In the Archives: Boston Normal School, “The most outstanding institution of its kind”

Black-and-white photo of young women performing a play outside of a school building

“Students performing a play.” Here we can see some of the Boston Normal School students putting on a play. I am unsure as to where this play took place, but given the photograph’s estimated time frame, it was probably at the Rice Building, the home to the Normal School from 1876-1907 (Flynn 1980, XVI).

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black-and-white photo of children sitting at tables in a classroom

“Primary school students in Appleton Street School within the Rice Building.” This is one of my favorite photographs from the collection. Here are young children in the model classroom at the Rice Building. Normal School students would get practical experience by teaching these little ones and working with master teachers. There were some beautiful classrooms in the Rice Building!

In the nineteenth century, the education of young children was changing. The standards a teacher had to meet before getting their own classroom were improving and more and more young women were encouraged to obtain an education beyond elementary school. One school that followed these educational trends over a century was the Boston Normal School (BNS). The City of Boston formed the Normal School to train girls to become teachers in the Boston Public School (BPS) system. The school grew and morphed and changed, eventually becoming the Teachers College of the City of Boston, then a state college, then Boston State College, and was then absorbed into the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The time frame for the University Archives and Special Collection’s Normal School digital photograph collection is from 1872 to 1922. This is the period after the Normal School separated from Girls’ High, its original partner, and became its own institution solely focused on the training of teachers. The school moved from a shared building with Girls’ High to the Rice Building on Dartmouth and Appleton Streets, and a couple of decades later, moved to its final space at 625 Huntington Avenue. At both of the newer locations, the school developed model schools with children from the community, staffed by some of the best teachers in the state who became mentors to the Normal School students (Flynn 1980, 47). 

Black-and-white photo of the exterior of a Boston Normal School building

“Boston Normal School exterior.” This is the Boston Normal School as it stood at 625 Huntington Avenue. To its left (our right) is the gymnasium that they shared with the Girls’ Latin School. Girls’ Latin had a similar building to the Normal School on the other side of the gymnasium. Behind the gymnasium was a courtyard, and behind the courtyard was the Patrick A. Collins Building, which also connected the Normal School and Girls’ Latin (Flynn, 37). Essentially, the buildings altogether made up one large square.

During this span of fifty years, the Normal School training program moved from two years long to three years long, and when students graduated, they did not get a degree but instead received certification that they could teach in the BPS system. The standards for teacher training changed greatly over the years of the Normal School, and at some points, the curriculum was different each year. Following the history of this school is similar to following the history of teacher training throughout the United States. One thing that made our Normal School particularly special is that up until 1931, Boston students did not have to pay to attend and students from outside the city had to pay very little (Flynn, 3). The City of Boston wanted any young woman interested in becoming a teacher in their schools to be able to do so, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Eventually, in 1922, following the trend of normal schools across the country, Boston Normal School became a teachers college and developed a curriculum that would allow students to get a bachelor’s degree in education in four years and a master’s in five. At this point, BNS had been allowing male students for a little over a decade. Clearly, times were changing, and the standards for teacher training were starting to settle into the ones we have today.

Be sure to check out the Normal School digital photograph collection and the finding aid for its home, the Boston State College collection. There are some gems waiting to be discovered!

Black-and-white group photo of Boston Normal School students outside of a school building

“Boston Normal School Class of 1919.” This photograph shows the students of the 1919 Boston Normal School graduating class with a man I believe to be Wallace C. Boyden, their headmaster. It is a particularly striking image; the girls’ faces look as if they’re floating in a sea of white. With the brick and marble facade of the building, it’s probable that this photo was taken on the Normal School campus at 625 Huntington Avenue.

The most invaluable source of information for this blog post was the 1980 History of Boston Normal School – Teachers College, 1852-1952 by Elizabeth D. Flynn, which we have in our digital collections. Flynn was once herself a student of Boston Normal School and created this text as an effort to preserve the school’s story. If you are at all interested in the history of teacher training in the United States or the Normal School itself, Flynn’s work is a fascinating read. 

The quote in the title of this blog post is taken from the article “How Vivid the Memories,” by Lillian Towne, Normal School class of 1885, in the Centennial issue of The Torch, a Normal School publication. Her article is quoted in Elizabeth Flynn’s book on page twenty-seven.

All images shared here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Boston State College collection.

In the Archives: A Peek Beneath Boston

Black-and-white photo of workers standing inside Sumner Tunnel

“Shield in Final Position.” Here is the Sumner Tunnel tunneling shield in its final position after breaching the Boston Vent Shaft. Presumably, that means it was all set and ready to start digging under Boston Harbor. These men were standing at the back of the shield. You can see how the tunnel was constructed behind it as the shield moved on.

