This is a series of articles in the Gloucester Daily Times April and May, 1951 on the History of GHS

April 30, 1951

High School History . . . . .

School Days Yesteryear Fraught With Vicissitudes

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. The second installment will appear soon.

By Arthur N. Smith

Perhaps the most important single event in the development of the public schools of Gloucester took place in the spring of 1850, when, in town meeting, the voters approved almost unanimously the resolutions and appropriations necessary to reorganize the entire school system. Specifically, at that town meeting the citizens created the office of superintendent of schools, voted that the town should take over direct control of public education, and approved the construction of a building to house two high schools, one for boys and one for girls. Mr. John J. Babson, Gloucester's town historian and the moving spirit in this reform, has termed it “the noblest act ever performed by the town.”

The high school building thus voted and which opened in March of 1851, was part of a wave of high school organization which swept the state in the mid 19 th century. The first high school was opened in Boston in 1821, and by 1840 there were only 18 such schools in Massachusetts; but by 1860 there were 102 which taught Latin and Greek. This trend was due to a number of influences, among the most important being the humanitarian crusades carried on by Horace Mann and his associates during the second quarter of the century. In Gloucester, high school construction was part of a general scholastic reform.

In 1850 our schools needed reform. Some boys and girls were able to get only two months of school per year, and that not the best. Education was in the control of school districts, which generally appointed their own school sessions. There was no organized curriculum, wherefore we find one lad who studied nothing but grammar during his first four years at school, while most of his male friends preferred arithmetic, supposing the mastery of this science would gain the economic success.

Attendance was irregular, and parental interest lax excepting on occasions when interference, rather than interest, might act to justify the mischief of their progeny. The buildings were rundown, unhygienic, ill-heated and unattractive, everything, in short, but overcrowded. There was no system of school inspections or examinations, and during the year two of the five members of the school committee become so ill-pleased with their hopeless responsibility that they resigned from office. Out of this unhappy state came public concern, and the town meeting mentioned above.

Not a Golden Age

The condition of the schools in Gloucester was probably not peculiar to this community, but was more prevalent than rare throughout the state. Although the educational leadership of Massachusetts has been recognized since the earliest colonial days, public education was not enjoying a Golden Age during the first part of the 19 th century. In the year 1837, for example, one sixth of the children in the state were instructed in private schools at a total tuition cost of $328,000; the remaining five-sixths of the children were presumably, taken care of in public schools, at a total cost of $465,228 to the taxpayers. This sum breaks down to a provision of but $2.81 per child in that year, compared to the approximate cost of the $200 per Gloucester child in the present year. In that light of these figures, it is not difficult to presume that Gloucester's educational status a century ago was comparable to that of most other towns and probably better than many. This supposition, however, neither condones nor explains the apparent educational apathy.

Area Posed a Problem

A citizen of Gloucester today can as readily find the main cause of weakness in our schools of a century ago as could the people who were responsible for it. The size of the town- the geographic area, combined with the chief occupation, fishing, go a long way toward explaining our local educational development. Today this city is said to be it he second largest municipality in the state, in size; until 1842 it was even larger, as Sandy Bay, or Rockport, did not separate from Gloucester until that year. The long coastline, indented with hospitable coves and harbors, encouraged the people to settle in isolated villages, spreading our from the early settlement at the “Green” to the Harbor, and West Gloucester and Magnolia, and to Eastern Point, Annisquam, Bay View, Lanesville, Folly Cove and other sites, relatively distant but geographically practical for a fishing economy. In a day of poor roads, when the common mode of transportation was walking, this scattered settling posed a serious problem to our ancestors. It resulted in the religious division of the town into five parishes, and in a similar decentralization of control of our schools. A brief survey of the first two centuries of Gloucester history is not only informative and possibly interesting; it is necessary, if the story of our schools is to make complete sense.

Founders Were Literate

The founders of the Bay Colony were literate people; 142 university graduates who settled along Massachusetts and Ipswich Bays among the thousands of Puritans who came in the Great Migration of the 1630's were determined that education should flourish here for their children. First, they established a college, and then they turned their attention to public schools. In 1642, the Great and General Court warned householders to see to the instruction of their children in the reading of the English tongue, and in the knowledge of the capitals laws, under penalty of fine. Five years later came the famous enactment requiring each township of 50 families to provide a teacher for its youth, and each town of 100 families to support a grammar school, “the master thereof being able to instruct youth as far as they may be fitted for the University.” The grammar school, then, was the “secondary school” of colonial days; and this act laid the foundation of our later high schools.

It may be noted in passing that the “University” was Harvard College, admission to which was determined after an interview by the applicant with the president of the institution, conducted in the Latin and Greek languages. Thus began, in America, the interesting custom of the college determining the curriculum of the public secondary school.

Early Schools

Despite this legislative directive, Gloucester did not erect a grammar school until 1708, nor even provide a teacher until 1698. A teacher was discussed in the town meeting of 1696 but not until two years later did the town appoint Thomas Riggs to instruct the town children for a fee of one shilling six pence per day. Again, Gloucester was not alone in this delinquency; few of the other Bay State towns supported school or teacher, being much concerned with other and more practical business, such as remaining in existence in the face of physical hardships, and for some of them, the menace of Indians. Children were instructed in reading and writing at home, or in private schools, or, if they were apprenticed, by their masters.

Mr. Riggs apparently held school in the Meeting House at the Green, but school kept for only a short while; Gloucester was “presented” at Salem Court for allowing the school to lapse in 1701. Disconcerted by the difficulty of gathering her wide-spread children into one school, the town appealed to the General Court in 1702 to send members to visit the town and see for themselves how it was “circumstanced with respect to a school.” Apparently the investigators could see no adequate reason for non-compliance with the law, and school resumed from 1703 to 1705; but educational inertia was difficult to overcome and the town was again “presented” in 1707. Under this pressure, educational interest gained momentum, the school was re-opened in 1708, and a building raised to house it. Twenty-four feet by sixteen feet with a six foot stud, this first public school stood on the “Green,” to the east of the Meeting House, just north of where route 128 now enters Washington Street near Ashland Place. From 1712, public schools became a permanent institution in the town.

Grammar “Circulation”

During the succeeding 20 years, the number of settlers in the outlying districts increased, and their share of the tax burden became proportionately higher than that of the families near the “Green.” Led by the people of Annisquam, they expressed discontent at having to support a school so far from their homes, so the town meeting of 1735 worked out what seemed an admirable solution. The grammar school should “circulate” throughout the town. The town was divided into five school districts; three years would be required for a circuit through all of them, and the school should remain in each district for a length of time proportionate to that district's share of the taxes. Of course, regardless of which district the school might be serving at any time, children from all parts of the town might attend it, if they could get to it. The largest and most populous district, the harbor, stretching from the “Cut” across to Eastern Point, was divided internally so that during its turn, the school met successively at three different places. This “circulating” of the school may be illustrated through the schedule approved by the town in 1757, which prepared two three-year circuits as follows:

The Harbor Parish 33 mon.

The Cape (now Rockport) 3 mon. 19 days

The Town Parish 10 mon. 16 days

Squam Parish 11 mon. 4 days

The West Parish 13 mon. 27 days

72 mon. 6 days

$407.37 In Schools

In this same year, 1757, the total expenses of the town were $1070.11. Of this sum, $407.37 was appropriated for the schools; an admirable percentage of the tax collected, and an indication that niggardly instincts were not at work in regard to education. Further non-educational expenditures included $281.68 “on account of the poor” and $209.90 for ammunition including powder, bullets and flint.

The following year, 1758, it was agreed to maintain the grammar school permanently at the Harbor, and also circulate another school through the parishes. This practice was maintained until 1804, excepting during the Revolutionary War when the schools were closed from 1776 until 1784.

What kind of school was this grammar school, the “high school” of colonial days? Its teachers were usually well-qualified; ordinarily they were graduates of Harvard College, who came to Gloucester for a few years while awaiting a call to the ministry, or before engaging in some other occupation. There is little evidence that they prepared many boys for college. Mr. Babson could find only 19 residents of this city who graduated from college between the founding of the school and the Revolutionary War, and it seems that these boys were privately prepared. Most of the boys who attended the schools do seem to have learned “to read, write and cipher” a little. Generally speaking, in Gloucester there were neither the financial means nor the occupational need for college training. In 1793 the “Proprietor's School house” a “private school,” was erected on School Street by wealthy residents of the Harbor District, since the Grammar school was permanently located in that district, this act could be regarded as a contemporaneous estimate of the quality of the public school. There is no direct evidence that girls ever attended the grammar school.

New School in 1795

Although the grammar school had resided in the Harbor District since 1758, it had no building of its own until 1795. Rev. Eli Forbes, pastor of the First Parish church, made a report on the Gloucester schools in 1790, which was, to be mild, not favorable. But Rev. Mr. Forbes was a constructive man, and made three proposals for their improvement. He urged the town to build a school house; to increase the pay of the teachers so that they can devote “their whole time to their business”; and to make provision for the education of females – “as they are a tender and interesting branch of the community, but have been much neglected in the public schools of this town.” Consequent to his report, the town made an appropriation in 1793, and in 1795 the new school house was dedicated with a procession and appropriate religious ceremonies. It stood on Granite Street for almost 60 years, and was then moved to its present location on the corner of Beacon and Wells streets, where it has served the school department until recently, as the administration building. At present it is given over to the use of the veterans of the Spanish-American war.

