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Committee for Superintending the School for Mutual Instruction records

Identifier: 0401.001

Scope and Contents note

This series consists of three sub-series: Sub-series I - Committee correspondence and reports; Sub-series II - Reports on attendence and tokens; and Sub-series III - Observation reports. Sub-series I includes correspondence, votes, reports, and records of the business of the Committee. One significant item is a detailed description by William B. Fowle of his visit to the Free Schools in New York City. Sub-series II includes the reports of the schoolmaster, William B. Fowle, which provided attendance statements, tallies of tokens distributed and redeemed, and minutiae concerning the functioning of the school. Sub-series III includes reports of visits to the school by various committee members.


  • 1821-1823


Historical note

The mutual (or monitorial) system of instruction, which had been created by English educator Joseph Lancaster, was widely popular in the early part of the nineteenth century. The Lancasterian system relied upon having the older or more advanced students instruct the younger or weaker students under the supervision of the schoolmaster. Tokens with an attached percuniary value were distributed as rewards for succesful students. The students could redeem the tokens for books and other prizes.

On 2 July 1820, at a Town meeting, an appropriation of $1000 was voted and the School Committee was authorized to establish a School for Mutual Instruction. The School Committee voted on 22 October 1821 to create a committee of seven men to oversee and care for the School.

Because it required fewer trained professionals, this system became a factor in the expansion of free education. Indeed, the Committee found the school and its method of instruction to be superior and recommended its general adoption. The School Committee took charge of the school in September of 1823 and the Committee for Superintending the School for Mutual Instruction was disbanded.


0.01 Cubic feet (4 folders)

Language of Materials


Related Archival Materials note

Annals of the Primay Schools, compiled by Joseph M. Wightman, Boston: Rand & Avery, City Printers, 1860 can be found in the Publications Collection.

Guide to the Committee for Superintending the School for Mutual Instruction records 0401.001
Diane Pierce-Williams and Kristen Swett
2008 March 19
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With funding from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

Repository Details

Part of the City of Boston Archives Repository

201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1194 (Fax)