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Boston Latin School

Boston Latin School
Sumus Primi
We are the first
78 Avenue Louis Pasteur
Boston, Massachusetts
Type Public exam school
Established April 23, 1635 (1635-04-23)
Headmaster Lynne Mooney-Teta
Faculty 134
Grades 7–12
Gender Coeducational
Number of students 2,383
Campus Urban
Color(s) Purple and White          
Athletics conference MIAA District A – Dual County League
Mascot Wolfie[1]
Nickname Wolfpack
Rival Boston English
Accreditation NEASC
Newspaper The Argo
Yearbook Liber Actorum
Affiliation Boston Public Schools

The Boston Latin School is a public exam school in Boston, Massachusetts. Established on April 23, 1635, it is both the first public school and oldest existing public school in the United States.[2][3][4][5] The Public Latin School was a bastion for educating the sons of the Boston elite, resulting in the school claiming many prominent Bostonians as alumni. Its curriculum follows that of the 18th century Latin-school movement, which holds the classics to be the basis of an educated mind. Four years of Latin are mandatory for all pupils who enter the school in 7th grade, three years for those who enter in 9th. In 2007 the school was named one of the top twenty high schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.[6][7] As of 2012, the school is listed under the gold medal list, ranking 62 out of the top 100 high schools in the United States (21,776 public high school from 48 states and the District of Columbia were analyzed) by U.S. News & World Report.[8] The school was named a 2011 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, the U.S. Department of Education's highest award.[9]


  • History 1
    • Location history 1.1
  • Academics 2
    • Admissions 2.1
    • Curriculum 2.2
  • Publications 3
  • Athletics 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Alumni 6
    • Hall of Fame 6.1
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Plaque on School Street commemorating the site of the first school building. 2008
Hall of the Bedford Street School House. 1844–1881.

The school's first class was in single figures, but it now has 2,400 pupils drawn from all parts of Boston. It has produced four Harvard presidents, four Massachusetts governors, and five signers of the United States Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin[10] and Louis Farrakhan[11] are among its well-known dropouts.

The school was modeled after Boston Grammar School in Lincolnshire, England, from where many of Boston's original settlers derived. Current students assert with pride that Harvard College, founded a year later in 1636, was created for Boston Latin's first graduates. Whether or not that is true, Boston Latin has been a top feeder school for Harvard, and has consistently sent large numbers of students to Harvard, recently averaging about twenty-five students per year. More than 99% of Boston Latin's approximately 400 annual graduates are accepted by at least one four-year college.

Latin School admitted only male students and hired only male teachers from its founding in 1635. The school's first female student was not until the 19th century. Helen Magill White was the school's first female graduate and first American woman to earn a doctorate. However, soon after White's graduation in 1877, Girls' Latin School was founded. For nearly a century, all qualified female students would attend the all-girls institution. It was not until 1972 that Boston Latin would admit its first co-educational class.

Female teachers predated female students at Latin. In 1967 the school appointed Marie Frisardi Cleary[12] and Juanita Ponte[13] as the first two women in its academic faculty.

Cornelia Kelley, the school's first female headmaster, served from 1998 until her retirement in 2007,[14] after which Lynne Mooney Teta was selected to become the school's 28th headmaster. Mooney Teta is a 1986 graduate of Boston Latin and was formerly an assistant headmaster at the school.[15] Under Teta, Boston Latin School removed all honor classes within its curriculum. However, there is an option to take accelerated courses of Algebra 2; Geometry; Pre-Calculus; and Latin 4 that do not give the 1.0 GPA boost.

Location history

Photo Point Coordinates
(links to map & photo sources)
First Boston Latin School House. Circa 1635. [16][17]
Second School House on South Side of School Street. 1812–1844. [18][19]
Bedford Street School House. 1844–1881. [20][21][22]
School House in Warren Avenue. 1881–1922. [23][24]
School House on Avenue Louis Pasteur. 1922–present. [25]


Boston Latin's motto is Sumus Primi, Latin for we are first. This is a double entendre, referring both to the school's date of founding and its academic stature. Boston Latin has a history of pursuing the same standards as elite New England prep schools while adopting the egalitarian attitude of a public school. Academically, the school regularly outperforms public schools in rich Boston suburbs, particularly as measured by the yearly MCAS assessment required of all Massachusetts public schools. In 2006, Brooklyn Latin School was founded in New York City, explicitly modeled on Boston Latin, borrowing much from its traditions and curriculum.[26]


Admission is determined by a combination of a student's score on the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) and recent grades, and is limited to residents of the city of Boston.[27] Although Boston Latin runs from the 7th through the 12th grade, it only admits students into the 7th and 9th grades. Consequently the higher grades have fewer students than the lower grades, as a relatively large number of students transfer out. The school has historically been described as having a sink-or-swim environment, but in recent years there have been notable efforts to create a more supportive atmosphere.

