J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Boston's Schools in 1770 by the Numbers

I’ve decided it’s “Back to School Week” at Boston 1775. Every posting (well, ’most every posting) for the next few days will be about schooling in Boston during the Revolutionary era.

In the summer of 1770, the annual committee to inspect Boston’s five public schools counted how many boys were studying at each.

  • South Latin School: 119
  • North Latin School: 56
  • South Writing School: 231
  • Queen Street Writing School: 268
  • North Writing School: 250
By my estimate, in 1765 a little over half of all white boys of school age in Boston were attending one of the town schools. The rest were presumably working, and perhaps taking private part-time lessons as well.

How many teachers were there? Typically, a school had one master and one “usher,” or assistant teacher. In practice, there were variations on this set-up.
You can do the math on student-teacher ratios. It’s not a pretty picture.

Finally, here’s the total of what the town voted to pay the schoolteachers at the town meeting in March of that year.
  • South Latin School: £220 (£120 to Master Lovell and £60 to James Lovell, plus a £40 grant to the younger man “as an encouragement for him to remain and exert himself in the Service of the Town”)
  • North Latin School: £100 (Master Hunt had asked for a salary equal to Master Lovell’s, but was denied. Even so, proportional to his student body he was the best paid teacher in town.)
  • South Writing School: £150 (£100 to Master Holbrook and £50 to the unnamed usher)
  • Queen Street Writing School: £175 (£100 to Master Proctor and £50 to Carter, plus a £25 grant)
  • North Writing School: £134 (£100 to Master Tileston and £34 for young William)
The town spent far more on each Latin School student than on each Writing School student.


Anonymous said...

JL, Could you plaese explain the differences in curriculum between Latin and writing schools? Were the Latin school training the boys for college, while the writing schools concentrated on basic English and arithmatic? Thank you for this short series. Kit

J. L. Bell said...

Here’s my profile of North Writing School master John Tileston, which talks a little about what he taught. And here‘s a post on the rivalry between the Latin School and Writing School boys.

Yes, the two Latin or grammar schools trained boys for Harvard college by teaching them Latin and (in their last two years or so) Greek. Those schools didn't teach reading or writing in English, math, science, geography, or even how to make a quill pen. So if a boy wasn't going on to college, there was no reason to continue at a Latin School. About two-thirds of all boys entering the South Latin School in the two decades before the Revolution dropped out before finishing.

The Writing Schools taught mostly handwriting, with some ciphering (arithmetic) thrown in. These skills were preparation for business careers, either running one's own shop or going to work in a counting-house (i.e., mercantile office). There was no instruction in literature, history, or science.