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The public schools of Cambridge.

Frank A. Hill, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education.
The scope of this article does not permit a detailed history of the public schools of Cambridge. It is limited, therefore, to the following themes:—
  • 1. The ‘faire Grammar Schoole’ and its heirs, with some account of the development of public education for girls.
  • 2. The Cambridge high schools.
  • 3. The schools of Cambridge fifty years ago.
  • 4. The public school system of Cambridge to-day.

‘The Faire Grammar Schoole.’

Could the colonists have foreseen the great things that were to issue from their humble school beginnings, the record of those beginnings would not be the scant and incomplete story that has come down to us. It is not until 1643 that we find any authentic account of a school in Cambridge. In that year the curtain suddenly rises on Elijah Corlett's ‘faire Grammar Schoole,’ by the side of the college.

There is abundant reason for believing, however, that Cambridge was not without a school for some years prior to this date. We catch a glimpse of the Boston Latin School as early as 1635, in the pathetic record of the town that ‘our brother Philemon Pormort shall be intreated’ to become its master. Salem, Charlestown, and Dorchester also had schools before 1640.

The conditions for the early existence of a school were as favorable in Cambridge as elsewhere in the colony. When the town was founded in 1631, the intention was to make it the fortified political centre of the colony. It speedily became instead an important residential and intellectual centre. A writer in 1637 pictures it with artless exaggeration as one of the ‘neatest [188] towns’ in New England, with many ‘fair structures’ and ‘handsome contrived streets.’ The inhabitants, ‘most of them,’ he adds, were ‘very rich.’ We know from other sources that many of them had scholarly tastes. Moreover, Harvard College was founded in 1636, opened in 1638, and its first class of nine young men was graduated in 1642. In the work of fitting boys for Harvard, Cambridge would naturally have had an early and prominent share. It chimes in with this theory of an earlier school that Mr. Corlett, when we first hear of him in 1643, was already in the possession of an established reputation as a teacher; he ‘had very well approved himself for his abilities, dexterity and painfulnesse.’ His schoolhouse— the first one especially built for him in 1648, not by the town, but by President Dunster and Edward Goffe—was on the westerly side of Holyoke Street, between Harvard and Mount Auburn streets. At one time there were in his ‘lattin schoole’ five Indian youths fitting for college.

In 1642 the General Court made it the duty of Cambridge as of other towns to insist that parents and masters should properly educate their children, and to fine them if they neglected to do so. In 1647 the Court ordered the towns to appoint teachers for the children, whose wages should be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, as the majority ‘of those who order the prudentials of the town’ should direct. Mr. Corlett had to look to the parents for his pay, but his fees from this source were so meagre that the town from time to time came to his rescue. Once it sold some land for his benefit, without prejudice ‘to the cow common;’ occasionally it levied a tax of a few pounds ‘for his encouragement;’ and in 1684, when he had grown old in the service,—it was only two years before his death,—it voted to pay him annually twenty pounds so long as he should continue schoolmaster ‘in this place.’ The General Court made similar grants for Mr. Corlett's relief, so that his heart was touched, as he himself once quaintly said, by their ‘remarkable gentlenes and very tender dealings with a sad, afflicted, weake man, inconsiderate and rash sometimes.’

The early grammar school which was required by law of 1647 in every town of one hundred families was not a grammar school in the modern sense. It was Latin grammar and not English [189] that it taught. In brief, it was a college fitting school. While it was designed by law for ‘youth,’ it was exclusively a boys' school. Girls did not attend it for the simple reason that the idea of a girl's fitting for college, to say nothing of her going there, would have shocked the colonists. Indeed, girls did not usually attend the early reading and writing schools. To be sure, the law of 1647 was explicit, that after ‘the Lord hath increased’ a town to fifty householders, ‘one within their towne’ should be appointed ‘to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and reade;’ but the girls did not generally resort to him.

Boston, for instance, established reading and writing schools in 1682, the Latin School being the only public school in town down to that time. There was, however, no formal provision for girls in such schools until October 19, 1789, when the town voted that ‘children of both sexes’ should be taught in the reading and writing schools of their newly reorganized system. Even then and for forty years thereafter Boston girls were excluded from these schools from October to April; and when finally, in 1828, they were graciously permitted to attend school, like the boys, all the year round, the policy of separating the sexes was begun,—a policy that is in vogue to-day in many grammar schools in the older sections of the city as well as in the four central high schools.

Doubtless there were girls as well as boys in the early ‘dame schools.’ These were private schools that received children of the kindergarten age, although they were far from being conducted in the kindergarten spirit. In the old cemetery near Harvard Square lies the body of one of these useful dames, Mrs. Joanna Winship, who died in 1707. The tombstone of slate is solemnly decorated with crossbones, coffins, and a winged head, and bears the following quaint inscription, which is correct in point of fact and sound in metre, whatever may be thought of its poetic fire:—

This good school dame
No longer school must keep,
Which gives us cause
For children's sake to weep.