School Districts

The grammar school was carried on in its new building until 1826, when it was ingeniously abolished by the town meeting. Dissention about its location, founded upon the discontent of the increasingly populous outlying sections, wearied the citizens and in that year they decided that the funds appropriated for the grammar school should be turned over to the school districts to be used in the support of their schools. The grammar school was reopened briefly, from 1839 – 1845, and for the single year 1849 and then disappeared forever. Apparently little used for the purpose which the General Court held in creating the grammar school, that of preparing the youth for college, its service to the people of Gloucester was no more than that of a general school.

The school districts referred to above were created in 1804 by a subdivision of the original districts of 1735 and had a legal basis. They originated in the increased population of the town, with ever recurrent factors of geographic isolation and poor transportation. People wanted their schools to be close by their homes. So, in 1804, the five original districts were further divided into 11 new districts, in each of which school matters were in the hands of a prudential committee. To this committee each year the town gave a share of the school funds proportionate to the district's number of tax-paying citizens; the district supplied a room, or building, for the school to hold sessions and applied the funds to the salary of a teacher. The poorer districts consequently had poorer teachers and fewer months of school than the wealthier. The 11 districts increased to 23 districts by 1842, and dropped to 17 when Rockport separated from Gloucester in that year. Between 1826 and 1851, there was no advanced school in the town worthy of the name, although school districts in the Harbor parish united to maintain schools for the older boys and girls of the area; these schools in unworthy imitation of the practice of large towns and cities, were called “high schools.”



May 5, 1951

High School History . . . . .

The First GHS Building In the Period 1851-1887

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. The third installment will appear soon in the Daily Times.

By Arthur N. Smith

The First High School - the Building 1851-1887

The vote of the town meeting of 1850 thoroughly reconstructed the school system of Gloucester. Responding to the earnest and energetic leadership of John J. Babson, the citizens at one stroke abolished the old school districts and restored control of public education to authority of the corporate town; they elected a person to devote his full attention to the superintendence of school activities for the first time in the history of the town, and only nine years after Springfield had elected the first superintendent in the history of the state, and appropriated $15,000 to construct eight new school buildings and repair several others. The story of the school districts and the academic consequences of their abolition is material for another chapter of this history: one of the eight new buildings raised during the school year 1850-1851 was the first town high school, and the story of that institution is the primary interest of this discussion.

The most logical way to handle the story of the first high school is to separate the narrative into natural divisions: the building itself, the faculty, the curriculum, and the student body, both as to enrollment and activities. However, before this can be done, some few general statements are in order to set the stage for the particular accounting.

Ready in March, 1851

Previous to 1850, there was no town high school in Gloucester. School districts one and two, which covered roughly the old Collins school district, and which contained a relatively dense population had united to establish schools for their children. Among other schools, they provided a school for their older boys and a school for their older girls and these schools were commonly referred to as “high schools.” Perhaps this name was given through undue pride, more likely it was used in deference to the statue requiring that towns the size of Gloucester support such an advanced school for their children, both to prepare for college, and to furnish general offerings to pupils through the age of 15. These schools, however, were open only to the boys and girls of the two school districts, not to all children of the town and their offerings differed from those of the elementary schools hardly at all but merely provided further instruction in arithmetic and the “common branches of the English language.” Few boys or girls attended beyond the age of 13. The new school established in 1850 was a town school, not a district school, and its curriculum gradually became distinct from that of the lower schools.

Boys in Procession

Although the school was established in 1850, the building was not ready for occupancy until March 1851. Meanwhile, the girls, for want of better quarters, met in the vestry of the Orthodox Church, while the boys were accommodated on the middle floor of the old Town Grammar School on Workhouse Lane (Granite Street). About the first of March, the girls entered their new school room on Mason Street and the boys followed them a few weeks later, proceeding through the streets one morning in an informal procession, with their teacher leading them.

There was no other observance of the opening of the new school. There were no dedicatory exercises, there was no mention of the opening in either of the newspapers then serving the town. The high school was the last of the new buildings to be completed for use.

Apparently this addition to the educational system was not a matter of great importance to a majority of citizens, and this seeming indifference had a logical basis; in fact, it appears to have derived from two good reasons. First, the vast area of Gloucester, the geographic factor, was still an obstacle to the success of any central school, and children from the outlying districts would have no little difficulty making use of a school miles from their homes: there is ample evidence that building a “town high school” was not synonymous with meeting usably the needs of all the town's families.

The second obstacle lodged in a general local belief that too much education was not necessary for the success of the average boy or girl. Few Gloucester boys went on to college, and there were fewer still, apparently, who were not capable of working by the time they were 13 years old.

Was a Luxury

Academic development was a luxury indeed when there were dollars to be earned outside the school walls, and during its first quarter century, few students remained in the high school long enough to graduate. Mr. Babson, at the time superintendent of schools, said of this lack of educational staying power, “We can control the going in, but not the going out.” Gloucester children seem to have been ready for so many years of schooling, regardless of what type of school they attended, and the fact that there was now a high school available does not seem to have overcome their adolescent reluctance, nor to have inspired parental insistence on their attendance. Consequently, the early decades of the school were devoted largely to overcoming public indifference to its offerings.

The new building was located on Mason Street, in the southwest corner of the present Central Grammar school yard. It faced the modern Central Fire station and Proctor Street, and ran back paralleled to the present fence along the library wall. Of a type that we would call “story and a half,” with gable roof, it was about 31 feet across the front and 61 feet in depth.

A Recollection

Aaron Lloyd, who attended it in the 1880's, recalls it as rather dilapidated in appearance, and brown in color; at that time it had been enlarged to about twice its original size. The low-lying, ill-drained land on which it was built was bought from the Eastern Railroad for $600; old timers will remember that Mason Street led across Back Street (now Prospect) into Tremont Street (now the lower end of Maplewood Avenue) toward the station of the Eastern Railroad (now the Boston and Maine) which stood not far from the location of the present freight house.

Thus Manton Merchant, a former teacher in the later high school, can recall his mother's story of looking out of the window of the old school in April of 1861 when she was a student there, and watching Company G of the Eighth Massachusetts, under Capt. Addison Center, march up Mason Street to the station when Abraham Lincoln sounded his call to arms against the forces of secession. The school students could skate in the winter on the open creek which flowed down Mason Street, coming from the direction of the present post office, and meandering through Procter and Pine Streets to Washington, and thence along Mansfield to Western Avenue, which was then, most appropriately, called Pond Street.


Building Cost $3502

Excepting for a fence which was added later, the total cost of the building furnishings and land was $3502. Most of the work was done by the local firm of Griffin and Burnham, who appear to have done all but the stone work and grading. Since all students provided their own books and paper, there were few furnishings but seats, which were none too comfortable. The land was wholly inadequate in area when enlargement of secondary facilities became necessary 30 years later.

Inside, the floor area was mostly given over to two large rooms: the boys' High school occupied the first floor, and the girls' High school the second floor. It was expected that each “school” would accommodate 40 pupils. There were no corridors, dressing rooms, laboratories, cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditoriums, nor any of the other attributes of modern schools. There was no running water in the school until 1884, unless that which nature freely mingled with the fuel in the basement be so counted.

“Scorcher” Type Stoves

The fuel was for the two “scorcher” type stoves, which provided both tropic and frigid zones within the same room at the same time, according to the student's proximity to them. Students brought fuel up through the trap door, and water by the bucket from the neighboring yard, according as either was needed; a total janitor's bill of $49.75 for the year 1856-1857 indicates economy of maintenance. The necessary out-buildings were located four or five feet from the building, toward Dale Avenue, and their presence required the use of ground glass in the lower windows at the end of the school: a later fence 11 feet high, standing 10 feet from the building toward Middle Street, pretty well finished the job of depriving the boys' school of direct light. The building had its drawbacks, as did all the “little red schoolhouses” of a bygone era, but like them, it did fulfill in some manner its purpose in life, and, thanks be to Heaven and various school committees, it survived.

It Grew

After its first decade of existence, the chief concern of the school committee with the building was its inadequacy. Although few students graduated, more and more entered to spend a year or two, and seats were at a premium by the time of the Civil War. Furthermore, as the concept of the role of the secondary school developed, it became apparent that the building could not provide the facilities to meet general demands for an expanding curriculum. There was simply no room for laboratories to be established, nor for a decent library.

The increasing need for some kind of a business course to attract students not interested in college, and not willing to review arithmetic as their high school course, simply could not be filled in the space available. From 1862 until 1887, when the school burned to the ground, there was a constant attempt on the part of the school people to “make the building do,” as all attempts to replace it were rebuffed.