Because it is a high-performing and well-regarded school, Boston Latin has been at the center of controversy concerning its admissions process. Admissions are very competitive, and it is not uncommon for fewer than 20% of applicants to be admitted. Before the 1997 school year, Boston Latin set aside a 35% quota of places in its incoming class for under-represented minorities. The school was forced to drop this policy after a series of lawsuits involving non-minority girls who were not admitted despite ranking higher than admitted minorities.[28][29] Boston Latin subsequently defeated a legal effort to do away with its admissions process entirely and conduct admissions by blind lottery. Since 1997, the percentage of under-represented minorities at Boston Latin has fallen from 35% to under 19% in 2005, despite efforts by Boston Latin, the Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Latin School Association to recruit more minority applicants and retain more minority students. Some advocate instituting a quota for the number of students that must be admitted from Boston's public middle schools.


Declamation is the most time-honored of the school's traditions. Pupils in the 7th to 10th grade are required to give an oration in their English class three times during the year. There is also Public Declamation, where pupils from all grades, or classes, are welcomed to try out for the chance to declaim a memorized piece in front of an assembly. During Public Declamation, declaimers are scored on aspects such as "Memorization" "Presentation", and "Voice and Delivery", and those who score well in three of the first four public declamations are given the chance to declaim in front of alumni judges for awards in "Prize Declamation".

Front entrance of the school house on Avenue Louis Pasteur. 2007

In addition to the well-known and time-honored tradition of declamation in English classes, recently the Modern Languages department instituted an annual "World Language Declamation" competition. Once a year, during National Foreign Language Week (usually the first week of March),[30] students from grades 8 through 12 perform orations in languages other than English. Most students choose to declaim in the modern language they are studying, though some choose Latin, Greek, or their native tongue. Judges are brought in from various institutions around the city, and mark the students in similar categories to those used in Public Declamation. Entrants are categorized by level, rather than language, such that all students declaiming at the first-year level of various languages are competing against each other, all students at the second-year level compete against each other, and so on. Students who regularly perform exceptionally well at World Language Declamation are honored at Prize Night with the Celia Gordon Malkiel Prize.[31]

In a move that was controversial among some alumni, the school decided in 2001 to decrease the requirement for students' Latin instruction by one year, starting with the class of 2006.[32] The mandatory minimum period of Latin instruction was decreased for students admitted for 7th grade from five years to four years, and for students admitted for 9th grade from four years to three years. This decision was made by the head of the school's Latin department, in recognition of the fact that the requirement was hampering students' ability to take enough courses in important modern subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science and modern languages. However, students can still take Latin courses after their fourth year, in AP Latin and Latin 5, the latter if there is demand.

In a 1789 codicil to his will, Benjamin Franklin established a legacy to fund the Franklin Medals, which are awarded to the school's top-ranking pupils at graduation. The second most prestigious awards, the Dixwell Prizes, are given to pupils excelling in Latin or Greek.


There are currently two main publications of the Boston Latin School: The Register is the school's literary magazine, and The Argo the school newspaper.

Preceded by
King's Chapel Burying Ground
Locations along Boston's Freedom Trail
Boston Latin School
Succeeded by
Old Corner Bookstore
  • Official website
  • Catalogue of the Boston Public Latin School, Established in 1635: With an Historical Sketch, Henry Fitch Jenks (1886)

