Under the guidance of founder James T. Smith, Lowell Textile opened its doors in February of 1897. Thirty-two students started classes in three rented rooms on Middle Street in downtown Lowell, paying $100 annual tuition for three-year courses that earned them diplomas in cotton or wool manufacture, design, or textile chemistry and dyeing.

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

Ten years later, the school granted its first bachelor’s degrees in textile dyeing and textile engineering. By 1929, Lowell’s expanded curriculum, larger faculty, and livelier extracurricular program warranted a name change that reflected its evolution from a trade school to a technical college, and it became the Lowell Textile Institute. 

UMass Lowell Image
Southwick Hall in 1906

In 1953, President Martin Lydon expanded the curriculum to include programs in plastics, leather, paper, and electronics technology, increased the liberal arts, and renamed the school the Lowell Technological Institute. He moved the Institute decisively toward general engineering, setting up a bachelor’s program in 1956. The textile program was closed in 1971.

UMass Lowell Image
During World War I, the school became a training camp for prospective U.S. Army recruits (Kitson/Southwick Hall)

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. The college adopted the name of James B. Francis, the English hydraulic engineer who in 1834 began his brilliant career in Lowell.

Today, the Francis College of Engineering proudly continues the century-long tradition of hands-on education closely linked to regional industry.  The college currently enrolls over 3,500 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students in six academic departments. Ties to industry are maintained through interdisciplinary research centers, an industrial advisory board, and growing co-op internship programs.