Boston Latin School
The Boston Latin School is a public exam school in Boston, Massachusetts. It was established on April 23, 1635, making it both the oldest public school in America and the first public school in the United States. The Boston Latin School was a bastion for educating the sons of the Boston "Brahmin" elite, resulting in the school claiming many prominent New Englanders as alumni. Its curriculum follows that of the 18th century Latin school movement, which holds the classics to be the basis of an educated mind. Four years of Latin are mandatory for all pupils who enter the school in the 7th grade, three years for those who enter in the 9th grade.
|Boston Latin School|
Logo as of 2019
Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
78 Avenue Louis Pasteur
|Type||Public exam school|
|Motto||Sumus Primi (Latin)|
("We are first")
|Established||April 23, 1635|
|School district||Boston Public Schools|
|Number of students||2,439 (2015-16)|
|Color(s)||Purple and White,|
|Athletics conference||Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) District A – Dual County League|
|Nickname||"The Wolfpack", "BLS"|
|Rival||English High School of Boston (Boston English)|
|Accreditation||New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)|
The Puritans placed a strong emphasis on education for their children in order to read the Bible. Puritan leaders themselves were accustomed to the highest educational standards, with most of their ministers having graduated from Oxford or Cambridge University in England. They established Boston Latin School in Massachusetts Bay Colony and modeled it after the European Latin schools which emphasized religion, Latin, and classical literature. They were not initially funded by taxes but by donations and land rentals. A school established in nearby Dedham was the first tax-supported public school.
Latin is the mother of modern Romance languages and was an educational priority in the 17th century. The ability to read at least Cicero and Virgil was a requirement of all colonial colleges, and to write and speak Latin in verse and prose was the first of the Harvard laws of 1642. Boston Latin prepared many students for admission to Harvard, with a total of seven years devoted to the classics. However, most graduates of Boston Latin did not go on to college, since business and professions did not require college training.
In 2015, Boston Latin School had 2,400 pupils drawn from Boston. It has produced four Harvard University presidents, four Massachusetts governors, and five signers of the United States Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin and Louis Farrakhan are among its well-known dropouts.
The Latin School admitted only male students and hired only male teachers from its founding in 1635 into the 19th century. Helen Magill White was the school's first female graduate and the first American woman to earn a doctorate. Magill White was the only female pupil at the school when she attended. The Girls' Latin School was founded in 1877, and Boston Latin admitted its first co-educational class in 1972.
The school appointed Marie Frisardi Cleary and Juanita Ponte as the first two women in its academic faculty in 1967. Cornelia Kelley was the school's first female headmaster, serving from 1998 until her retirement in 2007, after which Lynne Mooney Teta became headmaster. In 2016, Mooney Teta resigned amid a federal probe into racially charged incidents at the school. In 2017, Rachel Skerritt became the first person of color to serve as headmaster.
A cadet corps was founded during the American Civil War; it was disbanded in the early 1960s.
(links to map & photo sources)
|First Boston Latin School House. Circa 1635. Ezekiel Cheever was an early head master of the Boston Latin School. He taught for seventy years, the last thirty-eight as master of the Boston Latin School.||42.367800°N 71.059877°W|
|Second BLS school house on south side of School Street. 1812–1844.||42.357640°N 71.059679°W|
|Third BLS school house on Bedford Street, 1844–1881.||42.353840°N 71.061060°W|
|Fourth location of BLS school house in Warren Avenue, (shared with the English High School of Boston), 1881–1922.||42.344178°N 71.073380°W|
|Fifth site of BLS school house on Avenue Louis Pasteur. 1922–present.||42.338017°N 71.102016°W|
Boston Latin's motto is Sumus Primi, Latin for we are first. This is a double entendre, referring both to the school's date of founding and its academic stature. Boston Latin has a history of pursuing the same standards as elite New England prep schools while adopting the egalitarian attitude of a public school. Academically, the school regularly outperforms public schools in affluent Boston suburbs, particularly as measured by the yearly MCAS assessment required of all Massachusetts public schools. In 2006, Brooklyn Latin School was founded in New York City, explicitly modeled on Boston Latin, borrowing much from its traditions and curriculum.
