I. The Codicil Bequest: 1789
BFIT began enrolling students in September 1908. Its name then was the Franklin Union, and its mission was what it remains today: to be a place for young people and working men and women to advance themselves through technical training. New as it was, its origins could be traced back over a hundred years to one of the last public acts of the greatest American of his generation.
In 1789, when Benjamin Franklin was eighty-three years old, he added an unusual codicil to the will he had written two years before. The will itself was not an unusual one for a successful man. Franklin divided most of his estate among his relatives and descendants and made bequests to various public causes. Among the public gifts, he gave two thousand pounds from his salary as President of Pennsylvania to the state of Pennsylvania to make the Schuylkill River navigable. And he gave the town of Boston, where he was born and started his working life, 100. The interest on this gift was to be used to award silver medals to outstanding students each year. The first Franklin Medals were awarded in 1793, and they continue to be given to this day.
Franklin's codicil of 1789 would also create a long-lived bequest, and one intended to help young people. This bequest included a detailed plan that covered two hundred years. The codicil cancelled the bequest for the Schuylkill River project and offered the money to the city of Philadelphia and the town of Boston. Explaining his new plan, Franklin harked back to his own early life. For unlike George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or the other Founding Fathers, Franklin did not begin life in the colonial gentry. He was born in 1706 on Milk Street in Boston, the youngest son in a family of seventeen children. His father was a tallow chandler, and after Franklin spent two years in school, where he excelled in reading and writing and failed in arithmetic, his father put him to work--first in the shop, then as an apprentice with Franklin's brother James, a printer.
Franklin quickly learned the printing trade and began writing secretly for a newspaper his brother published. His precocity led to a falling out with James, and at the age of seventeen, he decided to leave Boston. He found work with a printer in Philadelphia, and after some ups and downs, opened his own printing shop when he was twenty-four. With the printing business as his base, he began to contribute to the life of the young city, helping to organize a host of useful services, including a lending library, a fire-fighting patrol, a street patrol, and an academy that would one day become the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin became involved in the politics of the colony, and then of all the colonies, as they began to work with each other to negotiate for better treatment from their rulers in Great Britain.
As Franklin rose in the estimation of Americans, serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776, a minister to France from 1776 to 1785, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he never forgot how he got his start. In the 1789 codicil, he wrote:
"I have considered that among Artisans good Apprentices are most likely to make good Citizens, and having myself been bred to a manual Art Printing, in my native Town, and afterwards assisted to set up my business in Philadelphia by kind loan of Money from two Friends there, which was the foundation of my Fortune, and of all the utility in life that may be ascribed to me, I wish to be useful even after my Death, if possible, in forming and advancing other young men that may be serviceable to their country in both those Towns. To this End I devote Two thousand Pounds Sterling, which I give, one thousand thereof to the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, in Massachusetts, and the other thousand to the Inhabitants of the City of Philadelphia, in Trust to and for the Uses, Interests and Purposes hereinafter mentioned and declared."
Franklin then detailed how the bequests were to be used. For the first hundred years, the money, totaling 1,000 for each city (about $4,500 in 1790s dollars), was to serve as a loan fund to help young married tradesmen start their own businesses. Franklin estimated that the principal in Boston's fund would grow during this period to 131,000, or about $582,000 in 1892 dollars. When the hundred years were up, the fund's managers would divide the money, using approximately three-fourths for public works in Boston and maintaining the rest as a loan fund for tradesmen.
At the end of two hundred years, Franklin estimated, the Boston fund would total over 4,061,000, or about $7 million in today's dollars. He felt that two hundred years was long enough for any man's instructions to control a sum of money, and he directed the fund's managers to give roughly three-fourths of the fund to Massachusetts and the remainder to Boston.
II. The First Century: 1791 - 1904
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, and after learning of his will and codicil, the people of Boston voted at a town meeting on June 1 to accept the 1,000 gift for the loan program and the 100 gift for school medals. They also authorized the board of managers named in Franklin's will to carry out his instructions for the loan program. From that day until the present time, the Franklin Fund of Boston has been in the hands of the managers and their successors. Because it is an accumulating trust, Franklin's will dictates the uses of the Fund until its termination.
Franklin requested that the Fund be administered by Boston's selectmen and by the ministers of the oldest Episcopalian, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches. However, Boston had no Presbyterian church in the 1790s; after the money arrived from Philadelphia in March 1791, the selectmen voted to appoint only the ministers of the oldest Episcopalian church, King's Church, and the oldest Congregational church, the First Church.
