Boston Latin School

US #2159 pictures items from a colonial teacher’s desk. Click image to order.

On April 23, 1635, the Boston Latin School opened its doors.  It’s America’s oldest school and first public school.

Puritan colonists in America knew early on that they needed a solid educational system for their children.  Many of their ministers had attended Oxford or Cambridge University in England, and they particularly wanted their children to be able to read the Bible.

US #682 was issued for the 300th anniversary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Click image to order.

Reverend John Cotton developed the idea for establishing a school in Boston based on the Free Grammar School of Boston, England.  Like the schools in England, it would feature a curriculum centered on religion, Latin, and classic literature.  On April 13, 1635, Cotton called a meeting of local citizens and they chose Philemon Pormort to serve as the first schoolmaster.  The school opened 10 days later on April 23, 1635, with the first classes being held in Pormort’s home.  Classes would continue to be held at the home of the schoolmaster until 1645, when construction on the school building was completed.  It was America’s first schoolhouse and resided fittingly on School Street.

US #2190 from the Great Americans series. Click image to order.

Though it was a public school, it didn’t initially receive full support from taxes.  Funds were raised by donations and land rentals.  And many of the early students paid tuition.  Harvard University was founded the year after Boston Latin, in part so that “Boston Latin’s graduates would have somewhere to go.”  The school quickly came to be known as the main preparatory school for Harvard.

When the school first opened, it only admitted male students and hired only male teachers.  In 1859, Helen Magill became the first female student, though co-educational classes wouldn’t begin until 1972, a few years after they began hiring their first female teachers.  The school also had a cadet corps that formed during the Civil War and remained active for nearly a century.

US #861 – Emerson graduated in 1817. Click image to order.

Boston Latin School has had many famous graduates over the years, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Leonard Bernstein, Henry Knox, and Samuel Pierpont Langley.  Benjamin Franklin attended the school, but his father withdrew him because of the cost of tuition.

The school is still open today and still requires its students to study four years of Latin.  It’s been named one of the top 20 high schools in the country, serving about 2,400 students with a staff of about 130.

The story behind the stamp…

In the years leading up to this stamp’s issue, there were several stamps that honored specific schools – Washington and Lee University, Columbia, and Dartmouth College.  However, the USPS then decided that they should no longer honor specific schools or their anniversaries on stamps because there are too many of them.

US #2159 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover. Click image to order.

But as the 350th anniversary of the Boston Latin School approached, it seems the USPS thought it was too significant not to honor.  So, they developed the Public Education stamp.  It doesn’t picture the school or include any dates relating to Boston Latin, though it does illustrate items typically found on a Colonial Era teacher’s desk.

US #2159 – Silk Cachet Combination First Day Cover. Click image to order.

While the stamp didn’t appear to outright honor the school, the USPS publicized the stamp as honoring Boston Latin’s 350th anniversary.  It was even initially scheduled to be issued on April 23, 1985, the school’s official anniversary.  But issues with preproduction delayed the stamp and it wasn’t issued until October 1st.  The First Day Ceremony was held at the Boston Latin School.

Click here for more Boston Latin School history.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Very interesting & the additional info on the history of Boston Latin School. Thank you, Mystic Stamp.

  2. Ah! Memories. I grow up in the Boston Public School System and was part of the cadet program. Interesting to note that most all of the Ivy League schools start as Schools of Religion but it is farthest from anything in the curriculum today. So nice to have old stamps to remind us of the past.

  3. I would like to draw your kind attention to S TYPO, in the para after picture of US #2190, where it shows 1972 instead if 1872, as the year when first CO- Ed classes started in Boston school.
    Since joining “This day in history” few weeks back, I have been loving it, not missing a single day of mail ( sometimes saving and reading later, if circumstances do not permit to read same day.)

  4. To Mr Stu Hoyt. You are absolutely correct. All ‘Ivy League’ schools were created for the sole purpose of training men for the ministry, and teaching
    children at the elementary level to read, so they could read the Bible.
    To Rabin Fozar. I too read all : ‘This Day in History’. Usually I miss the begin-
    ing of a TV show or the show all together, because of the reading, and the comments that I write.

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