In August of 1835, the School Committee of Boston, Massachusetts, attended a gathering of city students demonstrating their skills and scholarship. The Columbian Centinel noted that those observing the display of students’ abilities were persuaded that the schools “never appeared in better order and condition, than at this time.” To this the writer added context, relating, “This is certainly a very high compliment, for our public schools have long been the glory of our city.”
Among those called upon to showcase his learning was eighteen-year-old Cornelius Marchant Vinson (1817-1893), a student at Boston Latin School. Vinson opened the day with a “Salutatory Oration,” or welcome, in Latin. Vinson, along with five of his schoolmates, also received a Franklin Medal earlier in the month. This prize, established by a bequest left to the Boston public schools by Benjamin Franklin, a former student of the free schools in the city, was awarded to students at eight schools in 1835. Vinson’s award took the shape of a silver medal struck with a portrait of Franklin on one side (at right). On the other side, raised letters outlined the purpose of the prize--a “Reward of Merit" bestowed by the School Committee. Below this message, an engraver incised Vinson’s name and the year. A local newspaper described this honor as one earned by “scholars of distinguished merit in the respective schools.”
Vinson was an accomplished student—the Franklin medal was just one of the awards he received. In both 1835 and 1834 Vinson earned an award for “the best specimens of Penmanship.” These prizes, like the Franklin medal, took the form of a silver token (at left). Both of Vinson’s penmanship medals were plain discs, decorated with a simple border, that an engraver personalized with Vinson’s name, his school, and the years he earned the recognition. A 1834 newspaper listing noted that Vinson also received a prize that year for “Industry and Good Conduct.”
Building on what Vinson learned at Boston Latin School, he continued his studies at Harvard. Upon graduating in 1839, he embarked on a career as a teacher. In the mid-1840s, Vinson ran a school for “Misses as well as Young Ladies” which offered girls and teenagers instruction in drawing, English, Latin, and French in downtown Boston. In 1849 he leased a “family boarding school for lads” in Jamaica Plain, where he prepared students for college or “Mercantile Life” in a “healthful and pleasant location” using an approach grounded on “The harmonious development of the Physical, Intellectual, and Moral powers.” Though Vinson went on to work in different fields—as a farmer and as a real estate dealer—his early achievement as a scholar and in penmanship doubtless served him well throughout his life.
“Public Schools,” Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), August 22, 1835, page 1.
“Public Schools,” Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), August 20, 1835, page 2.
“General Intelligence,” Christian Register (Boston, Massachusetts), August 9, 1834, page 3.
“Advertisements,” Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts), July 18, 1844, page 3.
John Sallay, "American School Medals," Medal Collectors of America, presentation, July 28, 2005.
Malcolm Storer, "The Franklin Boston School Medals," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 55 (October 1921-June 1922), 189-198.
Penmanship Award, 1835. Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Marjorie Sumner Guiler and Eleanor B. Litchfield, 82.30.3. Photograph by David Bohl.
Benjamin Franklin Boston School Medal, 1835. Charles Cushing Wright (1796 – 1854) and James Bale, New York, New York, and George Stimpson (1793-ca. 1867), Charlestown, Massachusetts. Gift of Marjorie Sumner Guiler and Eleanor B. Litchfield, 82.30.1.