The Lowell Institute
is an educational foundation in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., providing for free public lectures, and endowed by the bequest of $250,000 left by John Lowell, Jr., who died in 1836. Under the terms of his will 10% of the net income was to be added to the principal, which in 1909 was over a million dollars. None of the fund was to be invested in a building for the lectures; the trustees of the Boston Athenaeum were made visitors of the fund; but the trustee of the fund is authorized to select his own successor, although in doing so he must always choose in preference to all others some male descendant of his grandfather, John Lowell, provided there is one who is competent to hold the office of trustee, and of the name of Lowell, the sole trustee so appointed having the entire selection of the lecturers and the subjects of lectures. The first trustee was Lowell's cousin, John Amory Lowell
Hon. John Amory Lowell was an American businessman and philanthropist from Boston. He became the sole trustee of the Lowell Institute when his first cousin, John Lowell, Jr. , the Institute's endower, died...
, who administered the trust for more than forty years, and was succeeded in 1881 by his son, Augustus Lowell
Augustus Lowell was a businessman and philanthropist from Massachusetts. He was born in Boston to John Amory Lowell and his second wife Elizabeth Cabot Putnam. His great-grandfather, John Lowell, was among the first Judges for the newly created federal courts, appointed by Presidents George...
, who in turn was succeeded in 1900 by his son Abbott Lawrence Lowell
Abbott Lawrence Lowell was a U.S. educator and legal scholar. He served as President of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933....
, who in 1909 became president of Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
The founder provided for two kinds of lectures, one popular, and the other more abstruse, erudite and particular. The popular lectures have taken the form of courses usually ranging from half a dozen to a dozen lectures, and covering almost every subject. The fees have always been large, and many of the most eminent men in America and Europe have lectured there. A large number of books have been published which consist of those lectures or have been based upon them. As to the advanced lectures, the founder seems to have had in view what is now called university extension, and in this he was far in advance of his time; but he did not realize that such work can only be done effectively in connection with a great school. In pursuance of this provision public instruction of various kinds has been given from time to time by the Institute. The first freehand drawing in Boston was taught there, but was given up when the public schools undertook it. In the same way a school of practical design was carried on for many years, but finally, in 1903, was transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts. Instruction for working men was given at the Wells Memorial Institute until 1908, when the Franklin Foundation took up the work. A Teachers School of Science is maintained in co-operation with the Natural History Society. For many years advanced courses of lectures were given by the professors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...
, but in 1904 they were superseded by an evening school for industrial foremen. In 1907, under the title of Collegiate Courses, a number of the elementary courses in Harvard University were offered free to the public under the same conditions of study and examination as in the university.
During the mid-20th century, the Lowell Institute decided to enter the radio and television broadcasting business, which led to the creation of the WGBH
WGBH is a public radio station located in Boston, Massachusetts. WGBH is a member station of NPR and PRI. The license-holder is the WGBH Educational Foundation, which also owns WGBH-TV and WGBX-TV....
radio station in 1952. The WGBH Educational Foundation is now one of the largest producers of public television content in the United States.
- Charles F. Park, A History of the Lowell Institute School, 1903-1928 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931)
- Harriette Knight Smith, The History of the Lowell Institute (Boston: Lamson, Wolffe and Company, 1898)
- Edward Weeks, The Lowells and Their Institute (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966)
- Margaret W. Rossiter. Benjamin Silliman and the Lowell Institute: The Popularization of Science in Nineteenth-Century America. New England Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 1971)
- Howard M. Wach. "Expansive Intellect and Moral Agency": Public Culture in Antebellum Boston. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 107 (1995)