If girls received other education than that of the dame schools in the colonial or in the provincial period, it was usually in private schools of a slightly higher grade or at home, or they [190] picked it up in such contact as they had with the world. In the latter part of the seventeenth century there was no education for women in England. Ladies highly born and bred, and naturally quick witted, could scarcely write a line without solecisms and faults in spelling that would ‘shame a charity girl.’ ‘Our forefathers were wise,’ said Lady Clarendon in 1685, ‘in not giving their daughters the education of writing.’ ‘I should be very much ashamed,’ she added, ‘that I ever learned Latin, if I had not forgotten it.’ The wife of President John Adams, born in 1744, said that female education in her day, even in the best families, seldom went beyond writing and arithmetic, and that ‘it was fashionable to ridicule female learning.’

Girls worked their way into the public schools as pupils very much as women worked their way into the same schools as teachers. At first, the public school teachers were men exclusively. Towards the latter part of the last century the town histories of Massachusetts give us glimpses of women taking charge of schools here and there, in a sporadic way, at first during the summer months, and then all the year round. If women were to teach, it was meet that girls should study. Thus began the slowly rising tide of sentiment that women as well as men had minds to train and to use in a serious sense,—a tide that is obviously nearing its flood in Cambridge, since we have in our midst to-day—our fathers would have stood amazed at the prospect—women training boys and girls for college, and a college wherein women are trained to do it.

Corlett's schoolhouse on Holyoke Street, built by private enterprise, came into possession of the town in 1660. In 1670 the town built a second schoolhouse, and in 1700 a third one, on the same site. The fourth building was erected on Garden Street, a little west of Appian Way, in 1769, and the fifth followed it on the same spot in 1832. In 1852 the sixth building was erected on Brattle Street, and is occupied to-day by the Washington Grammar School,—in a sense, the lineal descendant of the ‘faire Grammar Schoole’ of 1643.

It is a curious history,—this transformation of a grammar school of the colonial type to a grammar school of the modern type. The dates of the nominal transformation may be assigned to the years 1845 and 1848, the change of 1845 being followed by a reaction, and the change for a finality taking place three years [191] later. The modification in character, however, had been going on for many years. Although the records give us a glimpse of an ‘English schoolmaster’ as early as 1680 ‘with at present but three scholars,’ it is only a glimpse. There was a time when with the boys studying classical subjects there began to be joined other boys who did not work beyond the ‘three R's.’ Nearer our own time these non-preparatory boys were joined by girls, some of whom still later had the audacity to venture upon Latin and even Greek in the college classes of the school. It was doubtless such a school as Edward Everett described in his address at the dedication of the Cambridge High School building, June 27, 1848. He remembered ‘as yesterday’ (Everett was born in Dorchester in 1794) his first going to the village school, how he trudged along at the ‘valiant age of three,’ one hand grasping his elder sister's apron, and the other his little blue paper-covered primer, and how, when a traveler, stranger, or person in years passed by, they were wont to draw up by the roadside and greet him,—the girls with a courtesy and the boys with a bow. ‘A little reading, writing, and ciphering,’ added Everett, ‘a very little grammar, and for those destined for college a little Latin and Greek, very indifferently taught, were all we got at a common town school in my day.’

The school that has come down to us from Elijah Corlett's was undoubtedly a grammar school for a long time in a double sense,—an English grammar school for Old Cambridge and a Latin grammar school for all Cambridge; and in popular allusions it was spoken of as a grammar school sometimes in one sense and sometimes in the other. That these were the facts in 1832 appears from this rule of the school committee adopted December 7 of that year: ‘In addition to these studies (certain English branches mentioned in another rule), the instructor in Grammar School No. 1 (the Latin Grammar School on Garden Street) will teach to any children belonging to the town the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages, and the studies generally preparatory for admission to college.’ Moreover, while the children of the colonial public schools were practically of one sex, it had come to be clearly understood long before 1832 that the word ‘children’ included both sexes, that the public schools, in short, were as much for girls as for boys; so that we have in this rule of 1832 an official recognition [192] of what had been gradually coming into practice in Cambridge,—co-education in high school subjects.

Years before this date ambitious girls might have been found here and there, more frequently in private schools than in public, working close up to the college doors, although it was hopeless for them to enter there, like Margaret Fuller, of Cambridgeport, subsequently Countess Ossoli, who in 1816, at the age of six, was studying Latin with her father, and whom we see again nine years later reciting Greek in the ‘C. P. P. G. S.,’ that is, in the Cambridge Port Private Grammar School,—a school for classical instruction where Richard Henry Dana and Oliver Wendell Holmes were among her schoolmates. Here was coeducation in secondary subjects, though not in a public school, as early as 1825. In the same year a high school for girls was opened in Boston. Its very success was its defeat. It was crowded to overflowing, and scores were rejected. The citizens became alarmed. The threatened expense was enormous. Moreover, there were those who feared that girls in humble life would be educated beyond their station! In less than two years, in the flush of prosperity, the school was voted out of existence, not to be revived for a quarter of a century. Bishop Clark, of Rhode Island, informs me that the Lowell High School, which was founded in 1831, had girls as well as boys in its membership from the beginning. He was the first principal of the school, and speaks, therefore, with authority. New Bedford opened a high school for both sexes earlier still. Of the fourteen high schools reported to be in existence in 1838 in Massachusetts, there were several where co-education had been the rule for years. The higher education of girls was in the air. It was as much a factor in the conditions that led to the development of high schools as a product of that development.

