Student Days at "A Pure High School"

 
Beginning in 1850, communities in Massachusetts with more than 4000 inhabitants were required to provide a high school education for qualified students. However, where the population was below 8000, a separate building was not necessary as long as certain conditions were met.

The first High School Division in Newton was in the Centre (1851) where it shared with the Grammar School the newly-erected school house on Homer Street. Similar Divisions followed in West Newton, Upper Falls and, lastly, in Newton Corner, until, in 1859, Newtons population topped 8000, and the Annual Town Meeting voted "to erect an edifice for the accommodation of a Pure High School." The building on Walnut Street, designed by Newton architect John D. Towle, was ready by September. It was "furnished with all the means and appliances of the highest English and Classical education recognized in our common School system" and went into operation "under the most favorable auspices."

Two teachers were appointed: Mr. J. N. Beals and Miss Amy A. Breck. Although, according to the School Committee, Mr. Beals was a "ripe scholar, a thorough and exact teacher and skillful disciplinarian," he "did not succeed in strongly attaching his pupils to himself." This failure, the School Committee presumed, was "attributable to the delicate state of his health," and he left after a year. (His successor was Mr. E. D. Adams.) Miss Breck, according to the School Committee, possessed "a faculty to unfold and analyze the principles of abstruse studies" and "with mathematical talents unusual in her sex" was "accurately informed and skilled to teach."

One of the first students at the new High School was William Jackson Fuller, son of builder Henry Fuller and Hannah (Jackson) Fuller. William kept a journal from April 1859, when he "got into" high school, until the following January, when he left. In all probability he attended the High School Division in Newton Corner until the new building went into use in October. Some of his comments on Newton's first "pure high school" follow.

October 21, 1859:
The New High School has been built and organized and two new teachers inaugurated and things have gone on very well for a new school. . . . It took about four weeks to get thoroughly organized because in a school like this there is necessarily a great amount of labor to get the scholars classified. . . . We have one session all the time and school begins at 9 oclock and adjourns at two oclock. Some like the teachers and others do not. I cannot say that I like the Principal. Seems to me that he does nothing but talk, talk, talk and it takes him ever so long to get to the subject that he is going to speak upon. Then Miss Breck is mightily particular and you cant do a thing but sit still.

Perhaps I shall like them better as time goes. J. M. Beals is the name of the Principal and Miss Breck is the name of the Assistant.

November 5
We had better lessons yesterday especially in History. Yesterday, afternoon Mr. Beals kept us after school and talked and talked. . . . He says we cannot go until we have recited the lesson perfectly, but he gets so hungry his is glad to let us off."

Dr. Bigelow [Chairman of the School Committee] came to school to day [sic] and said we might have twenty minutes for recess which gives us more time for lunch.

November 7
Today we recited in History and Algebra. Tomorrow we recite in Latin and Composition both of which are very hard to learn.

November 9
Dr. Bigelow came in school today and heard us recite. He says there is not quite promptness enough and next week he will come and examine us in Latin.

December 12
We had a lecture of forty five minutes long to day on behavior: that-is scuffing and pounding, hammering and screaming, pushing and running, calling and shouting. Someone rolled a candy ball across the floor which made a great noise and the "lady teacher" could not find out who did it and when Mr. B. was talking to us he said that when he came up stairs he found the lady teacher "almost in tears." Now, I dont believe any such nonsense for when he came up she was laughing as good as you please...

December 14
We have declamations, Recitations and Spelling today. (I have not got to speak till next week, but I shall have to face the music then.)

December 20
Miss Breck came out today in a brown silk dress and she looks quite spruce.

January 10
We had the wole (sic) board of School Committee in to see us to day (sic). They say we must study more. Mr. Mason says we must study "furiously" for they are expecting great things of us at the close of this term.

William did not graduate. After less than a year in High School, he left to "commence his business career" in Boston. He died of consumption in 1868, shortly before his twenty-sixth birthday.