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Thompson's Island Collection : Records, 1814-1990 (Bulk, 1814-1977)


116 cartons, 9 file boxes, 3 half file boxes, 8 card file boxes, 9 oversize boxes, 10 oversize volumes


The extant records of the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys (BAIB), the Boston Farm School Society (BFSS), the Boston Asylum and Farm School (BFS), the Farm and Trades School (FTS), and Thompson's Academy (TA) from 1814 to 1975, constituting the Thompson's Island Collection, were donated to the UMass/Boston Archives and Special Collections Department of the Healey Library in October 1990 by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center. Additional records were donated by Frank White in March 1992.


Access to the general archives of the Boston Farm School, Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys, Boston Farm and Trades School, and Thompson Academy is open to all by appointment with the Archives and Special Collections Department in the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Student files more than 70 years old have no restrictions on access.

Student files less than 70 years old are subject to the following policies:

Any former student who wishes to see their own file may do so upon presentation of a photo ID. Others, including family members, or general researchers must obtain written permission from the President's office of the successor organization (617-328-3900, ext. 108) or by emailing apearson@thompsonisland.org.


The Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys (BAIB) was established in 1814 by a group of influential Bostonians to care for boys who were orphaned or made destitute by the War of 1812. Their "charitable purpose" was "relieving, instructing, and employing indigent boys belonging to the town of Boston..." (Act of Incorporation, 1814). A house at Cambridge and Lynde Streets in the West End was purchased to serve as the asylum. In 1820 the BAIB moved to a house at Salem and Charter Streets in the North End.

The BAIB was supported by members who paid an annual subscription fee of $3.00 and through special donations. The subscribers elected a board of managers and officers at the annual meeting. This board oversaw all aspects of the asylum and appointed a master or matron to live in the asylum and supervise the boys.

The Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys admitted boys from the ages of three to twelve. Parents or guardians were required to sign a release granting permanent legal guardianship of the boys to the BAIB. The boys lived in the asylum, received religious instruction and attended the local public school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. At the age of twelve the boys were bound out, usually as apprentices to local farmers until the age of twenty-one.

The Boston Farm School Society (BFSS) was established in 1833 to care for indigent boys and to teach them agricultural skills. The BFSS purchased Thompson's Island (TI) in Boston Harbor from the town of Dorchester as the home of their farm and school. The Rev. E.M.P. Wells was among the founders and the BFSS school's first superintendent. Wells was the former Head of House of Juvenile Offenders at South Boston, and oversaw construction and daily operations of the school. For financial reasons, in 1835 the BFSS and the BAIB, which shared a similar mission, merged and formed the Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys, or the Boston Farm School (BFS) on TI. During the 19th century, the school population usually numbered 100 boys. The length of a boy's stay varied. For some boys, parents paid boarding fees.

Under the supervision of the superintendent and with staff, which included teachers, farmers, a matron and others, BFS boys lived on the island, worked on the farm and in the asylum, served as boat crew, and attended classes on academic and agricultural subjects. The school claimed it was the first elementary school in the United States that taught agricultural subjects. In 1854, according to BFS's literature, it established the first school band in the country. BFS began to emphasize school work and soon school classes and work were of equal importance. By the 1880s, BFS had begun to give the boys instruction in various trades in addition to agriculture. These trades included woodworking, printing, photography and blacksmithing. The school claimed to be the first in America to offer a printing program for its students. To reflect the changes in the educational mission of the institution, the school was renamed the Farm and Trades School (FTS) in 1907.

Training in the trades was well established by the early years of the 20th century. Also, more academic grades were added as farm work and agricultural training became less of a focus. In the 1940s, additional classroom and dormitory buildings were constructed as the FTS evolved into an academic high school. In 1956, the FTS became Thompson's Academy (TA), a six-year secondary school, (dropping off FTS's grade six and adding grades eleven and twelve). TA was a purely academic school without vocational training and with a broad extra-curricular program that emphasized athletics. TA graduated its first high school class in 1957.

In 1940, the Liversidge Institution of Industry in Mattapan, Massachusetts, which had a similar mission, closed and turned over its financial assets and records to the FTS.

