Notes on the Start of the Lowell School System

Here is another blog post from Jim Peters about the history of the Lowell Public Schools:

   In 1826, the town of Lowell was formed.  It did not have many amenities, it was purposefully for the creation of cotton weaving and machine manufacturing.  There was, Kirk Boott said, no reason to have an educational system.  Women would be trained to weave and work the machines and there would be no reason for implementing an educational system, since their time would be so regimented for seven days a week.  There were those who disagreed with him.  Among those was Dr. Edson, with whom Boott would have an issue right up until the day he died, standing before the church, which was St. Anne’s Episcopal downtown.  Boott had started that church, but Dr. Edson ran it and complained to the mill owners about their treatment of the first generation of women working in the mills.
    Kirk Boott, legend has it, on his dying day, as his last acknowledgement of the church, stood up in his buggy and raised a fist in front of the church in defiance of Dr. Edson’s teachings.  Dr. Edson, the pastor, taught the young women about, among other things, fairness in the workplace.   Legend has it that Kirk Boott rode by the church, raised himself up with  his arm lifted in defiance, went a few feet, and died in front of the church.  I read about it in a biography of Kirk Boott.  It seems fantastic, but it did happen that he died in his buggy while passing the church.
    The issue of the educational system that was going to be needed for the new town was primary in the discussions of the day.    “In ancient times the principle of education was recognized by free and democratic states,” according to the “Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.” which has been referred to previously.  (No pubisher is mentioned but it was printed in about 1893).  “Sparta based her safety and prosperity upon the proper education of every child in the community.”  (Actually, Sparta was not a democratic form of government, to my recollection.  Athens was and only for about 100 years).
    In 1824, the Merrimack Mills introduced a school for their operatives.  The Reverend Theodore Edson, Dr. Theodore Edson, was the head of this school.  The town of Lowell was incorporated in 1826, and, at the first town meeting, a school system was established.  It consisted of five school districts and a committee of five men.  The first men were Oliver M. Whipple, Warren Colburn, Henry Coburn, Jr., Nathaniel Wright and John Fisher.  The committee separated the town into five school districts.  The schoolhouses were located where the Green Schoolhouse is located currently (across from the library), at  the Falls, where St. Joseph’s Hospital once stood, near Hale’s Mills, and on Central Street near Hurd Street.  A sixth district was added later.
    It was stated at the time that this system was too unwieldy.  It was “unsuited to the needs of the community. (ibid.)”  The town needed a system, and started one, with the Reverend Theodore Edson at its head.  In 1832, a new system was put into place and a new school system was born out of the ashes of the old one.  This phoenix led its charge by putting two additional school houses in place.  “The proposition met with strong opposition from Kirk Boott and other mill representives. (ibid.)”  Part of the problem may have been that the Rev. Edson made it necessary for the mill owners to build the new buildings out of brick.  In addition, many of the wealthy persons in the town were vehemently opposed to an increased expenditure for schools. (ibid).
     Benjamin Butler, who would be among the first of the new high school’s graduating class, said years later that most of the expenditures would be at the hand of increased funds given to the school district (there was only one now) by the manufacturers and the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals.  “Mr. Boott declared that this “could not and would not be done.”  Education was desired by the masses, but its existence would not be happening at the time if it was up to the mill owners (not all, as stated the Merrimack Mills had classrooms for the children of its operatives).
     Mr. Boott was so opposed to Dr. Edson’s ideas that he stated that he would withdraw from his church and from attendiing “upon his ministration.”  The two men became enemies, despite the fact that Boott had been  supportive of the Reverend Edson in the beginning.  “All support,” it was stated, “of St. Anne’s in any way by the manufacturing companies would be gone (ibid.)”
     Dr. Edson, virtually by himself, introduced the expenditure for the two schools in the face of some very vitriolic grandstanding, passed the bill by a margin of eleven votes.  It is unsure whether that vote took place at that time, or at a later meeting, but it passed.  It seems that a second town meeting was called after the voting happened, and the mill owners tried to rescind the vote.  They even hired attorneys.  Instead of having the desired effect, the vote increased the number of persons supporting the schools by thirty-eight, not the original eleven.
     Dr. Edson said that a prominent member of the town stated that “…You have gotten your schoolhouses, but you will never get the children into them.” (Ibid)
That person became a follower of Dr. Edson’s, and recanted at a later date.
    Thus, you have the story of the start of the Bartlett and Edson Schools in early Lowell.  Education was of supreme importance and Lord Brougham, on January 29, 1828 said “The schoolmaster is abroad and I trust to him armed with primer, against the soldier in full military array.” (Famous Speeches; Fords, Howard, and Hobarth, NY, NY; 1887)
    Lowell’s first school teacher was Miss Anna W. Hartwell, of Littleton.  She received thirty four dollars and seventy five cents for teaching seventy five “scholars.”  The second day she received a visit from the superintending committee in regard to the books that would be required.  They set aside $100.00 for school expenses, not including salaries. (ibid)
     “At the close after three months, the committee examined the school and expressed their satisfaction with their progress.(ibid, Pg. 655)