A Brief History

Picture of the head of a frozen charlotte doll found at the dig sight being held in a hand.

No two dolls were alike. For some girls, their doll may have been their only possession.
(Boston City Archaeology Program)

In the fall of 1853, several women met in the home of Mrs. Lucy O. Bowditch with the purpose of establishing an Industrial School for Girls. These women wanted to create a place where young, disadvantaged girls could be properly cared for, receive an education, and be trained to work as domestic servants. Their goal was to “prevent evil” in the girls. They sought to:

“train these children to good personal habits; to instruct them in household labor; and to exert a moral influence and discipline over them which should fit them to be able and efficient in domestic service, or in any probable mode of gaining their own livelihood.”

By November first of that year, they had procured a large house in Winchester, Massachusetts and opened the school with one matron, one teacher and one student. By 1858, the managers realized the Winchester property was “inconvenient for so many reasons”. They were beginning to outgrow the space and a house was not conducive for a school. In June they bought the property at 232 Centre Street in Dorchester and hired a well-known Boston architect, George Snell, to design their new school, and William Rumrell to build it.

In January of 1859, less than six months later, the new building was completed and some thirty girls, the matron, and the teacher moved in from Winchester. The school contained a schoolroom, dining area, kitchen, laundry room, and playroom. The second floor housed rooms for the matrons and teacher, along with two dormitories—each equipped with sixteen single bedrooms from which the girls could see the Blue Hills or Boston Harbor depending on the location of the bedroom. The property itself was square-shaped, large, and open; it included a carriage house, an attached privy, open exercise grounds, and a garden with several trees on the property and along its edges.

slate2

The girls were schooled in reading and writing during their time at the school.
(Boston City Archaeology Program)

Prospective students went through an application process. In order to qualify for admission, the girls had to come from destitute families. For many, this meant their parent(s) were unable to support them financially, were prone to drinking and/or were incarcerated.  In other cases, the parent(s) were noted as ill, absent, or dead. By 1858, their popularity had grown such that for every one girl they accepted into the school, they had to turn away two. They felt it was important to “work thoroughly with a few than superficially for many.” When the school first opened, students accepted ranged in age from six years to fifteen years old, but by 1898 the directors raised the minimum age to eleven. Initially, the girls were educated, trained, and lived in the school, but by 1881 the girls began to attend Dorchester’s public schools and returned for their vocational training at the Centre Street property in the afternoons. The yard offered space for the girls to play and “not disturb the neighbors,” and accommodated their garden, which provided fresh food for their meals. Although the school did not affiliate with any religious organizations, the girls did attend the local Congregational Church.

The Dorchester Industrial School for Girls provided a unique system of individual guardianship. When the school placed girls into homes to work as domestic servants, they assigned each girl a guardian (usually a school manager), who checked in on the girl to make sure her placement was a satisfactory one. This relationship often lasted for years. This program was unusual, as most industrial schools ended their responsibility to their students once they left. The Dorchester school’s program was so unique that it was a topic of discussion at conferences and in professional publications.

Since it was built in 1859, the Industrial School for Girls building was continuously used as a school until it merged with the Home for Little Wanderers in 1941, changed its name to the Everett House, and implemented a new mission: to house girls who were in trouble with the law. In 2011, the Home for Little Wanderers sold the property to Epiphany School, Inc.—an organization that also serves economically-disadvantaged children. The Epiphany School has chosen to keep the historic building and build a new facility around the structure. Perhaps the historic school on Centre Street will now serve another 160 years helping and educating children.

school

The story of the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls cannot be told through historical documents alone. Click here to see what City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, and his team uncovered when they conducted an archaeological dig on the property.
(Boston City Archaeology Program)

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6 thoughts on “A Brief History

  1. I’m so glad you wrote up this local history. I’ve been by this house many times and wondered about it. And I work at the Home for Little Wanderers. I love how history touches our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your interest in our site! We are all so happy to hear that you were able to make those connections between the school and both your neighborhood and occupation. We would love for you and other employees at the Home for Little Wanderers to join us on May 10th at the Massachusetts State Archives. We’ll be doing a short presentation about the project and research. The event is open to the public and will be held from 4:00 to 6:00. We would love to see you there!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jeana,
      We are so happy to hear that your grandmother was touched by the content on our site. Connecting with descendants of any girls who attended has been one of our hopes from the beginning of this project. How serendipitous that you stumbled upon it! I wonder how the experience of these girls in the 1860s compared to that of your grandmother’s in the 1930s.
      We would love to hear more about your grandmother’s experience. If she’s interested in sharing, please contact either Dr. Jane Becker or Sarah Black. You can find both their emails on our Contact page.

      Like

  2. My grandmother and her sister lived at this school 1930s at ages 10 and 11 and onward. Many years later my dad and his brother would be placed at home for little wanderers. We recently discovered their unknown sister was adopted from Home for Little Wanderers too., about 1940. Are records available? Possible to take a tour.?Dad and his sister just reunited at 80yo. Still living.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Donna,
      Thank you for taking a look at our site and reaching out! The Industrial School is now owned by the Epiphany School. The headmaster, John Finley, is wonderfully accessible. His contact information is available here: http://epiphanyschool.com/faculty-staff/.
      Our project dealt primarily with records from the nineteenth century but I do believe Boston University has most (if not all) the records from the Home for Little Wanderers. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Like

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