In 1829 the Massachusetts statute law, which had once required a high school for every town of 100 households, had been changed to make such a school obligatory only where there were 500, and a census of Lowell’s households was taken to see if there were that number in the town. It appeared that there were not, but a high school was recommended all the same, and opened in December, 1831. This school has the high honor of being the first permanent co-educational high school in Massachusetts. Its first session was held in a small building on Middlesex and Eliot Streets, and it afterwards tested the comforts, or lack of them, of temporary quarters in a half dozen different places, to find at last a permanent home in a new house on Kirk and Anne streets in 1840. It had at first but one teacher with 40 students, and was high in little else than name. For years the constant complaint was that the school was really doing little more than grammar school work, a careful investigation showing that 48 per cent of the time of its students was given to this class of subjects as late as 1851. In 1858 diplomas were given for the first time. In 1867 the school house was remodeled and enlarged to contain seven school rooms, three small rooms, and a hall. Previous to this time the school had been for many years in two departments, male and female, with a principal for each. There had been one big room on each floor in which pupils sat for study, or for recitation to the principal, but from which they went to small recitation rooms to meet assistant teachers. Boys and girls sat for study in different rooms, though they might recite together. In the remodeled house pupils sat and recited in all the school rooms, as has since been the case. Classes first graduated in both three and four year courses in 1870. Attendance, which had been very irregular, sometimes as low as 66 per cent, improved somewhat in the sixties and seventies, but was still low, and the lack of suitable preparation of students in the grammar schools was the burden of every year’s complaint. An apology for a laboratory was put in the basement in 1875, and a beginning made in the experimental study of chemistry. Parents petitioned for one session in 1861 but were refused, to secure compliance with their wishes in 1867. The standard of the high school was lifted considerably by the addition of one year to the grammar school course in 1884, and the enlargement of the building in 1893 added still further to its opportunities. By 1900 it had twenty fine rooms including two excellent laboratories. It offered a choice of four courses, a college, which fits for any college or scientific school in America; a four-year classical course, which gives more advanced culture than most colleges did fifty years ago; an English course of three or four years, which is designed both for culture and as a practical preparation for life, and a manual training course of four years. In 1900 it had nine men and eighteen women teachers, and an average attendance of more than 800 students.

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The University of Massachusetts at Lowell digitized 36 of the Lowell High School yearbooks during the years of 1926-2008. From 1946-2008 the yearbook was known as “The Spindle”. Yearbooks provide a window into student life. From sports teams to clubs, fashions to hairstyles, these volumes document the changing attitudes and culture of high school students year by year.

Free High School Yearbooks

1946 The Spindle Yearbook

Cover of the 1946 Spindle Yearbook for Lowell Massachusetts High School