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The Town & the City: Lowell before and after The Civil War

Originally created to be a digital archive for Lowell documents from 1826 to 1861, this website has grown to cover many periods and events in Lowell's history.

Writings about schools in early Lowell

From Contributions of the Old Residents' Historical Association, Lowell, Mass

School District No. 5 and my Connection with it, by Joshua Merrill, Esq. Read February 12, 1873.

History of the Lowell Grammar Schools, by Alfred Gilman

My Schools and Teachers in Lowell Sixty Years Ago, read May 3. 1892, by Rev. Varnum Lincoln

Members of the first School Committee 

Rev. Theodore Edson  (1793 - 1883) 

Dr. John O. Green  (1799 – 1885) 

Warren Colburn (1793 - 1833)

Samuel Batchelder (1784 - 1879)

Transcription of the minutes of the first School Committee meeting: March 5, 1827

Report of the School Committee

[Published by order of the Town]

The School Committee, chosen at the last annual meeting in conformity to the Act for the regulation of schools passed in 1826, they have to report that having made some changes of books and of the course of exercises in the schools under their inspection, they think it due to the Town and incumbent on themselves to state briefly the principles upon which they have proceeded and what they have done.

They entered on their duty with a full conviction, that the object to be chiefly regarded in our public schools is the training and discipline of the mind, and that the studies and exercises ought to be carefully adapted to the capacity of the pupils. For all the changes they have made therefore, it has been an object with your committee that the books and exercises they have prescribed should be adapted to cultivate the ingenuity and active facilities of the mind, rather than to load the memory with that which is not understood.

With this principle constantly in view, your committee have directed the use of Colburn’s Intellectual Arithmetic in nearly all the classes. The utility of this exercise, even for very young children, is now, it is believed sufficiently tested by experience. At the same time that it is addressed to the most useful powers of the mind, it is a subject which is more readily adapted to the different degrees of intellectual ability than any other.

Your committee have also directed that the Sequel to this Arithmetic should be used in the more advanced stages, in preference to other Arithmeticks in common use, because while they present artificial rules to be committed before their principles can be understood, and examples proposed merely as exercises upon those rules, this offers the subject in that shape in which it must occur in practice, and so that the nature of the questions must be understood if they are solved at all.

The difference is that they who have been exercised only on rules, even if we suppose that they have the sagacity to become acquainted with the subject in this way, will be obliged at least to change their methods of operation whenever they enter much into business – your committee have recommended that they be practically taught at first.

In respect to the reading books, your committee have observed, that when they go a little beyond the capacity of the pupils, a habit of mechanical [crossed out] reading is formed, in which the ideas do not go along with the words as they are pronounced. This is evident when children read monotonously. They would not so read unless they had been practiced in reading that which they cannot easily enter into the spirit and meaning of. In selecting reading books your committee have thought it better to fall below the utmost limit of the pupil’s abilities than to overreach it, because in the former case if the attention be gained and the subject understood, there is an exercise of the intellect, though it not be to the greatest degree: in the other case there is no exercise of the understanding, and a serious injury is done by weakening the habit of associating ideas with words in reading.

They have also preferred a familiar to a very studied style, as affording greater variety of tones and inflections of voice, upon which reading in our schools should be an exercise.

Your committee have also directed that most of the classes be required to give definitions of such words from their reading lessons as they already understand, in order to call forth [crossed out] [replaced with] exercise their ingenuity in answering, and to give them a facility and accuracy in the use of language.

The object, in all these changes of books and studies, has been to discipline the minds of the children in such a way as they will probably have most occasion to exercise them when they enter into the business and pursuits of life.

In every school the committee have had reason to be satisfied as to the utility of the course os exercises which they have adopted.

Some of the schools have been very well kept and the success of instruction has been manifest and satisfactory. In others the improvement has been less than could have been desired. On the whole we believe that they have been as well kept and have been as successful as under existing circumstances could have been expected.

Your committee regret to state that on visiting the school in District No. 3, they found that Mr. Allen, the master whom they had approbated, had been dismissed, and that another instructor was employed, and though it claimed to be a public school, yet they found the books course of exercise so very different from those they had prescribed that under its present arrangement they cannot with any consistency approbate it as a town school.

In making this statement however, they would not wish it to be understood as passing any judgement on the ability of the present instructor.

                                                                                               Theodore Edson

                                                                                               Warren Colburn

Lowell                                                                                      John O. Green

            March                                                                          Sam'l Batchelder

                        5, 1827                                   


Rev. Theodore Edson  (1793 - 1883) 

Dr. John O. Green  (1799 – 1885) 

Samuel Batchelder (1784 - 1879)

Warren Colburn (1793 - 1833)