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Our Sumner Tunnel collection consists of a fascinating set of photographs and papers. It doesn’t only offer us information about the Sumner Tunnel. It gives us a visual understanding of underground and submarine construction work. It shows us the economics and geography considered in the 1930s improvement of Haymarket Square. It lets us peek at the architecture of Boston at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of these compelling photographs show us extant and extinct buildings, ranging in location from Haymarket Square up to Clark Street. Other photographs give evidence of the different kinds of supports that buildings and streets needed while the tunnel was being constructed beneath them. Still more show Boston’s streets with a bird’s eye view.

My favorite pieces of the collection show the construction of the tunnel and buildings related to its use. When I started writing this blog post, I had no clue how underwater tunnels were created. Through research, I learned that the Sumner Tunnel was created with something called a tunneling shield. This is a cylindrical piece of machinery inspired by a type of boring worm. Mechanical constructions push the large tube through dirt, soil, or sand and create a pathway. Workers mine the dirt that comes in from the holes in the flat shield at the front of the tube and place supporting structures in the tunnel behind the tube as it moves. Compressed air at the front of the tunneling shield helps to make sure that the tunnel doesn’t collapse (1). With our photograph collection, we get a strong idea of how this worked for the creation of the Sumner Tunnel. We’ve included some photographs of the Sumner tunneling shield at the end of this post.

I was also intrigued by the photographs of the construction of above-ground buildings. Our collection shows the origins of the Traffic Tunnel Administration Building at the very end of the tunnel (where they originally started digging) and the North End Sumner Tunnel Ventilation Building between Clark and Fleet Street. The photographs show the process of constructing the Administration Building and give us a peek at the tunnel’s exit. They also show the tunneling shield entering into a large rectangular concrete vent. After the shield moved on towards the Harbor, workers built a structure over that vent that pumps poisonous air out of the tunnel and fresh air in. This building is still in use today, and you can see it as you walk along North Street. 

Be sure to check out the collection and its finding aid. I’m sure that they will inspire you to learn a little bit more about our incredible city! If you’d like to learn more about the Sumner Tunnel as it is today and its upcoming centennial restoration project, click here.

All images shared here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Sumner Tunnel (Boston): construction photographs.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Tunneling shield.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 11, 2011.

The Afterlife of Slavery, South Boston High School, and Mosaic

Black and white photograph shows young person with arms up in snow in front of large brick building

Photograph from the 1987 issue of Mosaic shows a young boy playing outside of a school in South Boston. The picture was take by South Boston High School student and photographer Tammy Lambright.

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black and white photographs shows eight students on the steps of a brick school building

This photograph, taken by South Boston High School student and photographer Lorna Reid for the 1987 issue of Mosaic, features a high schooler playing on the steps of SBHS.

Juneteenth is coming up this Saturday, June 19th. It is a holiday that celebrates the true end to slavery in the United States (specifically in Galveston, Texas) in 1865, about two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As I write this post, not only have the Senate and House both voted in favor of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, but President Biden has signed it into law. This holiday is about joy, hope, and love; it is a happy day, and we will be celebrating!

Still, we are in a period of turmoil in the United States, perhaps as we have been for centuries. Slavery has had a long-lasting impact on our communities. Generational trauma, poverty, and discriminatory policing are just some of the lingering effects of slavery that we continue to deal with every day. In the spirit of Juneteenth, people all over the country are working tirelessly to make things better for the Black community and to address these symptoms of a pandemic long since “over.” One of the most important things we can do is love and support Black youth, especially in their pursuit of an education. There is still no end in sight to the racial segregation of schools in our cities. Black students are disproportionately living in poverty and attending schools that are underserved and under-resourced.

Black and white photographs shows the photographer holding a camera, taking his own picture in a mirror.

Self-portrait of Anthony Adams, student and photographer at South Boston High School, taken for the 1987 issue of Mosaic.

In Boston in the 1970s, there was a contentious, court-ordered process of desegregating the city’s public schools overseen by Judge W. Arthur Garrity. This was in an effort to address some of the after-effects of slavery and follow through with a desegregation ruling that had passed a decade before. Unfortunately but expectedly, this caused an immense number of problems. There was a large presence of white Bostonians that desperately wanted integration to fail. In addition, many students, especially high schoolers, did not want to go to a new school and ended up dropping out. It was a tumultuous, violent, and traumatic time, especially at schools like South Boston High School (SBHS).

Black and white photographs shows students seated on a schoolbus and the schoolbus emergency exit sign.

Here, South Boston High School student and photographer Bethzaida Rivera took a picture of students in the back of an SBHS school bus for the 1987 issue of Mosaic.

