English High School, the oldest public high school in America, celebrates 200 years in Boston- QHN

BOSTON — The oldest public high school in America is celebrating a big anniversary and an education model that is working.

The English High School in Boston has been in session for 200 years. Its history boasts some illustrious alumni and a unique blend of the old and the new. J.P. Morgan, former Lt. Governor Frank Bellotti, and Leonard Nimoy are all English High School graduates. 

Proposed as an alternative to the Latin School – which sent most graduates to Harvard – the English High School was established by the Boston School Committee in 1821 to prepare boys for success in business and industry. Girls were admitted in the 1970s.

And the school is part of a fun debate in the City of Boston – who exactly is “the oldest?”

Boston Latin School was founded in 1635. English High School in 1821. But it’s the latter that has a large, proud sign out front that reads: “America’s oldest public high school.” 

So how can it make that claim? The Head of English High School, Caitlin Murphy has the answer. 

According to Murphy (whose own great-grandfather is an alum), “We were the first truly public high school that any student in the City of Boston was able to enroll in regardless of your status or if your family had resources and that was specifically why the Boston School Committee created us in 1821.”

Only Boston’s elite were admitted to Boston Latin, so English High School qualifies as the first truly public high school open to all.

Today, students like senior Anderson Guerrero of Roxbury take advantage of the “Career Pathways” program.

“It’s amazing, life-changing really,” said Guerrero.

By sophomore year, students like Anderson can begin a concentration in one of five areas of career interest: business and technology, health assisting, programming and web design, design and visual communications, or legal and protective services. 

Guerrero wants to play football in college and then become a Boston police officer. Why is he drawn to law enforcement? 

“You can help the community and the impact that policing makes in the community, and the sense of protection that you make.”

“It’s a great opportunity for them to have that hands-on experience during the day as they figure out what’s the best fit for them,” said Murphy.

“The exposure to these types of programs is terrific,” said English Alumni President Mike Thomas from the Class of 1967. He played football and baseball at English High, which lead him to Harvard and a successful business career. 

Thomas is planning a huge Bicentennial Gala for his alma mater. He believes that today’s English High School is a promise kept to history.

“We were fortunate to have a bunch of people see the future of public education and the immigrant population coming into the United States and the Industrial Revolution,” Thomas said. Leading the alumni community which involves members in all 50 states has been a gratifying way to give back.

“I met a Queen in Norway, we have a Brigadier General, a Tuskegee Airman, and the list goes on and on. My girlfriend is sick of hearing about it,” he said laughing.

This weekend’s gala celebration will feature a video message from First Lady Jill Biden. It kicks off a three-year campaign to raise money for scholarships, the arts and music program, and career pathways. 

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