West Newton Street South End, Boston

First Building Occupied by Girls’ Latin School 1878-1907


Source: Boston Public Library Rare Prints Source: The Bostonian Society View from southeast from West Newton to Shawmut Street.
Stereograph Collection circa 1872-1895
Photographer A.H. Folsom 1893 View looking northwest from West Newton Street to Tremont Street

After Girls’ Latin School was approved on November 27, 1877, the first classes were held on February 12, 1878. Girls’ Latin shared its first building with Girls’ High School. Built from 1869 through 1871, the school was at the time of its completion, the largest in New England and the most expensive school built in the United States. It occupied a 30,480 square foot lot fronting on West Newton Street in the South End. West Newton Street was bounded on the north by Pembroke Street and on the west and east by Tremont and Shawmut Streets. In 1878, West Newton Street was a wide, dirt street and the sidewalks were brick. The Evangelical Zionist Church was to the left of the school and to the right was a row of brick townhouses with classic Bostonian double-bowed fronts.

The school was limestone block on the street level and red brick on the upper three stories. A set of granite stairs bridged the side walk up to the door. The turreted roof was unusually decorative and had a Faneuil Hall like cupola tower on top. It contained sixty six classrooms; seven rooms providing seating for one hundred students and the smallest four rooms seating seventy-five.

There was a cavernous assembly hall on the third floor. The ceiling was coffered and in the middle was a large, two tiered gas chandelier with white globes. At the front of the hall, over the stage, was a slightly smaller matching chandelier. The flooring was clean edged, narrow oak planks. There were five rows of twelve foot wide, straight backed benches, some twenty deep in each row.


Source: Boston Public Library Rare Prints Photographer A.H. Folsom 1893

View of front and rear of Girls’ High and Girls’ Latin School Assembly Hall.

The room was adorned with ancient statuary. Around the entire upper perimeter of the room at the top fourth of the wall was a white plaster Parthenon frieze. In the middle of each wall panel was a bust balancing on what seemed to be a precariously small, scrolled pedestal. The panels were separated by three-inch deep faux fluted columns. Four large statues occupied the front, sides and rear of the room. These various busts and antique sculptures were “the accepted contribution of a number of gentlemen” of the American Social Science Association.

Room One, on the first floor of the Girls’ High School Building, together with an adjoining recitation room, had been given to GLS. The large room had ten rows of wooden desks with straight backed wooden chairs. Each desk and chair had iron supports bolted to the floor so at all times the rows were exact. The desk tops flipped up, and inside were stored lunches, books, ink and pens. A blackboard occupied the middle of all four walls; interrupted only by four large windows, and two doors to the corridor. A single clock was the only thing to adorn the walls above the blackboards. At the front of the room were three larger desks for teachers which provided the color in the otherwise austere environment. Not only were the teacher’s desks packed with books, world globes and papers, but held canning jars full of garden picked bouquets tied with brightly colored ribbons, the gift of one or more girls. Some days, trays of candies, sugar dusted dried coconut slices, or bright red apples were left by secret admirers.


Source: Boston Public Library Rare Prints A. H. Folsom Photographer circa 1893 to 1897.
View of classroom Classes I-II-III-IV of 1893 and chemistry laboratory.

In December 1882, the school committee voted to expand the classrooms for GLS and approved the use of six rooms on the second floor and one room on the third floor of Girls’ High. They also appropriated $2,000 so that the school could be physically separated or isolated from Girls’ High. They erected partitions, assigned separate entrances, and purchased $1,500 of additional furnishings. The entire west half of the second floor was “appropriated to the exclusive use of the school”.

Enrollment at GLS had grown from 37 in 1878 to 296 in 1896. The West Newton Street building was becoming far too small to accommodate both schools. Every available recitation room in the school had been filled with desks, the drawing and musical rooms in the attic and basement, even the cloak-rooms had been converted for use. The school built for 925 girls, was approaching 1,300 students. The girls were crowded into many rooms which were not properly ventilated or well heated. Headmaster John Tetlow was most concerned with a fire, because he knew due to the overcrowded conditions there could be great injury and loss of lives.

However, Girls’ Latin would occupy the building on West Newton Street from 1878 to 1907; almost thirty years. On June 9, 1959, the Boston City Council ordered that Girls’ High School on West Newton Street was no longer needed for school purposes. The school was razed in 1960 and a playground currently occupies the site.


Source: City of Boston Archives.

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