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The West End's Washington School: A look at Boston's Public Schools, past and present

Boston's schools have always been an important part of the community! Early in the 20th century, Boston’s public school system expanded rapidly.

By Katie McCarver 

One of the new schools built to accommodate the expanding population was the Washington School, in the West End.

Washington School, circa 1920-1950, Collection 0403.002
Washington School, circa 1920-1950

Named for George Washington, and established in 1904, the school served a primarily immigrant population. By 1905, the City had created a “summer school” where children could come while their parents were working, and could participate in dance, gymnastics, or arts and crafts like sewing or woodwork. At least 900 children from the West End participated in the summer program. The school also had a rooftop garden, where mothers and children were allowed to sleep during the summer, as there was no such thing as air conditioning, and apartments would get very hot during the summer. The school eventually became a junior high school, but it continued to serve different members of the community. By 1931 evening classes were held, teaching English to immigrants. The evening classes even allowed a few adults to finish their high school education.

Norman Street showing the Washington School, May 1961, Boston Development Authority photographs, Collection 4010.001, Boston City Archives
Norman Street showing the Washington School, May 1961,

Today, there are some very similar programs set up in the Boston Public Schools. Summer programs like the Summer Learning Academy help students learn skills and improve academics, as the programs 100 years ago at Washington School did. Another program, Out-Of-School-Time (OST) exists to allow current students more time to learn and participate in community activities while at school, including an After-Care program. Solutions like these programs help children today, just as they did at the Washington School in the past, providing a safe space for them to learn and grow while their parents work. 

For more information on Washington School, check out the West End Museum Exhibits!

For more information on current school programs, check out the Boston Public Schools’ website

This post was written by Katie McCarver, a student in the History 380 (Fieldwork) Class at Simmons University. For more information about this class's work studying the history of the West End, see our introductory post to this blog series.

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