Two Schools United

In 1862, the school committee complained of the “increasing want of accommodation” at the high school, but nothing was done at the time. Three years later the Boys' High School and the Girls' High School were united to form one coeducational high school, due to the large number of girls and boys enrolled and the united school was moved to the top floor of the Mount Vernon school: the concept at the time dictated that one school should have one room and the room at the Mt. Vernon school was large enough to meet the need. But this space was soon needed for younger pupils and the high school moved back to quarters more cramped than ever on Mason Street, where the building had been newly painted and repaired, although not increased in size.

This oversight was brought forcibly to the attention of the town in 1870 when Mr. Babson, who was serving as superintendent during his 25th year s as a member of the school committee warned that the school had outgrown its accommodations and requested the insertion of an article in the town warrant to determine what action the town meeting would take on the matter; more that 100 pupils were enrolled in the school, and there were not enough seats for them. Action resulted in the form of an addition of one room, for which work, along with the shingling of the school, William Hodgkins was paid the sum of $2,149.61.

Ponder New Building

This proved to be but a temporary relief, however, for by 1873 the school was so crowded that there was a “general feeling” in favor of a new high school, with the old building to be used as a primary school. This feeling carried far enough to warrant the appointment of a committee by the mayor to consider possible sites for a new building. Nothing but consideration ensued, however, despite the pleas of Supt. John W. Allard that the sum of $40, 000 would provide the city with the needed modern, attractive building, and entering students in the fall of 1874 had to be housed in a “branch high school” in a rented room in the Hough Block on Main Street. Another year this addition was inadequate, and a second room was hired in the Unitarian vestry. These two rentals cost the city about $900 per year, so in 1878 a second addition was made to the building; Mr. Hodgkins was paid $1500 to add another room. This addition completed a school for four rooms, shaped like the letter “L” with its base parallel to Dale Avenue, and almost completely filling the original land purchase, leaving not even room for a yard save for a brief plot of land between the school doors and Mason Street. Thus, when the school was again overcrowded, as it was by 1881, there was no further room for more additions.

Request Refused

In 1881, the crowded conditions drove the school committee to flatly ask for the use of the city hall to provide seating facilities for high school students; this request was as flatly refused. Thereupon the committee requested the use of the top floor of the Babson school. This request was also refused by the city council, on the grounds that the space was more valuable for the use of primary students. Disgruntled to the extent of several pages in their report for that year, the committee was forced to look for additional space in the old building, and found it by squeezing extra seats into the entries and aisles of the already overcrowded Mason Street house.

In 1884, Supt. M. L. Hawley announced that the time had come again when the city must either build a new high school, or the high school must again colonize; it was increasingly difficult to seat 226 students in 196 seats. Some hope was generated when the city council in that year bought the Davidson property on Dale Avenue to use when a high school should be built, but hope faded when actual work was confined to internal repairs on the second floor of the oldest part of the original building. There a laboratory table accommodating 20 students was set up, by tearing down several partitions and uniting small recitation rooms. Water and gas were also introduced into the building at the same time; it was carefully explained that the new table was suitable for removal and use in the new high school when it should be built. The additional seats thus provided were not sufficient, however, and the class which entered in the fall of 1884 matriculated only through the courtesy of the hook and ladder company which offered its house on Dale Avenue for their convenience.

Confronted thus with fact instead of theory, the common council voted an appropriation of $40,000 to begin the erection of a new building on the lot already purchased on Dale Avenue, but the upper board of the city government now refused to approve the location, and a new committee was appointed to consider sites.

Used Many Places

Before any further action could be taken, the year and the council came to an end, but the problem of housing the increasingly larger student body did not. When school opened in the fall of 1885, the meeting room of the common council had to be added to the hose house to take care of the incoming class. Other locations were pressed into use during the next year, and Mr. Lloyd recalls walking to various places in search of an education; the building proper, the city hall, the engine house, the Y.M.C.A. building on Main Street, near Porter Street, and Babson school. Indeed, he says, it sometimes seemed that the pupils spent more time walking to class than they did in class. The cadets, in addition, visited the armory on Elm Street for their afternoon drill sessions.

Finally, on May 10, 1887, the common council by unanimous vote, appropriated $45,000 to construct a new building on the Dale Avenue lot. Three hours later, at about 1 am on Wednesday morning, May 11, Officer Sullivan sounded Box 42 to notify the city that a fire had been discovered by Joseph S. Merchant: flames were coming out of the roof of the old high school building, around the chimney. It must have been the chimney in the original part of the school because the chimney in the annex never drew. Before the night was over, a new high school building was assured; the old one was thoroughly burned. While the fire was raging, quarters were arranged in the Congregational vestry for use during the balance of the school year, although the use of the armory was offered almost simultaneously.

New Building

Two months later, in July, the city government directed the committee on public property to proceed with the erection of a new building on Dale Avenue, at a cost not to exceed $60,000. This new school was dedicated in August, 1889, served as the high school until 1940 with one major addition and is today, of course the older part of the Central Grammar School. Pending the opening of the new school, the high school met mainly at the Babson school from which the regular students were dispersed to other available school rooms throughout the city.

Although the school department carried the old high school at a value of $5,000, it was insured for only $3,000, and even this amount was contested, as the insurance company endeavored to maintain that since the council had shown willingness to build a new school before the old one burned, it did not have a real value as great as it would have had if no such intention had been shown.

Insurance Paid

Some picture of the school's equipment may be gathered from the sums paid by the insurance company for equipment destroyed: textbook values were adjusted at $640.54; apparatus for teaching science at $550, although this was admitted to be inadequate; general equipment, $50; library books, $163.88; and a piano at $50. Mr. Bacheler, the principal, took a complete loss of his $90 stereopticon which he had purchased personally only a few weeks before. All the cadet equipment was saved, but a drum which had been borrowed from the Gloucester Cornet Band and which had accompanied Sherman's army on its march to the sea, was destroyed.

Emphasis here upon the difficulties of obtaining a new high school should not lead to the impression that the city government was indifferent to the educational needs of the city. While the high school was in need of better quarters in 1869, the Sawyer school was built, at a cost of $23,000; similarly, the Babson school cost $25,944 in 1881, and the Hildreth cost $22,200 three years later. Money was spent for schools, but the high school was neglected; perhaps, because as late as 1874, only 5% of the students of the city attended it, and by 1885 this percentage had actually dropped a little. Conversely, the cost of instructing a pupil in the high school was almost three times as much in 1885 as the cost of instruction in the grammar schools. School money was not refused; it was merely distributed differently than the advocates of the high school wished.

Much has been said here about the increasing number of students attending the high school. The type and growth of enrollment tie closely with changes in curricular offerings. The connection between the two is interesting to one who has not thought much about high school development, and it may be revealing, as well. This relationship is a story in itself, and will serve as another chapter in this brief history of the high school in Gloucester.


May 12, 1951

High School History . . . . .

Early Struggles With Curricula and Attendance

Editor's Note: This is the third installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. The fourth installment will appear soon in the Daily Times.

By Arthur N. Smith

The First School - the Curriculum

School problems have been constant and chronic in all lands and in all generations, so the high school in Gloucester has not been without them. Once a building had been provided to house the school, the chief problem of the first 30 or 40 years was to utilize it fully; more specifically, the school board had to secure and retain teachers, and to attract and keep pupils. There is space for the consideration of only one of these stories here, so the difficulties encountered in regard to teachers will provide a subject for the next chapter.

The acquisition and retention of pupils by a secondary school is a process subject to and dependent upon many conditions. Among these conditions, some are more important and some are less; over a few, the school has some degree of control and over others it has none. Of foremost importance in acquiring pupils is legislative action fixing a minimum age for educational participation; after 1858, Massachusetts required that her towns and cities provide education for their boys and girls through the age of 15. Such legislation, reflecting the acquired wisdom of the ages, is a strong inducement at least to entrance in the high school. The appointment of an attendance officer is indication that mere legislation is not wholly adequate, however, and Gloucester appointed its first truant officer in 1878.

Two other factors are of particular importance in retaining pupils until graduation, after they have passed the legal retirement age. One, beyond the direct control of the school, but subject to its influence, is the attitude of the local community, in general, and of parents in particular, toward the value of advanced education. The other, more directly under the control of the school, but properly a reflection of the needs of the community, are the curriculum and the method of instruction. The offerings must satisfy a felt need if the school is to be successful. Gloucester High School had to solve the problem of retaining students in a community which saw little practical value in a high school diploma, in addition to the further local problem of attracting to a central high school potential students who lived miles from the building.


Uphill Battle

Gloucester was not unique in this problem of selling the high school to its citizens; until after 1900 the public secondary school generally fought an uphill battle for recognition. There was no tradition for public advanced education to give it prestige. High schools were expensive, and many taxpayers thought them a luxury imposed upon the tax rate; at least one taxpayer, in Michigan, sought relief from this unjust imposition in the courts of his state. Gradually, of course, the public attitude has changed and most strongly since about 1910, the public high school has become a recognized part of the civic life of every American community.

Probably several factors were responsible for this. First, and foremost, there has developed a growing realization that better education means better citizens, and consequently a better democracy. More practically, with the growing complexity of the giant industrial civilization which affords jobs to millions of workers, there has come a definite need for advanced training to prepare the school boy for the world of work, and, simultaneously, labor and legislative actions have risen which have led to a decrease in the number of jobs open to young people in normal times. Concomitant with these influences, immigration and more healthy living conditions have increased the population of the country. But, before the turn of the present century these influences were not so strongly felt in communities like Gloucester, and the public high school had to undergo a period of growing pains.

