The Story of Lowell’s Rogers Hall

Rogers Street,today, is one of Lowell‘s main gateways into the city, providing access from Tewksbury, the city’s southern neighbor.  Known by many outside Lowell simply as Route 38, the road has a long past that is deeply connected to Lowell’s history, and to the history of its Belvidere neighborhood especially.

Rogers Street gets its name from the Rogers family, who were early landowners in the area during Lowell’s first years.  Members of the Rogers family later went on to found the Rogers Hall School for Girls, a prestigious school that remained in operation for over 80 years before it closed in 1973.  Though its white-columned facade is its most familiar characteristic to Lowell residents, the school actually consisted of four buildings:  Rogers Hall, Rogers House, Rogers Cottage, and the Gymnasium.   The gymnasium was famous in its own right for its pool.  Built in 1922 in the basement of the gym, it was the first of its kind for a private girls’ secondary school in the country. 

Rogers Hall, circa 1919 – (Credit: History of Lowell and its People: Vol 2, Page 460: Frederick William Coburn, 1920)

The private girls’ high school accepted both day and boarding students, with the day students sharing in all of the privileges of boarders.  Boarders lived in the “Hall”, the original school building, or “the house”, a nearby Victorian mansion.  Girls participated in activities like hockey, basketball, swimming, glee club, and drama.  And they attended dances and proms at other schools and then invited the male students of other schools back to similar events at Rogers Hall.  An account linked below recalls a 1950 prom, told from the perspective of a visiting male student . . . who tells a rather truthful account that reminds us that alcohol use among prom-goers didn’t really emerge with ‘today’s kids’.

As the 1970s progressed, it became clear that Rogers Hall was fading from the scene.  Even though the administration was tight-lipped about the conditions leading to the school’s imminent closure, it was obvious that its financial health had suffered for several years before its closure was announced.  Enrollment had fallen to 47 girls by 1973, less than half of its 100+ peak enrollment reached just 18 years before.

At the time of the 1860 US Census, the Rogers Family had lost its patriarch, Zadock Rogers, Sr. Emily and Elizabeth were among the youngest siblings.

The history of the school’s majestic buildings stretched back beyond the school’s 1892 founding.  Its main building, the Zadock Rogers House, dated to the 1830s when it began as part of a vast farm of almost 250 acres.   By 1880, Zadock Rogers and all but two of his children had died, leaving his considerable holdings to his two surviving daughters, Emily and Elizabeth Rogers.  Emily, who had attended the famous Miss Grant’s Girls’ School in Ipswich for two years during her youth, conceived of the idea to convert the Rogers home into a school after both sisters had died.  She died of pneumonia in 1884.  Carrying on the plans she had discussed with her sister, Elizabeth lived to realize their plan.  In 1892, just a few years before she died, Elizabeth donated her own home to the future school.

The sisters’ original plan had called for the donation of their estate to charity after both had died, but Elizabeth had a change of heart after meeting Mrs. Underhill, who had opened a girls’ school in Belvidere in 1891.  That school, lacking appropriate facilities to board students, was failing when Elizabeth began to look into founding Rogers Hall, while she was still alive.  She approached Mrs. Underhill, asking her to run the new school if Rogers were to provide the appropriate grounds.  Mrs. Underhill agreed, and remained the school’s first principal for its first 18 years.

By the time of the 1880 US Census, Emily and Elizabeth Rogers were the sole remaining members of the Rogers family. They began to discuss the future of their estate once they were gone.

The school was situated on about five acres of the original Rogers property.  In her last years, Elizabeth donated another 30 acres of land across the street from their farmhouse to the City in 1886; this later became Rogers Fort Hill Park.  The rest, over 200 acres, was sold for development and today forms the neighborhood surrounding the park and former school.  Elizabeth died in 1898 of pneumonia, just five months shy of her 80th birthday.

Rev. John M. Greene, pastor at the Eliot Church in Lowell, helped Elizabeth Rogers found the school.  He had also helped found Smith College.  In 1892, the school opened with 11 faculty and 50 students.  All but nine were day students.  The Rogers sisters lived a strict, austere life governed by Christian ideals, which they incorporated into the education provided to the students attending Rogers Hall.  Students lived by a rigid schedule, which left ample time for studying as well as rest.  Lights had to be put out by 9:30 each night.  Appearances were considered very important too.  Nightly, before formal dinners, staff would check the seams of students’ stockings for straightness.  Once dinner began, table manners were carefully monitored and evaluated.