The nine selectmen and two ministers promptly put the Fund to work after appointing a committee to arrange the details of securing each loan and to invite applicants through newspaper advertisements. In May alone, the managers heard from twenty-two young married artificers in fourteen different trades from housewright and bricklayer to hairdresser, jeweller, and tanner.
Despite the Fund's early popularity, the managers soon had to adapt to changing circumstances. The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s brought on the decline of the traditional system in which a young man rose from apprentice to journeyman to master. By the 1830s, many people simply went to work as "mechanics" in factories and had no plans to set up on their own. The managers eased their loan requirements; an applicant could now "be simply a mechanic, or...intend to adopt a mechanical trade." Even so, by the middle of the century, demand for loans from the Franklin Fund had all but disappeared. The Fund's managers began to invest the capital in prudent instruments such as savings accounts and a life insurance company. In February 1866, the Fund had total assets of over $110,000. When the Fund reached its hundredth anniversary in July 1891, its value was more than $391,000.
The arrival of the Fund's hundredth anniversary meant that three-fourths of the money would now be turned over to the city of Boston for public works. The rest, about $100,000, would continue to be loaned and invested by the board until 1991, the two hundredth anniversary of Franklin's bequest, when the proceeds would be divided between Boston and the state of Massachusetts. It had been decided in 1882 that Boston's three-fourths share of the first century's proceeds should be used to pay off the bond issue that financed the creation of Franklin Park. But a suit brought by Franklin's heirs in Philadelphia tied up the money for several years, and the park debt was retired with other funds.
The Franklin heirs' final appeal failed in May 1893, and in November, after public hearings, the board of managers recommended establishing a trade school with the three-fourths share. The managers decided on the trade school because it seemed a perfect successor to the apprenticeship system, enabling Franklin's legacy to help young tradesmen in a way that suited the industrial age.
Boston received its part of the Fund in January, 1894, and the managers moved ahead with plans for the school by locating a building site. But when they chose a site late in 1895 and began to make arrangements to pay for it, the Boston city treasurer challenged their authority to spend the three-fourths share. This challenge touched off a legal dispute which would continue until 1904.
The dispute arose because the Fund was becoming a sizable pool of capital, and political forces in Boston were growing more interested in its future. The legal challenges, however, addressed a different issue: whether the board was composed in accordance with Franklin's wishes. During the nineteenth century, the composition of the board had undergone several changes. The most important change occurred on February 23, 1822, when Boston officially became a city, governed by a mayor and nine aldermen rather than a board of nine selectmen. The mayor and aldermen also replaced the selectmen as Fund managers.
After the Boston city treasurer challenged the board's authority in 1895, the Massachusetts legislature joined the fray. The state was vitally concerned in any questions about control of the Fund, since it would receive the lion's share of the money--nearly three-quarters--when the trust ended. The legislature came up with two bills to change the membership of the board, but neither was enacted, and in the second half of 1896, as the likelihood of a compromise dimmed, three petitions were filed with the Suffolk County probate court--one on behalf of the mayor and the current board of managers, one on behalf of the state of Massachusetts, and one by a citizen's group which supported the state's position.
The case had become a contest between the city and the state. The city sought to make the county probate court keep the aldermen on the board of managers; the state sought to make the court replace the aldermen with private citizens. When the court ruled on the petitions in February 1897, its decision went against the city and the board. The Franklin Fund was a public charity, said the court, and only the court could appoint the trustees. The board would now have seven members: four private citizens and three ministers (a Presbyterian church had been established in Boston in 1847). # The new board held its first meeting the following April, and immediately decided to file a suit in the Supreme Judicial Court to recover all of the money in the Fund. The board's position was that since the probate court had nullified the authority of the prior board, the payment to the city of Boston was illegal. But this suit was the new board's undoing. In August 1898, the court decided against the board, ruled that the 1822 transfer of authority from the selectmen to the aldermen was legal, removed the four private citizens, and reinstated the mayor and aldermen.
By April 1902, this board had decided to build a technical institute, a much broader type of school than the trade school proposed in 1894. But before this plan could advance, the board faced another suit. Boston's new mayor, Patrick A. Collins, had gone to the Supreme Judicial Court challenging the managers' right to authorize any expenditure of the city's portion of the Fund and to serve as Fund managers.
On March 16, 1904, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision which remains legal basis of the management of Franklin's codicil bequest. The court stated that Franklin's legacy to Boston was a public charity, assigned itself the right to appoint its managers, and declared that the three ministers were the only legal managers at that moment. The court removed the aldermen from the board, declaring that as Franklin had not said what to do if the selectmen ceased to exist, the mayor and the aldermen were holding office illegally. Because Franklin had specified twelve board members, twelve would serve on the new board: three ministers, the mayor, and--following the words of the codicil--eight "virtuous and benevolent citizens willing to bestow a part of their Time in doing good." Lastly, the court gave the new board control of all the combined assets of the Franklin Fund of Boston, and authorized it to decide how to spend the money and then to actually go ahead and spend it.