Lack of Interest

During the first four decades after its opening, principals and superintendents alike bemoaned the lack of constructive interest in education of the part of both pupils and parents; the latter, it seems, came to the schools only at public exercises, or to defend and rescue their progeny when the young people were over their heads in trouble. In 1857, Supt. Babson praised the citizens of the town for their willingness to support their school financially, but, he went on to say “while all our people are willing to pay for education, they are not at all willing to receive it”. As proof he offered the fact that in the same year, among all the towns in the Commonwealth, Gloucester stood 87 th in the amount of her appropriation per pupil, 13 th in the percentage of her taxable property appropriated to the support of the public schools but it stood 151 st in the average attendance of its children upon those schools. Irregularity of attendance was sharply criticized at the high schools, where pupils had a habit of withdrawing shortly before the end of the winter term.

More serious to the high school was the unhappy fact that of those who did attend, however irregularly, pitifully few graduated. George Garland, president of the school board and acting superintendent, noted in April, 1873 that half the students who entered the high school in the autumn of 1871 had already left. It was understood by 1880 that practically all the boys who entered would leave at about the middle of the course; the first graduates of the school were four girls, names unknown, who completed their studies in 1858 and thereafter girls always outnumbered boys in graduating classes. For example, in 1869 there was one boy in the senior class, remaining alone of the 10 who had entered the school three years before, but 21 of the original 25 girls remained. It was a constant complaint of the school board that, although entering classes grew increasingly larger (probably a reflection of the town's growing population, coupled with the very gradual formation of a group of citizens who had attended the school), the number who remained in attendance was too small.

Reason For Low Attendance

There can be no doubt that one reason for low attendance was the physical size of the city. People who did not live near the center of the town could not conveniently use the school. The rules and regulations drawn up by the school committee in 1856 recognized this by providing that elementary schools should teach high school subjects “where necessity may require it”. In that year, there were only 23 pupils 15 years of age or older in the high schools, while there were 18 in the Lane school alone. Later, other factors arose so that older children either attended the high school, or stopped going to school. When Joseph McNierny of Annisquam graduated in 1869 and went on to college at Holy Cross, the committee singled him out for commendation; for four years, with few absences, he had walked the five miles from home to school twice a day. A decade later, the presence of several students from the Haskell school district was noted with approval; before that time the committee remarked, there had been few in the high school from that section of the West Parish. In Gloucester, one had to live in the right place to use the high school.

For families which lived beyond walking distance, transportation necessities were an almost prohibitive expense.

Sought Transportation

In 1874 and again in 1878 the committee asked the city to bear the burden of this cost for outlying pupils, but without success. As proof of this need, it cited one parent, a mechanic of moderate means, who had paid $700 in five years time to get his three children to and from the school and it was reported that parents in Lanesville had spent $2440 for high school transportation between 1876 and 1879. The situation in this district worked such a hardship that a branch high school was established in Lanesville in 1879 and seven pupils studied in their homes, but this branch was discontinued after two years for lack of students, apparently the result of a depression which caused a general falling off of high school attendance. Other students were occasionally granted permission to study at home, especially in the winter time.

The expenses of transportation, coupled with the growing expenses of the high school graduation, stimulated the feeling among some people that the high school was for rich people only. This geographic condition was beyond the control of the school authorities at a time when transportation was slow and comparatively expensive, especially to the parent who was already supporting the school through taxation. It might be interesting to see how many pupils would withdraw from high school today, if a similar situation existed.

The excessive size of the area it served, then, impaired the effective service of the high school to an indeterminate degree; the further question is how well did it meet the needs of that part of the community which it did serve? What was its purpose, how well did it achieve its purpose, and to what extent did its purpose conform to the needs of the community? The first of these questions is simply answered by the school committee in 1858: the great object of the high school was to prepare for college those who wished to pursue their studies at a higher level, and to prepare others for the active duties of business life. At least this was the great object of the Boys' High School; at this early date, the Girls' High School was not assigned an objective, although it was to find for itself a more practical one than the boys' school was ever assigned.

Four-Year Course

In keeping with these objectives, the committee in 1856 established a four-year course of study in each of the high schools. The boys' school offered a four year classical course, preparing for college entrance, consisting entirely of Latin from elementary grammar through Virgil. Every boy in the school was required to take Latin. Additionally, it provided other courses to be taken by both girls and boys. This program is reprinted here, as a point of departure for subsequent curriculum changes.

First year: Reading, spelling, writing, English grammar, composition, arithmetic, geography, map drawing, United States History, and early algebra.

Second Year: General history. Ancient geography, algebra, French (an elective subject), natural philosophy (science), drawing, and “bookkeeping as a writing exercise”.

Third year: Natural philosophy, geometry, rhetoric, natural history, astronomy.

Fourth year: Chemistry, trigonometry with application to surveying, moral and intellectual philosophy and logic, and natural theology and physiology.

To be eligible for this course of study, candidates had to pass a satisfactory examination in spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, arithmetic as far as square root, and modern geography (a subject required by state law since 1827).

It was one thing to state the purpose of the school and to prescribe a program of studies intended to achieve that purpose; it was another to actually fulfill it. The difficulties encountered caused many changes in the curriculum, until today it is recognized that the high school offerings must be responsive to the demands of the times. But a century ago, the high school was traveling an uncharted path, without the benefit of tradition, research, or the presence of a body of trained professional schoolmen to guide it. The school had to find its own way through its own experimentation.


May 16, 1951

High School History . . . . .

More on Early Curricula and Attendance Problems

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty and today Mr. Smith continues with the chapter appearing last Saturday on the vicissitudes of the early days with curricula and attendance. The fifth installment will appear in Saturday's Times.

By Arthur N. Smith

It was early found that a “satisfactory examination” for admission was more easily given than taken; in 1858 of 30 who applied for admission, only 4 were accepted. This condition led to a lowering of qualifications on the one hand, and acted as a spur upon the elementary schools on the other. But it was several decades before “fit students” were annually admitted. In both high schools, the pupils of all four classes met in a single room, under one teacher, who generally had one or more assistants, and there embarked upon the several studies designated for the different classes.

The science courses were given entirely by reading and lecture, as the school had no demonstration equipment at all until 1867 and no experimental laboratory table until 1884. There were no written examinations in the school for more than 30 years, but a daily grade was given on the basis of recitations of material gained through reading; it was almost entirely memorizing procedure.

Until Mr. Bacheler introduced drill, founded a school library, and instigated a school paper following his advent in 1884, there was no school activity other than study for the pupils. Forty-four weeks a year, five or six days a week, from nine until 12, and from 1:30 until 4:30, the boys and the girls gathered to read, to recite, and to get themselves into mischief through sheer boredom.

Classical Course

The classical course was doubtless adequate preparation for college, and all boys took Latin, but it is extremely doubtful that more than a dozen graduates went on to college during the first 35 years. Correspondingly, the other courses seemed to have little actual value to boys as preparation for business, when most of the lads of the town intended to follow fishing as a life's work. Consequently, within a few years, the entering class each year actually confined itself to arithmetic, English grammar, and United States history, leaving the ponderous material of the last two years to a few; and the few who did remain beyond the first year actually went on to study Latin, geometry and algebra, together with some science or French. It is doubtful that anybody actually completed the course of study as it was laid down in 1856, and graduated.

The boys, particularly, found little in the school to meet their needs, and fewer boys were admitted than girls, and still fewer graduated. It was this condition that led to the union of the Boys' High School and the Girls' High School to form one high school, during the Civil War period. In the fall of 1861, it was found that the 36 girls admitted more than filled the available seats in their school, whereas the 17 boys who entered could be accommodated in their school with a surplus of seats. Therefore, 22 girls were assigned seats in the boys' school. The experiment proved successful, the entering ration continued to remain about the same, and in 1856 the two schools officially became one school, with one principal, and one curriculum.

Restrictions on Latin

During this same period, two additional steps were taken to permit the high school to perform its functions more effectively. In 1863, the study of Latin was restricted to those boys deemed capable of profiting from it, and who intended to remain in the school for more than a year. The following year, it was decided to allow pupils to complete their arithmetic and United States history in the elementary school so a year was added to the lower schools, and the high school became a three-year school. It was hoped that this step would limit the high school students to the group serious enough to remain in the school and complete their course. To further this attitude, the compulsion of Latin was entirely removed in 1865; and, what should have been most significant, a full third of the entering class selected bookkeeping in its place. Apparently those who went to high school were interested in “practical” subjects.

Two years later it was voted to restore a fourth year to the high school for pupils preparing for college, and for girls who intended to become teachers. Regarding the first move, it was brought out that so few prepared for college, their preparation actually took place almost entirely after school hours, and three years was too short a time for adequate preparation: the addition of a fourth, exclusive year might alleviate this situation. Again, for many years, there were never more than one or two members of this fourth year class. However, the other four year course, for teachers, was more in keeping with the primary function the school had actually assumed through use.

