Maritime Log #27 – Girls from Seagoing Families Once Had a Public High School

by Dyke Hendrickson, Custom House Maritime Museum Outreach Historian

Girls didn’t much participate in fishing or merchant trade in the 19th century like boys did. And because vessels were often lost at sea, there were many children without fathers in this community. Indeed, the Maritime Society had a fund for widows and fatherless families during the Age of Sail, though funds were generally given only to the families of lost captains and mates. The families of missing crewmen were not aided, nor were kin of departed fishermen. Perhaps because there were so many young people in need of direction, Newburyport leaders created a public high school for girls. Girls did take French or dance or tutoring in the domestic arts in the mid-19th century. But those classes were private. The community – which became a city in 1851 – was among the first in the country to approve a high school for girls using public funds. The Female High School of Newburyport was in session on Washington Street from 1843 to 1866. It is shown here, circa 1850, from a photo in the archives of the Newburyport Public Library.

Archive documents indicate that it was successful, and attendance was robust. But it closed in the late 1860s in the interests of “consolidation” and the building was consumed by fire in 1871.

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Thanks. Dyke Hendrickson