school system in 1881.  The School Committee included Chairman Frederic T. Greenhalge; Charles H. Allen as Vice-Chairman; and Charles Morrill as Secretary.  The current Greenhalge School was named after Frederic T. Greenhalge.  He was also the Mayor, who, by his assumption of the title was bound to be the Head of the School Committee, a practice used until the present day.

Spelling was taught using Worcester’s New Pronouncing Speller.  During the first half of the year, they went to page 29, or so it was dictated; while by the second half of the year they went to Page 47.   Arithmetic in the Fourth Grade included multiplication tables up to, but not to exceed one million.  They were supposed to do their mathematics from dictation, including the practices associated with numeration and notation.  In Division they could not exceed the Divisor of 25.

By the Seventh Grade they were supposed to  be reading the Franklin Intermediate Reader, “with drill on exercises to secure distinct articulation and correct pronunciation and expression.”  They were also supposed to know their Geography, History, and Mental Arithmetic.

They started high school in Grade 10.  As it is now.  They were to do “Algebra, Outlines of History, English Lessons, English History, and English Lessons.”  The inclusion of English Lessons may have made it clear that the United States, from the 19th. Century on, was English Speaking.  By the end of the Second Year, they were supposed to know Geometry, Natural Philosophy, Physical Georgraphy, and French.  Inclusion in the second semester saw Chemistry, and English Grammar.  French was continued as a pre-requisite.

It is interesting to look at salaries, which were determined by the school district and the School Committee.  The High School Principal (not a Headmaster yet), made a sweet 2,200 dollars.  Male Assistance made 1,800.00.  Female Assistants made $600.00 to $800.00.  Primary School Principals made 1,800.00 dollars.

The Principal of the Powell Street School made a meager $600.00.  The Middlesex Village Principal made an even less fair $500.00.  William S. Greene, the master of the Moody School made $1,800.00 in 1883.  No woman could touch that amount.  Mr. Greene was expected to be in charge of the primary schools in his area, as an assistant Superintendent per se.  He fulfilled the role given to him and took care of the Primary and Grammar Schools in his pervue.

There is a lot of information about the Middlesex Village School, the Moody Grammar School, the Pond Street School (which remained a school until the 1970’s), the High Street School, the Fayette Street School, and the Pawtucket Grammar School – as well as others too numerous to mention.  The Varnum Grammar School had its $1,800 Master and ten teachers.  The days of the one room schoolhouse were numbered.

On Kirk Street, the new high school was destined to be built.  It was a commanding building, three stories tall and the third floor was one large room, that was there when I moved here from Illinois.  It was literally one large room with seating for up to 1,000 students who were expected to study for courses under the eye of one lone teacher who occupied the raised dais.  The Worthen Street School used to stand on Worthen Street, down the street from the famous pub, between Market and Broadway Streets.  That would place it close to the Whistler House.  It is no longer there.

The Franklin School, between Middlesex and Branch Streets is still a well-used building.  Most people do not know it as the Franklin School however.  It is the building between Pailin Plaza and the grocery store.

The Lowell Training School had a woman who was Principal and she was well-paid at $1,500.00 per year.  Her name was Julia M. Dewey and she lived at 12 Middlesex Street in Lowell.  The school was located on Charles Street, close to Lawrence Street in South Lowell.  She had a staff of fifteen teachers.

The Greene Grammar School had been next to a tannery for years and it was finally moved due to parental complaints.  It smelled disgusting.  It was moved across from what would be the City Hall and the Memorial Library.  Not the Pollard Memorial Library because that did not exist.  It was named the Memorial Library after those men from Lowell who had lost their lives in the Great War.

The High School had Frank F. Coburn as Principal, not Headmaster.  The term Headmaster is relatively a recent phenomenon.  Getting rid of it should be easy.  Mr. Coburn made $2,200.00 per year, and was the highest paid Principal.  He had a Language, Science, Mathematics, Literature, and other curriculums to tend to, with a total of fifteen paid teachers.  Many doubled as Mathematics and Language teachers.  Their pay was high, by the standards of the day.  Most were paid $700.00 per year.  A few made $600.00.  The high school was definitely the jewel in the crown of the School Department.

What do these facts tell us.  Well, first is that the curriculum was close to what it is today.  The most popular foreign language was French, and the most popular English language was Literature-based.  Grammar was insisted upon, as it is now, and the most used language  was English.  No matter where the immigrants working the mills came from, their children in school learned in and of English.

I will have more facts and figures for you in later blogs.  Have a good week.