More Girls Than Boys

Girls always attended the high school in greater numbers than boys. At first, this may have been due to the fact that fishing offered no jobs to the adolescent girl. But within 10 years of the opening of the school, many girls found in it something that few boys found – practical training for a career. The town needed teachers for its lower grades, in which there was a terrific turnover of personnel, and could not pay much in the way of salaries. Therefore, the high school became a teacher training institution for the lower grades. It was recognized in 1868 that this training of teachers might be the chief advantage of the high school: in 1870 it was announced that half the teachers in the town had gone to teaching directly from high school. A restatement of the purposes of the high school in 1873 put first the training of teachers, subordinating its duties to prepare students for college and to fit them for intelligent citizenship. As late as 1883, 10 pages were taken in the annual committee report to justify the existence of the high school on the grounds that the city saved more money by paying reduced salaries to Gloucester-trained teachers than it cost to operate the school each year. For teachers, the origination of this low-salary practice has become a greater concern with each passing decade.

Tradition Remained

This fourth year teachers training class was discontinued in 1876, after John W. Allard became superintendent of schools. Instead, he obtained the establishment of a teacher-training school separate from the high school and connected with one of the primary schools, but to which first chance for admission was granted to high school graduates. This school in turn passed away, but the tradition of “pupil teachers” remained in Gloucester for decades.

In 1869, two specific curricula operated in the high school: one, strictly classical, was a four-year course in Latin and Greek; the other was a three-year “practical” course, called the English course, general in character, but including some science, mathematics and history, with one year of bookkeeping. This offering did not meet the needs of pupils, who continued their non-attendance and in 1879 a curriculum of three courses was established. The classical and the English courses remained as before, and a new course, the General, was introduced. This was a four-year course, which placed its emphasis upon science and mathematics, with French or Latin elective, but with Greek excluded. This new program may have seemed practical to its originators, but it too, was spurned by the majority of eligible participants, and in this same year the superintendent had to defend the school against charges that it was still a rich man's school.

Business Course Installed

It was not until the new school building was completed in 1889 that a course of study could be offered which appealed to many who had previously looked upon the high school as a waste of time. In 1890 a two-year business course, based first upon bookkeeping, penmanship and commercial arithmetic, soon supplemented by typewriting and stenography, was begun. Apparently, there were many who saw a real value in this instruction and in 1891, 40 of the 64 graduates of the high school received certificates from the business course, which already enrolled 132 of the 322 pupils in the school. When the high school began to meet a felt need, to prepare for a direct job, the student enrollment began to climb. In the first case, it was girls who wanted to become teachers, and later it was both boys and girls who would spend time in school if the value of the time so spent seemed assured.

The high school grew slowly. It had to feel its way. During the first years, it was under the direction of many men, few of whom left much impression upon it. Shortly before the turn of the century, it was placed in the charge of a principal outstanding in the school's development. The work of Mr. Bacheler and his predecessors will be the subject of the next chapter of this history.




May 19, 1951

High School History . . . . .

GHS Had Many Principals In First Half Century

Editor's Note: This is the fifth installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. In this chapter, Mr. Smith writes of the principals in the first half century.

By Arthur N. Smith

The three important problems of the Gloucester High School in its early years were basic: housing, a student body, and instructors. The two first having been treated in previous installments, this chapter will deal with the heads of the school. In a story as brief as this, there is no space for detail on faculty members as such, but the principals, who were really the school in its early days, should receive mention.

The boys' high school and the girls' high school existed separately for 15 years, until their union in 1865. During this first period, the boys' school had 10 principals and the girls' school had seven, although one of these served a split term. During the remaining 35 years of the century, the single high school had only five different heads, and two of these served for 27 years of the time.

There were probably several reasons for this large turnover. First, pay was very low. Starting at about $500 for a year of 10 and one-half months in 1850, the male principal was getting only $1000 per year in inflated currency by 1864; this was increased to $2000 by 1870, only to take a $200 drop a few years later. The head of the girls' school advanced from $275 per year in the beginning to $500 by 1865. Gloucester's pay to teachers has always been low, and there was more money to be earned outside of town for the instructor who wished to remain in teaching. For others, there were jobs in other lines of work that would pay more money for less work and responsibility.

Again, the principals of the first 50 years were administrators only in their spare time; they were full time teachers. During the first two decades they had the assistance of from one to four low-paid assistants, but apparently the principals did most of the actual teaching and heard most of the recitations. They were expected to be sufficiently familiar with several different fields of study to interest and instruct their charges.

Further, their situation was not personally rewarding. Until 1887, the building was inadequate, and the only curricula that could be devised were bookish and even classical in character. This type of training was not wanted in Gloucester at the time, and consequently the offerings were rejected by boys. For the principal whose background and interests were academic, there could be no meeting of minds with his students; and a man must receive either money or enjoyment as a reward for his work.

There were other obstacles to faculty permanence, such as the Civil War; and there may have been other personal disturbances of which the records give us no indication. Anyway, for one reason or another, teachers came and went with remarkable swiftness for 23 years. Some of them left little impression on the school, but brief description of their terms may give us some picture of when and how the institution stopped being a building with a teacher, and became a school. A list of the men and women who guided the school during the 19 th century, with the years they served, may be a good starting point.

Boys' High School 1850 – 1865

Moses Patten 1850-1852

Charles J. Adams 1852-1856

John S. Chamberline 1856-1858

Leonard Z. Ferris 1858-1859

Peter Ripley 1859-1860

Samuel C. Cotton 1860

William B. Greene 1860-1863

George B. Brooks 1863

Richard H. Stone 1863-1864

S. G. Cowdrey 1864-1865

Girls' High School 1850-1865

Maria Rogers 1850-1855

Mary I. Wyman 1855-1856

Lucy E. Temple 1856-1857

Robert E. Babson 1857-1858

Mary A. Cogswell 1858-1859

Eliza O. Mansfield 1859-1860

Florence Foster 1863-1865

The High School 1865-1914

Stillman Rice 1865-1869

M. R. Gaines 1869

C. E. Swett 1869-1873

Josiah H. Hunt 1873-1884

Albert W. Bacheler 1884-1914

Mr. Patten, the first principal, took charge of the high school for boys in May of 1850, as soon as the school had been established and almost a year before its building was ready for occupancy. Described by Supt. Thomas Baker as a man of “high literacy attainments, earnest and indefatigable, and fully qualified,” he was remembered by one of his former students as a profound scholar and a man of more than ordinary skill in imparting information. At times he was apparently overshadowed by a cloud, perhaps from unfulfilled ambitions or some other personal reasons. At any rate, he resigned to enter the practice of law in Boston, and was succeeded by C. J. Adams, a thorough teacher and strict disciplinarian, under whom the condition of the school was “better than at any former time”. (The school was then two years old.) John S. Chamberline, the third in line, apparently wanted to broaden and improve his method of instruction; twice he asked for equipment to teach science and once he asked for library facilities, and then, giving heed to the injunction of Horace Greely, he resigned to enter a new field of labor in the West.

Reflected in Conduct

The instruction of Leonard Z. Ferris was reflected in the gentlemanly conduct of his charges on the street and by the good order in his classroom, but he was rebuked by the superintendent for his propensity toward giving his students too much help; he hurried the slow answer. He also wanted science equipment; and he had the distinction of being principal when Gorham Low became the first boy of record to complete a full year at high school without once being absent. At the end of Mr. Ferris' year, there were no less than 30 applicants for the position, and from this group Peter Ripley was selected by the committee.

A good disciplinarian, Mr. Ripley earned the confidence of the community, but his pupils, like those of his predecessors, stayed with him not longer than the second year of high school. Mr. Ripley departed, and Samuel Cotton, who entered hopefully upon his duties, failed to secure the confidence of his pupils, could accomplish nothing, and resigned in three months. The next, William B. Greene, was principal when the first boys to graduate in the history of the school, three in number, names unknown, completed the course in 1861. Mr. Greene, who had taught previously at the Normal School at Westfield, awakened a deep interest in study among his students, and his work was distinguished by systematic order in the classroom.

Dropped Latin

When Mr. Greene resigned in the middle of the Civil War, George B. Brooks, who in the same year, 1863, also served briefly on the school board, and as school superintendent, occupied the position for a few weeks until Richard Stone could be hired. Under the latter, Latin was dropped as a compulsory subject for all boys. At the end of the year, he was succeeded by S. G. Cowdrey, a Harvard graduate, zealous in studies and strong in discipline, with much previous teaching experience. It was hoped that Mr. Cowdrey would remain to become the head of the single school being formed through a gradual union of the two schools, but it seems that Mr. Cowdrey's zeal was not always attended by commensurate success in the classroom, and he resigned in the last months of 1865. His successor was Stillman Rice, a graduate of Amherst, who had been master of a school in Connecticut for several successful years.

The girls' school was also headed by a succession of teachers. Never receiving more than one-half the salary of the male principals, the women always had more pupils, and many more graduates. When the schools were united in 1865, 66 girls, of whom more than half became teachers in the lower grades, had graduated from their school as against but nine boys.

