Cambridge Schools, 1834-1996

Administrative Information

Historical Sketch


Scope and Content Note

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Box and Folder List

2 file boxes
0.63 linear feet
Processor: Nicole Perrault
Date: October 2011

Acquisition: This is a created collection. The following donors provided items at various times: Miss Hall, Arthur T. King, Charles Mansfield, Sara Norton, and Mary E. Saunders. Not all original donor lists exist.

Access: There are no restrictions on items in this collection.

Permission to Publish: Requests for permission to publish from the collection should be made to the Executive Director.

Copyright: Although the Cambridge Historical Society does not hold copyright on all items in the collection, copyright has expired for the majority of items.

Historical Sketch:

Throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, grammar schools did not teach beginner’s literacy, but required that students possess these skills prior to enrollment. Therefore, female students would learn these skills at home or at dame schools. These dame schools functioned as daycare services as well as a place for girls to learn the basics in literacy, etiquette, sewing, embroidery, and perhaps music and dance. Dame schools were first established in women’s homes, where women often taught children beside their own, and eventually moved into different buildings. Male students would also attend dame schools, or be home schooled, to learn the basics before enrolling in a grammar school where they would learn arithmetic, classical languages, and writing.

Following the American Revolution, a strong emphasis was placed on education to uphold the foundling democracy, which led to the formation of more schools throughout New England. Females began to play a stronger role in the education system, both as students and teachers. The majority of the school systems, particularly those in rural towns, met the minimal requirements for classical training, and focused primarily on teaching the basic reading and writing skills. While not all towns obeyed the law that required the hiring of a teacher who knew Latin, those that did would pay the salary through taxes, charging tuition, selling land, or all of the above. Vacation schools also became common throughout America. Such schools emerged in the late 19th century and used programs and lessons to teach the Bible to children so school systems could dedicate more time to academics.

Horace Mann was an important figure in changing the school systems in the early nineteenth century through his common school movement. Mann believed that everyone should have the opportunity to learn the same things. Teachers received more training and age-grading – taking classes with similarly aged students and progressing from there alongside them – was instated. Prior to this, teachers most likely received little training and maintained weak credentials and students were taught in groups of widely varying ages in what were known as ungraded schools.

In the late nineteenth century, high schools were seen more as preparatory schools for college, but by the early twentieth century, they became part of the regular school system. Vocational schools were established to provide education to students while also preparing them as future trade workers. While the education system that exists today is vastly different in comparison to its predecessor, it is important to understand how the system evolved over time to reach what is now in place.


Langone, John.  The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Yesterday and Today.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Cambridge Historical Society, 1998.

Perlmann, Joel, and Silvana R. Siddali. “Literacy, schooling, and teaching among New England women, 1730-1820.” History of Education Quarterly 37.2 (1997): 117.

Scope and Content Note:

An overview of the items in the Cambridge Schools Collection provides evidence of the shifts in education.  The collection consists of annual reports of the public school system by the Cambridge School Committee, registers – class attendance and marks records – of public schools as well as a variety of Cambridge schools records, reports, brochures, and student projects.   The collection includes items from the Cambridge Public School Committee, and from specific schools: Professor Agassiz’ School, Browne & Nichols School, Buckingham School, Cambridge Head Start, Cambridge High School (formerly Cambridge High and Latin), Fayerweather Street School, Cambridge’s first Evening School, Fitzgerald School, Miss Jennison’s Dame School, Kennedy School, Mason Grammar School, Vacation Schools held at the Cambridge Manual Training School (later known as the Rindge Manual Training School) and the Holmes School, and the Washington Grammar school (formerly the Ward I High School and the Auburn Grammar School).  These items span from 1834 to 1996 with the majority of the items being from 1845 to 1880.

Annual reports of the school committee were not printed earlier than 1841. These reports of the school committee reveal the yearly changes from 1841 onward of instruction topics, textbook selections, school regulations, and educational laws.  Also included are reports on the topics of reorganization of the school district, restructuring school punishment, and examination subjects.
The bulk of the collection currently documents the emergence of the Washington Grammar School from the Ward I High School and the Auburn Grammar School.  School statistics, registers, teacher recommendation letters, and certifications demonstrate the changes that occurred from 1845 to 1880.

The collection marks the progress of women’s education from dame schools to their involvement in more official public education.  Miss Jennison’s Dame School includes a sewing sampling of the work girls learned during this period of American education and the class projects of the Fayerweather Street School demonstrate a more recent accomplishment of co-ed collaboration.  Although not a school, the Young Women’s Christian Association in Cambridge offered many educational opportunities to women outside of the traditional schools, and as such, records of their class offerings are held in this collection.

This is a created collection that will be added to as relevant items are received.

Library of Congress Subject Headings:

  • Auburn Grammar School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Browne and Nichols School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Buckingham School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Cambridge Head Start (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Cambridge High School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Cambridge (Mass.). School Committee
  • Dame Schools
  • Fayerweather Street School
  • Fitzgerald School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Kennedy School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Mason Grammar School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Public schools–Massachusetts–Cambridge.
  • Rindge Manual Training School
  • Vacation Schools
  • Washington Grammar School (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Young Women’s Christian Association (Cambridge, Mass.)

Cambridge Schools Collection, 1834-1996 (inclusive), 1845-1880 (bulk)


1|1|Professor Agassiz’ School: catalogue of students, 1838-1859

1|2|Browne and Nichols School, annual reports, 1971-1973

1|3|Buckingham School, vaccination record card, n.d.

1|4|Cambridge Head Start, handout, n.d.

1|5|Cambridge High School/Cambridge High and Latin School, school register, and yearbook 1846, 1919

1|6|Cambridge High School/Cambridge High and Latin School, invitation and program, 1867

1|7|Cambridge School Committee Annual Reports, 1841, 1843-1846, 1848, 1852

1|8|Cambridge School Committee Annual Reports, 1864-1865, 1867, 1869, 1915, 1954, 1958

1|9|Cambridge School Committee Regulations, 1863, 1901

1|10|Cambridge Public Schools: General (pamphlets, examination schedules, and related) 1834, 1866, 1869-1884, 1899, 1918, 1927, 1936, 1986-1989

1|11|Fayerweather Street School, student projects, ca.1980, 1987

1|12|Fayerweather Street School, student projects, 1990

2|1|Fayerweather Street School, student projects, 1996

2|2|First Evening School, subscribers agreement, 1867

2|3|Fitzgerald School, brochure, n.d.

2|4|Miss Jennison’s Dame School, tuition bill and sewn shirt, 1834

2|5|Kennedy School, brochure, n.d.

2|6|Mason Grammar School, student “Attendance, Deportment, and Recitations” card, 1845

2|7|Vacation Schools [held at Cambridge Manual Training School], report, 1897

2|8|Ward I High School/Auburn/Washington Grammar School: school statistics, registers, and related, 1845-1847, 1850-1878, 1880
||See #OS 1 for school registers

2|9|Young Women’s Christian Association, class schedules, 1895

OS1||School registers removed from #2.8