The private citizens appointed by the court as the Fund's new managers in 1904 included some of the most illustrious Americans of the day. Henry P. Bowditch had been dean of the Harvard Medical School. William Endicott had served as Grover Cleveland's secretary of war. Nathan Matthews was a four-time mayor of Boston. Henry S. Pritchett was the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. James J. Storrow, a successful banker, worked tirelessly for Boston youth throughout his career and helped create the city's juvenile court system.
III. The Founding of the Franklin Union: 1904 - 1908
Now that the legal issues surrounding the Franklin Fund had been settled, the new board of managers could carry out Franklin's intentions with a project that would serve the people of Boston. In December 1906, they held a public hearing and heard testimonials from twenty-two people. All but three advocated using the money for public education. Five supported the idea of a trade school, while four others preferred a more technically-oriented institution. But establishing a school was expensive. Although the First Part of the Fund had now grown to over $400,000, that amount would not really suffice to purchase land, construct a suitable building, and maintain an endowment for operating expenses.
When the managers met again on December 20, Henry Pritchett told them of a remarkable offer from a friend--Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-born American steel magnate. Benjamin Franklin was one of Carnegie's heroes, and the technical school plan fit in with his philanthropic vision, so the multimillionaire offered to provide the school with an endowment by matching the amount in the Fund.
Carnegie's gift came with two conditions: the new school was to be an industrial school, and the city of Boston was to provide the land for the building. On April 26, 1905, the board unanimously voted to accept Carnegie's offer and recommended that the city do the same. The project required a law from the state legislature authorizing the city to maintain a technical school and to issue a loan of not more than $100,000 for the purchase of the school's land. The legislature provided that authorization on May 24, and the Boston city council added its approval on June 1.
The board now set about hiring its first director and developing a detailed plan for the school's operation. In March 1906, a three-man committee presented a plan with a curriculum of courses in elementary physics, chemistry, mechanical drafting, and applications of these subjects to industrial arts and trades. In addition, the school would house a branch of the public library specializing in technical subjects and a hall for meetings, lectures, and concerts.
The committee also had a nominee for director: Louis Rouillon, the director of the Mechanics' and Tradesmen's School in New York City, which had been in business almost a hundred years, offering industrial arts courses in the evening. Rouillon had increased its enrollment from 250 to approximately 1,100 students.
The managers promptly approved the hiring of Rouillon and the committee's plans. Rouillon's first tasks were to find a site and work on a building plan. In April, he submitted a list of fifty-one sites. His top choice, a 16,000-square-foot lot in Boston's South End, located in the northwest section of a triangular block formed by the crossing of Appleton, Berkeley, and Tremont streets, met all these requirements. Rouillon chose well, for the school stands on this site to this day.
After a month of negotiations, the board reached an agreement with the owner of the land, who had held out for the full $100,000 the city was authorized to spend. On June 22, the board commissioned the architect R. Clipston Sturgis to design the building. Sturgis was to create a four-story building with a single facade along Berkeley Street and a hall accommodating a thousand people. Sturgis returned to the board with three plans on October 19, and the board quickly approved the third of these, which placed the hall adjacent to the building and would serve up to 1,708 students in twenty-four classrooms and six drafting rooms. Sturgis estimated that the building would cost $360,000, plus about $90,000 for fees, expenses, and equipment.
The board had hoped to open the new school in September 1907, but at their October 1906 meeting, with the building plan just approved and the bidding process still ahead of them, they moved the opening to September 1908. At that October meeting, they also heard encouraging financial news. Carnegie's gift, totalling $408,396.48, had arrived in January, and the total net worth of the Franklin Fund was now $1,025,346.40. The First Part of the Franklin Fund, now available for the building, had risen to $432,367.29, the Second Part to $163,971.71, and the Carnegie endowment to $429,007.48. On June 12, 1907, the board awarded the building contract to the Woodbury and Leighton Company, the lowest bidder with a figure of $319,771. On June 18, workers began excavating the site.
Between 1906 and 1908, the board had given some attention to ensuring that its authority to operate the school rested on a sound legal basis. In 1906 and 1907, a committee prepared a petition to the Supreme Judicial Court asking for a final definition of three matters. First, could the board use any of the First Part of the Franklin Fund as an endowment for operating the school? Second, who would administer this fund: the Boston city council or the board of managers? Third, who would control the Franklin Union: the board, the mayor, the city council, or the mayor and city council together?
