The Oldest Schools in America

Have you ever wondered how far back the history of education in America goes? How long has our country worked to promote the education of future generations, and what did early schools look like? Delving into our past paints a vivid picture of an emphasis on education that dates back to the original colonies. Learning has always been a cornerstone of American society. It is a part of us, and it evolves alongside us.

The are five of the oldest schools in America, and each offers unique insight into where we came from and even where we are today:

Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School (BLS) is the first public school in America, founded in 1635. The first classes were held in the home of Philemon Pormort, the first public school teacher in the country. Town funds were used to support the school, and it was decreed that 50 pounds per year would be given to Pormort as a salary.

Admission was determined by reading bible verses. Latin, Greek, grammar and arithmetic were the core of the first curriculum, and the school day went from 7 A.M. to 5. BLS has a long history of schoolmasters, ranging from Revolutionary War patriots to famous colonial thinkers. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, five began their education at BLS: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Treat Paine and William Hooper.

Nowadays, BLS is a six-year college preparatory school grounded in education in the classics.

Harvard University
Harvard University, one of the most famous colleges in America, is also the oldest, founded in 1636 by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The court awarded 400 pounds to the establishment of a “colledge” that was used for the purchasing of a house and a plot of land. The plot of land, known as the “College Yard,” remains today at the southern edge of Harvard’s campus. In 1638, John Harvard, the first benefactor, willed his library of 400 books to the University. In his honor, the court decided that the college would be named Harvard instead of Cambridge.

Nine students became Harvard’s first graduating class in 1642, and over the last 360 plus years, Harvard has grown enrolled to enroll more than 20,000 students each year. Currently, there are over 360,000 living alumni in the world.

Hartford Public High School
Founded in 1638, Hartford Public High School (HPHS) is the second public secondary school in the United States, serving the community of Hartford, Connecticut. Originally Thomas Hooker’s Latin School, HPHS began as a Puritanical school to educate young men to join the ministry. By the 18 century it was known as Hartford Grammar School and primarily taught Greek and Latin. By 1847, the school became HPHS, and for the first time, allowed women to enroll. The original building burned down in 1882, and the building that was erected in its place is the foundation for the school’s modern campus.

Currently, HPHS serves grades nine through 12, and uses a system of academies, or “small learning communities,” to emphasize different areas of education. There is an Academy of Engineering/Green Technology, an Academy of Law and Government, a Nursing Academy and a Freshman Academy. HPHS prides itself on its remarkable fossil collection and is one of the only high schools to have received a donation of dinosaur tracks.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
In 1648, Cambridge became Massachusetts’ fifth town to establish a public school, and it was the first school aimed at preparing students for college. In 1660, the school was taken over by Old Cambridge and began to teach English grammar as well as classic Greek and Latin. By 1832, it opened its doors to women as well, and in 1886, the two components were divided: classics became the Cambridge Latin School, and English became the Cambridge English High School.

The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School was founded in 1977, when Cambridge Latin School, Cambridge English High School and the Rindge School of Technical Arts were merged to become one of the most diverse schools in the United States. Some famous alumni include Matt Damon, and Ben and Casey Affleck.

Hopkins Academy
Hopkins Academy was founded in 1664 in the town of Hadley, Massachusetts, through money from a wealthy London merchant named Edward Hopkins. Hopkins was devoted to education and stipulated in his will that his money would go to the founding of schools in America. Four schools in total were founded by Edward Hopkins. For years, Hopkins Academy was a private school, though it is currently the only public high school in the town of Hadley.