Our elementary school names honor principals, groundbreakers, friendship itself, MLK and RFK6 min read
The Cambridge Public Schools website lists four early childhood education programs, 12 elementary schools, five upper schools and a high school with an extension school and Rindge School of Technical Arts. Each has its own rich history of how it came to be what and where it is; we will explore the origins of the elementary schools’ names.
The Baldwin School (85 Oxford St., in the Baldwin neighborhood) is named for the first Black woman principal in the Northeast, Maria L. Baldwin. The school was originally named in 1874 for Harvard professor and proto-eugenicist Louis Agassiz, but the School Committee voted unanimously in 2002 to rename the school for Baldwin, who was appointed principal of the school in 1889. Under her leadership the student body grew to the point that the decision was made, with her prompting, to build a new school in 1915. When that school was completed in 1916, Baldwin was appointed master, a position she held until her death in 1922.
The 2002 change was initiated by then-student Nathaniel Vogel, who was motivated by reading Harvard professor of zoology Stephen Jay Gould’s writings about Louis Agassiz’s theories of scientific racism. Vogel testified that Agassiz’s legacy in education was one of hate and did not reflect the diverse student body of the school. Baldwin’s name, he said, was one that would live up to the school.
The Peabody School (70 Rindge Ave., North Cambridge) was founded in 1889. It is named in honor of the Rev. Andrew P. Peabody, an accomplished scholar who championed causes such as peace, the end of slavery, the education of women and better treatment for the mentally ill. The Peabody School shares a building with the Rindge Avenue Upper School.
The Fletcher-Maynard Academy (225 Windsor St., The Port) is the result of the merger of the Fletcher School and the Maynard School. The Fletcher School was renamed in 1907 for Ruel Hasseltine Fletcher, who had served as the school’s principal for 50 years, first when it was the Otis School and when it was rebuilt as the Thorndike School in 1861. The Maynard was renamed from the Roberts Elementary School in 1986 in honor of Joseph Maynard, who died suddenly in the fall of 1985 after his 12th reelection to the School Committee. A steering committee of parents, teachers, community members and Cambridge Public Schools central office staff was appointed in 1999 to discuss a turnaround plan centered on establishing a single new school, the Fletcher-Maynard Academy, which opened its doors to students in September 2000.
The Amigos School (15 Upton St., Cambridgeside) is a dual-language immersion school with Spanish and English catering to students between kindergarten and the eighth grade. (“Amigos” translates to “Friends” in English.) Amigos began as a program at the Maynard School in 1986. It expanded to a K-8 program by the mid-1990s, with grades K-3 at the Maynard School and grades 4-8 at the Robert F. Kennedy School building. In 1997 the K-8 grades of the program were consolidated at the Kennedy School, and in the spring of 2001 – after considerable lobbying efforts by Amigos parents – the School Committee voted to make the program an autonomous school within the Kennedy School building. Bilingual students who had been housed at the Longfellow School were incorporated into the Amigos School in 2002. The Amigos school was later moved to the King School building as a result of a school consolidation plan passed by the School Committee late in the 2003-2004 academic year. In subsequent years the Amigos School was moved again to Upton Street.
The Cambridgeport School (89 Elm St., The Port) is simply named, as it began in the 1990-1991 school year with a single kindergarten class in its eponymous neighborhood before moving 10 years later into the former Fletcher School building in The Port, formerly known as Area IV. The school remains small, with about 250 students in a preschool Special Start program into the fifth grade.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School (102 Putnam Ave., Riverside) was renamed from the Houghton School in 1968, shortly after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. The Houghton School, erected in 1904, had been named for ex-mayor Henry O. Houghton.
The King Open School (850 Cambridge St., Wellington-Harrington) was founded in 1975 within the King School by a group of parents who wanted to take an active role (with staff) in the education process and for their children to have access to an open classroom-style school. Originally housed in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School on Putnam Avenue, it moved to the new King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex on Cambridge Street in 2019.
The Graham & Parks School (44 Linnaean St., Neighborhood 9) is the result of a merger of the Cambridge Alternative Public School with the Webster School in 1981. CAPS was a small, nationally acclaimed magnet school founded in 1971, while the Webster school was a small, traditional neighborhood school built in 1854 and named for Daniel Webster. It was named the Graham & Parks school after Cantabrigian politician and community leader Saundra Graham and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
The Morse School (40 Granite St., Cambridgeport) was founded as a K-8 in 1891. It is named for Asa P. Morse, who was an active member of the Cambridge community. At the time the school was dedicated, he was the second-longest-serving member of the school board.
The Kennedy-Longfellow School (158 Spring St., East Cambridge) is the result of a merger between the Longfellow School, named for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the Robert F. Kennedy School. The Kennedy school was originally dedicated June 10, 1973. David Powers, a confidant of President John F. Kennedy and close friend of former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, was quoted as saying during the dedication ceremony that Robert Kennedy’s closeness to Cambridge and Charlestown was due to the fact that “it was here that he received his baptism of fire in politics.” In addition, he said, Robert Kennedy would be proud to have the school named for him because he was fond of children and held their best interests as one of his highest priorities.
The Haggerty School (110 Cushing St., Strawberry Hill) is named for Cantabrigian Daniel A. Haggerty, the first U.S. soldier to sacrifice his life during the 1914 invasion of Vera Cruz, Mexico. Before its official naming in 1915, it was unofficially known as “The Mount Auburn School.”
The Tobin Montessori School (currently at 359 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge) is named after educator and school superintendent John Tobin. As the Tobin School, it replaced the Russell School on Grozier Road, with its first graduating class in 1972. A transition was begun in 2007 when Dr. Fowler-Finn, the superintendent of schools at the time, created a Montessori school housed at the Tobin. As each new class of Montessori children came through, the standard classroom was eliminated. Since the 2012-2013 school year, all children up to grade 5 have been housed in Montessori classrooms.
The Tobin Montessori School is in a swing space in the old Longfellow School on Broadway, awaiting the completion of a school complex on Vassal Lane. When completed, the complex will house the Vassal Lane Upper School as well as Tobin Montessori.
The complete history of all of the Cambridge Public Schools is huge and varied, and beyond the scope of one simple article. We will be completing another deep dive into Cambridge Public Schools – in particular the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, which has a history of more than 370 years – in the coming months. In the meantime, do you have experience with Cambridge Public Schools? Email [email protected] and let us know what we missed!
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Whitney Mooney is the development and marketing manager at YWCA Cambridge and an advocate for all Cambridge nonprofits.