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Professor's Book Illustrates History

University’s Story Shared in Frank’s Book

Vintage Girls Basketball Coburn UMass Lowell
UMass Lowell's illustrated history includes clues to school's past, like the gym that is now academic offices in Coburn Hall.

By Julia Gavin

We can hear stories of what UMass Lowell’s predecessors were like in the 1920s, and listen to tales about President John F. Kennedy’s visit to campus, but sometimes a picture tells things best. Fortunately, cameras and photographers have been busy since classes began here in the late 19th century, and Prof. Marie Frank has collected the highlights in a new book.

“I saw another school’s illustrated history and just knew UMass Lowell could and should have one,” says Frank, an art history professor specializing in architectural history.

The book follows the history of UMass Lowell from its beginning in 1894 as two separate institutions: The Lowell Normal School, headquartered  in Coburn Hall on what is today South Campus, was formed to train teachers, while the Lowell Textile School taught mill workers in rented rooms on Middle Street until the creation of North Campus. The images follow history through the schools’ changes, merger and final transformation into the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1991. 

“What really stood out in all of the images was the enthusiasm and spirit of students and faculty right from the start. Their love of sports, drama and the institutions really made the schools come alive,” says Frank, who also says the haircuts and fashion are worth a look. “So many faculty and staff stayed for 30 or more years because they loved their work. You can see how the early faculty shaped the school’s history, which reminds us how individuals shape the identity of a program and place.”

Book Now Available

After a year of research and months of compiling and publishing, the illustrated history of the University is now available. Frank worked with alumni, faculty, staff and community partners to gather hundreds of high-quality images for the book. One of the most fruitful connections was the University’s Center for Lowell History, where director Martha Mayo supplied Frank with 18 boxes of documents and photographs.

While the book is not meant to be a full history of the University — Mary Blewett’s “To Enrich and to Serve: The Centennial History of the University of Massachusetts Lowell” is a more thorough history — it collects the best images available to chronicle the school’s past and present.

“Finding high-quality images of the early years was relatively easy since photography was often required for special events, but it became more difficult with more modern images,” says Frank. “I heard about many wonderful events, but couldn’t include them because I could not find a suitable picture.”

That difficulty has Frank hoping that alumni and others with University connections will come forward with more images from the school’s past. A forgotten photograph in a closet could hold interesting information for historians: people with photographs they are willing to share are encouraged to contact the Center for Lowell History.

Besides the history and people covered by the images, Frank is especially interested in the physical and architectural development of the campuses over the years.
“Because the administrators always paid attention to the physical advances of the campus there are many architecturally significant areas around the school,” says Frank, who works in Coburn Hall, one of the most photographed buildings on campus.

“Coburn just couldn’t be built today with the price of materials and detail required, so it’s a beautiful part of our history, inside and out,” Frank says. “I’m especially interested in the Works Progress Administration murals that were painted over at one point. I hope we can rebuild them from some of the images I found in researching the book.”

For more information on the book, visit the Arcadia Publishing website or the downtown bookstore located at 151 Merrimack St. For more vintage photos and history of UMass Lowell, visit the Center for Lowell History website.

Research With Local Ties Awarded

Frank says that she found researching the images for the illustrated history a “good antidote” to the long and involved process of writing her previous book, “Denman Ross and American Design Theory.” The biography of Ross, an American design theorist, teacher, art collector and painter, details his impact on art and architecture education. The book has earned many positive reviews for its flowing and informative approach to Ross’ life and the world of art in 19th-century Boston. It has also been recognized by the Victorian Society in American with the 2012 Henry-Russell Hitchcock Award for its significant contribution to the field.