It is not, therefore, so very surprising after all,—the metamorphosis that came to the Latin Grammar School on Garden Street, Corlett's old school, in 1840, for in that year it was divided, the boys remaining on Garden Street and the girls going to the Auburn School, in School Court, now known as Farwell Place, the schoolhouse for which was built in 1838. The girls were placed under a classical instructor, but not the boys, ‘the girls being more advanced than many of the boys;’ and this school during its brief existence was known as the [193] Auburn Female High School, although there were also in it misses of lower grades.

From 1840 to 1845 the girls of Old Cambridge fared better than the boys so far as secondary instruction was concerned; but the citizens chafing somewhat under the disadvantages of the boys, the Auburn School in 1845 was made a high school for both sexes, and the Garden Street School, known thereafter as the Washington School, a grammar school, for the first time in the exclusively modern sense, for both sexes. There was some opposition to bringing the sexes together in this way, but Rev. William A. Stearns, chairman of the school committee and subsequently president of Amherst College, voiced the unanimous opinion of the committee that it was wise to do so. ‘In all the other schools of the town,’ he said, ‘boys and girls meet together every day without injury, we believe, to the morals of either.’ The evils feared, if they once existed, had ‘long since been entirely banished from them.’ ‘Children in our high and grammar schools [those of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge] are as decidedly delicate and respectful in their treatment of each other as any similar classes in our adult population.’ Nevertheless, there were parents who withdrew their daughters from the Auburn High School and the Washington Grammar School, whereupon, in 1846, for reasons of economy, the two schools were united in the Auburn building under the name of the ‘Auburn Grammar and High School.’ Thus Elijah Corlett's school was once more under one roof,— partly a grammar school in the old sense, and partly a grammar school in the new sense.

In 1848, there was another and final parting of company, the high school classes being transferred to the central high school, in Cambridgeport, and the other classes remaining under the name of the Auburn Grammar School. In 1851, the Auburn building and the Auburn School entered upon a period of travel, the building going first to North Avenue, and finally to Concord Avenue, where it stands to-day as the Dunster School, the school meanwhile moving into Lyceum Hall, then into its old building again as it stood rejuvenated on North Avenue, then into the vestry of the Baptist church that once stood near the present college gymnasium, and finally, in June, 1852, into its new quarters on Brattle Street, where it became known once more as the Washington Grammar School, [194] and where it has remained to this day. Thus at length came to rest the perturbed spirit of Elijah Corlett's transformed, dismembered, and wandering school, not quite sure but it ought to claim a burial urn in the Cambridge High School, or in one or the other of its branches, but content, on the whole, to be known as the loyal ancestral shade of the Washington Grammar School. This is the reason why a brownstone tablet in the outer wall of the Washington building tells the reader that that school is the lineal descendant of the ‘faire Grammar Schoole’ of 1643.

The Cambridge High schools.

In 1838 a high school was organized in Cambridgeport for the entire town, in a building erected for it at the corner of Broadway and Winsor Street. Its first teacher was Edward F. Barnes. This school, so I am informed by John Livermore, who was a member of the school committee as early as 1843, had girls as well as boys from its start. It was not convenient of access either for East Cambridge or for Old Cambridge. Moreover, it did not stand well in the graces of Old Cambridge. For two centuries the classical instruction of the town had had its home there under the eaves of the college. Corlett's tree was not to be pulled up by the roots and set out in a new and distant part of the town without a protest. Accordingly, the high school of 1838, although it was the town high school for five years, drew its pupils mainly from Cambridgeport.

In 1843, the Otis schoolhouse, ‘quite a magnificent structure,’ was completed for East Cambridge, and on its upper floor was opened a high and grammar school with Justin A. Jacobs and Miss Almira Seymour as teachers. At the same time, Richard T. Austin and Miss L. M. Damon were teachers in the ‘Female High School’ of Old Cambridge. Thus, in 1843, the three sections or wards of the town had each its high school, with a man for its principal and a woman to assist him. The high school of Ward One, as we have seen, was for girls. Inasmuch as it also contained girls of grammar school grades, it was as often called a high and grammar school as a high school. The high schools of Wards Two and Three were for both sexes, that of Ward Two being the only one in the town not associated with grammar school pupils.