External links

  1. ^ Caldwell, Dave (2006-11-10). "Thanksgiving Day Games: Old Rivalries, Then the Turkey".  
  2. ^ "History of Boston Latin School—oldest public school in America". BLS Web Site. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2007-06-01. 
  3. ^ "Boston Latin School". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 
  4. ^ "First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue". City of Boston web site. 
  5. ^ "Boston Latin School". NNDB. 
  6. ^ "Best High Schools 2008".  
  7. ^ "The First-Class State—Two examples of how Massachusetts gets it right".  
  8. ^ "Best High Schools 2012".  
  9. ^ 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools, accessed April 3, 2012
  10. ^ "Benjamin Franklin". Exodus Provisions. 
  11. ^ John B. Judis (August 18, 1996). "Maximum Leader".  
  12. ^ Marie Frisardi Cleary (May 19, 1985). "The Halls of Boston Latin School".   Letter to the editor.
  13. ^ Bergeron, Amanda (July 21, 2007). "Juanita Ponte, 62; taught at Boston Latin".  
  14. ^ Jan, Tracy (2007-02-14). "Boston Latin headmaster to retire".  
  15. ^ "Assistant head is named to Latin's top job".  
  16. ^
  17. ^ (Estimated from: Plan of Boston showing existing ways and owners on December 25, 1635. Author: Lamb, George. 1635 Location: Boston (Mass.)) [5][6]
  18. ^ Boston 1842 "Boston" from Tanner, H.S. The American Traveller; or Guide Through the United States. Eighth Edition. New York, 1842 [7]
  19. ^ (Estimated from Tanner map)
  20. ^ Catalogue of the Boston Public Latin School, Established in 1635: With an Historical Sketch, Henry Fitch Jenks. Boston Latin School Association. 1886. Pages 94–95.
  21. ^ Map title: Map of Boston, 1865 Photographically Reduced From City Engineer Plans With All The Latest Improvements. A Complete Guide To Strangers. Publisher: L. Prang & Co. Date: 1865 [8]
  22. ^ (Estimated from Prang & Co. map)
  23. ^ Catalogue of the Boston Public Latin School, Established in 1635: With an Historical Sketch, Henry Fitch Jenks. Boston Latin School Association. 1886. Page 303.
  24. ^ (Estimated from description in Jenks, page 75)
  25. ^ SCHOLA LATINA BOSTONIENSIS CCCL ANNOS NATA. (BOSTON LATIN AT 350). April 21, 1985. Boston Globe. By John Powers
  26. ^ Jan, Tracy (March 4, 2006). "Growing a Boston Latin in Brooklyn". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-08-31. 
  27. ^ "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Entrance to Boston Latin School" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  28. ^ See: Wessmann v. Gittens, 160 F. 3d 790 – Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit 1998 s:SARAH P. WESSMANN, p.p.a. HENRY ROBERT WESSMANN, v. ROBERT P. GITTENS, CHAIRPERSON OF THE BOSTON SCHOOL COMMITTEE, ET AL., and McLAUGHLIN BY McLAUGHLIN v. Boston School Committee, 938 F. Supp. 938 F.Supp. 1001 (1996) Civil Action No. 95-11803-WAG. United States District Court, D. Massachusetts. s:938 F.Supp. 1001 (1996) Julia A. McLAUGHLIN, by Catherine McLAUGHLIN, Plaintiff, v. BOSTON SCHOOL COMMITTEE, et al., Defendants.
  29. ^ "The Boston Latin Case". Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  30. ^ Kate Stevenson (2008). National Foreign Language Week
  31. ^ Prizes and Scholarships, BLS Web Site
  32. ^ Vaishnav, Anand (2001-04-13). "Boston Latin Eases Language Requirement".  
  33. ^ "Publications—Argo". BLS Web Site. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-06-01.  Includes scans of first Argo edition, 1969.
  34. ^ "BLSA Bulletin". Boston Latin School Association. Fall 2008. 
  35. ^ Werchadlo, Emily (2005-11-24). "It's still defined by Latin and English".  
  36. ^ Dahlbeck, Dwayne (2007-11-27). "Latin's first conquest comes at last".  
  37. ^ "President Bush Speaks in Boston". 2002-01-08. 
  38. ^ Rauseo-Ricupero, Ronaldo (2002-01-09). "Bush Comes To Boston After Education Victory".  
  39. ^ Hill, Tony (2000-11-12). "To Place a Black Man in Latin's Pantheon: An Alumnus Quietly Raised to the Star-Studded Frieze".  


See also

The Hall of Fame, known casually as "The Wall," refers to the upper Santayana, Winthrop, and many others. The most recent name, Wade H. McCree Jr., was added to the frieze in 1999, and the selection of the name involved a conscious effort to choose a graduate of color.[39] There are no names of female graduates, mostly because females have attended the school for just 34 years and the honor is only bestowed posthumously. There is also a lower frieze with the names of many other distinguished graduates, and a place on the lower frieze can be awarded while the person is still alive.

Hall of Fame

Boston Latin has graduated notable Americans in the fields of politics (both local and national), religion, science, journalism, philosophy, and music. Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were educated at Latin: Adams, Franklin, Hancock, Hooper, and Paine.[38] Graduates and students fought in the Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, and plaques and statues in the school building honor those who died.


  • In "Six Meetings Before Lunch", a first-season episode of The West Wing, Rob Lowe's character, Sam Seaborn mentioned Boston Latin School in a discussion of public school reform and school vouchers. He said, “Boston Latin, the oldest public school in America, is still the best secondary school in New England.” Mallory O'Brien replies "They all can't be Boston Latin and Bronx Science."
  • On January 8, 2002, President No Child Left Behind Act earlier that day.[37]
  • In Season 1, Episode 12 of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Matthew Perry's character Matt Albie mentioned that his nephew had a 3.8 GPA at Boston Latin.
  • In the 2008–2009 school year, former vice president Al Gore visited Boston Latin School and commended the students for their hard work educating the community about making environmentally respectable decisions.

In popular culture

In the spring of 2015 Boston Latin launched its varsity boys lacrosse as well as varsity girls lacrosse which makes it the only public school in Boston with lacrosse.

Certain teams at Boston Latin tend to be unsuccessful and do not create many winning seasons such as football which has not won its league or made the playoffs since 1987, girls basketball, girls hockey, girls soccer, track, cross country, boys swimming and boys volleyball.

Boston Latin has several teams that tend to be competitive and successful such as the sailing team, girls volleyball team, girls crew team, baseball, softball, wrestling, boys soccer, and boys hockey.

Boston Latin's teams are known as the Boston Latin Wolfpack; their colors are purple and white. Boston Latin has played rival Boston English in football every Thanksgiving since 1887,[35] the oldest continuous high school rivalry in the United States.[36]

A wolf's paw is the logo for Boston Latin's athletic teams


Another Boston Latin publication is "BLSA Bulletin," published by the Boston Latin School Association, whose president is Peter G. Kelly, '83.[34]


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