Allen Family Papers

Allen Family Papers, 1846-1915

West Newton English and Classical School Papers, 1862 - 1900

The papers of the Allen family and the West Newton English and Classical School provide an exceptional resource for the study of the history of American education in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Jackson Homestead has a small collection of material relating to the Allen family and the school including some primary documents, secondary materials, and a number of photographs of the family, the school and the Allen house (which is still standing at 35 Webster Street). There is also a significant collection of school material held by The Allen School and House Preservation Corporation, formed in 1981 to preserve the house and school papers.

Allen Family Papers 1846-1915

Ellis and Lucy Allen, who lived in Medfield, Massachusetts, counted among their children, four sons, George, Joseph, Nathaniel, and James, all well known educators in their time. The best known, Nathaniel Topliff Allen (1823-1903) founded the West Newton and English Classical School and was its principal for almost fifty years. He was joined in the endeavor by his brothers, their wives and some of their children, and later by his daughters, all of whom played important roles either teaching or providing homes for the boarding students. In 1904, after their father’s death, daughters Lucy and Fanny started their own school, the Misses Allen School in the family home on Webster Street. The story of The Allens in Education, written by Lucy Ellis Allen, and memorial booklets about Nathaniel’s other two daughters, Sarah Allen Cooney, and Fanny Bassett Allen, provide additional information about the family. Family photographs complement the collection, as does Rosa Allen’s Family Songs (1899), which contains the text and music for twelve traditional American songs sung by the Allens at family gatherings in their Medfield home.

Nathaniel Topliff Allen 1823-1903

Allen was an educator and reformer with wide ranging interests in abolition, women’s suffrage and temperance. That his West Newton home was a stop on the Underground Railroad is confirmed in writings by his wife Caroline and daughter Lucy. He knew and worked with many well-known educators and abolitionists of his time: Horace Mann, Cyrus Pierce, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Elizabeth Peabody, Catherine Beecher, Frederick Douglas, and Booker T. Washington.

Allen was also active in numerous local organizations and helped to found the Pomroy Home for Orphan Girls, the Unitarian Church in West Newton, and the West Newton Athenaeum. In the 1850s the Athenaeum sponsored lectures on issues such as the Fugitive Slave Law and the Underground Railroad that were vigorously debated. Nathaniel Allen and those who supported abolition and other liberal causes were known as "the incendiaries and radicals of West Newton." Allen died at the age of eighty in his summer home in Maine.

A photocopy of Allen's reminiscences, 1846-1902, in which he talks of his education, his philosophies and his school, provides an account of his many interests and accomplishments. Ten original pocket diaries 1878-95, one of which has been transcribed, provide notations on day-to-day activities and accounts. There is also an 1880-1 letterbook index, listing correspondents for that year.

West Newton English and Classical School Papers 1862-1900

Under the leadership of Horace Mann, the State Normal School (the first of its kind in the world), relocated to West Newton in 1844 and four years later established a Model School in conjunction with the West Newton School district.

Nathaniel Allen became the principal of the Model School at age twenty-five, and lived in the Mann’s West Newton home where he met Elizabeth Peabody, Catherine Beecher and other prominent educators. The Model School was very successful, attracting attention from educators throughout the country.

When the Normal School was forced to move again, this time to Framingham, Allen chose to stay in West Newton. He was encouraged by Mann and others to establish his own school and in 1854 opened the West Newton English and Classical School which became known as the Allen School.

The school was progressive in every way, providing equal educational opportunities for girls as well as boys in racially mixed classes. The inclusion of gymnastics as part of the educational offering along with a pure kindergarten, were also educational firsts.

Allen required student’s to keep daily journals that were critiqued every two weeks. The journals of Mary Shannon (1836-1901) and George H. Frost (1833-1883) are included in the Homestead’s collections. Eighteen-year-old Mary was a student in the first year of the school. Her journal begins January 4, 1854, and contains annotations by her teacher "Father" Cyrus Peirce. Frost at twenty-one, began the same year. His studies included arithmetic, geography, geology, reading, spelling, and book keeping, which he comments on in detail.

Two other student journals are in the collections of nearby institutions: the Journal of Mary Jane Walker 1848-49 at the Schlesinger Library Radcliffe College and the Journal of Edward S. Adams 1873-74 in Special Collections at Framingham State College.

The earliest school document in The Jackson Homestead collection is a flier describing the Primary School and announcing the introduction of "Froebel’s Kindergarten System," in 1862.

There is also a Historical Sketch of the West Newton English and Classical School, dated 1876, which along with yearly catalogues 1881-1900 and other fliers, programs, and secondary materials provide information on the history of the school, its teachers, and activities.

An Illustrated Biographical Catalogue of the Principals, Teachers, and Students of the West Newton English and Classical School, West Newton, Mass., 1854-1893 published for the thirty-ninth reunion, lists of all teachers and students with biographical details.

Students came from Europe, Central and South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Nassau, Hawaii, Japan, and all parts of the United States.

Many graduates, both men and women went on to have careers in education, law, medicine, and government. Mary Anne Green received a law degree from Boston University and was admitted to the Suffolk Bar. Rebecca Crumpler, a black woman physician, attended the Allen School and received her medical degree from the New England Female Medical College in 1864. Student achievements are also listed in the yearly catalogues. Note: A series of articles written by Mrs. Louise Pollock about the first kindergarten at the West Newton English and Classical School appears on the spirithistory.com Web site.

Nathaniel Allen House, 35 Webster Street, West Newton

Upon the death of Nathaniel Allen’s daughter Lucy Ellis Allen, the house passed to her long-time friend and colleague Ruby Margaret Keefer. After Keefer’s death, the house and the residue of the estate was bequeathed to the Unitarian Church of West Newton, Trinity Church in Boston, Radcliffe and Smith Colleges.

A non-profit organization acquired the house, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The Allen School and House Preservation Corporation committed to preserve "the history of an illustrious American family of educators by developing an archive or museum...to house their papers, records, and memorabilia; and, also to ultimately help preserve for future generations the character and general environmental health of the village of West Newton."

Materials in the Allen House file include a number of contemporary photographs, a copy of bylaws of The Allan House and School Preservation Corporation and other documents and news clippings related to the establishment of the corporation, preservation restrictions, and funding.

No. of Boxes: 1 flat box
Vertical Files: Schools and Colleges - Private: West Newton English and Classical School; 35 Webster Street
Finding Aids: Partial, No index to diaries

References:
Smith, Caroline Allen in Mirror of Newton, Lucy Ellis in The Allens in Education

Locations for other materials: The Allen School and House Preservation Corporation, Special Collections Framingham State College, Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College