In 1847, the plan of uniting the high school pupils of the [195] three wards was revived. A high school for the city (Cambridge had ceased to be a town May 4, 1846) was opened October 4 of that year in the high school building of Cambridgeport, with Elbridge Smith as master and Miss N. W. Manning as assistant. Seventy-four pupils were admitted, all but one from the ‘Port’ and the ‘Point.’ The single exception was the mayor's daughter from Old Cambridge. Members of the city council from Old Cambridge had said in substance to their associates, ‘Place your high school where you choose, we shall make no use of it.’ This attitude, however, was not long maintained. In June, 1848, the high school of Old Cambridge was closed, and in the following September its pupils took their seats with the high school pupils of the rest of the city. Thus that classical instruction which began in ‘the faire Grammar Schoole’ more than two hundred years before, after many vicissitudes and transformations, was finally switched off from the lineal successor of that school, and merged in a high school that had come into existence before this diversion took place. This was the beginning of the Cambridge High School, in the sense of its being in reality the high school for the entire city. The ideas that had long and fruitlessly sought to make the high school organized in Cambridgeport in 1838 a high school for the town rather than for Ward Two had at last triumphed. One happy result of the triumph was the reduction of sectional jealousies and the growth of more sympathetic relations between the somewhat isolated villages that made up the city of that time. The school started under propitious skies. It began in a new building erected for it at the corner of Amory and Summer streets, Edward Everett, president of Harvard College, giving the dedicatory address,—an eloquent and inspiring effort. There were at once overflowing numbers. The school committee, with stringent standards of admission in mind, had asked for a building for 60 pupils. The Common Council, taking a larger look at the future, provided for 108. The public, heedless of them both, furnished at the July examination for admission 107 pupils, 41 boys and 66 girls, and in September, when the school opened, 31 more.

In 1864 the high school moved into its third home at the corner of Broadway and Fayette Street,—at that time one of the best equipped and most elegant schoolhouses in the State.

In 1886, the high school was divided, its classical department [196] becoming the Cambridge Latin School, and its remaining departments the Cambridge English High School. The Latin School was transferred to the Lee Street church, which had been fitted up to receive it. The English High School retained the old building. The separation took place March 1, 1886, both schools continuing in charge of William F. Bradbury until September of that year, when Frank A. Hill entered upon his duties as head master of the English High School, Mr. Bradbury continuing as head master of the Latin School.

In 1892 the English High School moved into its present commodious and beautiful building on Broadway, between Trowbridge and Ellery streets. This structure was erected on land presented to the city by Frederick H. Rindge and at a cost to the city of $230,000.

In September, 1888, the Cambridge Manual Training School for Boys, founded and maintained by Mr. Rindge, and placed under the superintendence of Harry Ellis, was opened to the boys of the English High School.

As soon as the building at the corner of Broadway and Fayette Street was vacated by the English High School, it was remodeled and put into excellent order for the Latin School, which took possession of it September 6, 1892. The growth of the school has made it necessary to plan a new building for it, to cost not far from $250,000, and to stand on land adjacent to the English High School building and the Public Library.

Upon the completion of this building, Cambridge will be able to point to a decade of high school development unparalleled in the history of the Commonwealth,—a decade at whose beginning we see two high schools chafing under cramped conditions, without a suspicion of interest in a certain pasture not far away in Old Cambridge, where the cows were wont to feed in summer and the boys and girls to skate in winter, but at whose end we find the pasture transformed to a park, and the park dignified and adorned by the most complete and varied group of educational structures in Massachusetts. Grounds, buildings, and improvements will represent, all told, an investment of nearly a million dollars,—in part the present and prospective gifts of a gentleman who thus munificently expresses his love for his old home, and in part the munificent response of the city to these gifts and to her sense of high regard for the welfare of her youth. [197]

The close of the decade, it may be quietly added in passing, will also see Old Cambridge once more in possession of that secondary instruction whose transfer from her borders she so strenuously opposed from 1838 to 1848.

It is worthy of note that since 1886 the two high schools have each doubled in number, neither checking in any way the progress of the other.

Cambridge schools fifty years ago.

It is idle to claim that schools are ever free from faults or that they are ever as good as they can be. Perfect schools require the impossible conjunction of innumerable happy conditions in innumerable cases. The absence of one of these conditions in a single case means, to that extent, friction, estrangement, soreness, or failure. Among these conditions are a wise and generous public attitude towards schools, suitable buildings and equipment, able, tactful, and inspiring teachers, intelligent and helpful parents, well-born and well-bred children, concert of views as to the aims, subjects, and methods of education, loyal and steady devotion from all parties to the work of the school, and so on. More of these conditions are realized in Cambridge to-day than fifty years ago. With admitted room for improvement, Cambridge schools offer to-day as fine facilities for a sound education as any in the Commonwealth or in the country. Much of our present development is the fruit of what was said and done fifty years ago.

Dipping at once into the record of the past and following no order but the suggestions of that record, we learn from the school committee of 1843 that show exhibitions are injurious, as striving for appearances more than for realities, for display more than for usefulness. In the same year teachers' meetings are held weekly, and members of the committee are sometimes present. Improvements in one school thus become known to the other schools, and errors in teaching are less likely to become chronic. Corporal punishment is reported as diminishing. One master has gone so far as to lay it aside altogether,—a seemingly dangerous experiment,—but the order has improved, the pupils are more attached to their teacher, and greater progress in study has been made. More attention is paid to reading than formerly. It is important that good habits of reading should be formed in the primary schools. [198] The duty of parents to converse correctly with their children, to listen to their reading, to make the fireside the ally of the schoolroom, is emphasized. The attendance of children at school is very irregular. It has been improved somewhat by requiring children to bring excuses from their parents before being allowed to take their seats. Such works as Sparks's Lives of Washington and Franklin should be placed in school libraries,—an invaluable substitute for juvenile romances and cheap newspaper novels.