Constructed in 1835, the main building burned down in 1971. In 1975, financial troubles and the loss of the main building led the Board of Trustees to vote to close the school and reorganize as the Thompson Island Education Center (TIEC). In 1986, TIEC became part of Outward Bound, and changed its name to the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (TIOBEC).

For additional historical background, see the chronology following the Scope and Content note and the brochure, "Thompson Island: Learning by Doing," that TIOBEC produced for development support.

Scope and Content

The Thompson's Island Collection contains corporate, governance, administrative and student records from all periods. All of the important record series are not complete for the entire history of the agencies. The fire in 1971 destroyed an unknown quantity of material and significantly damaged parts of the surviving documentation. Additionally, the collection was moved several times on the island before coming to UMass/Boston; the original order of some of the records was altered.

The records are arranged in 17 series:
1. Annual Reports and Minutes of Annual Meetings of Subscribers, 1814-1942
2. Board of Managers: Minutes and reports, 1825-1956
3. Board of Managers: Correspondence, etc., 1815-1936
4. Secretary: Registers of students, 1819-1953
5. Boston Farm School Society: records, 1832-1834
6. Treasurer: Earliest accounts and register of subscribers, 1814-1879
7. Superintendent: records, 1830-1955
8. Treasurer, 1834-1953
9. Student records, 1873-1974
10. Student life, 1839-1949
11. Curriculum: Academic, Mechanical arts, Farm, etc., 1839-1954
12. Publications, 1858-1977
13. Photographs, visual materials, ca.1832-1990
14. Three dimensional objects
15. Thompson's Academy, 1953-1978
16. Liversidge Institution of Industry, 1880-1921
17. Historical miscellany, 1814-1974

Because the records of the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys, the Boston Asylum and Farm School, and the Farm and Trades School were kept continuously, regardless of name changes, these records have not been separated and appear in Series 1-4, 6-14. Because the establishment of Thompson's Academy reflected a change in the school's mission, superintendent, and, to a large extent, record keeping, TA's records are in a separate series, Series 15. The collection contains the records of two other institutions: Boston Farm School Society (BFSS) records are in Series 5; Liversidge Institution of Industry records are in Series 16.

Most series are arranged chronologically. Series 2, 3, 7, and 15 contain some material still in bundles that require unfolding, flattening and foldering before they can be used. The inventory provides a list of the contents of each box. Each item or series of items indicates the creator, title, format of the material (volume, folder, bundle, etc.) and the date span. Boxes are numbered sequentially within each series. This inventory replaces an earlier box list; a key to the old list is available for researchers with citations that refer to it.

A few individual series were described by student interns. Their papers are available in the archives.

Series 5. Boston Farm School Society: records, 1832-1834, is comprised of a letter, a volume of board and other minutes, and a diary. Amidst the minutes is a list of subscribers and proprietors who funded the society. The diary's entries detail daily operations of the BFSS's farm and school on Thompson's Island, including planting and other farm tasks, supplies purchased, student activities, and the names of the school's fourteen students.

Series 9. Student records, 1873-1974, consists of two distinct subseries and other records. Researchers wishing to see student files other than their own must receive written permission from the President's office of TIOBEC (see above access procedure). The earliest student records are in the form of registers of admission and discharge, and are in Series 4. From the 1870s to the 1940s, student "files" were kept in labeled envelopes. Originally filed numerically according to student numbers, island staff began to rearrange these alphabetically; they are now in folders and the numerical arrangement has been restored. The later subseries of student files is in the original file folders, arranged by student number. To find a student's number, consult the graduate and non-graduate card files in this series, or the computer database the archives has compiled that contains students' names, numbers, and admission and discharge dates. This series includes records re: alumni; for additional alumni files, see Series 7. TA's student records are in Series 15.

The student files include application forms, and correspondence with relatives, guardians, sponsoring organizations, and, occasionally with the student as an alum. The correspondence contains information about the socio-economic conditions whence the boys and their families came. Later files include intelligence tests, and some include a small photograph. Many of the files sustained fire, water or mold damage.

Series 12. Publications, 1858-1977, includes "The Beacon," a student newspaper and other publications by the various schools on the island.

