Little Bits of History

Boston Latin School

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 23, 2013
Boston Latin School 1635

Boston Latin School 1635

April 23, 1635: Boston Latin School is founded – the oldest public school in America still in operation. It opened 148 years before the Academy of Richmond County, the next oldest. It is a public exam school or magnet school, also called a specialist school in the UK. It was founded to educate the sons of the Boston Brahmins – the elite society of Bean town, itself already 5 years old. The first classes were very small. The school remains open to students from grades 7 through 12. The first graduating seniors needed an equally prestigious college to attend, so in 1636 (they claim), Harvard was founded.

The school’s original curriculum and style was based on Boston Grammar School in Lincolnshire, England where many of the original inhabitants hailed from. The school’s motto is Sumas Primi, which is Latin for “we are the first” – both the first school and first in academic standing. The curriculum was and still is based on a solid grounding in the humanities. Even today, students must be well versed in Latin, taking 3-4 years of the language. Students must give three oratorical speeches in English per year as well as one in a foreign language, often Latin.

One of the school’s most famous dropouts was Benjamin Franklin. In his will, he left funds to establish the Franklin Medals which are awarded to the school’s top-ranked pupils at graduation. Students are only admitted in the 7th or 9th grades. There is a considerable dropout rate so the higher grades are usually much smaller in size. There are currently 2,400 students at the school that first went co-ed in 1972, five years after adding women to the faculty. Admission is based on test scores and current grades and limited to residents of Boston proper. Efforts have been made to include more minorities and have met with some, but not total success.

The first classes were held in the homes of the Masters. By 1645, the first schoolhouse was built on School Street and was probably a two-story building. In 1704, a new schoolhouse was erected, but with a growing student body, it was again torn down and rebuilt in 1748. The school continuously grew and even changed street locations. The current building was erected between 1920 and 1922 with new classrooms added over the years. The last renovation was undertaken from 1999-2002.

“Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.” – Ambrose Bierce

“We need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” – Mark Twain

“The aim of education is, or should be, to teach people to educate themselves.” – Arnold J. Toynbee

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Boston Latin School remains a premiere school in Boston. Since its founding, there have been four Harvard presidents, four Massachusetts governors, and five signers of the US Declaration of Independence who graduated from the school. As noted above, Franklin was a dropout as was Louis Farrakhan. The school’s colors are purple and white and the teams are known at the Boston Latin Wolfpack. The school has been awarded the 2011 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, the Department of Education’s highest award. In 2012 it was ranked 62nd out of the top 100 schools in the country which included 21, 776 high schools to compete against. Lynne Mooney-Teta is the headmaster and leads a faculty of 139.

Also on this day: The Bard of Avon – In 1616 William Shakespeare dies.
Lights, Camera, Action – In 1867, a patent for a zoetrope was granted.
Mississippi Burning – In 1940, the Rhythm Night Club burned.

One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on April 23, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Here in California the so-called magnet schools are for those students who are no good in regular schools. Dropouts and trouble makers and the lazy and those that willfully do not want to learn the english language- mostly from Mexico in those particular schools there where America-hating is taught to the extent that children will not change to anything American(but they want that free money which they consider getting a form of victory over the whole USA.Good that there are very few of those people).

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