Irregular Attendance

Maria Rogers, the first principal came to the town high school from the school for older girls in districts 1 and 2, and was regarded as a devoted, persevering instructor of untiring exertions. Under her, the girls who studied algebra and Latin recited to the male principal. Her successor, Miss Wyman, conducted a school that was “highly satisfactory and in excellent condition”. Although there was “rapid movement” under Miss Wyman and Miss Temple, Supt. Baker complained of the irregular attendance, and of the inclination of the girls to leave the school just before the end of the winter term.

Robert E. Babson, the sole male head of the girls' school enjoyed a “thorough knowledge of all subjects,” but he had no better fortune with attendance. However, it was four girls from his “first class” who were the first graduates of the school, completing their course a few months after he had resigned, and Miss Cogswell became principal. This woman was an experienced teacher who operated with zeal and fidelity, requested reference books, and accepted a position in another school after a year's service. Eliza O. Mansfield ably replaced Miss Cogswell, and compensated for her inexperience by her good knowledge, and earnest desire to impart information. Miss Cogswell returned to the school in 1861 for two more years, and then Florence Foster, a former student in the school, became its last principal, severing her connections when the schools united under Mr. Rice.

Conducted United Schools

This principal conducted the united schools at the Mt. Vernon Street building, with the help of Miss Sarah G. Duley, who shortly resigned to go to teach at Dean Academy. There are several signs of activity under Mr. Rice that were previously lacking. When he asked for science equipment, the town meeting of 1868 responded by voting part of the Massachusetts School Fund for that year to the purpose he sponsored; and Mr. Samuel E. Sawyer, one of Gloucester's greatest benefactors, contributed an air pump as well.

The previous year, 1867, Mr. Sawyer awarded prizes to high school students for proficiency in declamation and composition. The first of a series of contests in these fields was held at the town hall, and the $15, $12, and $10 cash prizes in declamation were won respectively by Katie J. Eardy, Eliza A. Stacey, and Hattie Atkinson; the $15 and $12 prizes in composition were awarded to Mary E. Hoyt and Mary S. Stacy. The following year, $20 gold medals were substituted for the cash awards. The absence of male candidates and winners during this series is a reflection of the preponderance of female attendance in the school.

Mr. Rice was also able to secure a piano for the use of the school, raising the money through public subscription, although music was not yet a part of the school course.

Mr. Gaines taught for only a few months in the summer of 1869, and was replaced by C. E. Swett, who had recently left charge of a large academy in New York. Before he resigned to accept a more lucrative position in Boston, four years later, two boys had graduated and gone on to college; three assistants, all ladies, were necessary to help him; and both drawing and music had been added to the curriculum of the school. Mr. Swett, like his predecessors, agitated for more instruction in the sciences, but the limitations of the building and the absence of financial appropriations left this desire unsatisfied.

Drawing Compulsory

Drawing was made compulsory by a state law passed in 1870, but did not come into the high school until 1872. Then, two classes of sixty pupils each, had one hour apiece of instruction per week, in freehand drawing. Music came into the high school in December of the same year, and was supported for the first few months through the generosity of Mr. Sawyer, before the town took it over in 1873. The music course seems to have consisted entirely of group singing for the first few years.

Josiah H. Hunt was the first principal to remain any length of time; it was 11 years before he resigned in 1884, to enter business. It was he who asked that when a new assistant be hired, it be a man; and in 1879 John E. Clarke was secured at a salary of $900, to teach science, and to become the third male teacher among the 81 employed by the city in that year.

Mr. Hunt had several problems to contend with. A brief depression struck the city half way through his term, resulting in a reduction of teacher's salaries; the reduction was rather drastic and the superintendent finally protested that he did not believe it worthwhile to hire anybody who would teach for less than $300 per year. Although the lowest high school salary was $525, there were 12 teachers in the city who got only $275.

Although Mr. Hunt, and the superintendents of his time, were aware that a change in the times demanded a change in the high school course of study, little could be done by them. People were complaining that boys and girls came out of high school unprepared to do any kind of work, and knowing less English than when they entered. Defense was made that, first, the high school in Massachusetts was, by purpose of statue law, a college preparatory school; and second, that the limitations of the building unfortunately precluded any but book learning. When a laboratory table was installed in 1883, some freshness and new life was observed among the students.

New Course Introduced

A new course of study, the English, stressing science, English and bookkeeping , was introduced in 1879; three years in length, it was designed for those who were not interested in a classical education, but who would finish their education with high school. One-half the entering class of 1880 selected this course, but a total school enrollment fell off by 30%. Students who had left school to work during the depression did not return and their places were not taken by others.

The charge was made that the high school was a rich man's school supported by the poor man's taxes, and statistics were prepared in detail to show that of 150 people who sent students to high school, 103 paid taxes on $3,000 worth of property or less, and that only 14 paid on more than $10,000 worth.

Pressure for industrial training in the high school grew rather intense at this time, but the committee refused to accede to it, on the grounds that particular trades could not be taught, and that any general industrial training contributed no more to the student's development than did any other course already taught. With some degree of prophetic correctness, Supt. Hawley did look forward to a day when the city might support a separate industrial high school, students of which might take high school subjects, of a business nature, while they were not actually in the shops.

Growing Objection to Cost

There was a growing emphasis on the ceremonies connected with graduation in the 1870's, and a growing objection to the expenses incurred by parents by the rites. Expenses of transportation, textbooks and graduation meant too many dollars to many people; yet Mr. Hawley objected to the distribution of city-owned texts on the grounds that it might encourage too much dependence on the stat by the citizens. He feared it as a socialistic measure.

When Mr. Hunt resigned, the committee selected Albert W. Bacheler, head of the school at Manchester, NH, as the new principal. Under Mr. Bacheler, the school made its first rapid strides, but the story of his administration is a chapter by itself.


May 26, 1951

High School History . . . . .

Greatest Advances Made Under Albert W. Bacheler

Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. In this chapter, Mr. Smith writes of the school during the administration of beloved Principal Albert W. Bacheler. This phase of the history is covered in two installments and the second installment of the Bacheler era will appear next Tuesday.

By Arthur N. Smith

Mr. Bacheler's Administration 1884- 1914

To succeed Principal Josiah H. Hunt, who resigned to enter business, the school committee selected Albert W. Bacheler, at the time head of the Manchester, NH high school, and the new principal began his duties in Gloucester in September, 1884. Mr. Bacheler remained in Gloucester for 30 years, during which time the high school developed into a real institute of learning.

Mr. Bacheler made such an impression upon the school and city that it is worth while devoting some little space to his administration. Yet, it is hard to characterize the man. He was apparently something new to Gloucester; a scholar, who was also a man of action. Everybody who went to school under him is glad to talk about him; most are eager. Most of his students liked and respected him, a few disliked him as intensely. He was noted for his personal generosity in both the time and money he devoted to the many students, and for his sarcastic attitude and personal remarks to others. All have stories to tell about him; but practically all Bacheler products, relating an anecdote to a non-Bacheler product, conclude by saying: “You would have to have known Mr. B. to appreciate it.” A primary attribute of the man seems to have been his capacity to do or say the unexpected, and it was apparently the flavor of his personality which gave color and life to the anecdotes with crop up when older alumni get together.

Most of the following biographical data comes from Manton Merchant, successively student and teacher under Mr. Bacheler, and the man who, according to Supt. Freeman W. Putney, probably knew the principal better than anyone else in the city.

Fought In the Civil War

Mr. Bacheler was born in Balasore, India, a small city southwest of Calcutta, where his parents, New Hampshire people, were doing missionary work. As a child he returned to the healthier climate of Hampton, NH, where he attended early schools. In the spring of 1862, he enlisted in the 12 th New Hampshire regiment, when he was 18; with this regiment, which was recruited from New Hampshire farm boys in only four days, he fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville (where he heard the volley from the Confederate pickets which killed “Stonewall” Jackson), and Gettysburg. He attributed his later indifference to thunder storms to the hour and a half he lay under rebel artillery fire on Cemetery Ridge. He marched with Grant to Richmond, by way of Cold Harbor, and it was during the last year of the war that he was captured, and incarcerated in Libby Prison, from which he escaped to the Union Lines. He later entered Richmond with the victorious northern army, and helped put out the fire, which was destroying the southern capital.

Mr. Bacheler was once wounded and once cited for bravery. At Gettysburg he retrieved the state banner of the regiment from the fallen color bearer in the face of sharp and advancing enemy fire. High school alumni recollect that when Mr. Bacheler marched wit the cadets, he marched with the colors. Promoted first to sergeant and then to first lieutenant, it was recognized by the officers of his regiment that, had he been older, he would have had a higher command.

Entered Dartmouth

Mr. Bacheler entered Dartmouth after the Civil War, played baseball at the college, and graduated in 1871. He intended to be a physician, but after two years of study decided to enter the teaching profession. He taught at several New Hampshire schools before going to Manchester, which he left to come to Gloucester. In his 42 nd year, vigorous and outspoken, of medium height and strong build, he took upon his shoulders the job of building up the Gloucester high school in 1884.

