“An excellent apparatus”

“Connected with this school is an excellent apparatus, including a telescope, which we understand to be among the largest in the State; this, however. is owned by the Principal, Mr. J. M. Ross.

―”Town of Smithfield.”  Twenty-First Annual Report on Public Schools, January 1866.

The School Committee of the Town of Smithfield submitted a report to the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island for the school year ending May 1, 1865. One of the challenges conveyed was poor attendance by pupils “… who were suffered to be roaming the streets and fields, when they should have been at school.”

Map of Lonsdale
Map showing the location of the village of Lonsdale in the southeastern portion of Smithfield. From Map of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations by Henry F. Walling, 1855.

The Committee highlights the success of the school at Lonsdale, the only high school in the town at the time. The principal is praised for his work and it is mentioned that he lends his own personal telescope for use by the students. The school is seen as a model that other school districts should emulate.

The telescope was made by Fitz of New York and it is described in The R.I. Schoolmaster as “six feet in length, with a four and a half inch object glass, and magnifies from 36 to 288 times.” The Schoolmaster article continues: “It throws light upon the remark recently made to us by one who has visited within the last few years many hundred schools in different States, that he had nowhere else seen schools so well taught as within a circuit of twenty miles from Providence.” [emphasis in the original]

During this era the Town of Smithfield included North Smithfield, Lincoln, and Central Falls. North Smithfield and Lincoln became independent towns in 1871 after a period of rapid growth. Central Falls separated from Lincoln in 1895. The growth of these communities was in large part due to the economic prosperity of the textile mills along the Blackstone River.

To implement improvements in education the Committee recommended soliciting donations from factory establishments and wealthy citizens. The budget of the entire school district was $8,874. The Lonsdale Manufacturing Company’s annual contribution of $1,400 was quite significant. It would be equivalent to more than $20,000 today, based on the consumer price index.

The report was written a very short time after the end of the Civil War. The “disloyalty” of the Confederacy and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (and other “kindred crimes”) were seen to be the result of ignorance which could be prevented by education. Below is an extended excerpt.

“It seems desirable that the attention of the town should be directed to the establishment of High Schools.”

“At present, there is only one such in the town, and that at Lonsdale. It is a most flourishing and successful school—the languages and higher mathematics are taught thoroughly. Connected with this school is an excellent apparatus, including a telescope, which we understand to be among the largest in the State; this, however. is owned by the Principal, Mr. J. M. Ross. The success which attends this school, should stimulate other districts to establish schools of similar character. If the expense is an objection, let the wealthy citizens and manufacturing companies aid in supporting such schools by voluntary contributions.”

“Solution” by Principal Ross to a geometrical problem. Published in The R.I. Schoolmaster, June 1858.

“The ‘Lonsdale Manufacturing Company’ contributes not less than $1400 yearly for the support of the schools in that village; thus giving an example of the liberality of men who appreciate the advantages of a good education, and feel the importance of giving these advantages to the children of the parents in their employ. The character and the stability of our free institutions, depend upon the correct moral principles taught, and the vigorous intellectual training of the youth in our common schools.”

“Blind passion, disloyalty, assassination, and kindred crimes, are the result of ignorance, as is exemplified in our present history as a nation.”

“Let the great lessons taught during the past few years stimulate us to greater activity in our endeavors to bring the means of a thorough education within the grasp of all classes and conditions of people. To this end we earnestly solicit all the people of the town to work together more earnestly and zealously for the prosperity of the schools,—demolish the miserable houses in which some of the schools are now held, and erect in some inviting place a neat and commodious school house, and surround it by shade trees and other objects of attraction and interest.”

“Visit the school; acquaint yourselves with its doings; appoint the best qualified men for officers,—without allowing neighborhood difficulties and prejudices, or political differences to influence you; give your heartiest support and sympathy to the faithful teachers, and you may look with certainty for still greater benefits.”

The language in the report echos the philosophy of Horace Mann, Brown University class of 1819 and the first Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.

“Forts, arsenals, garrisons, armies, navies, are means of security and defence, which were invented in half-civilized times and in feudal or despotic countries; but schoolhouses are the republican line of fortifications, and if they are dismantled and dilapidated, ignorance and vice will pour in their legions through every breach.”

―Horace Mann, Fourth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education. The Common School Journal, January 13, 1841.

Leave a Reply