During the year 1843, it appears that the school committee made five hundred and eighty-three visits to the schools. The appropriation for schools was $8,500. The expense of the schools is indeed great, say the committee, but great good is received in return. There is no sect or party arrayed against them. Families come to Cambridge because of her schools.

From the report of 1844, it appears that the schools are classified into five grades or kinds,—alphabet, primary, middle, grammar, and high. In the high and grammar schools, the cost of instruction per pupil was $9.88 for the year; in the middle schools, $2.96; and in the schools below, $2.81.

With all their painstaking and in spite of the admonition of the town, the committee of 1843 overran their appropriation by $263. ‘ “Cut your coat according to your cloth” is indeed a good general maxim; but it is certainly better to get a little more cloth than to spoil the garment.’

It is interesting in this fiftieth year of Cambridge as a city to note a certain tendency among many intelligent people to compare the schooling of the present unfavorably with that of the past. Admitting the real superiority of the old schooling in some points or in some localities, for all change from the past is not necessarily for the better, we are nevertheless sure that some of the alleged superiority exists only in the minds of those who unwittingly carry into their maturity the sincere but poor little school judgments of their childhood or who, in an equally artless way, project the attainments of their maturity into the schools of their childhood, as if, forsooth, such attainments were then and there fully fledged. How common the remark of the critics that our pupils to-day are poorer spellers than were those of fifty years ago! But note the plaint of the school committee of 1844: ‘A few of the schools excel in reading, while most of them, both in reading and spelling, are lamentably deficient. [199] . . . There is an unaccountable reluctance on the part of both teachers and scholars to use the spelling-book,—a book which, in the days of their fathers, was ever acknowledged “the only sure guide to the English Tongue.” . . . The committee are unanimously of opinion that the attainments in this branch are altogether inferior to what was witnessed in our schools twenty or thirty years ago.’

The committee of 1844 protest also against many studies, causing superficial knowledge, and increasing not only the expenses of education, but habits of inaccuracy, slackness, and inattention,—a kind of protest with which we are familiar in our time, the smoke, as it were, of the irrepressible conflict between two ideas, that of thoroughness and that of breadth, each educationally sound, although either pushed to extremes crowds the other to the wall.

The crying need of the schools, say the committee of 1844, is good teachers. The qualities wanted in them are of a high order,—an assemblage of attainments and virtues seldom found in one person. In case a teacher fails, however worthy or needy he may be, it is better that he should suffer through loss of position than that a whole school through him should waste or lose its golden days. The evils of irregularity in 1844 are very great, it not being unusual for a quarter of the pupils to be absent from school at one time. Collisions between parents and teachers in matters of discipline have been comparatively rare. It is hoped that teachers will continue to have the countenance of all good men in their endeavors to banish lying, obscenity, profanity, and every other vice and impropriety from the schools.

In 1846, it appears that many schools are too large, and that teachers cannot hear as many lessons as the scholars are able to learn. Hence idleness, lack of quiet, and lack of discipline. Eighty or ninety pupils tax a teacher unduly.

The schoolhouses this year received a thorough overhauling from the committee. One schoolhouse is well built, but has no ventilation. Another is ‘truly a noble building,’ but not without defects, for although one room is well ventilated and in good order, another has a floor badly shrunken, burned, and unclean, while certain plastering is falling, and the cellar contains water. Other buildings come in for a denunciation that is merciless: they are ‘old, leaky and rotten;’ ‘shamefully [200] marked, dirty, and uninviting;’ fences marred with words and cuts ‘too recent to allow any apology for the depravity which occasioned them;’ a ‘magnificent structure,’—‘an ornament to the town if it can be preserved from unseemly mutilations,’ and yet unskillfully or unfaithfully built, with a leaky roof, no gutters, water in the cellar, and dampness threatening to health; a building uncomely and shamefully disfigured without and within, and yet, ‘for a wonder, well ventilated;’ ‘the worst in town, a dirty looking affair, presenting a melancholy contrast to that physical and moral cleanness which our common schools are expected to secure;’ and so on, with mingled praise and censure, to the end of the list.

As a result of this fearless presentation, a general purification and renovation of the school buildings began. There has been a steady advance in schoolhouse conditions, until to-day the evils that grieved good people a half-century ago are nearly, but not quite, gone. A great building like that of the English High School, with hundreds using it daily, kept with the cleanliness of a well-kept private house, with scarcely a pencil mark or trace of unseemly scribbling or hacking about it after years of occupancy, its lawns respected and the tulips and pansies blooming undisturbed in the open about it,—such a vision sixty years ago would have seemed a millennial dream. And yet such conditions are becoming the rule where once they were striking exceptions.

In 1844 there were parents who did not take kindly to writing excuses for tardy or absent children, and some of them betook themselves to sending saucy words to the teachers in such notes. ‘If the regulation is injudicious,’ say the committee, ‘the blame should rest with us who made it, and not with the teachers.’

While the improvement of the schools in 1844 was commendable, there were exceptions. ‘Some children have a habit of always behaving as bad as they can upon every introduction of a new teacher. In some instances, one or two whole quarters have been nearly lost by this means.’ Parents were held by the committee as partially responsible for such rebellions, which sometimes were not quelled until the refractory had received the severest punishment or been expelled from school. Not long before, Horace Mann had reported that more than 300 schools in the State had been closed in a single year, because of [201] the incompetency of teachers or the insubordination of pupils. Cambridge, in 1844, had not completely emerged from this mania of school insurrection, the sad product of false and strained relations between the teacher and the taught, but the good work of deliverance was well under way at that time. ‘Scolding and fretting, angry and reproachful words, are fast giving place to milder and more powerful modes of influence. It is a pleasure to visit schools where a benevolent teacher presides, with easy dignity, over an orderly group of cheerful and industrious children, and infuses into their susceptible minds an affection for each other, with a love of study and of God.’

In March, 1846, the report of the school committee, the last for the town, begins thus: ‘The School Committee of Cambridge render thanks to Almighty God, and congratulate their fellow-citizens, in view of the present unusual prosperity of the schools.’ The year 1845 was one of marked activity and progress. The scathing review of the schoolhouses a year or two before had borne fruit. Repairs were made, houses cleansed and some painted, offensive marks removed, and a substantial beginning made towards better schoolhouse conditions. Music was introduced as a science for discipline; as an attainment, if not accomplishment; and as a means for refreshment, good order, and right feeling. The ground was taken, in the matter of school work, that school study of a severe sort is less injurious probably to the body, the mind, and the morals ‘than that listlessness and idleness in which the intervals between recitations are too often worn away.’ More time should be given the children for recreation out of school, more work to do in school.

In morals a marked progress was noted for 1845. The habit of defacing buildings was nearly broken up; public sentiment had developed strongly against such abuse. Profane and impure language had diminished. The habit of truth-telling had gained ground. The duty of reverence was strongly urged in the report of 1845,—reverence to parents, to one's self, to teachers, to magistrates, and to all superiors in years and goodness.

Classes were still too large for the teachers. Cambridge was still outstripped by twenty-three towns and cities of the Commonwealth in the amount of money raised per child for schooling, Somerville raising $7.64, Boston $6.76, Chelsea $5.58, Charlestown $5.09, Newton $4.26, and Cambridge $3.95. [202]

Still, Cambridge had risen from the thirty-fifth place the proceding year to the twenty-fourth, and that was cause for congratulation. The committee, however, did not think ‘it should be an object of ambition what town will expend the most money, but what town can produce the best schools.’

Here the records must be dropped. Even in their fullness, the story they tell is somewhat meagre; and it is only a snatch or two from that story that is given here. It is not the story of a golden age in our school history, except so far as that age might have lived in the dreams of men who sought to advance the schools. It is certain, however, that the graphic, high-toned, and fearless reports of William A. Stearns1 and his associates did wonders in quickening the town's educational conscience, and in toning up the schools to the better standards of the times.

The schools of Cambridge to-day.

The School Committee of Cambridge numbers fifteen members. The term of service is three years, one third of the committee retiring each year. Thus the board is practically a continuous body, always containing a majority that have had experience in school management. The mayor is chairman ex officio. The best men and women of the city respond freely to the public demand for their service on the board, and the list of past members contains many a name of state and even national reputation. This service has been admirably supplemented and strengthened by the gentlemen who have served as superintendents of schools since 1868: Edwin B. Hale, from 1868 until 1874, and Francis Cogswell, from 1874 to the present time. Whether guiding or executing progressive educational policies, Mr. Cogswell has shown rare wisdom and tact, and throughout his prolonged experience has enjoyed the uninterrupted confidence of his committee, the schools, and the public.

It is usually understood that the first superintendent of schools in Massachusetts was appointed in Springfield in 1840. Cambridge records show, however, that the town warrant of March 17, 1836, contained an article with reference to employing a superintendent of schools, that the school committee, [203] April 15, 1836, voted to employ one of their number in that capacity, that Josiah Hayward was accordingly elected superintendent, April 25, 1836, and that his salary was fixed at $250. The office was not kept up long in Cambridge; but in Springfield it was permanent, so that Springfield's claim to priority has a pretty solid basis.

The high school system of Cambridge embraces practically three schools,—the Cambridge Latin School, under the head mastership of William F. Bradbury, with 14 teachers and 388 pupils; the Cambridge English High School, under the head mastership of Ray Greene Huling, with 21 teachers and 674 pupils; and the Cambridge Manual Training School for Boys, under the superintendency of Charles H. Morse, with 10 regular teachers, 3 special instructors, and 172 boys, these boys being a portion of the 674 pupils in the English High School. These are the figures for December, 1895.

Our schools give a wide range of choice to ambitious youth. Does a young man wish to fit for Harvard, a young woman for Radcliffe? It can be thoroughly done in the Latin School, which has a five years course for the purpose. Promising students can do the work in four years. Preparation for either of these colleges will answer for any corresponding college that may be selected. Has the pupil in thought the Institute of Technology or the Lawrence Scientific School? He may prepare himself in the English High School, with or without manual training. Is it an eminently practical course in carpentry, wood-turning, forging, machine-shop practice, and mechanical drawing, with sympathetic academical work, that is sought,— training in the alphabet and primer of the trades that aims to fit one to respond to the changing demands of industrial life? There is the Manual Training School, furnishing one half of such a course, and the English High School the other. Or is it an all-round and broader schooling that is wanted, with less of the classics and more of the sciences and English than in the traditional college course,—something that leads up to the normal school or to the college that admits without Greek, or to what we call the general-culture purposes of life? It is just this schooling that the English High School aims to provide.

Cambridge has nine grammar schools, each for both sexes, with six grades of pupils. The following table of these schools is based on the data of December, 1895:— [204]

Schools.When founded.Teachers.Pupils.Principals.
Allston184814571Benjamin W. Roberts.
Harvard184119742James S. Barrell.
Morse189011414Mary A. Townsend.
Peabody18897295Frederick S. Cutter.
Putnam184518688Thomas W. Davis.
Shepard185212449Edward O. Grover.
Thorndike186113488Ruel H. Fletcher.
Washington184214453John W. Freese.
Webster185317685John D. Billings.
Wellington188452435Herbert H. Bates.

The history and work of these great schools merit a larger notice than is here possible. It may be said in passing that Mr. Roberts has been principal of the Allston School from its beginning. At the age of eighty, he shows the vigor and progressive spirit of his prime. Many of these schools had an existence under other names and conditions before the dates of their founding as given above, like the Shepard, which was known as the Winthrop before 1852, and earlier still as the North Grammar; or like the Webster, known from 1841 to 1853 as the Mason; or like the Thorndike, which, previous to 1861, was the Otis,—the school which, from 1843 to 1847, was known as the High and Grammar School of East Cambridge; or like the Washington, whose history, as we have seen, makes it difficult to assign a satisfactory date for its founding. The Morse and Wellington schools have primary in addition to the grammar grades.

In addition to these ten grammar schools mentioned there are three others that contain grammar pupils to the number of 388 (December, 1895),—the Corlett, Agassiz, and Sleeper. These schools send their pupils of the upper grades to such of the other grammar schools as are in their vicinity. With the exception of the Corlett, the same schools have primary as well as grammar grades.

The Wellington School is a training school for teachers. There had previously been a training school from 1870 to 1882. An interval of two years without such a school brought into bold relief its value to the city. Consequently, in 1884, the present school was organized. It has a small regular force of [205] teachers, selected with reference to their ability, not only to teach, but to guide novices in the art. In addition there are from twenty to thirty pupil teachers, graduates of normal schools, and others of equivalent previous training, who are paid humble salaries, and who, as they prove their ability to do creditable work, are put into the schools of the city as substitutes or regular teachers.

Mr. Cogswell has arranged an ingenious plan, under which capable pupils may regularly, and in classes, complete the six years course of the grammar schools in five years, and even in four. The report of the superintendent for 1894 shows that, of 563 graduates of the grammar schools, ten per cent. completed the course in four years, thirty-two per cent. in five years, forty-two per cent. in six years, and sixteen per cent. in seven or more years. The saving in time and money, both to the city and to the pupil, in this individual shortening of the course is much in its favor. Moreover, it is better intellectually and morally that one should work somewhere near his capacity for four years than dawdle along in the rear of that capacity for six.

A unique feature in the Cambridge grammar schools is the employment of special teachers to help forward such pupils as seem able to do the work in less than the prescribed time, as well as such pupils as threaten to take more than the prescribed time.

Geometry and physics have recently been put into the grammar schools,—the course in geometry having been outlined by Professor Paul H. Hanus and that in physics by Professor Edwin H. Hall, both of Harvard University. The instruction is limited to such simple elementary principles as may be readily apprehended by the young, and the methods of study are largely objective and experimental.

In the primary schools there are 5087 pupils and 116 teachers. They are under the immediate supervision of a ‘Special Teacher of Primary Schools,’ whose work is directed by the superintendent of schools. Miss Lelia A. Mirick, now Mrs. Frederick S. Cutter, was the first to hold this position, which was created in 1892. She was succeeded in 1895 by Miss Mary A. Lewis. The course of study is for three years. Of the 1159 pupils graduated in June, 1894, ten per cent. completed this course in less than three years, fifty-eight per cent. [206] in three years, and thirty-two per cent. in more than three years. Regular instruction in botany has recently been introduced; also the Ling system of Swedish gymnastics.

