The Advent of Lowell’s High School in 1834

Meeting on 3/10/1834

Present:   Theodore Edson, Pastor and School Committee


Messr’s. Barnaby, Graves, Merrill, Case, Haven

and Austin

The School Committee voted for Mr. James M.

Graves as Secretary

The School Committee’s business ended with the vote for Miss Esther Lew’s as the Instructress at the Lawrence Primary School in Lowell.  Edson and Austin were given the task of being “a  committee to  make the necessary arrangements.”  Clearly this group was bent on controlling education in early Lowell.  “The town voted to choose a general superintending School Committee to consist of seven (men) and Theodore Edson, James Barnaby, John W. Graves, Joshua Merrill, Eliphalet Case, and Samuel F. Haven were chosen on Tuesday the 4th. day of March.  William Austin was elected to fill the vacancy on the board.”  Samuel A. Coburn, Town Clerk.

In this important meeting, they “Voted that a third grammar school be established, (and) they “adjourned to meet in the Selectman’s Room on Monday next at 2 o:clock. ”  They bought books on 3/17/1834.   Third Grammar School elected Mr. D. Healey Master and Mr. James Whittier as Assistant Master.  At the North Grammar School they elected Mr. James Bean as the Assistant Master to fill out Mr. Healey’s term.

In important news, they appointed “Miss Abigail B.M. Barnaby Assistant for the North Grammar School.”  There were many female teachers in the One Room Schoolhouses of  Lowell, but this was the first female administrator in the town.  It was not yet a city.  They also appointed Miss Mary Sawyer as Assistant for the South Grammar School.”  Finally, they appointed Miss Martha B. Davis as the Second Assistant for the South Grammar School.  Two female appointees for the same school.  In that day, a woman could not be married and serve as a school teacher, much less an administrator.  That was because a married woman was believed to be in danger of getting pregnant and the school district did not want to explain pregnancy to the general public, especially the children.

They agreed to meet “tomorrow morning.”

At that meeting, they appointed “Mr. Austin as the Committee to Provide a Stove for the Third Grammar School room.”   He was supposed to “Make the necessary arrangements for its commencement.”

“They voted that the third Grammar School commence on Wednesday March 24, 1834 at the North Grammar School House.”  They also “voted to proceed to the election of teachers for the Primary Schools.”  Those schools consisted of the “Irish, Suffolk, Swamp Locks, the Baptist Meeting House, Central Street, Hamilton,  Power District, Chapel Hill.” schools.

They also voted at that meeting that the Committee proceed to the appointment of the salaries for the several Instructors.”  A School Master made $600.00 per year, while Assistants made $350.00 per year, female teachers made $175.00 per year, while the mysterious Writing Master made an elegant $400.00 per year.

They appointed Mr. Edson to supervise the North Grammar School, Pound District, and the Merrimack Primary Schools.”  Others were also appointed, while Belvidere  exercised its influence by getting two new schools (Primary) in its geographic area and having their charter state that graduates of the Primary Schools in Belvidere could attend the Grammar and High Schools but they had to make the High School in the Concert Hall on Merrimack Street.

Speaking of high schools, Lowell did not have one at this time.  The Committee was destined to make up for that oversight.  “Resolved as the sense of the Committee that it be expedient to establish a high school according to the laws of the Commonwealth and we will establish such school as soon as practicable.  Adjourned to Friday, April 11th. at  2 o:clock.  It had been a busy meeting and Belvidere got its two schools.

“Voted that Messr’s. Edson and Barnaby be a committee to receive of instructors in the High School.”

In the meeting on 4/14/1834 they fired Mr. Bean and replaced him with Joseph L.J. Crane.  They found that coal for the entire district for the last winter had cost $29.53.  They had to order blinds for the school houses.  Invoices for paying for the teachers salaries were paid for $35 teachers.  The town was growing.

They voted to “suspend the Irish School.”   That occurred on 8/3/1834 and was probably partially due to the insistence by Irish parents that their children attend Catholic schools.

They appointed Mr. Egan as subcommittee of the high school.  They started, in 1834, centralized testing and “That the Secretary publish the time of examinations in the Papers of the Town.”  Then they adjourned.

When they met again they stated that “Each of the above examinations will take place at 2 o:clock PM.”  There were ten Primary Schools  examinations.  The Irish School was back but it was relegated to hold its rent stipend to $80.00 per year and not to exceed that amount.  They voted that the High School room in Concert Hall on Merrimack Street “be used for no other purpose than for the High School.”  They even paid a carpenter named Mark Rogers for desks and seats at the high school.  The high school was not lightly dealth with.  “William D Dauncey be admitted to (give) examinations for admission to the high school.”   Custodians at the high school were paid fifty cents per week  “for sweeping and cleaning the stoves in the high school.”  In curriculum, “Approved rhetoric and review be used in the high school.”

The high school would become a major educational magnet in certain circles.  It was noted by the board that there were seventeen schools requiring twenty eight instructors.  In comparision Charlestown had 9,400 inhabitants wheras Lowell had 14,000 inhabitants.  Charlestown had 1,581 students to Lowell’s 2,300 students.

Lowell petitioned in early 1834 with the state to certify their new high school which was located in the Concert Hall on Merrimack Street.  Massive work was done to the Concert Hall to make it into a high school.  At one point the School Committee was forced to admit that “The High School had been closed since January last for lack of funds…to open the High School as soon as they should be able to save money enough to carry it through the year.”  {John W. Graves – Secretary Lowell School Committee, July 23, 1834}.

Again, you can check my conclusions by taking out the School Committee Minutes from 1834 to 1838.  It is available in the Memorial Library Research Room.  In my opinion, and based on my readings, the High School did not exist until 1834.  There was a three year high school educational program  which might have explained a graduation late in 1834.  All you needed at the time to be a teacher was a 7th. grade education.  A High School education was frosting on the cake.  A college education was unheard of at the time.  Even lawyers were not required to go to college.  They  just studied under other lawyers.  Thus, we have come a long way.

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