His 30 years in the school saw many changes. He came to a school of 226 students, most of them girls, and five teachers including himself; when he left in 1914, there were 603 students and 19 teachers. When he came, few students from Gloucester had gone on to college; he seems to have waged a campaign for higher education, and probably sent half a dozen to higher institutions for every one who had gone before. While he was principal, there were usually 40 or 50 alumni attending one type of college or another. In 1884, there was little for the terminal student to study excepting a dilute, three-year modification of the General Course; when he left, there was a four-year English course. At the start of his administration there was nothing for the students to do under the auspices of the school expecting to study; when he left, in addition to the cadets and athletics, there were numerous other extracurricular activities. Mr. Bacheler seems to have put some spirit into the school.

Saw Great Development

The new principal was favored in his work by both general and local conditions outside the school. The period of his administration saw a great development of high schools all over the country; high school population during that time increased five-fold in the whole land. Big business had developed since the Civil War, and the work of the producers had made possible the development of many kinds of occupations, not all of them directly concerned with business, but dependent upon it for the conditions and wealth that made them possible. The colleges blossomed out during the 1870's and later, and formal education became more and more frequently a prerequisite for a job. Locally, the new building which was opened in 1887 was an inducement for some students who might have been cold to the prospect of wedging themselves into the Mason Street patchwork; the electric cars came to Gloucester, providing quicker transportation; the city began to provide free textbooks; and many of the children of Gloucester families began to look toward a kind of work different from that which their fathers had practiced. There were opportunities outside the city, and the first step was the completion of the high school. Mr. Bacheler was the first principal to benefit at all from the factors of American life which were helping the development of high schools everywhere.

Acquired New Building

Mr. Bacheler was fortunate in acquiring a new building four years after he came to Gloucester. After the original school burned in May, 1887, the city built a much larger structure on Dale Avenue. Dedicated in August 1889, the new school represented a net cost to the city of $88,575 including furnishings. Considered by many “an elephant on the hands of the community,” it measured 102 feet by 136 feet, was three stories high, and had seats and desks enough to accommodate 455 students, without counting the assembly hall on the second floor, the laboratories, and the library. It was designed by Tristram Coffin, a native of Gloucester, and built by local contractors, Messrs. D. Somes Watson and Eli Jackman.

On the first floor were the offices of the superintendent and the school committee, having a separate entrance from Dale Avenue; three recitation rooms; a supply room, and a large study room, the latter occupying the wing where the present school administration offices are located. It was in this room that the school gathered each morning before classes commenced, and Mr. Bacheler conducted opening exercises. The pupils sat with their backs toward School Street, facing the platform which lay between the two doors opening on the first floor corridor. On this platform sat the teachers of the school, in back of Mr. Bacheler when he went forward to the speaker's stand to read the Bible and open the school day. It was during one of these opening assemblies that Mr. Bacheler gave an example of the quick thinking which kept him a step ahead of the pupils.

The Boys In Green

On a March 17, in the late 1890's, as Mr. Bacheler stepped to the stand to begin his remarks, a half-dozen boys entered the study hall through the door to his right rear. As they marched in single file toward their seated school mates, each boy wore a bright green necktie, several wore green sashes descending across their stomachs from shoulder to opposite hip, and one had a green ribbon in his hair. Mr. Bacheler had a faculty of seeing things to his rear through the reflection in his glasses, and apparently he did on this occasion, for as the file of beaming boys approached the front of the platform, he gave the command “Column left!” The well-drilled band crossed the front of the platform, received a second “Column left!” as they neared the corner, took the command and so passed neatly out through the second door into the corridor. As they passed from the sight of the assembly, Mr. Bacheler said, “And don't come back.” That was all there was to it; the morning assembly continued, there was no punishment; the matter had been handled promptly and adequately at the time, probably the principal enjoyed it as much as anybody else; he had dominated the situation and was content to let it rest.

The second floor was given over to a physics lecture room and a laboratory, three recitation rooms, a master's room or library, and a large assembly hall; the latter could seat 504 people. The third floor of the building originally consisted of a chemistry laboratory, and a brick storage vault for supplies and equipment.


Frequent Class Visitor

It was Mr. Bacheler's custom to drop into the recitation rooms at any time. It is claimed by his students and by some of his teachers that he could come into a class at any time, and take up the lesson from whatever point his entrance interrupted the class. Sometimes he would dramatize a point by action or word involving a student; usually the class received a stimulus from his appearance and contribution to their work. On one occasion he dropped into a class in English literature, which was studying Hamlet. Dissatisfied with the student's rendition of Hamlet's injunction to Horatio and Marcellus, in Act I, Mr. Bacheler repeated the few lines, giving them what he believed to be the proper emphasis. The student reading the part of Hamlet, who happened to be Denmark P. Clark, immediately read the next lines, beginning, “Well said, old mole!” Mr. Bacheler departed, while the class enjoyed a brief spasm of mirth; it is hardly possible that a person so familiar with Shakespeare as was the principal did not realize what was coming, and it was perhaps another of his devices for arousing a class to mental alertness.

School Expands

It was generally expected that the new building would be wholly adequate for Gloucester for many years into the future. But, by 1896, classes were held in the corridors and in the upstairs assembly hall. It was suggested that the large study room on the first floor be partitioned into classrooms, but this was not done until 1906, 10 years later, when there were 453 students in the school, and the four additional recitation rooms were really needed. By 1910, the 525 pupils necessitated the use of a room in the City Hall, and an early enlargement of the school was deemed necessary. When cooking was introduced briefly, for senior girls, in 1911, a room had to be fitted out in the Bradford building, and Mr. Bacheler protested that his 19 teachers had only 15 rooms in which to carry on their work. Two years later, there were more than 600 boys and girls, and double sessions were begun in the fall of 1913. More than 100 freshmen, students in the commercial course, came to school at 12 noon, and went to class steadily, with not study periods, until 3:45. Thus, Mr. Bacheler made the circuit in his 30 years: he came to a crowded, colonizing school in 1884 and he left a crowded, double session school in 1914.


May 29, 1951

High School History . . . . .

Mr. Bacheler Left Lasting Impression On Our School

Editor's Note: This is the seventh installment of the history of Gloucester High School, which is observing this year the centennial of its founding in 1851. Author is Arthur N. Smith of the High school faculty. In this chapter, Mr. Smith concludes of the administration of the beloved Albert W. Bacheler, principal from 1884 to 1914.

By Arthur N. Smith

While Albert W. Bacheler was principal, there were several changes in the curriculum. Probably the one which pleased him most was one of emphasis, rather than of content; that is, the new valuation of college preparatory work. He was highly pleased with the number of alumni who went on to college, and was particularly proud of the six consecutive appointments to West Point earned by his pupils.

Mr. Bacheler looked forward to the day when our colleges should be universities, and our high schools should become preparatory schools after the pattern of the German gymnasiums. He was greatly concerned that his school should attempt to do in only four years what more limited preparatory schools took five, or even six, years to do; and he provided that anyone who wished to spend five years in high school to prepare for college should do so.

In 1896, he was pleased when the committee increased the number of periods in the high school day from five to six. In 1898 and 1899, capable pupils were taken into high school, as a special class, directly from the eighth grade. This was Mr. Bacheler's solution to a problem of transition that was met elsewhere by the establishment of junior high schools. Shortly after this, grammar school graduates were admitted to high school only on probation, to be returned to the ninth grade if they did not make good in the secondary school.

Business Course Became Popular

Despite his great interest in college preparatory work, Mr. Bacheler had been selected as principal largely because of his views on the need for special work for non-college, or terminal, high school students. When the new building was opened, in 1869, a two year business course was introduced. This course was extremely popular; by 1894, five of the 12 teachers of the school were giving full time to it, the course needed more room than could be given to it, Mr. Bacheler suggested that it be closed to tuition pupils from our of town, and he predicted the future need for two high schools, Classical and English, in Gloucester. In 1901, Supt. Putney suggested that at least one year be added to the business course, and beginning with the graduating class of 1907, it was a four year commercial course. Gloucester welcomed a high school course from which 80 of the pupils were gainfully employed within a year of graduation.

Industrial vocational training did not fare so well in the same period. There was agitation for it, and the committee agreed in 1907 that industrial training was becoming part of the high school course in other cities, where there was a direct demand for employees with certain training, but it did not feel that Gloucester was so well situated in regard to trades. The following year, it was suggested that there might be some sewing and cooking for girls, and carpentry and printing for boys, but no action was taken. By 1913, the committee definitely felt there was a need for a high school of practical arts in the city, either a part of the existing school, or better yet, as a separate school, but nothing was done.

Vocational Courses

A private benefactor, John Hays Hammond, primed the pump for the city, but to no permanent avail. In 1911 and 1912, through his generosity, cooking classes were made available to senior girls in the afternoon, but it was not seen fit to make the course available to all girls as part of their regular school course. Although 46 of 49 senior girls gave up their free time to enroll, the class was dropped. Similarly, in 1910 and 1911, the same man made possible instruction on the automobile for senior boys. A six months course was provided, part of it held at Perkins and Corliss garage, and part in the high school classrooms and a dozen seniors gave up their afternoons for instruction in this new field. But the course was ahead of its time in Gloucester, and it was not continued at public expense. This was very possibly the earliest course in automobile instruction in this state.

