Massachusetts is a trailblazer in education, hosting three of the five oldest schools in the nation still operating. Puritans, in a drive to ensure that their children could read the Bible, established schools to educate their kids in Latin. These Latin schools in New England provided the foundation for the establishment of the Massachusetts public school system.
This post will explore the eight oldest schools in Massachusetts. We’ll delve into the institutions’ centuries-old history, transitions over time, and notable alumni and faculty, as well as current academic offerings. Keep reading to see if you know any of these ancient institutions in The Bay State.
Boston Latin School
78 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, MA 02115
The oldest existing school in the U.S. is the Boston Latin School. Established on April 23rd, 1635, the school was to mirror the Free Grammar School of Boston in England. Reverend John Cotton was the visionary behind Boston Latin’s establishment, with the first classes held at Master Philemon Pormort’s home, the first headmaster.
Boston Latin was to teach Latin and the classics to its students. The school shifted to different homes belonging to successive headmasters, including Daniel Maude. The first permanent schoolhouse was built in 1745, with the school shifting four times after that. The school moved to its current campus on Avenue Louis Pasteur in 1922.
The Latin curriculum, used in the early years, changed from the English seven-year system to the four-year course of study in 1789. Boston Latin only began admitting female students in the 19th century, with Helen Magil White becoming the only female student at the school in 1858. She would go on to become the school’s first female instructor and the first woman to earn a doctorate degree in the U.S.
Boston Latin became coeducational in 1972. The school offers a contemporary classical education that prepares students for college. Admissions are only available in seventh and ninth grades, with the process being highly competitive.
Boston Latin has an extensive list of notable alumni and faculty, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence Franklin, Hancock, Paine, Adams, and Hooper. Other alums include poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Congressman John F. Fitzgerald, and architect Charles Bulfinch.
3rd Oxford Bridge, Cambridge Massachusetts
Founded as Havard College in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The school was established by a vote of the General Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It’s named after its Puritan benefactor John Harvard in 1639, who left half of his estate for the new college and over 400 volumes of books from his private library.
Most of the early students were Puritan ministers with a classical curriculum that mirrored the English universities' model. The school managed to steer clear of religious affiliations early on, with the curriculum and student body becoming more secularized in the 18th and 19th centuries.
John Leverett became the first secular president of the school in 1708, the first significant change of the school from Puritanism to independence. Private endowments from alumni who were Boston’s upper class and professionals ushered the school’s growth and establishment as an elite school. The school still holds the legacy to date, being the wealthiest college in the world with a $50.9 Billion endowment as of 2022.
Throughout the 387 years, alumni of Harvard have made enormous contributions to a wide range of fields, including politics, business, the sciences, and the arts. Former American presidents John Adams, Rutherford Hayes, and Theodore Roosevelt are notable alumni. Others include Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The Roxbury Latin School
101 St Theresa Ave, West Roxbury, MA 02132
The Roxbury Latin School claims to be the oldest independent school in America, still in operation. The school, established in 1645, was modeled as an English grammar school by John Eliot. Roxbury provided instruction in classics, training in moral character, and religion classes.
Young students at the school studied arithmetic, reading, and writing, with older students learning Latin, which was a prerequisite for joining Havard College. The school was open to all who wished to attend, with the founding families defraying tuition for students who couldn’t afford it.
The school has shifted numerous times over its three-hundred-year history, most notably from Kearsarge Avenue in Roxbury to the current location on a 50-acre estate in West Roxbury. The school had spent 67 years in the small schoolhouse on Kearsarge Avenue, from 1860 through 1927.
Today, Roxbury Latin School is a private day all-boys school focusing on a classical education that preps learners for college entrance. Admissions are typically for the seventh and ninth grades, with few spots available for the rest of the grades. It had a $171 million endowment as of June 2022.
Notable figures that called Roxbury Latin School home include James Pierpont, a founding member of Yale University; Sam Jacobs, editor-in-chief of the Times Magazine; and Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
459 Broadway Ct, Cambridge, MA 02138
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School is one of the oldest schools in the state, with a history tracing back to 1648. The school was formed from a merger of two independent schools in 1977; the Rindge Technical School and the Cambridge Latin High School. Rindge Technical School began in 1888 as the Cambridge Manual Training School. Cambridge Latin High School, however, has a history that traces back to 1648.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court, in 1642, made it the duty of Cambridge masters and parents to educate their kids or be fined. This directive led to the establishment of the first Cambridge schoolhouse in 1648. The public grammar school followed in the footsteps of other towns in Massachusetts that had established schools, including Charlestown, Salam, Dorchester, and Boston.
The school offered college preparatory education in classical education. In 1832, the public schools in Cambridge became co-educational. A merger between Otis Schoolhouse (1843), Female High School(1843), and the Cambridge Grammar School led to the establishment of the Cambridge High School in 1848.
In 1886, the school was split into two; the Cambridge Latin School hosted the classical department and the Cambridge English High School became the English High School. The Cambridge Latin School moved to the previous building occupied by the English High School after it moved to Broadway.
Cambridge Latin High School and Rindge Technical School merged in 1977 to form Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). CRLS is now under the Cambridge Public School District, offering a college preparatory education to over 1,867 students in grades 9-12.
Notable Alumni from Cambridge Ringe and Latin School include:
- Nobel Prize winner Eric Cornell
- Former Massachusetts Governor William Russell
- Renowned Actor Ben Affleck
- Word record holder in high jump, John Thomas
CRLS is divided into four learning communities, with 4×4 Box scheduling. Despite its huge student population, the school has a student-faculty ratio of 11:1.
