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Lowell Institute School records

Identifier: A026


The Lowell Institute School was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1903 as the School for Industrial Foremen. It provided low-cost, continuing education to industrial foremen seeking to enhance their professional skills. The school offered two tuition-free evening programs: the Mechanical Course and the Electrical Course. Over time, the school's admission standards became more rigorous and its curriculum expanded, but it continued to offer two-year programs in mechanical and electrical engineering well into the 1960s. In addition, courses in structural and civil engineering, high-speed strobe photography, machine tool fundamentals, scientific glass blowing, house building, technical writing, and microprocessor systems were offered. Courses in computer technology were added in the 1960s and became an integral component of the school's curriculum. In the fall of 1996, the school was transferred to Northeastern University (NU), becoming a division of NU's School of Engineering Technology.


  • Creation: 1883-2008


Conditions Governing Access:

Records are closed for 25 years from the date of their creation, unless researchers have written permission from the creating office. Student records (boxes 9-11) are closed for 75 years from their date of creation.

Historical Note

The Lowell Institute School traces its roots to an 1836 bequest by John Lowell, Jr., a scion of the prominent New England family that introduced production machinery to the manufacture of cotton goods. Lowell was the son of Francis Cabot Lowell, for whom the city of Lowell is named. In his will, John Lowell, Jr. left one-half of his fortune ($250,000) toward the development of public lectures for Boston residents on the topics of philosophy, natural history, and the arts and sciences. John Amory Lowell, the founder's cousin, was appointed sole trustee of the new Lowell Institute and organized the first lecture series in 1839. As set forth in the will, tuition for lectures was equivalent to the "value of two bushels of wheat."

Augustus Lowell, son of John Amory Lowell and second trustee of the Lowell Institute, persuaded President Rogers of the newly-founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] to establish a series of evening public lectures on practical subjects in 1868. Conducted by MIT professors, these lectures were of an "erudite or special nature" and were offered to the public for over 30 years.

Upon the death of Augustus Lowell in 1900, his son A. Lawrence Lowell, a member of the Corporation of MIT and future President of Harvard University, became the third trustee of the Lowell Institute. A. Lawrence Lowell believed that the lectures on popular subjects, while of high quality, did not reach the people who needed them most, namely industrial foremen who had few, if any, scholastic avenues for improving their industrial skills. Lowell recommended to MIT President Henry S. Pritchett a plan for training able working men already in foremen's positions to enhance their professional skills. Pritchett appointed Professor Charles F. Park (MIT class of 1892) to draw up a plan for the training program. Park's report resulted in the establishment of the evening School for Industrial Foremen at MIT in 1903, of which Park was appointed Director.

The School for Industrial Foremen offered two evening programs known as the Mechanical and Electrical Courses. These two-year programs were offered tuition-free to workers seeking to expand their employment opportunities through further industrial training. Program candidates were required to pass examinations in high school mathematics and drawing, and later on, trigonometry. Courses were taught by members of the MIT faculty and included lectures, recitations, drafting exercises, and laboratory work on industrial topics. Students received certificates upon completion of the two-year course of study. The school held its first graduation in 1905.

Over time, the school's curriculum expanded and admission standards became more rigorous. In 1913 a Builders' Course was added to the curriculum, eventually renamed the Structural Course. In 1923 the school began offering supplementary or advanced courses that provided specialized training to men working in particular industrial trades. During the same year, the school was renamed the Lowell Institute School Under the Auspices of MIT in the recognition that the school no longer catered exclusively to foremen. By 1928 the school was thriving and registered up to 600 students including those trained at institutions such as Northeastern University, the General Electric Engineering School, MIT, and Harvard. Before World War II, the school's annual enrollment exceeded 1,000.

A. Lawrence Lowell died in 1943, leaving his son Ralph Lowell to become the school's fourth trustee. Ralph Lowell was instrumental in establishing the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (1946) which pioneered the use of radio as a vehicle for adult education programming. In 1944 the school's long-standing director, Charles Park, died. Park was succeeded by Arthur Lawrence Townsend, a long-time professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and the Lowell Institute School. Townsend remained director until his death in 1959, at which point F. Leroy Foster assumed the post. Foster retired in 1973 and was replaced by Bruce D. Wedlock who directed the school until it left MIT in 1996.

The Lowell Institute School continued to offer two-year programs in mechanical and electrical engineering well into the 1960s. Courses in structural and civil engineering were also offered periodically according to student demand. Under the directorship of Bruce Wedlock, the curriculum expanded to include courses such as: high speed strobe photography, machine tool fundamentals, scientific glassblowing, housebuilding, technical writing, and microprocessor systems. Courses in computer technology also burgeoned in the 1960s-1970s and became an integral component of the school's curriculum.

In the Fall of 1996, the Lowell Institute School was transferred to Northeastern University, becoming a division of the university's 70-year-old School of Engineering Technology. With continued support from the Lowell Foundation, the school offers students an education in engineering technology with an emphasis on applications and problem solving. The school still provides non-degree technical education to Boston-area residents and offers degree programs in computer technology, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. John Lowell, the son of Ralph Lowell, holds the post of fifth trustee.


Charles F. Park
Arthur L. Townsend
F. Leroy Foster
Bruce D. Wedlock


12.40 cubic feet (16 containers)



System of Arrangement:

Organized into 6 series: 1. Annual Reports; 2. Course Offerings; 3. Subject Files; 4. Graduation Files; 5. Yearbooks; and 6. Student Files.

Physical Location

28/3, 35/3


  • "1996 Graduation Talk," 1996. (Box 8, Folder 388)
  • "Appendix: History of the Lowell Institute School," n.d. (Box 6, Folder 292)
  • Guide to the Administrative Records of the Lowell Institute Broadcasting Council and WGBH Educational Foundation 1945-1994 (1951-1991), 1995.
  • "Introduction," 1955. (Box 7, Folder 347)
  • "The James H. McGraw Award in Technical Institute Education," 1957. (Box 6, Folder 329)
  • "LIS@NU," 1998. (Box 3, Folder 187)
  • "The Lowell Institute School," n.d. (Box 6, Folder 292)
  • "Lowell Institute School: Graduation 1952," 1952. (Box 7, Folder 344)
  • "Lowell Institute Speech," 1979. (Box 7, Folder 371)
  • "Memorandum on the Lowell Institute School," 1958. (Box 6, Folder 292)
  • "Park Medal," 1982. (Box 7, Folder 374)
  • "A Summary of the Proposed Structure of the Lowell School," 1969.(Box 6, Folder 284)
  • Townsend, Arthur L. "The Lowell Institute School: The Remarkable Will of a 37-Year Old Bostonian Has Had a Profound Influence on New England Adult Education for More Than a Century," Technology Review, 1951. (Box 6, Folder 292)
  • Weeks, Edward. The Lowells and Their Institute. Boston: Little Brown, 1966. [CALL NUMBER: LC6301.L8W4]
Finding aid for the Lowell Institute School Records
Finding aid prepared by Karen Adler Abramson; updated by Migyeong Geum
October 1998, October 2012
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Snell Library
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US