Series 13. Photographs, visual material, ca.1832-1990, is divided into four subseries: Boston Farm School and the Farm and Trades School is comprised of photographs and glass plate negatives (neither arranged nor described, but including a card index), which cover roughly the period from 1832 to 1955; photographs and motion picture film of Thompson Academy cover the twenty-year period, 1955 to 1975; Post-Thompson Academy consists of three folders of photographs (#87-89) that depict the Thompson Island Education Center (1975-1988) and the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (1988-present); and Other Visual Materials (#90-100) includes miscellaneous printed material, reproductions of an engraving of Thompson's Island, and a Booker T. Washington autograph. A name index to photographs of BFS and FTS students follows the inventory for this series. For photographs of specific Thompson Academy students, see the yearbooks (Carton 15-26); many of the photos in the TA subseries appeared in the yearbook.

The first two subseries (BFS/FTS and TA) are organized by categories in similar fashion: faculty and staff, students, student life, organized sports teams, grounds and facilities, and unrelated categories. Photographs within each folder are organized in one of two ways. For those photographs depicting persons, the order is first alphabetical by last name for those individuals identified. Following these are unidentified individuals in no specific order. All the rest of the photographs are arranged chronologically, the dated photographs first, followed by those that are not dated.

Almost all of the photographs in the Thompson's Island collection appear in this series; there are also photographs in the student files in Series 9 and 15.

Series 15. Thompson's Academy, 1953-1978. This series includes most of the Thompson's Academy records in the collection; others appear in Series 12 and 13. Researchers wishing to see student files must receive written permission from TIOBEC. The student files are divided into graduates and non-graduates and include applications, intelligence tests, academic report cards, transfer records, references from previous schools and to colleges, some correspondence. Most correspondence relates to problems the school was having with a student rather than illuminating the boy's background. To find a student's number, consult the graduate and non-graduate card files in Series 9, or the admissions register in this series.

Series 16. Liversidge Institution of Industry, 1880-1921. The trustee account book is a compilation from various sources probably assembled and copied by Alfred K. Teele, one of the trustees; it includes a brief geneaology of Thomas Liversidge, a copy of his will, copies of various Probate Court orders, a detailed appraisal of Liversidge's holdings upon his death, and a series of annual financial reports. The ledgers contain income and expense transactions. The admissions register includes an alphabetical index and information about each student's background, family, reason for being placed at the institution, and dates of admission and discharge. The medical register contains certifications that each boy was free of disease. The photocopy of a Constitution and By-laws pamphlet includes a lit of the original trustees and staff, a photograph of the benefactor's mansion (later the main building of the Institution), description of the grounds, and a history of the charity and its benefactor. "The Liversidge School Messenger" was the school paper and includes articles by students and faculty.

Series 17. Historical miscellany, 1814-1974 contains information about the history of the island and schools and genealogical information about the Thompson family. The material in this series was not produced by people on the island. Similar material appears in Series 7; it was clearly collected by the superintendent.


  • BAIB: Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys
  • BFSS: Boston Farm School Society
  • BFS: Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys popularly called the Boston Farm School
  • FTS: Farm and Trades School
  • TI: Thompson's Island
  • TA: Thompson's Academy
  • TIEC: Thompson Island Education Center
  • TIOBEC: Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center



This chronology was compiled from earlier ones written by people associated with Thompson's Island schools or TIOBEC. The accuracy of these entries has not been confirmed. Corrections or additions should be given to the archivist.

