The First Integrated School and Teacher In Boston

The First School in Boston

The Boston Latin School, established in 1635 is the first public school in Boston as well as the United States. But today I wanted to write about the first public high school called Boston English. When I worked at Boston English it had moved to Jamaica Plain and I was there to help, part of a team from Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I was taking classes. I didn’t know that it was modeled after the Royal High School in EdinburghScotland. But today I wanted to reveal some other parts of its history, entwined with free born and emancipated African-Americans, that often goes un-noticed.

Still Standing on Beacon Hill

You see I was dropping my wife off at the dentist and I had to park somewhere on the back side of Beacon Hill. I finally found a spot on a corner looking at this wonderful old building and the The Phillips School name still engraved high up in the granite.

“Boston English has had seven locations. Its first site was on Derne Street at the rear of the Massachusetts State House and is marked by a metal plaque. Its second home was a building (still standing) at the corner of Pinkney and Anderson Streets, which eventually became the Phillips School, a school for then free born and emancipated African-Americans before the American Civil War.”

History of the English High School

First Integrated School

Like many early schools, it was limited to a single-sex, white only, format for education. Its location dictated that it would cater to the wealthy part of Beacon Hill. But the Charles River side of Beacon Hill had many African American households who were working for the wealthy on the Boston Common side. The long and short of its history is that it once stood for white only and when Boston became integrated, The Phillips School was one of the first to be fully integrated in 1855.

“The Phillips Grammar School educated only white male children, and as a result of its location, generally catered to the wealthiest families in Boston. In contrast to the Abiel Smith School, which was the public school for African American children from 1835 to 1855, the Phillips School was considered one of the best schools in the city. Black Bostonians fought tirelessly for equal school rights throughout the 19thcentury, as described in the Abiel Smith School site description. In 1847 Benjamin Roberts attempted to have his daughter Sarah admitted to the school closest to their home, but his request was denied by the Primary School Committee, the District Committee, and the General School Committee. Frustrated, Roberts brought Sarah to the door of the Phillips School, which now educated both males and females, but entrance was denied by Principal Andrew Cotton. Ironically, when Boston schools were finally integrated in 1855, by an act of theMassachusetts legislature, the Phillips School became one of the first integrated schools in Boston.”


First African-American To Teach in and Integrated School

One of the reasons I am telling this story is that this school has always stood for excellence and here is an example of the first African-American teacher, Elizabeth Smith, appearing in an integrated school of excellence.

“In 1863 the Phillips School moved to a new building on Phillips Street (formerly Southac Street). In the early 1870s, Elizabeth Smith, daughter of abolitionist John J. Smith, started teaching at the Phillips School and was probably the first African American to teach in an integrated Boston public school.”

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from EdSpeak

Discover the tools and strategies modern schools need to help their students grow.

Community Schools Reform

As a seasoned researcher of K-12 public schools and someone dedicated to improving the quality, equity, and creativity in education, I wholeheartedly support the proposal

Read More »

Subscribe to EdSpeak!

The SchoolWorks Lab Blog, connecting teaching to policy through research.