The Lowell School System – 1870 to 1899

It must be observed that the Lowell school system was at its best during this time period.  Changes were being handled with an adroit hand.  City fathers were going on a building program, building the 1893 Lowell High School on Kirk Street, which is an anomaly because the person most angry about the need for a school system was Kirk Boott so it is strange that we put it on his street.  He even sent a message to the head of the St. Anne’s Church, his church, that education, “Could not and would not be done.”  (1893 – History of Lowell)  “Mr. Boott informed Mr. Edson that any further advocacy of this proposition would so far meet with  his disapprobation (permission) that he should withdraw from his church and from attendance upon his ministration; that he should give his attendance and influence to another religious society and that all support of St. Anne’s in any way by the manufacturing companies would be withdrawn.”  He was not joking.

Dr. Edson, “single-handily” carried the vote on the issue  by the public by eleven votes.  (ibid.)  A second vote was called for by those desiring to kill education in Lowell, and they lost again, this time by thirty-eight.  One man, heavily on the side of the Kirk Boott sympathizers told Dr. Edson that “Well, you have got your schoolhouses, but you will never get the children into them.”  That man changed his mind later and became a strong supporter of public education.

It is necessary to say that the Lowell mills, those mills owned by supporters of the original design in the Merrimack Mills, voted to have a brick school house built as part of the mill buildings on that site.  They vehemently disagreed with Mr. Boott and his friends.  They did not pull their support of St. Anne’s either, even when Dr. Edson became the head of the School Committee.  Dr. Edson held that post for decades.  Kirk Boott, in an ironic twist, died while passing St. Anne’s  door.  He stood up with his fist raised towards the church in defiance and died of an aneurysm while standing in defiance of the church in his horse-drawn chaisse.  He fell onto the mud on the ground.  He  had refused to be buried in Lowell and rests in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

So Lowell had its brick schoolhouses, its strong citizen-backed school department, and began its history of school spending.  “The town voted an appropriation of $20,000.00 to defray the expense of building two schoolhouses and the purchase of building sites.”  The Edson and Bartlett schools had a place to educate.  An Englishman of the time stated “There is another personage, a personage less imposing, in the eyes of some perhaps insignificant.  The schoolmaster is abroad, and I trust to him armed with primer, against the soldier in full military array.” (ibid, Speech Given in 1828 in England by Lord Brougham).

I have witnessed many teachers plying their trade, and I would have to agree.  The teacher has more influence than a soldier, even if the soldier is dressed for battle.  Both have their duties, but education has a continuing part to play even when a nation is at peace.  No one denigrates the soldier, it is just a simple fact.  We remember our education perhaps as much, if not more, than we would remember military service.  That is not to put military service down, it is just a measurement.

Education in Lowell started in 1826, the year that the town incorporated.  It had two small schools in the confines of the Town of Chelmsford.  Those were muted by the schools mentioned previously.  Those were in  Lowell.

We have a complete list of the curriculum in the schools by 1890.  Some of those books will be mentioned below.  It is necessary to say once again that the high school was not started in 1831, but in 1834.  That is per the School Committee Minutes of 1834.  Lowell High School had not made its appearance yet.  When it did, it was the first public school to  start  an academic contest open to a contest in academics for both boys and girls.  These were  the Carney Medals.  It was also a school that charged tuition for surrounding towns who wanted to send their students,  “Scholars,”  to the newly minted school.  Few people could get a legitimate high school education in that rural time.  High School opened up doors like colleges do now.  A high school graduate could teach, hold important positions, and cede to the city or town it was located in,  cede its influence, primarily.

In fact, at that time, 7th. and 8th. grade graduates could teach school.  But married women could not.  No one wanted to have to explain to children what pregnancy was, or how it came about.  In my lifetime, people like Miss Rita Sullivan, my English teacher, stayed unmarried partially because at the time of their certification they could not get married.  No one wanted to explain childbirth to their students.  And no man, in this society where women did not have the vote yet, wanted to explain birth secrets to students.  It was a man’s world.

So what was the curriculum like in 1890?  Well, it was very like today’s Latin Lyceum.  The basics were there.  They learned Latin, French, and other Romance languages.  Specifically, LHS was wrapped in tradition.  There were fifty-nine books dedicated to teaching Romance languages, Sciences, and Mathematics.  I am not going to introduce all of those areas for this blog.  I will introduce some.

“Liddell and Scotts Greek Lexicon (abridged)”

“Bocher’s Otto’s Frence Grammar”

“Bocher’s Otto’s French Reader”

“Otto’s German Reader”

“Adler’s German Dictionary”

“Eaton’s Algebra”

“Lockwood’s Lessons in English Compositions”

“Davies’ Surveying”

“Class Book of Prose and Poetry”

“Scudder’s History of the United States”

“Leighton’s History of Rome”

“Cooley’s Natural Philosophy”

Other areas taught included Shakespeare, Geometry, Infantry Tactics, Civil Government, Histories of England, Rome, and Greece.  Other books included ones on American poems, making James Russell Lowell’s comment that people became famous for their poetry in the United States before their time.  Shakespeare was included in poetry books.  There were classes on book-keeping, and astronomy.  Grammar schools learned a great deal.  They included a child’s  book of United States History.

Well, it can be argued that we are not doing anything very different.  The subjects remain the same.  We still push for a Latin overview.  We still include poetry, stories, and histories.  I will write in the near future about the application of 1890’s curriculum.  It promises to be interesting.


Copyright by James A. Peters ISBN # attached

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