Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Schoolmaster & the Acre Boys

Samuel A. Chase
An interesting obit appeared in the Lowell Sun of 1904.  It was that of local businessman, Mr. Samuel A. Chase.  Mr. Chase had been ill for 4 weeks, but had retained his senses to the end, even being able to list those who should be pall bearers at his funeral.  Details, that we may conceive to be morbid, were not uncommon at this time.  What was more interesting was what appeared in the rest of the article.  There were reminiscences from local tradesmen and city leaders speaking of his work with finances.  But the most touching comments were by those who knew him when he first came to Lowell- his boys, more specifically his Irish boys.

Samuel Chase left his home in Haverhill, Mass and came to early Lowell in 1853.  He procured a position as teacher at the Mann School, which was opened in 1844 on Lewis Street, mostly for the Irish who lived in the Acre.  At this point in Lowell’s history several attempts had been made to have a sort of parochial school off and on with only minimal success.  There were further attempts at “Irish Schools” where the priests had some say over the hiring of teachers and approval of texts.  This agreement between church and city lasted several years until it again evolved into public schools we know today.  The Mann School maintained a very high population of Irish boys from the Acre.  Many of the Acre girls left the Mann School in 1852 when the Sisters of Notre Dame opened a school for girls, which would become Notre Dame Academy.
The fame or infamy of the Irish boys was well known throughout the city and needless to say the young Mr. Chase when he took the position of teacher at the Mann School.  The reputation of the school was described as “tumultuous.”  To say the Irish boys of the Acre were known for their rowdiness would be an understatement.  More than one new teacher’s career was crushed after his experience at the Mann School.  Discipline had to be swift and severe. 
But the boys met their match in Samuel Chase, not through power and might, but by looking beyond their rough exteriors and seeing their potential.  Mr. Chase was a man of slight build.  He was not many years older than some of his own students.  He became their friend and they often returned after leaving the school to seek his advice.  Each year the school committee “examined” the schools.  On more than one occasion the “Acre boys” of the Mann were pointed out as exceeding the expectations of the superintendent and committee, even noting “they were not naturally inferior to other scholars.” He was a great proponent of music in the schools and included musical presentations for the committee and families who visited.  In 1869 the program for the committee included Johnny Whalen’s, “Finnegan’s Wake.”  And a “broth of an Irish boy,” Charlie McCue sang “No Irish Need Apply.”  Miss Ellen Bagley sang “The Drunkard’s Child” in a most excellent manner.  Eventually Chase was made principal of the school.  A later visit by the Committee noted how the students looked upon their school master with admiration.  His motto for his students was “Onward and Upward.”
He made it a point to visit the homes of his students in the Acre, and when needed he gave in Christian charity.  Upon his passing someone noted, he was “without pretence to a superior culture and in a school composed of foreign extractions most of whom are unrefined and poor, has gained a place so exalted .”  It went on to say, “Around the humble hearthstones of his pupils’ homes, humble benedictions are pronounced upon his name.”  “He won the hearts of the wild, untamed Acre boys and remained their friend.”  Many of those who graduated from the Mann under his tutelage and became the businessmen and politicians of the early 1900s credited him for their success.
His obituary closed with, “Such was Samuel A. Chase, the Acre schoolmaster, and as he now passes forth into darkness alone, the prayerful well wishes of thousands accompany him.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Chase.

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