1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lowell Institute

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LOWELL INSTITUTE, an educational foundation in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., providing for free public lectures, and endowed by the bequest of $237,000 left by John Lowell, junior, 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 my 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 John Lowell junior's cousin, John Amory Lowell, who administered the trust for more than forty years, and was succeeded in 1881 by his son, Augustus Lowell, who in turn was succeeded in 1900 by his son Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who in 1909 became president of Harvard University.

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 connexion 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, 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.

For the earlier period, see Harriett Knight Smith, History of the Lowell Institute (Boston, 1898).