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“For over three centuries...”
The Eliot School is one of a small group of early colonial-era schools that survive today.
In 1676, a group of local residents donated corn and land to support a school in Jamaica Plain. That year marked the end of King Philip’s War. In 1689, Rev. John Eliot endowed the school with an additional 75 acres. The school occupied traditional lands of the Wôpanâak, the Pawtucket, the Ponkapoag, and the people known today as the Massachusett. Eliot gave the proviso that the school educate Native Americans and Africans as well as colonial children, but no historical evidence suggests that the school's trustees followed his plan. We recognize that the name John Eliot speaks to a complex and violent past.
For the next two centuries, this was a grammar school, adapting to the times.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the Eliot School turned increasingly to the arts. In 1874, it left the public school system and by the late 1880s had added sewing and carpentry classes. Wood carving flourished. Plumbing, basketry and millinery also had their day. The school offered manual training for schoolteachers, instruction for adults, and classes for children both after school and during school time.
During this transition, neighbors Robert and Ellen Swallow Richards played a significant role. Professors at MIT, they were proponents of vocational education and home economics. Their efforts helped make “shop and home ec” staples of 20th century American public schooling. Robert Richards sat on the Eliot School board for over sixty years until he resigned at the age of 100 in 1944.
Throughout the 20th century, students attended the Eliot School “to satisfy that instinctive desire of human beings to create,” and as “relaxation from their sedentary vocations.”
Today, we continue to offer classes to people of all ages in fine and applied arts. We maintain an active relationship with Boston Public Schools, and still provide an outlet for people to relax from sedentary vocations and satisfy their need for creative expression and for making things by hand.
The school’s history remains to be written. Please contact us if you would like to help research and write this history.
Articles & Talks
“Art, Craft and Reform: The Eliot School, Manual Arts Training and the Arts and Crafts Movement,” — Nonie Gadsden, October 20, 2015, at Massachusetts Historical Society — “In the 1870s, after 200 years of academic instruction, the Trustees of the Eliot School decided to explore more experimental modes of education to meet the new needs of its community....”
“Everything old is new again: Eliot School celebrates 340 years of education and craft,” —Pamela Larson Mathews, January 29, 2016 — “The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts marks its 340th birthday this year...”
“The Eliot School–A 20th Century Snapshot,” — Peter O′Brien, Jamaica Plain Historical Society, Summer 2014 — Interviews with five staff and board members, each of whom have left their mark on the school.
“Thank you, Charlie,” Joe Bergin, Jamaica Plain Carpenter Poets, September 2012 — A poem on the occasion of Charlie Sandler’s retirement and 80th birthday party.
“Eliot School teacher continued legacy of longevity,” Peter Shanley, Jamaica Plain Gazette, September 14, 2012 — “Old Eliot School teachers never die, they just fade away into the woodwork. And so it goes with Charlie Sandler…”
“A Tree is Planted on Arbor Day,” Charlie Rosenberg, Remember Jamaica Plain? April 2012 — Boys from the Agassiz School, in 1928, planted a tulip tree in the Eliot School yard in memory of the late director of the Arnold Arboretum.
History of the Eliot School, January 9, 2011— Audio recording of a presentation sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. The first half, with David Friedman, focuses on the school's land ownership and its building through the mid-19th century. The second half, with Charles Fox, focuses on questions raised in researching the school's transformation in the late 19th century from a regular grammar school to its present form as a school for fine and applied arts.
Eliot School Building & Land, David Friedman, January 9, 2011— Slides accompanying the first half of the above presentation sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Contact us for a copy.
“Eliot School History Since 1874,” Charles Fox, January 9, 2011— Text of the second half of the above presentation sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
“Eliot School,” Mark B., Remember Jamaica Plain, December 13, 2007— “I lived a block away from the Eliot school for 10 years, and I never saw the inside of the place....”
“A Brief History of the Eliot School–The First Two Hundred Years,” Charles Fox, Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts Newsletter, 2004— “In 1689 John Eliot, apostle to the Indians, translator of the Bible into the Algonquin language, and pastor of the First Church in Roxbury, bequeathed in his will seventy-five acres along what is now Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain to a fledgling school to, as Eliot put it, ‘do away with the inconvenience of ignorance.’…”
“History of the Eliot School,” D.S. Smally, West Roxbury Advertiser, May 1, 1886— Shedding light on early land acquisition and later permutations leading to leaving the public school system in 1874.
John Eliot, Wikipedia—“In 1689 John Eliot donated 75 acres of land to support the Eliot School, founded in 1676..…”
Robert Hallowell Richards, Wikipedia—“In 1868, with the first class to leave the institution, he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and there he taught for 46 years.…”
Ellen Swallow Richards: The First Oekologist, Francis E. Wylie, Jamaica Plain Historical Society, reprinted from Fall 1976 New England Galaxy. Copyright © Old Sturbridge Village—“Ellen Swallow, a liberated female for her day, was the first woman student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and she became a fine chemist, a crusader for good food, clean air and pure water, and the mother of domestic science.…”
Ellen Swallow Richards, Wikipedia—“Richards was a ‘pragmatic’ feminist, as well as a founding ‘ecofeminist’ who believed that women's work within the home was a vital aspect of the economy.…
And in Mass Moments—“In 1875, Ellen Swallow married M.I.T. Professor Robert Hallowell Richards.... When they returned to Cambridge, Ellen Swallow Richards began working to create a Woman’s Laboratory at M.I.T....”
Our archives are held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, where they are available to the public. Since the materials are held off-site, contact the Historical Society a few days in advance if you would like to access them.
Many thanks to Cynthia Curtner for preparing materials for the archives.
“Back in 1952–1953 I had the opportunity to attend an after school class in woodworking at the Eliot....” — Rich Fichter, August 2014.
“I grew up in Jamaica Plain…” — Brian Roake, September 2011. Memories of kids’ woodworking classes in the 1960s.
Do you have memories of the Eliot School? Send us your stories and pictures and we will post them here.
“We Are Still Here (Âs Nutayuneân)” Anne Makepeace, 2010 — This moving documentary video tells the story of the revival of the Wampanoag language. In the process, it reflects on John Eliot's translation of the English Bible into Wampanoag, and his complex role in Native history.
“The Eliot School Course of Manual Training,” Frank H. Leavitt and Robert H. Richards, 1892 — Course outline, plus Robert Richards' personal history and reflections on the value of hands-on learning. Available for free download.
“Massachusetts Passes First Education Law” Mass Moments, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities — “April 14, 1642: On this day in 1642, Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the first law in the New World requiring that children be taught to read and write.…”