Beverly High School’s first class graduated on February 26, 1860. Since then, countless students have enrolled and graduated. However, many students never made it that far. The history of Beverly High School is riddled with students that dropped out. Why did these students leave? The reasons and tendencies vary.
Beverly High School (BHS) was opened in May of 1858, after much dispute from the working class of Beverly. It was abandoned for one year in 1860 and then re-opened shortly thereafter at the Beverly Odd Fellows Hall, with Mr. Joseph Hale Abbot as the acting principal. This sparked a renewed interest in Beverly’s students and a large advanced class was formed that graduated April 12, 1863. 
In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a law requiring all towns with a population of 100 families or more to open a Latin grammar school. There were 8 communities affected by this law at the time and they complied with the law, but as other communities began to surpass the one hundred mark, they ignored the law. In 1789 the law was altered to apply the grammar school requirement to towns with 200 or more families. This eliminated the need for smaller communities to formally teach children.
Beverly’s Grammar school was established in 1700. It closed briefly in 1782 until the Court of Sessions forced the town to reopen it. Maris Vinovskis, a prominent social historian of the so-called “Beverly High School Controversy”, noted that “In 1824…the provisions of the 1789 legislation regarding the maintenance of grammar schools were changed so that towns with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants were no longer required to support them. The citizens of Beverly promptly abandoned the town’s grammar school…” 
High School enrollment in Beverly increased each year. By the turn of the century, the school soon became so overcrowded that the principal was forced to ask the School Committee to consider either building a new school or relocating the existing school. Overcrowding was an issue not only in Beverly, but in the state, as the High School principal noted in the 1904 report to the school committee: “The same condition is found to a greater of less extent in every high school throughout the Commonwealth.” A school that originally had four students had grown to an attendance of 455 pupils. The principal also asked for an increase in teachers to handle the large influx of students.
However, for a school that had such a large enrolled student population, the dropout rate seemed to be increasing with even greater speed. In the decade of 1900 to 1910, during the start of the Progressive Movement and fifty years after the death of education pioneer Horace Mann, Beverly High School lost a total of 898 students. These students either left the city, lost rank, left to work, left from lack of interest, enlisted in the armed services, left for the industrial school or suffered from poor health and subsequently died. Of these 898 students who dropped out, 29% left to work and 10% left due to lack of interest. The students who left to work did so at ages as early as 14 years old. The students who left due to a lack of interest were more likely to do so in the 9th grade than in any other. 
In 1902 alone 92 students left to work. Some students were leaving school to work as early as elementary school. Of the 63 students enrolled in the graduating class of 1900, 16 dropped out and only 39 went on to pursue a higher education. 
The 1900 census offers some clues to the lives of the graduating class of that year. One such student was nineteen year old Rose Margaret Mack, who was born in Massachusetts but was of Irish descent. She was listed as not having worked for ten months at the time the census was taken. However, she could read, write and speak English. Her residence at the time was on Rantoul Street in downtown Beverly, which may elaborate on her social background. There may be a correlation in regards to whether or not Beverly had an Irish district at the time. 
There was also Alice Haskell Seavey, another nineteen-year-old drop out. She also could read, write and speak English. She was born in Massachusetts. She is listed at this time to have worked as a stenographer so it is only natural to assume that she left the school to find employment. 
Nelson Hardy Murray, 18 years of age, was yet another teen who could read, write and converse in English. He and his parents were Beverly residents who were both born in Massachusetts. Nelson left to work as a clerk. 
Probably the most interesting student who dropped out of the BHS class of 1900 is 17-year-old Gertrude Bowden. She and her mother were born in Massachusetts while her father was born in New Hampshire. She could read, write and speak English, but at the time of the census she did not live with her parents. She is listed as the niece of the head of the household. The head was her aunt, Nellie Swett, and there is no mention of a male head of household. She was of Irish descent and was apparently the headmaster of the “N.E.I. School for Deaf Mutes” at the same address.  Interestingly, whereas Gertrude is listed as being “in school”, the rest of the residents, all children, are listed as “inmates”. 
The reason why Gertrude dropped out is speculative. Did Gertrude need the money to leave her Aunt and move out on her own? Was she planning to move back with her parents? On the other hand, did Nellie need her to work at the School for Deaf Mutes? These questions many forever go unanswered.
Whether there is a correlation between dropout rates and class, ethnicity, and social mobility, has long been disputed by social historians. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Edwin P. Seaver set out to understand why students were advancing so slowly and why the average age of dropping out was between 14 and 15 years-old. He targeted the schools themselves rather than the individual students. In 1882 he concluded “that the presence of comparatively large numbers of old pupils in the lower grades indicates inefficient teaching, or deficient management, or both.” 
Tufts University professor Reed Ueda found that during this period in the Somerville, parents that held high paying jobs but had more than the average number of students were more likely to prolong schooling for their children. This suggests that class distinctions play a role in the longevity of a student’s educational career. 
While other social historians such as Stephen Thernstrom and Michael Katz both agree that determinants of school attendance are regulated more by the socio-economic backgrounds of the children than by the school’s abilities, they differ on which aspects of the students lives are more prevalent. Thernstrom’s study of the laborers of Newburyport, Massachusetts stressed the religious and ethnic influences on school retention, and noted that education was a key to social mobility.  Katz, however, disagreed with Thernstrom and stressed class differentiation:
“With a couple exceptions, the ethnic differences in the relationship between the age of leaving school and home… appear to have resulted from class distinctions. It was the ethnic group most clearly associated with the lower-class standing, the Irish Catholics, which differed most sharply from the others. And those differences by and large had been shaped by class: lower rates of school attendance, higher rates of adolescent employment, and consequently earlier ages of leaving home.” 
Education for immigrants in America at the time was key in their ability to mobilize and grow accustomed to American ways. Not only did the fact that public school was great help them to raise their children to be educated but they learned how to read, write and speak English more accurately. This helped the shift from the influences of their homelands to the ways of the new American culture go more smoothly. Because, as one young Cleveland, Ohio Italian put it, “the only way to achieve success is to adopt American manners and to speak English with ease.” 
This relates to the ethnic/class problems in America today. The 1996 National Center for Education Statistics report on droupout rates concluded that “young adults living in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes were five times as likely as their peers from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution to drop out of high school. In addition, Hispanics continue to drop out at higher rates than other groups. In 1996, nine percent of Hispanics left school before completing a high school program, compared to 6.7 percent for blacks and 4.1 percent for whites.” 
The growing changes in the influences for dropouts in America may have changed over the years, but the fact remains that the individuals who dropout do so in large numbers and for a menagerie of reasons. We as American citizens will always be affected by this and the dropout rates may increase over the years, but until there is some way to determine what it is that compels students to give up on their academic futures, the only way to help is to look at patterns in history and try to find a solution.
 Beverly Public Schools. Report of the Principal of the High School. in Annual Report of the School Committee of Beverly Massachusetts (Beverly: The Allen Print, 1904.) Beverly High School Archives, Box 4.
 National Center for Education Statistics, “Dropout Rates Remain Stable Over Last Decade”, Dropout Rates in the United States, 1996, December 1997, Available [Online]: <http://nces.ed.gov/pubs98/dropout/98250-01.html> [20 January 2000].