History of The English High School

The English High School began in 1821 in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston with an enrollment of 101 boys. It was the first public high school in America.

America’s First Public High School

Almost two centuries have passed since The English High school was founded and the school has gone through many changes and has accomplished many goals. Up until the early 1800’s, the education system in Boston consisted of a scattering of grammar schools throughout the town. A child’s education usually ended at the age of 10. The exception to this was the Latin School. This school, with an emphasis on the study of Greek and Latin, was primarily a preparatory school for Divinity students at Harvard. The Academy was so called because it was paid for, at least in part, by the parents of the students.

To Achieve Success in the World of Commerce and Industry

The Boston School Committee, which had been established in 1789, sought to provide a means of education for those students who were not going on to Harvard. They wanted a curriculum that provided subjects that would aid its graduates in achieving success in the world of commerce and industry.

The Committee passed a resolution in 1820 that authorized the creation of a public secondary school to educate boys with an emphasis on a strong course of study in the English language. In 1821, English Classical School was opened with an enrollment of 101 boys. The building used was an already existing school at the corner of Derne and Temple St, on Beacon Hill. A plaque to commemorate the nation’s first public high school can be seen today at the site of the old building. The school required an examination for admission and it would remain an “exam” school until the late 1920’s.

A Grand New Home and A New Rival

In 1844, The English High School was given a new home on Bedford Street, which it shared with the Boston Latin School. Perhaps this close proximity helped create the intense English-Latin athletic rivalry that exists even to this day.

In 1881, The English High School and the Boston Latin School moved again to the newly reclaimed land in the South End. That magnificent school building, constructed to accommodate over 2000 students was one of the outstanding architectural achievements in the country as of that date. The two school coexisted at that site until 1921 when the Latin School moved to a new building on Avenue Louis Pasteur in the Fenway. The English High School remained in the South End building until 1954 when it also moved to Avenue Louis Pasteur, directly across from the Latin School. English’s new home was in a building previously occupied by the now defunct High School of Commerce.

Part of the Neighborhood

During the early 1970’s a 10 story building was erected directly behind the Commerce building. Education continued during the two years of construction and in the fall of 1973, students returned to find the old building torn down and the “Tower” in full operation. The “Tower” brought new changes to English High. For the first time girls were admitted. The school had also dropped its “exam school” status several years before and now student assignments came from the central office and insured that the school would have a student population that would bring new and exciting challenges.

In 1989, The English High School moved again to the Jamaica Plains High School building at 144 McBride St. For the first time in its 167 year old life, it was not to be centrally located. Instead of asphalt and concrete surroundings, it was now part of a neighborhood and community.