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Off to school — and out of town!

This is based on an article “Off to School and Out of Town,” published by John E. Fogelberg in the Daily Times Chronicle June 2, 1981. Edited and updated by Burlington Retro.

Howe School, Billerica, MA

Burlington did not have a high school until 1939. The first graduating class of 1940 included just 32 pupils and four post-graduates. Before this, if you wanted more than an eighth or ninth grade education, you went out of town!

From 1901 until 1921, when electric cars ran between here and Woburn, many whole classes from Burlington’s Union School were sent to Woburn High. But after 1924, Woburn refused to take any more whole classes, so Burlington youngsters were individually farmed out to other neighboring communities.

For instance, in 1939 the town sent 41 grade nine students to Bedford, 24 grade 10 students to concord, 32 grade 11 and 20 grade 12 students to Lexington, 64 of all grades to St. Charles in Woburn and 11 others elsewhere including four to Somerville Vocational. When those towns, faced with their own student growth problems, also refused to take any more youngsters from here, Burlington was forced to build.

Even in its infancy, Massachusetts led the colonies in education.

  • 1635 — The first public school was established: Boston Latin School.
  • 1636 — The first New England college : Harvard.
  • 1647 — The first law providing for education at public expense.
  • 1821 — The first high school: Boston English High.
  • 1852 — The first compulsory education law.

That law of 1647 started the Massachusetts school system and quickly became the model for other states. Horace Mann said of that act, “It had no precedent in the world’s history.” And the act of 1852, although it provided for only 12 weeks of compulsory education, applied to all children from age eight to 14.

At first, most college students studied ministry. Burlington’s James Walker and Samuel Sewall were two such students.
But farmers wanted their children to become educated in more non-religious matters — such as farming. So secular schooling began. Woburn’s Warren Academy and Billerica’s Howe School were built to fill that need. Burlington children attended both.

The Burlington Town Report for 1851/52 contains this extract from the will of Dr. Zadok Howe of Billerica: “. . . to promote the cause of education in the town of Billerica where I reside and the vicinity therefor, I. . . bequeath. . . the Everett lot. . . to erect and maintain upon said Everett lot a suitable building for an Academy for the education of youth. . . The school is not intended for the admission of small children, but for instruction in the higher branches of English education and such other studies as are required  of young men preparatory to entering college. . . It is my wish that the children of the neighboring towns shall receive a part of the benefit of said Academy upon equal terms and not to be excluded from admission to said school by any regulation of said trustees. . . To fill any vacancies on said Board of Trustees. . . there may be no religious influence of a sectarian character excited or exerted. . . ”

Zadok Howe was born in Bolton, Conn. in 1777, the son of another Zadok. He did not enter Yale or Harvard but went farther north to Dartmouth, graduating from its medical department in 1809.  He practiced medicine in Concord, N.H., then moved to Franklin, MA in 1814. He opened an infirmary there with another doctor. It failed. Two years later he moved to Billerica and stayed there for the rest of his life.  When he died in 1851, his will endowed the Howe School.

The school was dedicated May 31, 1852. A catalog of the school published in 1880 lists 54 pupils admitted to the opening class, 26 boys and 28 girls, two of whom were Burlington girls, Ann M. Marion and Abigail D. Sewall. The school was run by  William C. Grant and Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers in its debut year. Tuition was free at first, but by 1880, when pupils and expenses increased, the fund ran low, so the school began charging $12 per year. Students had to be at least 12, produce certificates of vaccination, have a record of moral and orderly behavior in the last school attended, and pass exams in reading, writing, spelling, geography, grammar and arithmetic, including common and decimal fractions.

Here are some courses:

  • Four-year Latin English course with emphasis on Latin
  • Four-year classic literature course culminating with Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin and Homer’s Iliad, both read in Greek
  • Three-year English course which also introduced French.

What course Julia Alice Bennett took is not known. She was born in 1874, the daughter of George and Mary Foster Bennett of Burlington. She graduated Howe in 1892, went on to Bridgewater Normal and became a teacher. She later married William Roper. But other Burlington young people had preceded, her carrying such old family names as Jennison, Park, Shedd, Prescott and Marion. Billerica is fortunate in having an active Howe High School Alumni Association. Its first meeting was held in the Billerica Town Hall on June 17, 1897 and has met every year since. This year’s reunion, scheduled for next week, will be its 85th.

By vote of the town in 1891, and by special legislation the same year, the Howe School became the required town high school.

About 1907, Eugene C. Vining became the Principal of the Howe School, and then superintendent of schools in 1917. From 1920 to 1935 he was became superintendent of Burlington schools.In 1944, he became one of the first two honorary members of the Howe High School Alumni Association. Miss Mary O’Neil was elected secretary in 1946. Like Vining, she has a Burlington connection too. She became Mrs. Richard Dooley in 1948 and is remembered by scores of Burlington High students from 1961 to 1975 (with several years missing in between when she was English department chairperson at Masconomet Regional High School).

Mrs. Dooley was cited in the 1975 edition of “Who’s Who of the World,” because of her many contributions to good education. In 1965 she was the President of Pi Lambda Theta, the National Honor Society for Women Educators. In 1971 she was elected State President of Delta Kappa Gamma, the International Honor society for Women in Education; in 1972 she became the first woman president of the Massachusetts Council of Teachers in English.

Howe alumnae officers this year are Miss Cathy Conway, president; Mrs. Charlotte Johanson, 1st vice president; Mrs. Lillian Mathews 2nd vice president; Miss Mary Pasho, secretary; Mr. John Fowler, treasurer, and Mrs. Mary Dooley, executive secretary. Keep up the good work.

Howe School Billerica, MA

Inside the Howe school, Billerica MA
Here’s the Howe interior when architects arrived to begin restoring it for town use. Note a sign from Ma Newman’s, the Pinehurst barroom that stood where Emerald Rose is now.

Ma Newman's very early Newman's Billerica

3 thoughts on “Off to school — and out of town! Leave a comment

  1. I’m happy to see this in Burlington Retro as it brings back memories. I think of how much I learned from Ed Fogelberg and Mrs. Dooley and in the early 1970s we had one of the best English departments in the state. I remember Mrs. Dooley’s disdain for free verse, and adherence to iambic pentameter, definitely a help in songwriting, and I credit them all with the success the class of 1973 had in producing many published authors, including myself, and I am forever grateful. We were fortunate in having such people guiding us.

  2. Great to see my great aunt Julia Bennett Roper mentioned here as well as my great grandparents George and Mary Foster Bennett . I had both Mrs Dooley and Mr. Fogleberg as teachers in high school at BHS. I enjoy this site every month . Thank you for the great job you do.
    G. Bennett

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