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History of the Francis College of Engineering

old photo of the exterior of Textile School on Middle Street in 1897
The exterior of Lowell Textile on Middle Street in 1897.

The history of the Francis College of Engineering is interwoven with the history of Lowell’s textile industry.

In February 1895, under the guidance of founder James T. Smith, Lowell Textile opened its doors in three rented rooms on Middle Street in downtown Lowell. Thirty-two students enrolled with a goal of advancing their careers in textile manufacturing. The three-year program, with an annual tuition of $100, led to diplomas in cotton or wool manufacturing, design, or textile chemistry and dyeing.

In 1903, the school moved to permanent quarters in Southwick Hall, offering the growing student body up-to-date classrooms and laboratories and vast workrooms necessary for hands-on experience in textiles.

Ten years later, the school awarded its first bachelor’s degrees in textile dyeing and textile engineering. By 1929, the school’s growth warranted a name change that reflected its evolution from a trade school: It became the Lowell Textile Institute.

Male engineering students pose for a photo while working together in a group in 1956
Engineering students work together in 1956.

In 1953, President Martin Lydon expanded the curriculum to include programs in plastics, leather, paper and electronics technology and increased the liberal arts offerings. The school was renamed the Lowell Technological Institute, and the bachelor’s degree program in engineering was established in 1956. In a reflection of the changing times, the textile program was closed in 1971.

Lowell Tech and Lowell State College merged in 1975 to form the University of Lowell. The evolution continued, and in 1991, Lowell became part of the five-campus system of the University of Massachusetts.

Group of Electrical Engineering students in the lab on computers
Electrical engineering students work in a lab in 2018.

The engineering college adopted the name of James B. Francis, the civil engineer whose work in Lowell was central to the city’s rise as a hub of the industrial revolution. Its alumni continue to distinguish themselves in a variety of industries, including technology, energy and plastics.

Today, the Francis College of Engineering proudly continues the century-long tradition of hands-on education closely linked to the regional industry. The college annually enrolls 1,600 undergraduategraduate and doctoral students in six academic departments. Ties to industry are maintained through interdisciplinary research centers, an industrial advisory board and a growing professional co-op program.