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Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Collection
Title: Office of the President (Speare) records
Dates:1896-1951
Call Number:A01

Historical Note

Frank Palmer Speare (FPS) was named the Educational Director of the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA in 1896. Motivated by his desire to promote and develop educational opportunities for young men who would otherwise have few or none, FPS transformed the loosely organized school into an institute for higher learning that eventually became Northeastern University.

In his first year as Director, FPS added many new courses to the curriculum and instituted rules and regulations, stipulating among other requirements a minimum level of attendance and examinations. Seventeen instructors were listed in the first Institute announcement and FPS taught classes in algebra, arithmetic, and English. The following year, FPS proposed and the Board of Directors approved several changes, specifically the adoption of the outlines of a study that had been prepared by the International Committee of the YMCA. These changes included reducing class size, increasing the number of class sessions from one per week to two, and increasing the amount of tuition for each course from two dollars to five dollars. FPS also administered a series of courses in 1897-98 sponsored by the Lowell Institute but conducted by the Evening Institute. These courses included elementary and advanced electricity, and law.

Under his guidance and with the reluctant approval of the Board of Directors, the Evening School launched a program of legal study in 1898. The primary goal of the school was to prepare students for the Massachusetts Bar Exam. In 1904 the program was officially incorporated as the Evening Law School of the Boston YMCA with the power to grand the L.L.B. degree. FPS was the Dean of the Law School from its inception until 1920. In the years between 1903 and 1909, the Institute also opened the Automobile School, the Evening Polytech School, the School of Commerce and Finance, and the Cooperative Engineering School.

Continuing to grow, by 1915 the Evening Institute resembled a university. There were seven distinct schools and four colleges, each under the direction of a faculty member designated as dean; however, the Institute lacked a cohesive structure. Continued expansion was hampered by the budgetary limitations of the Boston YMCA. It was obvious to many, especially FPS, that the Evening School had outgrown the YMCA. FPS prepared a report for the Department of Education that recommended establishing an official college, headed by a President and administered separately from the Boston YCMA. The Board of Directors of the Boston YMCA approved the plan, and in 1916 they voted to incorporate the Evening Institute and rename it Northeastern College.

The incorporation of Northeastern College was the culmination of an ideal that FPS had cherished for many years. He had been responsible for the growth of the Evening Institute into separate schools, and it was due to this vision and efforts that the schools were finally joined into a single college. In recognition of his efforts, FPS was elected the college's first president and was inaugurated March 31, 1917. In 1922 Northeastern College became Northeastern University and the next year, largely through FPS's efforts, NU secured general degree granting power from the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A pioneer in the field of education, FPS instituted the Northeastern Cooperative Plan. Still in existence, the plan permits students to combine their studies with relevant work experience. Also, between 1917 and 1920, FPS directed the opening of evening programs of adult education in other localities such as Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. These branch schools offered liberal arts, business, and law school courses leading to NU degrees. At the suggestion of FPS in 1919, the YMCA created the YMCA schools, a nationwide system of schools coordinated from the national headquarters of the Association in New York City. This system survived until the mid-1920s.

In the years following the separation of the financial accounts of NU and the YMCA, FPS focused his attention on fund-raising. The lack of classroom and office space had always been a problem for the school, and FPS felt that NU needed to establish an endowment to ensure the longevity of the institution. Funds for the first building were raised in a campaign headed by James Loring Richards. A 1932 NU Honorary Doctor of Laws recipient, he was named to the Board of Trustees in 1935. Working closely with FPS, Richards secured funding from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the University. To honor his hard work and success, the University's first building was named for him. Ground was broken for Richards Hall on September 29, 1937, and the cornerstone was laid in November.

In October 1939, at the age of 70, FPS announced his resignation effective June 30, 1940. Upon retirement, he was appointed President Emeritus of NU. He remained associated with NU as a Trustees and Corporation member until his death in 1954.