Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Timothy Hacsi

Second Advisor

Elizabeth McCahill

Third Advisor

Julie Winch


This research lays the groundwork for an initial contextualization of a newfound collection of academic classwork completed in 1904 by public school children in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Hidden in the attic of a former schoolhouse for 114 years, the collection of 70 bound volumes was created for exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (LPE).

The collection is unique in its representation of work by students K-12 across the city’s public schools. A rare glimpse into one city’s public school system at all grade levels at the turn of century, the collection forms the principal focus of the research presented here as a case for its relevance as a unique primary source in the history of American education, one which merits conservation and continued study.

In its methodology, this study follows a process of examination along the lines of recent scholarship focused on the education exhibits of nineteenth century world’s fairs. The work of Noah T. Sobe, David T. Boven, and Martin Lawn, in particular, examine the significance of world’s fairs for their influence on global trends in the compilation of education data.

In its approach to the collection, this study attempts to shed light on the socioeconomic forces shaping public schooling and classroom practice in one New England city at the height of the Textile Era, at a time when the Northeast was its epicenter. In the tradition of local history narrative, this study examines selected individuals and groups as influencers of education in New Bedford in order to provide insight into the contents of the collection.

This paper is comprised of six chapters – interrelated monographs, each aiming to reveal successive layers of historical context to the collection. These include New Bedford’s shift from a maritime to an industrial culture. Subsequent chapters examine the city schools’ cultural influences, from the Quaker academy archetype to the mill-school tract, a common experience among many youths in 1904 New Bedford. This is followed by Massachusetts’ motives for its investment in the 1904 World’s Fair, and subsequent efforts to establish a state pedagogical museum utilizing educational exhibits. Details of the unusual discovery of the New Bedford collection are also included, as well as a demonstrative examination of selected content as exemplars of what the volumes can reveal in future research.


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