Changing Pictures of Childhood: Backgrounds and Narrative Portraits of Boys at the Lyman School

Statistical Backgrounds

According to U.S. Census records for 1910, of the 333 total students at the Lyman School, 309 were white (93%), 17 were black (5%), and 7 were mulatto (2%). Immigration figured into many of the student’s backgrounds, with 56 (17%) having immigrated to the U.S. But immigration figured most prominently in the parents, with 177 (58%) of the students having two foreign-born parents and 223 (68%) with at least one foreign-born parent.

The 1906 Annual Report for the school provides another look into the backgrounds of the boys attending the Lyman School that year (226 total):

  • Had parents – 142
  • no parents – 16
  • father – 23
  • mother – 45
  • intemperate father – 73
  • intemperate mother – 7
  • both parents intemperate – 14
  • both parents separated – 16
  • not attended school within one year – 19
  • not attended school within two years – 5
  • not attended school within three years – 2
  • been arrested before – 126
  • been inmates of other institutions – 62
  • used intoxicating liquor – 13
  • used tobacco – 132
  • Were employed in the mill or otherwise when arrested – 43
  • Were attending school – 86
  • Were idle – 97
  • Parents owning residence – 28
  • Members of the family had been arrested – 57

Boys could be committed to the Lyman School for a range of offenses, from serious crimes to actions and behaviors that would be considered petty today. Here is the statistical breakdown for offenses committed by enrolled boys (232 total) from the 1909 Annual Report:

  • Accessory to larceny – 1
  • Accessory before the fact to larceny – 1
  • Assault – 4
  • Breaking and entering -31
  • Delinquent child – 99
  • Disturbing the peace –  1
  • Evading carfare – 1
  • Illegal appropriation of horse  –  1
  • Larceny – 59
  • Obstructing railroad track – 1
  • Stubbornness – 29
  • Drunkenness – 3

Narrative Portraits

The following narrative portraits of boys are from the Annual Reports of 1906 and 1907. Keep in mind that they were provided to put the school in a positive light.

John (1906)

“John came to the school at the age of fourteen on a charge of larceny, and had twice before been in court for malicious mischief. He was in the school eighteen months, and then was allowed to return to his home in the city. Here he secured work in a leather factory, and has remained with the same firm, being steadily advanced until he was last year earning $11 per week.”

Another Boy (1906)

“Another boy who was recently become of age was sent to the school by the State Board on a charge of larceny, having been in their charge since his father died when he was a small boy of five. He was at the school nineteen months, and was then placed with a farmer. He has been at this same place for over six years, and is thoroughly identified with the family, as he still makes it his home there and works out.”

Boy, Aged 12 (1906)

“The boy who wrote the following letter was twelve years of age when committed to the Lyman School. His offence was breaking, entering and larceny, and he had been once before arrested for the same offence. After a stay of seventeen months in the school he was placed in a country home, from which he writes: —

Dear Mr. Wheeler: — I received the letter that you wrote me and was glad to hear from you. I have got a good home down here where I am and I like it very much. I like the people that I am with and they like me too.

         I am a good boy and am getting along good. I help in the haying and have done some garden work. We have got a good lot of hens and chickens and I have few of my own that Mr. M—- gave me. I have got a patch of potatoes and a dozen tomato plants which I will be able to sell myself. We have got one cow and one horse and I like them too. I am doing my best to keep out of all kinds of trouble. I will now close my letter by sending goodby to you all.

Yours truly,                         ______ ______.

George (1906)

“George was committed as a stubborn child when thirteen years of age. He was a colored lad, and did well in the school. After a stay of fifteen months he returned to his city home.” 

George reported in a letter that he was currently living at the seaside and is now taking a course at the Y.M.C.A on auto repair so that he could become a chauffeur.

Fred (1906)

“Fred has had a particularly interesting career. He was sent to the school at the age of fourteen and one-half for breaking and entering. He had been arrested once before for truancy, and had served one year in the Parental School. His home was a very poor one, and his parents given to drink. He was a very good boy at the school, and after a stay of twenty months was placed out with a farmer. Here he found plenty of hard work, but also good friends, who helped him with his lessons, as he was ambitious to obtain an education. He gave good satisfaction to his employer, and stayed with him for two years. With extra money he had earned by hunting and with the help of a friend who became acquainted with his good qualities while at his place he then went to a school where he could partly pay his way by working. Here he was very happy, and his teachers spoke in the highest terms of this character and deportment. He maintained himself here for a year, and has now gone to California, his fare being paid by the friend who became so interested in his welfare.”

W.M. (1907)

“W. M. came of miserable people, —his parents frequently drunk, etc. W. served a term in truant school, was later arrested and taken in charge by a private charitable society, only to steal and run away from his place and thus come to the Lyman School. A year ago last September he was received back by the same farmer whose kindness had before been so ill rewarded; and upon October 15 W. writes: —

         I am getting along alright, I like my work. I am most interested in the live stock on the farm. When I can here I could hardly harness a horse now the man I am with lets me take a nice pair of horses and go on long roads with them, he owns a nice four year old colt he lets me drive sometimes. He owns a motor boat, and he owns part of a cottage at the foot of the lake where they have corn roasts and lobster suppers. He and another man own a gasolene engine with which they thrash, saw wood, and cut ensilage. I think after my time is out with this man I will be a farm hand.

C.G. (1907)

“C. G. was a member of a hard gang and long a torment to the police. Soon after coming to the Lyman School he ran away, but was returned the next day. After sixteen months in the school he was sent home on trial; but a year and a half later he was returned to the school, having been idle and dissipated, and he was seriously considered for transfer to Concord [a reformatory]. However, he was earnest in his promises of reformation, and after six months in the school he was placed with a farmer, who reported him the best boy he had ever had. Presently he was allowed to make another trial at home, and so far, happily, all goes well.”

Go to the next page in the exhibit: Institutional Life.

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