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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Lowell by Hugh Seymore Tremenheere, 1852



The Rev. Dr. Edson, Rector of St. Anne's Church, Lowell, to whom I was directed as thoroughly conversant with this subject, expressed himself to me to the following effect:

"It was twenty-seven years last March since I first came to Lowell, which was then a village of about six hundred inhabitants. Public worship was then held for the first time in the village, and the service was performed by myself. Lowell is now a town of about forty thousand inhabitants. I have resided here as a minister of the Episcopal Church ever since, and during the whole time have taken an active part in education as a member of the School Committee, and otherwise. Seeing that the system of public schools established by law was the only one possible under the circumstances of the country, I have applied myself with all the zeal in my power to make it efficient; and I have endeavoured to cause the deficiency of religious instruction in the day-schools to be supplied, by encouraging Sunday-schools to the utmost of my opportunities. To the children of my own flock I have given all the doctrinal instruction in my power in the Sunday-school, and by other means. I have interested myself generally in favour of Sunday-schools, seeing in them the only mode under our system to imprint on the minds of those who most require such teaching, the principles of revealed religion. My experience, however, of now nearly thirty years, as a pastor, has, I am sorry to say, forced upon me the painful conviction that our public school system has undermined already among our population, to a great extent, the doctrines and principles of Christianity. I perceive also its effects distinctly in the modes of thought and action of the young people who flow into Lowell from the neighbouring States, and, in fact, supply the demand for labour that is constant here. I find in my frequent intercourse with them that they possess a knowledge of none, or nearly none, of the distinctive principles of the Christian faith, and that many are in a state of mind beyond that of mere indifference, though not precisely in that of those imbued with the principles of the French and German schools of infidelity. I find in them a considerable indifference as to what sect they may belong to, thinking, all religions alike, and generally showing a great ignorance of the Bible, which they profess to take as their guide. I find many not only unable to repeat any of the Ten Commandments, but entirely unaware of there being any Ten Commandments at all. I find them generally well grounded in the ordinary elements of what is called common education, and clever and acute as to all worldly matters that concern them, but very lax in their notions of moral obligation and duty, and indisposed to submit to any authority or control whatever,  even from a very early age. This exhibits itself, among other ways, in the irregular manner in which they attend school, Sunday or day school. I have taken much pains with regard to that subject in Lowell, and I have, I am sorry to say, come to the following conclusion. In the first place, we have the Irish population. These are well looked after by their priests, and I have no doubt that nearly the whole of them attend some Sunday or other catechetical instruction. Looking, then, solely at the American population, and the few foreigners not Irish mixed with it, I believe that less than half of the whole number of children between the ages of five and sixteen attend any Sunday-school, or do so only most irregularly. It is easy to infer what sort of hold the Bible, its precepts, and its doctrines, can be likely to have on minds thus loosely prepared for the temptations of life. There is in the minds of the great majority no principle of deference to authority. There is indeed a school of persons in this country, and a very numerous one, who think it wrong to try to influence a child in its adoption of any form of religious belief. Very commonly also no point of doctrine seems to have been effectually and thoroughly explained to them, and taught as from authority. All doctrines seem to have been treated as the deductions of individual opinions, and left pretty much to a child's own inference. The moral effect of this is visible in relation to all authority, beginning with the parental. It is no new remark that, unless a child is from his earliest years taught to reverence an authority higher than, and in support of, the parental, he will very soon begin to question and resist the parental. That this evil is already nearly universally felt and acknowledged in this country there is no longer room to doubt. From throwing off authority in regard to religious matters, and holding doctrines loosely, the step is easy to abandoning them altogether; and accordingly it consists with my observation here during several years past, that the great majority of those now growing up cannot be said to hold more than belongs to mere natural religion. I look upon this very prevalent condition of mind with very great apprehension, for all history shows that this is only the first downward step to complete irreligion and infidelity, and thence to the corruption of morals such as was exhibited in the heathen world. I much fear that we are making sure and not very slow strides in that direction; and while I deeply lament it, I am free to confess I see no present remedy for it in this country. Allow me, however, to say, that it gives me the greatest satisfaction to learn that in England you are alive to these dangers. I earnestly pray that you may not fall into them; and if you think that the result of my experience here, and of the sincere convictions it has forced upon me, can be of any service in your country, I beg you will make any use of them you think proper."

I owe it to Dr. Edson to state that he is a gentleman very highly considered in his own neighbourhood, and that neither theoretical nor party bias appeared in the least degree to enter into the expression of his opinions, which evidently were the result of earnest and sincere conviction.

That the result of such a system of education would be of the nature above described, has often been argued on general principles. Into those arguments this is not the opportunity to enter. My present concern in dealing with the subject, at a moment when probably public attention in this country may soon be again concentrated upon it, is to contribute some few facts and opinions which may tend to show, that the example of what has occurred and is occurring on that subject in the United States cannot be referred to as a solution of our own 
difficulties, or as a safe guide in a path upon which we have not yet entered.

If the example of the United States does not assist us in solving the religious difficulties in the way of establishing a general system of elementary education, the most cursory observation of what has been done there, and is still doing, with so much zeal and energy for secular education at least, cannot fail to leave a deep impression on the mind of an Englishman who witnesses it. He will see in the cities and larger towns large buildings, for the purposes of day-schools, three or four stories high, divided into class-rooms, and affording accommodation under one roof for 1000 or 1500 children.*

He will find in every village and township one or more buildings appropriated to this purpose, according to the needs of the population, and the greatest liberality exhibited in the expenditure upon books and apparatus, and generally in the salaries of the teachers. As an instance, I may mention that of the village of Storey, eight miles from Boston. Speaking of this, and of several others similarly circumstanced, Dr. Spears stated to me that--

[Note : * As a proof how little regard is paid to expense in the fitting up of these class-rooms when the question of the efficiency of the school is concerned, it may be mentioned that the plan now becoming common, because most approved of, is to give every child a small desk and a chair to himself, or at most two are placed at one desk, with a chair each.] 

"The disposition of the people to vote money for educational purposes is so great that it needs to be checked in many cases. In the township of Storey, the whole real property of which is valued at only 500,000 dollars, not less than 17,000 dollars were expended last year in the erection of five new schoolhouses, besides the ordinary expenses of maintaining their three grammar and two primary schools. It has been publicly mentioned on the best authority, with regard to the city of Cambridge, containing 16,800 inhabitants, that it pays annually more money in taxes in support of its public schools than is paid for instruction, from every source, in the University there (the Harvard), which is regarded as the richest endowment and the most expensive University in the country. Such instances of a similarly liberal expenditure are very common."

By way of further illustration of the subject of the text (p. 131), I add the questions in history proposed to the candidates for admission to the High School at Lowell, which I find in the 'Twenty-fifth Annual Report of the School Committee of the City of Lowell, for the year ending December 31, 1850.'--p. 21. 
The public schools of the city of Lowell consist of "forty-six primary schools, nine grammar schools, and one high school in two departments." The candidates for admission into the high school were presented from the nine grammar schools. 


1. In what year was America discovered by Columbus? 
2. What people colonized the West India Islands? 
3. Who was the conqueror of Mexico? 
4. Who first circumnavigated the earth? 
5. Under whose patronage did John and Sebastian Cabot sail? 
6. What river was first explored by James Cartier? 
7. Which of the United States was first settled by the English? 
8. To whom was Pocahontas married? 
9. Did Virginia favour the cause of Cromwell, or of King Charles? 
10. What adventurer gave the name to New England, and made a map of the country? 
11. With what Indian chief did the Plymouth colony make a treaty of peace, which  
            continued fifty years? 
12. What war terminated this peace? 
13. Under the jurisdiction of what colony was Maine placed in 1652? 
14. By whom and where was "King Philip" killed? 
15. Why was Canada hostile to New England in the wars which arose between France  
            and England? 
16. What made Louisburg a place of great importance in King George's war? 
17. Of what religious sect were the New Haven colonists? 
18. What State was colonized by Roman Catholics? 
19. Of what religious sect were the first settlers of Pennsylvania? 
20. What were the feelings of the Indians towards William Penn? 
21. Which of the United States was colonized under the direction of Oglethorpe?