In an effort to support their young people and help them heal, Harvard undergraduate Michael Tierney and several of his colleagues at South Boston High created a publication called Mosaic. It started out in 1980 as a book of poetry written by SBHS students and edited by poet-in-residence Kate Rushin. Over the next decade, it morphed and changed to fit the needs of the students. It was a way for these high schoolers to become invested in their community and get to know their peers. They wanted to learn and grow and find ways to overcome the negative reputation that SBHS had picked up during the violence of the “busing crisis.” With the guidance of professionals like Michael and Kate, South Boston High School students created something truly special. They learned about poetry, interviewing, writing, and photography. They created exhibits of their work. After the final issue was published in 1988, they even brought their photographs and stories to be displayed at the Boston Public Library. In Mosaic, there was sadness and trauma, but there was also healing. It brought some much-needed hope to the SBHS community.

University Archives and Special Collections at UMass Boston has digitized the full collection of Mosaic publications (view the finding aid). Going through them is at once moving and sweet. It’s something precious to look at the work of young students discovering their voices and learning that their stories are worth sharing. 

In honor of Juneteenth and our fight for equity and liberation, I’ve selected a few pages for you to look at from the 1987 Mosaic publication Knowing the Light Will Come: Stories and Photographs by Students at South Boston High. If anything catches your eye, be sure to explore the rest of the digital collection.

If you’d like to learn more about the afterlife of slavery, a term coined by Saidiya Hartman, and its impact on our country today, there are many incredible resources out there for you to check out. This page from UC Berkeley is just one of the assets I’ve found in my research. The Atlantic also has a moving article about the Boston desegregation of schools in the 70s and its legacy, and graduate students from UMass Boston’s History and American Studies department put together some wonderful articles as well.

From the author: Personal dedication to the students at the Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Exploring Connemara, New England, and the Irish Language

Flyer listing information about this event.On Saturday, April 17, the Healey Library at UMass Boston hosted the virtual event “Connemara, New England, and the Irish Language: Living Stories that Connect Us” celebrating the “Boston and the Irish Language” oral history project.

The event featured Máirtín Ó Catháin from the Emigrants Commemorative Centre Carna, Michael Connolly from the Maine Irish Heritage Center, and Seán Ó Coistealbha from Muintearas, together with panelists Natasha Sumner, Gregory Darwin, and Brian Frykenberg. The event was made possible by Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston), Mass Humanities, the Éire Society of Boston, and the Emigrant Support Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland.

Event Recording


Additional Resources and Links

Download the participant chat from the virtual event.

Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston) offers online language classes. For more information and to register, visit

Ár dTeanga Féin out of Worcester, Massachusetts, offers Zoom classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students if numbers allow. Email or visit for more information.

The South Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library has a small collection of books in Irish donated by Údaras na Gaeltachta. While they’re not open for browsing currently, please contact Jane or Kathleen at 617-268-0180 or email Branch Librarian Jane Bickford at for assistance.

Nuacht TG4 ran a news piece about the event. Click here to view the piece on Facebook.

Máirtín Ó Catháin wrote this article about the event and collection for an Irish-language blog: “Glórtha agus Gaeilge mhuintir Chonamara curtha i dtaisce in Ollscoil Massachusetts.”

Learn More and Connect

If you have questions about getting involved or taking part in an oral history interview, email Project Coordinator Brian Frykenberg:

The Boston and the Irish Language project investigates the unique importance of Irish in forming persistent bonds among and between Connemara emigrants living in Boston with their families and communities in Ireland through recorded personal interviews. The project is sponsored by Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston) and supported by a Mass Humanities project grant and the Emigrant Support Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland. Topics explored include: upbringing through the Irish language, economic and social conditions in Ireland, reasons for emigration or return, adaptation to and participation in life within the United States, changes experienced since arrival, and current use of Irish. The oral histories collected as part of this project are part of the digital collections of University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston. Explore the collection.

University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives and Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives and Special Collections, click here or email

Plymouth Mass. Memories Road Show images and stories available for research

Authors: Carolyn Goldstein, Public History and Community Archives Program Manager and Kayla Allen, Graduate Assistant

The photographs, stories, and videos gathered at the Plymouth Mass. Memories Road Show are available online now for research.

My three at the Cranberry Festival

My three at the Cranberry Festival, 2015. ‘My kids love this event. We went for several years. I love this photo because it is just so quintessential Southeastern Massachusetts. Pictured, from left to right: Zachary Burrey, Olivia Burrey, and Eliza Burrey. Location: A.D. Makepeace Company.’ Contributor: Julie Burrey.


Hosted by the Plymouth Public Library on Saturday, November 9, 2019, the event was coordinated by the library in cooperation with the Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Plymouth County Commissioners. Additional partners included the Plymouth Antiquarian Society, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Town of Plymouth Archivist, Destination Plymouth, Plymouth 400, and Plymouth Access TV. More than two dozen local volunteers—many from Plymouth 400—joined a team of UMass Boston staff members, graduate students in public history and archives, and “Roadies” to welcome over 100 adults and children with connections to the coastal town located south of Boston.