1814 Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys founded, Benjamin F. Greene elected president
1823 Jonathan Amory elected president
1825 Gardiner Greene elected president
1832 Boston Farm School founded and Eleaser Wells became superintendent (1832)
Thompson's Island purchased by 3 trustees
1833 Thompson's Island transferred to Boston Farm School
April: mulberry tree and potatoes planted on Mansion Hill
June: Wells and 14 boys in residence at Thompson's Island
August: "Bulfinch" Building begun, first farm/horticultural school
A barn built
Dike on east side constructed
October: move into "Bulfinch" Building
Captain Daniel Chandler becomes superintendent (1833-1839)
Samuel Armstrong elected president
1835 Boston Farm School and Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys merge to form The Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys
1838 Jonathan Phillips elected president
1839 Cornelius C. Felton becomes superintendent (1839-1840)
1841 Robert Morrison becomes superintendent (1841-1856)
Theodore Lyman elected president
Sunday School begins
1842 Boys' first cruise to Boston
Sloop "Polka" capsizes near Spectacle Island, drowning 27
boys, a teacher, and the boatman
1846 President Theodore Lyman imports and gives the school 4,000 larches and 2,000 oaks
1850 Henry B. Rogers elected president
1851 J. Ingersol Bowditch elected president
1854 F armhouse built (second one)
1856 William A. Morse becomes superintendent (1856-1888)
1857 First school band organized
1858 Oaks on Sheep Hill planted
1859 Bowditch Grove started
1861 Storage barn moved to waterfront Stock barn built
1862 Orchard expanded (Wilder gift)
1863 Boat house constructed
1865 Two-story north wing built Spruces and maples added to front lawn
1867 First year of boys' flower gardens 1868 Jersey cows added
1875 Steamer "Jane McCrea" purchased
1878 Theodore Lyman, Jr. elected president
1881 Gardner Hall built
Printing started--perhaps first school in America to have printing as a practical course
1885 Hen house built
Maples added to Lyman Grove, spruces added to Whaleback
1886 Seawall built at north end
1887 Corn barn built
1888 Charles H. Bradley becomes superintendent (1888-1922)
First Cottage Row buildings built and government organized
1889 Charles P. Bowditch elected president
Boys Bank organized
1891 First Sloyd course introduced
1892 Water mains connected to the main building
300-foot extension to pier constructed
Sailing accident results in death of 8 boys and an instructor
1893 Alexander S. Wheeler elected president
Breakwater constructed north of float
1894 Telephones installed
1895 Telephone submarine cable laid
Addition to farm house built
1896 Catalpas added on west side of playground
1897 First Beacon newspaper published
First formal graduation
Alumni Association formed
1898 Steamer Pilgrim I lost in storm and Pilgrim II built
1899 Richard M. Saltonstall elected president
1900 Dike built on southwest shore
Farm School Trading Company organized
1902 Willows planted on east bank
Root cellar built
New telephone cable installed
Addition built on north wing
1903 Hotbeds planted near root cellar
1905 Weather observatory built and first student-run weather station organized
Alfred Bowditch elected president
1906 Compost shed built
Squantum "rights" settlement received
1907 Name changed to The Farm and Trades School
1908 Iron telephone poles erected
1909 Power house built, incinerator added
1912 First Alumnus elected to Board
1918 Richard M. Saltonstall elected president
1920 Arthur Adams elected president
1922 Paul Swasey becomes superintendent (1922-1926)
Two years of high school course added
1924 Ensilage silo built
1926 William M. Meacham becomes superintendent (1926-1955)
Boys' diet "modernized"
1927 "Modern" cow barn built and registered Guernsey herd started
FTS Band first enters New England music festivals
1929 New poultry houses built
Electricity connected from mainland
1931 Chicken hatchery started
1933 Joined Boston Community Federation
1934 School boat Pilgrim III built
1935 Athletics program expanded
1936 Adams House built
Board members increased to twenty-six
Superintendent's title changed to headmaster
Uniforms discontinued
A third year of high school work added
Oil burners installed in the kitchen
Francis Shaw Scholarship first awarded
1937 Heating system remodelled
Recreation program "improved"
Boy Scout Troop organized
1938 Hurricane of 1938 destroys Pilgrim II and 50 trees
1939 Bowditch Hall built--housed new dining room and kitchen
First annual election of alumnus to board
Fire damaged west wing of the "Bulfinch" Building
Underground telephone cables installed
Cottage Row dismantled
1941 Hayden Dormitories built (Albee, Baxter, & Thomas)
1955 Houghton Pearl becomes headmaster (1955-1968)
Name changed to Thompson Academy
1968 Francis Dibble becomes headmaster (1968-1970)
1970 George Wright becomes headmaster (1970-1973)
1971 "Bulfinch" Building burns
1973 John Pinto, Jr. becomes headmaster (1973-1975)
Storm destroys the pier
1975 Thompson Academy graduates its last class
Thompson Island Education Center established
1988 Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center established