Admission is determined by a combination of a student's score on the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) and recent grades, and is limited to residents of the city of Boston. Although Boston Latin runs from the 7th through the 12th grade, it admits students only into the 7th and 9th grades. Consequently, the higher grades have fewer students than the lower grades, as a relatively large number of students transfer out. The school has historically been described as having a sink-or-swim environment, but in recent years there have been notable efforts to create a more supportive atmosphere.
Because it is a high-performing and well-regarded school, Boston Latin has been at the center of controversy concerning its admissions process. Admissions are very competitive, and it is not uncommon for fewer than 20% of applicants to be admitted. Before the 1997 school year, Boston Latin set aside a 35% quota of places in its incoming class for under-represented minorities. The school was forced to drop this policy after a series of lawsuits involving non-minority girls who were not admitted despite ranking higher than admitted minorities. Boston Latin subsequently defeated a legal effort to do away with its admissions process entirely and conduct admissions by blind lottery. The percentage of under-represented minorities at Boston Latin fell from 35% in 1997 to under 19% in 2005, despite efforts by Boston Latin, the Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Latin School Association to recruit more minority applicants and retain more minority students. Some advocate instituting a quota for the number of students that must be admitted from Boston's public middle schools.
Declamation is the most time-honored of the school's traditions. Pupils in the 7th to 10th grade are required to give an oration, known as 'Declamation', in their English class three times during the year. There is also Public Declamation, where pupils from all grades, or classes, are welcomed to try out for the chance to declaim a memorized piece in front of an assembly. During Public Declamation, declaimers are scored on aspects such as "Memorization" "Presentation", and "Voice and Delivery", and those who score well in three of the first four public declamations are given the chance to declaim in front of alumni judges for awards in "Prize Declamation".
In addition to the well-known and time-honored tradition of declamation in English classes, recently the Modern Languages department instituted an annual "World Language Declamation" competition. Once a year, during National Foreign Language Week (usually the first week of March), students from grades 8 through 12 perform orations in languages other than English. Most students choose to declaim in the modern language they are studying, though some choose Latin, Greek, or their native tongue. Judges are brought in from various institutions around the city, and mark the students in similar categories to those used in Public Declamation. Entrants are categorized by level, rather than language, such that all students declaiming at the first-year level of various languages are competing against each other, all students at the second-year level compete against each other, and so on. Students who regularly perform exceptionally well at World Language Declamation are honored at Prize Night with the Celia Gordon Malkiel Prize.
In a move that was controversial among some alumni, the school decided in 2001 to decrease the requirement for students' Latin instruction by one year, starting with the class of 2006. The mandatory minimum period of Latin instruction was decreased for students admitted for 7th grade from five years to four years, and for students admitted for 9th grade from four years to three years. This decision was made by the head of the school's Latin department, in recognition of the fact that the requirement was hampering students' ability to take enough courses in important modern subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science and modern languages. However, students can still take Latin courses after their fourth year, in AP Latin and Latin 5, the latter if there is demand. Greek is additionally an option.
In a 1789 codicil to his will, Benjamin Franklin established a legacy to fund the Franklin Medals, which are awarded to the school's top-ranking pupils at graduation. The second most prestigious awards, the Dixwell Prizes, are given to pupils excelling in Latin or Greek.
There are currently three main publications of the Boston Latin School: The Register is the school's literary magazine, The Argo the school newspaper, and Catapulta is the school science magazine. George Santayana founded The Register in 1881 to serve as the school newspaper. Over the years, however, it evolved into a purely literary magazine, publishing prose and poetry written by members of the student body, as well as artwork. There are generally three editors-in-chief, and it is published twice per year. The Argo, the school's newspaper, is far younger, having been founded in 1970 after it was clear that the Register had become a purely literary magazine. As of the 2006–2007 school year, it is published seven times a year. Catapulta, the science magazine, highlights popular and recent science and technology and is generally published four times a year. The Register, the Argo, and Catapulta are entirely student-produced, and the "Argo" and the "Register" have won awards from the New England Scholastic Press Association, while Catapulta has won awards from the American Scholastic Press Association.
Boston Latin's teams are known as the Boston Latin Wolfpack; their colors are purple and white. Boston Latin has played rival Boston English in football every Thanksgiving since 1887, the oldest continuous high school rivalry in the United States.
The school has fielded several successful sports teams, including the fencing team, sailing team, cross country team, indoor and outdoor track teams, girls volleyball team, the boys and girls crew teams, the boys and girls swimming and diving teams, baseball, softball, wrestling, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls hockey, and cheerleading.
However, the football team has not won its league or made the playoffs since 1987.
In the spring of 2014, Boston Latin launched its varsity boys lacrosse as well as varsity girls lacrosse, the only public school in Boston with lacrosse. In the spring of 2017, in just its third season as a varsity sport, the girl's lacrosse team made the state tournament for the first time.
In the winter of 2015, Boston Latin launched its varsity boys fencing as well as varsity girls fencing, the only public school in Boston with fencing.
In the winter of the academic year 2015-2016, the school's varsity fencing team took home the state championship title for the first time ever, with the men's team placing second overall and women's fourth overall.
In popular culture
- In "Six Meetings Before Lunch", a first-season episode of The West Wing, Rob Lowe's character Sam Seaborn mentioned Boston Latin School in a discussion of public school reform and school vouchers in American public education. He said, “Boston Latin, the oldest public school in America, is still the best secondary school in New England.” Mallory O'Brien replies "They all can't be Boston Latin and Bronx Science."
- On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush visited the Boston Latin School after signing the No Child Left Behind Act earlier that day.
- In Season 1, Episode 12 of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Matthew Perry's character Matt Albie mentioned that his nephew had a 3.8 GPA at Boston Latin.
- In the 2008–2009 school year, former vice president Al Gore visited Boston Latin School and commended the students for their hard work educating the community about making environmentally respectable decisions.
Boston Latin has graduated notable Americans in the fields of politics (both local and national), religion, science, journalism, philosophy, and music. Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were educated at Latin: Adams, Franklin, Hancock, Hooper, and Paine. Graduates and students fought in the Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and plaques and statues in the school building honor those who died.
Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame, known casually as "The Wall," refers to the upper frieze in the school's auditorium, where the last names of famous alumni are painted. These names include Adams, Fitzgerald, Franklin, Hancock, Hooper, Kennedy, Mather, Paine, Quincy, Santayana, Winthrop, and many others. The most recent name, Wade McCree Jr., was added to the frieze in 1999, and the selection of the name involved a conscious effort to choose a graduate of color. There are no names of female graduates, mostly because women have attended the school for just 46 years and the honor is only bestowed posthumously. There is also a lower frieze with the names of many other distinguished graduates, and a place on the lower frieze can be awarded while the person is still alive.
Rankings and awards
In 2007, the school was named one of the top 20 high schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report magazine. It was named a 2011 "Blue Ribbon School of Excellence", the Department of Education's highest award. As of 2018, it is listed under the "gold medal" list, ranking 48 out of the top 100 high schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
In 2019, the school was rated the school as the top high school in the Boston area by U.S. News & World Report and number 33 in national rankings.
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- 42.357909°N 71.059798°W
- (Estimated from: Plan of Boston showing existing ways and owners on December 25, 1635. Author: Lamb, George. 1635 Location: Boston (Mass.))
- Boston 1842 "Boston" from Tanner, H.S. The American Traveller; or Guide Through the United States. Eighth Edition. New York, 1842
- 42.357640°N 71.059679°W (Estimated from Tanner map)
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- Map title: Map of Boston, 1865 Photographically Reduced From City Engineer Plans With All The Latest Improvements. A Complete Guide To Strangers. Publisher: L. Prang & Co. Date: 1865
- 42.353840°N 71.061060°W (Estimated from Prang & Co. map)
- Catalogue of the Boston Public Latin School, Established in 1635: With an Historical Sketch, Henry Fitch Jenks. Boston Latin School Association. 1886. Page 303.
- 42.344178°N 71.073380°W (Estimated from description in Jenks, page 75)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Boston Latin School (Boston, Massachusetts).|
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