131 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035
This public magnet junior and senior high school in Hadley, Massachusetts, is one of the oldest schools in the state. Established in 1664, Hopkins Academy was the seventh oldest school in New England. The school is identified as the fourth oldest high school in America still operating.
Hopkin Academy’s history traces back to 1664 after an endowment left by Edward Hopkins was used to erect and run a schoolhouse. Edward Hopkins was an English colonizer and governor of the Connecticut Colony. After his death in 1657, Hopkins left his estate under a trust managed by four men, including William Goodwin.
William Goodwin, a founding member of Hadley, used part of the Hopkin Trust to fund the Hopkin Donation School. Three hundred pounds were used to build a permanent schoolhouse, with Hadley townspeople donating the land to establish the school.
The school was incorporated as Hopkin Academy in 1816, operating as a private school. Hopkin Academy was later incorporated into the Hadley School District. The school currently serves roughly 233 students in seventh through 12th grade. Hopkin Academy has a 96% graduation rate, with students required to attain 120 credits to graduate.
Eliot K-8 School
Lower School (16 Charter Street, Boston, MA 02113), Intermediate School (173 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113), Upper School (585 Commercial Street, Boston, MA 02109)
Elliot K-8 School is a public charter magnet school that bills itself as the oldest continually operating public school in Boston. The school’s history dates back to 1713, when the North Writing School was established. The school operated for 77 years before merging with the North Latin School. The new schoolhouse was identified as John Eliot School after a pastor in the North Church, Boston.
The school has undergone numerous changes in its orientation and philosophy, educating numerous notable alumni, including Paul Revere. The school campus also served as a meeting point for Boston’s suffrage movement in 1917.
Elliot K-8 School was a poor-performing school on the brink of closure in 2007. However, a transformation drive headed by new principal Traci Walker Griffith reestablished the school as one of the leading public schools in the city.
The school was redesigned as a Boston Public Innovation School, with greater autonomy on how it runs its curriculum, budget, staffing, scheduling, and professional development. Eliot K-8 school has since then been identified as a Massachusetts Commendation School in 2010, 2011, and 2012, as well as a 2016 Pozen Prize nominee for most innovative schools.
The Governor’s Academy
1 Elm St, Byfield, MA 01922
Nestled on a 456-acre farm 33 miles north of Boston is The Governor’s Academy, the oldest continually operating independent boarding school in New England. Founded in 1763, the school currently enrolls 404 students in grades 9-12.
The Governor’s Academy began operating in 1763, two years after the death of William Dummer, its benefactor. Dummer, a former lieutenant governor and later acting governor of Massachusetts, funded the school’s establishment in his will.
The Dummer Grammar School opened its doors in a small red schoolhouse, with Samuel Moody as the school’s first headmaster. Moody has non-conventional teaching methods, often encouraging his students to study aloud instead of in a silent classroom, as was the norm of the day. The red schoolhouse still stands today, with a major restoration done in 1938.
The school was incorporated in 1782, changing its name to Dummer Academy. The school taught a classical education, focused primarily on scripture, Latin, basic arithmetic, English, and Greek. The faculty and curriculum expanded over the next century. By 1873, the school had established itself as an elite college prep school, serving scholars from affluent Boston families that wished to send their children to Havard and Yale.
The school changed its name to Governor Dummer Academy during Edward “Ted” Eames's reign as the headmaster in the early 1930s. The controversy surrounding the name saw the board of trustees vote to change it to The Governor’s Academy in 2005.
The school has numerous notable figures affiliated with it, including Yu Kil-chun, the first Korean to study in the West; U.S Congressman Jeb Bradley; and Frank Crowe, the civil engineer behind the Hoover Dam project.
880 Main St, Williamstown, MA 01267
Williams College is among the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. It’s also one of the oldest schools of higher learning in Massachusetts, established in 1793. Williams College was the second college established in the state after Havard.
Colonel Ephraim Williams bequeathed a part of his estate for the establishment and maintenance of a free school in West Hoosac, provided the town changed its name to Williamstown. William’s Family tried to establish the Queen’s College in Hatfield to honor his will in 1762, but the school’s charter was revoked a year later.
The west township of Hoosac changed its name to Williamstown in 1765, with the executors of the will going before the Massachusetts General Court to protest the delay in the establishment of the school. The Williamstown Free School began in 1791 with 15 students.
However, its board of trustees petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to convert it from a free school to a college. The legislature agreed to grant the college charter in June 22, 1793, leading to the establishment of Williams College. The college opened with an undergraduate enrollment of 20, with the free school closed down.
An attempt to relocate the financially distraught Williams College in 1821 by the then president Zephaniah Swift Moore led to the establishment of Amherst College. Some of the students and faculty remained behind, with Williams College surviving.
William’s College was majorly a men’s only college, only becoming co-educational in the late 1960s. However, there are notable exceptions, such as Beatrice Irene Wasserscheid, who petitioned the trustees to pursue a master's degree in American literature. She became the first woman to graduate from Williams.
Williams College currently serves 2,216 students in three academic divisions: sciences, social sciences, and humanities. With an average acceptance rate of 8%, Williams is one of the most competitive universities to get admitted to.
The school has an extensive alumni and faculty network, with nine Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel laureate, 71 U.S. members of Congress, a U.S. president, and 22 U.S. governors.
Massachusetts Is Home To America’s Oldest Institutions of Learning
Massachussets’ history in education traces back nearly 400 years, during the early occupation of New England. The schools continue to serve the Massachusetts communities to date, with most ranking highly in academic achievement and status.
Most of the alums in the school have had a significant impact on American history, industries, and world globalization. From presidents across the world to Nobel Laureates and renowned entertainers, these Massachusetts schools have modeled all. The commitment to quality education over centuries makes these institutions excellent choices for enrolling your child.
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