History of Morse School

The Original Morse School, 1891 - 1956
The original Morse School, designed by Cambridge architect Charles F. Fogerty, stood on the corner of Brookline and Allston Streets, just a few blocks from the current site. As the population in Cambridge grew in the late 1800’s, the existing school buildings could not accommodate the rising number of students. Some schools in Ward Four were forced to cram as many as forty-seven children into rooms designed to hold far fewer.

original_morse.jpgWhen it opened in the fall of 1891, the Morse School provided thirteen new classrooms for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Cambridge Chronicle hailed the school as “without a doubt one of the finest public school buildings in the State with its spacious and well ventilated rooms and halls, good light and cheerful interior.” Students entered the three-story brick structure through a grand arched entrance. In addition, to classrooms, the school boasted a teachers’ room which by the following year was “finely furnished with a choice library of books and educational papers, chosen to aid them in their teaching,” an auditorium on the third level with seating for 450, and a separate “girls’ basement” and “boys’ basement” with toilets and sinks.

The school featured many modern conveniences, including electric bells which rang in each classroom and speaking tubes to the office. Asa P. Morse, for whom the city named the building, generously provided a number of amenities for the school. He donated a flagpole and American flag, a grand piano, three hundred books for the school library, and pictures to adorn the walls of classrooms and the auditorium. During the school’s first graduation exercises in 1892, young Annie M. Dickson paid tribute to these dramatic images which had inspired her as she studied her lessons. She vividly described photographs of the Roman forum, Sphinx and Pyramids, and the Grand Canal in Venice complete with gondolas and gondoliers, engravings of Columbus at the court of Spain and George Washington crossing the Delaware, as well as photographs of Plymouth and Bunker Hill.

When it opened, the Morse School made headlines not only for its design and interior appointments, but also for the remarkable fact that it was one of two schools in the city to have a woman, Miss Mary A. Townsend, as principal.

Although innovative for its time, the school lacked elements now considered standard. Because children returned home each day to eat lunch, the school had no cafeteria. Rather than a specially designated music room, students practiced singing in the auditorium where the school’s only piano was kept. Arliene Davis, who graduated from the Morse School in 1935, remembers the schoolyard as a simply paved area into which all of the school’s more than four hundred students descended simultaneously for recess. Despite the cramped space, children enjoyed playing a wide variety of group games, often organized by the teachers, during their ten to fifteen minute break. This short recess provided the children with their only opportunity for exercise during the school day.

Learn More
The Morse School, 1957 - 1997
The Morse School Gets Renovated 1999
Artwork Found Within the Walls for Morse School

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