In its earlier years, Rogers Hall was known for enforcing a strict, orderly lifestyle. Prior to admission into formal dinner each night, girls were inspected to ensure that they exhibited proper posture as well as straight seams on their stockings.
English: Collection of U.S. House of Represent...
Edith Nourse Rogers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rogers Hall produced many distinguished alumnae.  Among them, Anne Harvey Sexton, a 1947 graduate, was later awarded the Pulitzer price for poetry.  Dr. Mona Meehan went on to become the first female chief of staff appointed to a US hospital at St. John’s Hospital, now part of Saints Medical Center.  And, Edith Nourse Rogers, no relation to the founding Rogers family, served the Massachusetts Fifth District as a congresswoman for 35 years after her husband died in office in 1925.

At its peak enrollment in 1955, Rogers Hall had more than 100 students.  In its waning years, the percentage of day students soared, from 10% in 1968 to 50% in 1970, and 75% by 1973, when it closed.  Rising tuition prices and the advent of co-educational schools were both blamed for the school’s declining enrollment.  Today, Rogers Hall still sits on Lowell’s Rogers Street and serves as elderly housing.

16 thoughts on “The Story of Lowell’s Rogers Hall

  1. I found a small book titled Views Rodgers Hall School pictures of the school and surrounding area. No date but looks to be in the 1920’s or 30’s. It was in an estate sale in Abilene, Texas

      1. I was a member of the last graduating class and we love to find items like yours to share with the alumni. If you would be so kind as to contact me to see if we could arrange a copy or scan, it would be most appreciated. Thank you.

  2. My mother Lynne Patrick Griggs attended Rogers Hall in the 1940s. Does any alumnae remember her or her room mate artist Lynn Messner?

    1. My late mother, Kathleen Beever, taught English at Rogers Hall in the years 1949 and 1950, before I was born. The 1950 yearbook is dedicated to her. When I was a child (in England) she spoke very often, and fondly, of her days at the school. For some reason, the name of one of the students, Marilyn Cashman, sticks in my memory. The principal of the school at that time was one Mrs Katherine McGay (or possibly McGill). Peter, is your mother still living? Would she remember “Miss Beever”?

      1. No, my mother Lynne Patrick Griggs passed away in Sept. 1993. She and her room mate Lynn Hamby stayed friends after they graduated. Mrs Lynn Hamby Messner was a painter. Her father was an architect.

  3. I live in the building that was formerly the gymnasium for Rogers Hall. It was converted to condos in 2012 but still has a lot of history in it. It’s a fascinating building–unfortunately the pool is no longer a pool but the slope and blue paint are still visible in the basement.

  4. I discovered that both my mother Lynne Patrick (Griggs) and her half sister Jane Jefferson (Bell) had attended Rogers Hall in the 1940s and 1950s. My mother’s room mate was Lynn Hamby (Messner).

  5. I graduated from Rogers Hall class of 1955.Some of my happiest memories are of my days as boarding student there.Lived in both Hall and House. l also remember glee club dances,the pool, Kae and Cava,dancing in the library after dinner and Bill our handyman who picked us up at station in wooden sided station wagon.would love email from anyone from that era.

    1. Dear Janet, You were ahead of me by fifteen years, but I too have nothing but the fondest of memories of my Rogers Hall days class of ’65. I believe Bill the handyman was there when I was there too. Miss Ramsey was the headmistress and a fine and discerning one at that. The teaching staff was first-rate and inspired me to become a writer ( even with dyslexia-which is why I consider Rogers Hall a Godsend for girls who were intelligent but didn’t score well and yet we had some real geniuses who attended the school. Life was an idyll back then but I’ll never forget Miss Ramsey coming into study Hall to announce to us that Kennedy had been shot.
      I am a widow and live in NYC and on the North Shore of Boston. If you get this, I hope we can chat about our Rogers Hall days. Best Wishes, Susannah

    2. There is a private Facebook group for alums where you may find your friends from your years there. In my first year, stately and formal Miss Ramsay was still presiding over the school until her retirement in 1970. I imagine that we lived that freshman year under the same guidelines and charm that you did. Traditions were honored. It was only in the last couple of years that the dress code was relaxed and that demerit system removed. My recollection is that getting caught chewing gum was 5 demerits, enough to keep a boarder from any off-campus activities on evenings and weekends! Not to mention the fortnightly recitation of “above” and “below” academic status that you may recall. My graduating class was the last one (73) and many of us are grateful to be back in touch after many years. I have two best friends from RH years and I hope you will find yours again in the Facebook group. I will connect you to the managers of the group that can let you in. Best to you.

  6. Hello Everyone who went to Rogers Hall. When I was a Rogers Hall I was Gretchen Koch and graduated in 1963. My first year at the school, 1961, was when the Shedd dorm burned down and we lived in the nursing school dorm at Lowell Hospital for half a year.

    My dear husband has offered to get me a Rogers Hall ring for Christmas. I lost mine. Does anyone have a ring that they could photograph for me or does anyone have a good copy of the Rogers Hall crest that was on the ring? I would love to hear from anyone with news about their experience at Rogers Hall. Thank you very much, Gretchen

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