“A New System of Public Education” by Jim Peters

Another essay on the history of the Lowell Public Schools by Jim Peters:

 The 1800’s were a period of tremendous growth in the educational system.  During the 1800’s, the educational system had grown rapidly.   Local Government got involved with the education of our ancestors.  Today, we are basically going to look at the year 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Lowell was known as an industrial center, and a great many of our ancestors took advantage of Lowell’s prominence to promote educational perogatives and changes.  Some of those will be discussed.  Suffice to say that the period between 1826, when Lowell was founded, and 1900, the beginning of the new century, the educational system handled a great many problems.  These problems included the formation of the new school system, its curriculum, the number of students, and how to begin a new system designed to be held in the evenings.
    There were a large number of schoolhouses, all of them run by schoolmarms, not male teachers.  The fact was that the schoolhouses were handled by female teachers, while the mills were enlisting the employment of females.  Why the educational system did not have male teachers could have been due to small salaries, but there is no concrete proof of that, or some other unexplained reason.  In the beginning there were a number of small one-room schoolhouses.  By the end of the 1800’s, most of these schoolhouses had been replaced by large school buildings.  Also, in the beginning and for most of the century, the schoolhouses remained in predominantly female hands.  Early on, there were two or three large schools.  The Highland School is difficult to chart, so let us stick to the South Schoolhouse.  It was a large wooden building.  It was dedicated to teaching 101 males and females, which was very progressive for that time period, who wanted an education.
    The total number of grammar school students, in 1834, the first year for which there are firm records was five hundred twenty eight students, with an additional one hundred one students attending a well formed night school program.  At this time, you needed a seventh grade education to be a school teacher.  There were no grading issues yet, because there was no grading.  In T. Edson’s Report on the Schools, in 1834, on January 8th., it was noted that there were eleven primary schools, largely consisting of students under the age of seven which were maintained, and this is a direct quote from the report, of “female teachers”  {Illustrated History of Lowell, Massachusetts, late 1800’s, no publisher listed}.  The report estimated that each teacher had approximately one hundred studentsbringing the total number of students to eleven hundred “to a school {ibid}.”
    The South School House was the gem of the early schools in the town.  Lowell had not been incorporated as a city by this point.  “It was ascertained that if all the schools then  in operation were continued through the year, the expediture would exceed the sum granted by the town for the support of the schools {Lowell School Committee Minutes, 1834}.”  In addition, there were fifty students ready to move up from the primary schools to the grammar schools.  By “Grammar School” they meant a school catering to the intermediate grades.  The reason I question the Highland School starting in 1826 was because of the record that this grammar school would bring the total number of grammar schools to three.
    Meanwhile, at the High School, started in 1832, (their capitalization), the fierce winds of winter caused the school to close in January and wait out better weather.  If you could become a teacher at completion of the seventh grade, then high school was more like a current college education.
    “These facts (the heavy preponderance of seven year olds, plus the great number of grammar school students), show the necessity of opening a third grade school immediately,” bringing the number of grammar schools to three.
    By 1834, the high school had 192 “different pupils” {ibid.}  leading Mr. Edson to theorize that “Thus it will be seen that the town did not provide an unnecessary amount of school room.”  The most amazing thing about the high school, in its day, was the fact that males and females studied together and were given equal chances to prove their academic abilities through the Carney Medal Awards.  These Awards were given out, albeit  later in the century, to the top students and separated by male and female awards.  An equal amount of persons were recipients of male-awarded Carney Medals and female-awarded Carney Medals.  This was at a time when females did not have rights to property, or even the right to vote, yet they competed on the same level as the male students.
    It may be observed that, if all of the schools then in operation were continued…the expenditure would exceed the sum granted (to maintain operations)…By closing the High School, a greater expense was curtailed…” {Report to the School Committee}.  “The whole number of pupils connected with the town schools is about two thousand and four hundred. {ibid}  The number attending was put at one thousand three hundred and fifty.” {ibid.}
    By 1835, they had increased class size, hired moe teachers, opened a school in Belvidere and these fourteen schools are kept by many female teachers.”
    The South School House was more populated than Mr. Hill’s North Schoolhouse.  All consisted of one master, one assistant master (males), and two female teachers, who were employed at each large school house.  That breaks down to two females for hundreds of students.
    The curriculum was rote.  In 1952, Piaget said that students logical thinking occurs in stages according to age and experience.  “Students learn through involvement…” {The Principalship; 1987 by Allyn and Bacon;
Thomas J. Sergiovanni}  Students of the 1800’s learned by memorization and reiteration.  The curriculum of the day does not necessarily include academic excellence through involvement.  And, at an early age, they were expected to work if necessary.  Education was a luxury few could afford.  It appears that that still stands, at least at the college level.