First woman worker, Quincy shipyard

First woman worker, Quincy shipyard, early 1940s. ‘Verna May Harding was born in 1905 on the Herring Pond Tribal Reservation lands in what is now called Bournedale and Cedarville in Plymouth. She lived there her entire life of 89 years. Along with her sister Phyllis and other female Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribal cousins, she was one of the first women to even work at the Quincy shipyard, right alongside the men. This is her Quincy shipyard photograph. Pictured: Verna May Harding.’ Contributor: Melissa Ferretti.


Contributors shared photographs and stories from the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, the original inhabitants of modern-day Plymouth, as well as from families descended from colonial settlers who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620.  A number of community members contributed photographs and stories chronicling their immigrant heritage, including accounts of personal and family connections to Italy, Russia, and the Azores among other countries. Many of these materials provide evidence of religious and cultural organizations established by these cultural groups in Plymouth beginning in the late 19th century.

Columbus Day 1934

Columbus Day parade, 1934. ‘During the depths of the Great Depression the community tried to present events which would help morale and keep up spirits. This parade, as far as I know, was the only time it was organized for this holiday. Much of the planning and execution were undertaken under the auspices of the Italian social clubs which were based in North Plymouth. The picture shows the submission from the appropriately-named Cristoforo Colombo Club.’ Contributor: Enzo Monti.


Several contributors shared memories of their experiences at work in Plymouth and the surrounding area. They submitted photographs and stories of themselves and their ancestors on the job on farms, in family businesses such as butcher shops and restaurants, in libraries and historical societies and even in the local Quincy shipyard.

Cordage Terrace 1941 Plymouth

Cordage Terrace 1941 Plymouth. ‘They are my grandfather and grandmother Santos. They are from the island of San Miguel in the Azores. Manuel was a butcher, farmer, and mailman. He had a butcher shop in Plymouth with his cousin Red Wing. They made Portuguese sausages—linguica, chorizo, blood sausage, and head cheese. My grandmother’s father was chief of police on the island. Pictured, from left to right: my grandmother Mary Santos and my grandfather Manuel Santos.’ Contributor: Dennis Soares.


To document connections to the public memory of the arrival of Pilgrims from England in 1620, many contributors brought photographs of visits to landmarks such as Plymouth Rock or attendance at commemorative events such as the arrival of the Mayflower II in 1957 and the annual Pilgrim Progress reenactment. Still other participants recounted participation in the town’s emergence as a famous tourist attraction in the late 20th century including interpreting and learning about 17th-century life at the Plimoth Plantation museum (now Plimoth Patuxet) and planning the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim landing.

The crew that rowed the Shallop ashore, 1957

‘The crew that rowed the Shallop ashore, 1957. After weeks of training, my father along with friends and six of his family members rowed out to meet the Mayflower II when she sailed from Plymouth, England and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Pictured, from back to front, left to right: Benjamin Brewster, Lothrop Withington, Jr., Paul Withington, William Stearns, Jr., United States Vice President Richard Nixon, George Davis, Russell Fry, Jr., Russell Coffin, Robert Briggs, and Spencer Brewster.’ Contributor: Russell Fry.


Colonial camp at Harlow House

‘Colonial camp at Harlow House, 1990s. I’ve been a history nerd since the beginning. While other kids dreamed about space camp, I was thrilled to attend “Colonial Camp.” I churned butter, learned how to work a loom, and made my own tussie mussie. Plymouth is a wonderful place for a history-lover to grow up!’ Contributor: Sarah (Mathews) Collins.


Event participants also shared memories of enjoying the natural environment in Plymouth and the surrounding area with family and friends, contributing photographs and stories of such favorite local places as beaches, parks, and cranberry bogs. Still other individuals aimed to remember their families and communities with images of weddings, anniversaries, family gatherings and trips, school activities, local organizations, and everyday life in the town.

Backyard chicken coop

Backyard chicken coop, 2009. ‘An experiment one summer—we helped a neighbor raise the little peeps to become hearty. Pictured, from left to right: my children Anna Bishop, Madeleine Bishop, and Charles Bishop. Location: Ellisville.’ Contributor: Maria Bishop.

Browse the Plymouth Mass. Memories Road Show collection.

The Mass. Memories Road Show is a statewide, event-based participatory archiving program that documents people, places and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories. In partnership with teams of local volunteers, we organize public events to scan family and community photographs and videotape “the stories behind the photos.” The images and videos are indexed and incorporated into an online educational database. Since its launch, the project has gathered more than 12,000 photographs and stories from across the state. It is supported in part by the Patricia C. Flaherty ’81 Endowed Fund at UMass Boston.

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit