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Mayor Walsh Announces Archaeological Dig at Former Site of Industrial School for Girls

July 13, 2015

Mayor's Office

Published by:

Mayor's Office

Young People From Mayor's Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, Epiphany School to Participate in Dig

BOSTON - Monday, July 13, 2015 - Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced an archaeological survey at the 1859 Industrial School for Girls property, located at 232 Centre Street in Dorchester. The property is currently owned by the Epiphany School, an independent, tuition-free middle school for Boston children from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. The Industrial School for Girls is the oldest purpose-built school for girls

The archaeological dig will staffed by City Archaeology Program volunteers, who will be joined by a team of young people employed in the Community Dream Team program offered through the Mayor’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment. The Team will participate in all aspects of scientific excavation and recording, community engagement, interpretation and artifact processing.

“It's exciting to see so many young people getting involved in uncovering the history of their neighborhood,” said Mayor Walsh. "These projects not only bring our history to life, they provide valuable work and learning opportunities for our City's youth."

“We’re excited to have so many interesting archaeological projects this summer in Boston that involve early schools, and applaud the young people who are assisting as dig team members,“ said Austin Blackmon, Chief of Energy, Environment and Open Space.?

Current students from the Epiphany School will also work on the dig, and will help in excavating and interpreting the artifacts recovered. The students will also create a display on the archaeology of the site for the new building.

“We are honored to have Joe Bagley and his team here for this exciting project. It’s not every day that a school gets to have a professional archaeological dig in its own backyard!” said John Finley, the Head of School.

“We are honored to have City Archaeologist Joe Bagley and his team here for this exciting project," said John Finley, Head of the Epiphany School. "It’s not every day that a school gets to have a professional archaeological dig in its own backyard!”

“This collaboration with the City Archaeology Program is a wonderful opportunity for young people to gain a meaningful work experience, where they can learn new skills as well as engage with members of the community through their work," said Yves Singletary, Youth and Career Coordinator for the City of Boston. "For a lot of them this is an experience that they probably never would have gotten without being a part of the cities summer employment program."

City of Boston Archaeologist Joseph Bagley will lead his volunteer team in the dig, which began on July 6. Crews are excavating a series of narrow trenches in the location of a former outbuilding in an attempt to re-locate the foundation of the outbuilding and any associated privy (outhouse) it may have contained. The dig is scheduled to last between two and four weeks depending on the results of the survey.

Extensive research prior to the excavations has revealed detailed insight into the lives of the property and the girls who attended the school. The building was purpose-built in 1859 to house approximately 15-30 girls, annually, between 6 and 15-years-old. The girls were predominantly daughters of recent immigrants living in Massachusetts, but others arrived from as far away as Ohio, Virginia and New Brunswick, Canada. Some were admitted for being runaways, fatherless, daughters of young mothers or sailors who were abroad. Applicants were only rejected if they were under 6 years of age or if their home life was not disruptive enough to warrant intervention.

The girls were responsible for taking care of the property and were actively trained by house matrons in Victorian domestic arts in an effort to transform them into “proper” Victorian ladies. While called a school, most of the girls attended the former Dorchester High School next door where the Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion Elementary School is currently located, at the corner of Centre Street and Dorchester Avenue. Between its opening in 1859 and the 1873-1874 school year, 171 girls attended the school. In 1941, the School merged with the New England Home for Little Wanderers and housed high school girls involved in the court system. It was closed and purchased in 2011 and is currently owned by the Epiphany School and used to house their teaching fellows. The Epiphany School has plans to restore the building and build a new building surrounding the western and northern yard of the existing school building. These plans will include the development of a portion of the yard that formerly held a wooden outbuilding, which was demolished in 1950. Archaeological investigation of the former outbuilding are part of efforts made between the Epiphany School and the Boston Landmarks Commission, which includes the City Archaeology Program, to mitigate impacts to the historic building and landscape with future development.

Archaeologists are hoping to find the foundations of the 19th century outbuilding and will test for the presence of privy deposits within or against the former structure. Artifacts within the outbuilding and a privy, if encountered, will reveal new information about the lives of the girls who lived within the building. These artifacts may include household items such as glassware and dishes, tea sets, food remains and personal items.

“It is extremely rare that we have a site with so few historic variables," said Bagley. "We know that the privy would have only been in use for about 20 years, it would have only been used by girls, the girls would have been aged 6-15 years old, and we know all of their names, ethnicity and social backgrounds, If we find a privy, we will be able to reveal so much more information about the lives of these girls than their basic statistics. We will know about their Victorian domestic training from sewing items, tea services and food, and we will even be able to see just how rebellious they were if they disposed of contraband goods in the outhouse where nobody would have looked for them.”

The archaeological team has already made progress in locating the foundation of the former carriage house. Artifacts uncovered include doll parts, marbles, large communal serving dishes, chamber pots and many white glass buttons.

Fieldwork will continue Monday-Friday from 9AM to 5PM rain or shine, except during thunderstorms, and visitors are welcome. Progress of the dig can be followed through live updates on the City Archaeology Program media pages including Facebook at facebook.com/bostonarchaeologyprogram and on twitter or Instagram at @bostonarchaeo.

About the Epiphany School

The Epiphany School is a tuition-free middle school founded in 1997 serving approximately 90 students in grades 5-8. The Early Learning Center planned for construction on the property of the two-acre Industrial School for Girls property includes an early education program from infants and toddlers, community space, an office for graduate support, housing for Teaching Fellows, a wooded play area and a greenhouse. 

About the City Archaeology Program

Established in 1983, the City Archaeology Program strives to preserve, protect and promote Boston’s archaeological heritage. With hundreds of known archaeological sites documented in Boston spanning nearly 10,000 years of human history, the City Archaeologist and a dedicated team of volunteers work to review development projects, excavate archaeological sites on public land and manage over 1,000,000 artifacts excavated from dozens of archaeological surveys stored in the City Archaeology Laboratory repository.