For eleven years Mrs. Quincy A. Shaw of Boston maintained three free kindergartens in Cambridge. A fourth was supported by a few Cambridge ladies. In 1889 the school committee assumed them as a part of the public school system and since that time have gradually added to their number until today there are eight kindergartens with 417 pupils and sixteen teachers.

The city employs several special teachers. Mr. Frederick E. Chapman is director of music and Mr. James M. Stone director of drawing. There are also teachers of botany, gymnastics, and sewing.

The city maintains one evening high school, four evening elementary schools, and one evening drawing school.

It is sad that the blessings of school so prized by the vast majority of our citizens should fail to impress some of our number. Absenteeism in a bad sense has been heavily reduced since the founding of the city, but it still exists. Whatever its cause, whether the ignorance, indifference, misfortune, greed of gain, inability to control, or what not of the parent, it should be kept down to a minimum both for the children's sake and for that of their families and the community. Hence the employment by the city of four truant officers who are in constant touch with the teachers on the one hand and the irregulars on the other.

A comparison of Cambridge statistics for 1845, the last year of the town, with those for 1895, the fiftieth of the city, reveals surprising changes.

Cost of instruction11,558235,812
Cost per pupil3.9520.50
Percentage of valuation spent on schools.0013 mills. .0034 mills.
Ratio of school tax to the whole tax33%33%
Number of pupils215112,174
Number of teachers30322
Number of pupils per teacher7138
Salary of high school principal$800$3,000
Salary of grammar school principal7002,000
Salary of grammar school teachers250620


This comparison shows that our population during the past fifty years has increased sevenfold, our valuation tenfold, the cost of instruction per pupil about fivefold, the percentage of valuation expended on schools nearly threefold, and the salaries of teachers about threefold, while the number of pupils per teacher has been reduced nearly one half. The ratio of the school tax to the entire tax has remained, however, about the same, indicating that whatever advance there may have been in school expenditures, there has been a like advance in all other departments of the government. In striking contrast with this growth of expense in certain things is the decrease in expense of many other things,—text-books, pictures, freight, travel, and the like. Such changes are a part of our civilization. Cambridge has simply borne her part in the irresistible modern drift. The days of content with wretched buildings, scant equipment, worn books from former generations, meagre salaries, narrow programmes, and the entire scale of humble school expenditure are seemingly gone forever, not simply in Cambridge, but in all Massachusetts communities of consequence. Were Cambridge suddenly and alone to go back to those Arcadian times when it cost her only $3.95 per pupil for instruction, she would drop from the thirty-sixth place which she holds to-day in the list of three hundred and fifty-three Massachusetts towns and cities to the three hundred and fifty-second, with the Indian town of Gay Head at the foot to keep her company, while the expenditure of $44.76 per pupil by number one in the list would seem to them both unpardonable extravagance.

The educational advantages of Cambridge are by no means exhausted with this meagre account of the public schools. There are private schools of many grades, some of them excellent. There is Radcliffe College for young women. Above all there is the famous university, with its great library, its wonderful museum, its botanical garden, many of its lectures and much else that it provides for its students, all freely open or open with but moderate limitations to the public. For fifty years with scarcely a break Harvard College has been represented on the school committee of the city. Of late years it has given free courses in certain subjects to the teachers of the city. In the Prospect Union, it is repeating its instruction, in a popular way, for workingmen and others, thus bringing the college and those that choose of the people into a touch helpful and inspiring to both. [208]

To these advantages may be added finally that indefinable atmosphere which comes from historic and literary associations unmatched elsewhere in the western world, the very breath of which is an education not to be despised.

The Newtowne of 1631; the Harvard of 1636; the old burying ground where lie the early presidents of the college; the holiday routes of the British to Concord and Lexington; the bloody routes of their return; the elm where Washington took command of the army, the mansion where he lived with Lady Washington, the little church that both attended; the site of the ramparts thrown up in the siege of Boston; the winding road—old Tory Row—by which the army of Washington marched out of Cambridge for New York and by which, not long after, the army of Burgoyne from New York marched into Cambridge; Hollis, Stoughton, Holworthy, and the rest,—the sometime homes of scores of men subsequently distinguished in their respective fields of service; the site of the gambrel-roofed house where Holmes was born; the stately home of Lowell among the pines and near the willows that stirred his muse; and doubly dear, with its memories of Washington as of the poet, that of Longfellow, with its vista of the sinuous Charles and the marshes beyond; beautiful Mount Auburn,—the Westminster Abbey of New England, where at every turn the names of the illustrious dead quicken one's memory of the history they shared in making,—these are but a part of the priceless heritage that is ours.

Does the sense of their value ever become dull? Let the pilgrims that come to us in annually increasing numbers sharpen that sense, and nerve us to keep these memorials, so far as their keeping may be in our hands, as unique and sacred supplements of our educational facilities.

1 Rev. William A. Stearns was the president of Amherst College, from 1854 to the time of his death in 1876.—editor.

2 Assisted by the training class.

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