No. 11991 232 Centre Street, photograph by Andrew Saxe, circa 2011.


Dorchester Industrial School for Girls, 232 Centre Street, is also on the pending list for designation as a Boston Landmark.

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The building at 232 Centre Street in Dorchester was built for the Industrial School for Girls in 1858 to a design by architect George Snell. 

The building appears to be the only remaining existing building in Massachusetts from the 19th century movement of private industrial schools for either boys or girls.  It certainly is the only remaining existing building in the state specifically built for the mission of an industrial school.  The industrial school movement was a charitable movement distinct from the reform school movement that resulted in government-funded correctional schools such as the Lancaster Industrial School for Girls. The Industrial School for Girls in Dorchester was well-enough thought of to include its annual report in the Massachusetts educational exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. The design of the building has been cited by the Society of Architectural Historians in their volume on The Buildings of Massachusetts.

The Memorial History of Boston published by Justin Winsor in 1881 says

[The]  object [of the Industrial School for Girls] was to … train [young women] to good personal habits; to instruct them in household labor; and to exert a moral influence and discipline over them which should fit them to be faithful and efficient in domestic service, or any other probable mode of gaining their own livelihood.  We have many institutions strongly armed and appointed for the punishment of evil doers.  The object of this school is to prevent evil…

The following is from: St. Mark’s / Mather Street AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated March, 1995 and recorded by Edward W. Gordon.

The school’s goal was to “turn out competent and attractive women”.


The Industrial School for Girls was one instance of a nineteenth-century philanthropic effort to educate young women in useful occupations so that they would be employable when they came of age.  This philanthropic effort was part of a much larger trend of the financially-well-to-do creating institutions for the benefit of the lower classes.  The Industrial School movement was philanthropic in nature and is contrasted with reform schools that were established by city and state governments for punishment with training thrown in for rehabilitation purposes.

With few exceptions girls were not educated in the public schools until the mid-19th century, but one point for our discussion is that attendance even then was not compulsory.  Girls and boys whose families were unable or hardly able to provide adequate food and shelter did not attend school to the point of graduation.  The girls at the Industrial School were required to attend the public schools.  Much of the literature concerning the education of young women is focused on private schools that served the upper classes, teaching refinement as well as academic subjects.  The Industrial School was a very different creature.  One characteristic of the movement seems to have been its introduction of treating young people as young people and not as adults.  In his book The Care of Destitute, Neglected and Delinquent Children (1900), Homer Folks explained that prior to 1875, the governmental institutions that had jurisdiction over the care of children generally afforded children the same treatment given to adults.   The Industrial School for Girls on the other hand created a curriculum specifically for young women based upon acquiring skills for work while receiving a sound education.

The Society of Architectural Historians in their volume on The Buildings of Massachusetts, describes the Industrial School, “George Snell’s design for the brick building conveyed the character of a romantic cottage … clearly a rejection of the traditional austere poorhouse.” (Buildings of Massachusetts, University of Virginia Press, 2009 p. 261).


Posted on

April 9, 2020