Origins of Lowell High’s Carney Medals

Here’s another contribution by Jim Peters on the history of public education in Lowell:

    In 1859, the School Committee was larger than it is today and very active.  There were Committee activities, meetings, teacher hirings and firings, and many of those items that we still have the school committees do.  One of those was the writing of a specific Lowell curriculum.  Another was the testing of teachers to see if they were competent in their fields.  Sometimes, little changes.
     On January 3, 1859, the Board elected M.G. Howe as the Secretary of the Committee.  In the way of listing the concerns of the Committee, it should be pointe out that there were fifty-one schools in Lowell.  Three of the Committees were in:
     1. Instructors
     2. Reports
     3. Books
The Superintendent was elected by a Committee of Three.  The Committee could not immediately hone in on any one individual, so they asked for “further time.”  Members of the Committee included, Mssrs. Hinckley, Abbott, and Stevens.  Among other tasks, the School Committee had to deal, on January 17, 1859, with problems in the heating in the Grammar schools.  In the same meeting, M. Pople was fired as a French teacher.
     On January 31, 1859, “Worcester’s Pronouncing Spelling Book” was purchased to replace the “Tower’s Speller.”  In the same meeting, Mr. William Southworth stepped down from the School Committee, leaving an absence that had to be filled.  There was a plethora of requests for changes in sitting committees.  Also, the Committee asked for information as to what the basements of the Edson and Green Schools were used for, a report was requested.  Over in the Common Council Room, Mr. Southworth’s vacancy was attempted to be filled.  Artemas S. Brooks was selected for the slot.
     Further troubles followed the committee.  Mr. Hinckley resigned effective at the end of his term.  However, the Evening School program was cited for excellence.  A certificate was filed to find qualified teachers to teach in the school.  In the meantime, Sister Desiree, was petitioning the board to teach in a private school (a Catholic school).  Her case was referred to the Committee on Teachers, one of the many committees spoken of prior to this action.
     Today, there are seven members of the sitting School Committee, in that time there were thirteen members.  The thirteen voted that it was “not advisable” for the Teacher’s Institute to hold meetings in Lowell for “the coming spring.”  They did not give a reason.
     In the meantime, the High School on Middlesex Street was studying “Crosby’s Greek Grammar, Tables and Lessons.”  There was also the text “Lessons to Xenohan’s Anabasis.”  Either because they liked him, or were keeping a close eye on him, the new Superintendent voted that the School Committee room be used as the office of the new Superintendent.  The Committee resolved that the Moody and Franklin schools be remodeled on the plan of the Bartlett, Edson, and Varnum schools.  In good news, it must be said that Sister Desiree was installed as a teacher.
     Some of these changes took place in March.  On March 28, 1859, twenty three new teachers were installed.  It was voted by the  committee that “Aforesaid votes be communicated to the City Council by the Secretary of this Board.”  Now, this is interesting because I stated in earlier blogs that the City Council had, by 1877, no say over the School Committee, that the committee was autonomous.  In addition, it is also interesting that the state passed a law on books to be used.  This at a time when all education was being paid for by the individual school departments in a given town.  The law was passed on by the committee to a “Committee on Books.”
     There was a subcommittee on teachers which dealt with  the hiring and firing of teachers.  In addition, a Report of the Superintendent on Recording of Children Going to the Mills was adopted.  Also, Primary School #25 on Chestnut Street was vacated and moved to a new  house on High Street.
     Other motions voted to make brick walks at all schools and to notify the Superintendent of the action.  They also wanted “…a uniform system of writing books be introduced in all the schools and no others allowed.”  This was to be part of the “Committee on Examinations of the Public Schools.”
     My favorite part of this year was on July 17, 1859, when it was “Voted – to recomend to this Board to distribute the Carney Medals among the Senior Class, only to the High School selecting there to receive the honor, according to the wishes of the donor, three young ladies and three young gentlemen, who stand highest in character and scholarship.” (All quotes are from the School Committee Minutes of 1859).  Mr. Curley moved to accept this recommendation.  It is important to note that this was decades before women would be allowed to vote.  But, in Lowell, on an equal basis with the gentlemen, they could be a Carney Medalist.
    The Carney Medalists were chosen at least one week before the end of the school year by their teachers, and approved by the Subcommittee.  Thus, we have one of the most advanced medals given to any team of ladies and gentlemen in any city in the United States.  In 1859 they were slated to get awarded for their scholarship.  Imagine what Malala would think about that.