Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

Back to School…if you dare!


As our kids go back to school this month, I thought it only fitting to have a look through the old School Superintendent’s reports to see what things were like a century or so ago.

The turn of the (last) century was a pivotal time for public education in Needham. The school population was rising fast as formal education became more important. For the first time in history, it could be expected that a child would spend more time in school than at home learning the skills and trades of his parents. Several debates arose about this time-in-school question: it was feared that the array of useful manual skills that earlier generations learned at home would be lost; and by sitting quietly in one place for extended periods of time (a state antithetical to childhood), the children would not get enough healthy exercise.

On the municipal level, more children in school (and staying in school longer) meant that classes were becoming too crowded, and that more schoolrooms and teachers were needed. But for Superintendent Henry M Walradt, all of these concerns paled in comparison to the looming specter that haunted the schoolyard – the evil known as…RECESS!



“The acknowledged moral dangers of the playground led to a partially successful movement, some years ago, for the abolition of recesses.  Recently, however, as the physical needs of children have received greater attention, the possibilities of the playground have become prominent.  Left wholly to themselves at recess, children are in danger of both moral corruption and physical harm. Nevertheless, the value of properly regulated play in the open air must be recognized and emphasized. … if guarded from vicious accompaniments, it is an excellent prescription for ‘a sound mind in a sound body’.”  — Supt. Henry M. Walradt, in the Needham Town Report for 1902.

Further proof, Kids, that your grandparents did have it tougher in school than you do. And to even get to this scholarly den of iniquity they had to walk – for over two miles – in the snow – uphill – both ways.