Of greater permanence was the work of Miss Marion Hovey, then of Boston, formerly of Gloucester, and the person for whom the Hovey School was named. She introduced and supported instruction in physical education in the high school for the better part of a decade, and her family carried on the support for 10 years after her death. Greatly interested in physical education, she sought permission to provide high school instruction in the Ling Swedish method in 1892. Mr. Bacheler was enthusiastic, the committee agreed to the experiment, and Miss Elizabeth F. Gordon was assigned to instruct students and teachers in the field.

Physical Education

After a year's trial, the committee voted to make the work part of the school curriculum, and the city council spent $900 to convert the unused space on the third floor of the school into a gymnasium. Miss Hovey spent $200 to put dormer windows in the north wall of the room, and provided more than $1400 worth of equipment. All high school girls exercised one 20-minute period per day, as did freshman and sophomore boys, although the latter substituted military drill for on e of the gym periods. The work soon spread into the lower grades, and there were changes in the program at the high school as the years went by, but Miss Hovey and her family, through their generosity, brought the physical education program to Gloucester and kept it alive until the city would take over its support.

Two other private individuals provided incentives for greater academic achievements on the part of students which are worthy of mention here. In 1890, Dr. Joseph E. Garland established prizes to be awarded annually to students for proficiency in declamation and composition. These contests continued all through Mr. Bacheler's administration, although in 1913, the prizes formerly given for declamation were awarded on the basis of superior student presentation of dramatic efforts, which were prepared by the students.

First Sawyer Medals

In June of 1912, the first Sawyer medals were awarded to the boy and girl in each class who was outstanding in scholarship and effort. These medals were paid for from the interest of a fund established by the will of Samuel E. Sawyer, to whose generosity Gloucester is indebted for many things, including the public library building.

Finally, in the interests of a cultural broadening of the course of instruction in 1913 it was decreed that any student could substitute, for any course in the school, instruction received outside the school, in voice or on any instrument. Qualifications as to lessons, practice time, and examinations prevented this from becoming an avenue of escape for the weary; but in that first year, there were students who were excused from physics, geometry, algebra, history, bookkeeping, civics, botany, and physical education to participate in this plan, which was worked out by George B. Stevens.

Started Military Drill

Perhaps the most important of Mr. Bacheler's curriculum accomplishments, locally, was the introduction of military drill in 1885. In the fall of that year, the boys of the school, about 66 in number, formed a single company under Captain Harry Bray. Gloucester was by no means the first nor the only Massachusetts high school to include this activity in its curriculum, but drill has existed so long in this city that it has now become a characteristic of, rather than an addition to, the work of the school. There is no need here to re-do the detailed history of the early cadets, which was covered so thoroughly by the committee under James. B. Ellery on the occasion of the 50 th anniversary of drill in 1935; nor could that material be condensed into a few paragraphs.

In the history of the school, the significance of the drill was twofold. It was the first extra-curricular activity in the high school; previous to 1885, there was no activity in which boys might enter, compete, and receive a fitting reward for their accomplishments. There had been neglect of all their personal attributes except the mental. Under Mr. Bacheler, drill was hard and grueling, because he was a perfectionist; but it was a thing to do besides study, and it helped to keep the boys attached to the school. The girls, for almost a decade, shared some of this activity with the boys, developing their own exhibition teams and appearing at the annual prize drill. Young people must do, as well as sit and think or dream, and drill gave them something to do.

Brought Public Support

Secondly, it helped to bring public support to the school. Until 1900, the cadets were altogether supported financially through outright donations from generous friends in the city. Beginning in the winter of 1900-1901, the same friends could contribute indirectly through spending money at the annual battalion fairs which were held at the City Hall, and which sometimes netted as much as $500 to be used by the cadets. Col. Edward H. Haskell began the annual presentation of the medal which bears his name in 1886; William A. Pew, who held various offices in the 8 th Massachusetts before he rose to the rank of general, helped prepare the cadets for Field Day for many years. The parades, prize drills and field days attracted thousands of spectators, and made many citizens aware of the high school. The cadets represented the first major adventure of the school into the field of public relations.

For the boys, drill was a lesson in responsibility and neatness. They provided their own uniforms, kept them clean, and advanced to higher rank through competitive examinations. Mr. Bacheler met them at the school door in the morning; a shoe shine kit waited in the basement for the boy who came to school with dull shoes. And the wiser youth, who experimented with patent leathers? “Lazy man's shoes!” Rifles were inspected, and the lad whose gun was dirty was told so before the school at morning assembly; cleaning equipment was available, and time had to be found to use it. Mr. Bacheler used the cadets to improve the school morale, and to build “esprit de corps” in the school.

Many “Firsts”

There are some “firsts” in the development of drill that may find a place here, as well as they may be established as “firsts”. The first parade and prize drill for the Haskell Medal was held on Tuesday, June 22 , at city hall, two Haskell medals were awarded for the first time in 1890. The first officers' party was apparently held in 1893. The cadets first wore white duck trousers as part of their uniform at the regimental field day at Malden, on Saturday, May 20, 1893. The first out-of-door battalion and prize drill was held at the Bridge Street (now Centennial Ave.) oval on Friday, May 31, 1895. The first sergeants' party was held at Hawthorne Inn in the Spring of 1900, and with the proceeds the sergeants bought the battalion a new national flag. The first battalion fair was held in December, 1900, and netted $405. The first presentation party was given the cadets by Co. G of the Eighth regiment on February 5, 1909, at the State Armory. In 1915, the year following Mr. Bacheler's retirement, Harry Bray began the custom of presenting the Bacheler trophy to the winning company on Field Day, and Mrs. Bray still continues the award.


Strangely enough, athletics did not receive such enthusiastic support from Mr. Bacheler. Writers in the school papers before and after 1900 complained of this fact; they felt that Gloucester should rank as high in athletics as in drill, but until 1903, whatever the boys did, they did on their own. Beginning in 1904, there was usually a high school football team, but it was organized by the boys themselves, who bought their own equipment, secured their own coach if any, made their own schedules, and did whatever else they could in the absence of organized support. Baseball began a few years later, under the same system; while Mr. Bacheler always contributed the first $2 to the boys when they took their collections for the purchase of balls and bats in the spring, and while he attended the home games, he apparently did nothing to make the sport officially a part of the school program. Perhaps he felt the student day was already crowded enough; that the school could not support a successful athletic program; or it may have been for any one of a hundred other reasons.

At any rate, it was not until George H. Coleman joined the faculty in 1903, and organized the athletic association, that football and baseball became a recognized extra-curricular activity. The success with which Mr. Coleman's efforts were attended indicate that much potential skill had gone undeveloped in previous years, for in the school year 1904-1905, both teams won the championships of their respective North Shore leagues. Mr. Bacheler approved this result highly in his report to the school committee in 1905 – he admired success – and agreed with Mr. Putney that youth needed diversion, so it be kept healthy and manly. Basketball did not play an official roll in the athletic history of the school under Mr. Bacheler, although the sport was played by the boys as early as 1899. Instead of official interscholastic participation in this game, class teams each year played for possession of the Toimama Cup.

Other Activities

Under Mr. Bacheler, there were several other extra-curricular activities. The first school paper, “The Young Idea,” originated in 1886. Defunct in a few years, it was replaced by the “Advocate” in 1896, and this, in turn, by the longer-lived “Crimson and White” in 1899. The class of 1900 produced the first senior yearbook in the history of the school, and there has been one each year since, apparently. The first debating society, Kappa Kappa Chi, was formed in 1892 by members of the class of 1895, and was joined by several others during that last decade of the 19 th century. Secret societies, of the Greek letter variety, also became part of the school social whirl, and the year-books carried several lists of “Fratres,” until the school committee voted to abolish these organizations in 1906, on the grounds that they were undemocratic and time-consuming. The class of 1895 still holds the academic record of 15 members who graduated with four-year averages of 90% or higher.

Finally, there must be mention of the Lyceum Mr. Bacheler established, as a means of bringing inspirational speakers to the people of Gloucester, and providing funds for the school library. From 1889 until 1906, when the Assembly Hall was converted to a study room, and was no longer conveniently available for public assemblies, a series of four or five outstanding men came to Gloucester each winter for the edification of all who had paid a dollar or a dollar and a quarter for a ticket to the series. Each year the tickets were sold easily, the programs are remembered with appreciation by those who went to them, and each year the library benefitted by amounts ranging as high as $200.

Left Lasting Impression

Mr. Bacheler left a lasting impression on the high school here. He vitalized it, gave it character, and made it into a community establishment. Under him, it was his school. He was a teacher as well as administrator, in a school small enough to enable him to know each student in it. He dominated the institution through the force of personal contact; he could do much of what had to be done himself. It is interesting to ponder the question of how successfully he would have handled a larger , more complicated school, where his associations with pupils would have been indirect, where assistants or deputies would have necessarily handled much of the detail work at which Mr. Bacheler was so excellent, and where environment would have kept him remote from much that went on. It is also interesting to wonder how he would have contested the encroaching influence of television. His pupils disagree on his potentials in these matters, but all agree that he was a significant personality in the development of Gloucester High School.