Boston Latin School, the first public school in the American colonies, opened in 1635, meeting in the home of its first headmaster, Philemon Purmont. In 1645, the first school building for the Boston Latin School opened, near what is now the corner of School Street and Province Street.
Boston Latin School, in keeping with the times, was all male. Surprisingly, it was free to attend and in principle equally open to rich and poor alike. (In practice, however, truly poor students were few and far between. Even though there was no tuition per se, students were still expected to cover school expenses for things like firewood. That-and losing the labor of a youth while he attended school-was too much of a burden for many families.)
When you visit this stop on the Freedom Trail, however, you won’t see a school building here, for the wood structure was torn down a century into its existence in 1745, to make way for an expansion of King’s Chapel.
Not that the school itself shut down. Boston Latin School not only survived losing its building in 1745, but it remains in operation today, multiple moves later, in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston.
The elite private school, in its numerous locations, numbers among its alumni quite an impressive list of graduates who went on to prominence. Among them are Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine (all signers of the Declaration of Independence), Puritan theologian Cotton Mather, Charles Sumner (statesman and Abolitionist), Henry Ward Beecher (father of Harriet Beecher Stowe), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein, four Massachusetts governors, and four presidents of Harvard University. Among its more notable dropouts are Benjamin Franklin and Louis Farrakhan.
Speaking of Franklin, when you visit the former site of Boston Latin School on the Freedom Trail, you will find the spot marked by an 8 foot high bronze statue of Franklin. Franklin was born in Boston and attended the Boston Latin School, though he then spent the bulk of his adult life in Philadelphia.
Sculpted by Richard S. Greenough in 1856, the Franklin statue was Boston’s first public statue of a person.
The other marker of the former Boston Latin School location is a hopscotch-like mosaic named City Carpet, embedded in the sidewalk on School Street. The mosaic, designed by Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg and completed in 1983, commemorates the school with images of children playing and a list of some of the more famous alumni.
“Benjamin Franklin Statue.” Boston Discovery Guide.
“Boston Latin School-The Oldest Public School.” The Freedom Trail.
“Site of the First Public School.” Celebrate Boston.