In 1908, the board decided to drop the petition and apply instead for new legislation from the state. On June 1, the legislature passed Chapter 569, which resolved all of the board's questions. The city held the title, as trustee, to the property and all of the money, but the board, reorganized as a new corporation called the Franklin Foundation, would be the trustee's exclusive agent in managing and controlling those funds and that property.
The law specified that the Franklin Foundation was a department or board of the government of the city of Boston and that, on behalf of the city, the Foundation had sole responsibility for the operation of the Franklin Union and for the management of the Second Part of the Franklin Fund: the portion accumulating until 1991. The law reaffirmed that the property of the Fund, the Foundation, and the school originated in a public charitable trust and that its real owners are the people of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In February 1908, the board had received the surprise resignation of Louis Rouillon, who was returning to his previous job in New York. By July, the managers had found a new director. Their choice, Walter B. Russell, had graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1897 and taught there before joining the science and technology department at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, New York, an industrial school like the new Franklin Union. He came to the Franklin Union from a successful two years as the first manager of the Schools of Apprenticeship, a system of ten schools operated by the New York Central Railroad to improve the skill and professionalism of its workers and supervisors.
IV. The School's First Fifty Years: 1908-1961
On Friday, September 25, 1908, the Franklin Union building was dedicated with a ceremony attended by 750 people. Classes began the following Monday with an enrollment of 533 students. The first term's course offerings were Mechanical Drawing, Machine Details, Mechanism, Drawing for Carpenters and Builders, Industrial Chemistry, Steam Engines and Boilers, Industrial Electricity, and Mechanics.
Under Walter Russell, the Franklin Union established three practices in its first years which have remained central to the school's educational mission ever since. Russell strongly believed in tailoring course offerings to the practical needs of the student body, and as early as the second term, he was ready to meet those needs with new courses. One, called Gas and Gasoline Engines, was so popular that even after Russell added a Saturday class--the school's first daytime class--hundreds of people remained on the waiting list.
Russell also felt that rather than simply providing an array of individual courses, the school should offer structured sequences of study leading to a certificate with real value in the marketplace. By the second year, he had organized the school's offerings into seven one-year programs and six two-year programs in a range of specialties from sheet metal drafting to heating and ventilating and from machine construction to industrial electricity.
Russell's third idea was to provide preparatory courses for students who wanted to enter a particular program at the Franklin Union but lacked the background. Since then, throughout the history of the Franklin Union and its successor institutions, students who needed extra preparation to enroll have received that help through courses at the school.
Enrollment in 1909 reached 870 students, and by the time the United States entered World War I in 1917, more than two thousand students a year attended courses at the Franklin Union, attracted in part by its growing reputation and in part by its low tuition fees. Throughout the Franklin Union's history, fees remained a fraction of the cost of instruction. For that reason, endowment funds were essential.
The endowment concerned Russell throughout his tenure. As early as 1913, he wrote in his annual report to the board that if the school were to expand, the endowment must increase. Twenty-two years later, in 1935, he estimated that immediate needs of the school required $2,875,000, and he urged the board to seek access to the Second Part of the Franklin Fund, which had already grown to $593,000 and which was to be divided between the city and the state in 1991.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Franklin Union's faculty and equipment proved useful to the war effort. The military took over the building during daytime hours to provide technical training for active-duty soldiers and sailors. The Army conducted an eight-week intensive technical course for newly drafted men, while the Navy borrowed the school's gasoline engines laboratory to train mechanics for its fledgling aviation branch. During evening hours, the school continued with special courses in navigation, ship drafting, and marine engineering along with a number of regular and preparatory programs. From April to September 1918, the newly formed Boston School of Occupational Therapy held a course at the Franklin Union, training young women to become reconstruction aides in military hospitals.
After World War I, the school served until 1924 as a vocational training center for returning veterans in a program funded by the United States Veteran's Bureau. When the veterans' program ended, the Franklin Union finally launched full-time day programs, aided by a five-year, $10,000-a-year grant from the Carnegie Corporation.
The Franklin Union hosted two historic technological events during Russell's directorship. On May 15, 1916, a national meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers was held to celebrate the first national group telephone transmission, linking San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. In Boston, more than nine hundred people filled the Franklin Union hall to hear guest speakers from around the country via telephone, including Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and his assistant, Thomas A. Watson.
At the second event, on November 14, 1927, W. E. Harkness of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company gave the first public demonstration of the newly developed telephoto process, which could transmit a five-by-seven-inch photograph anywhere in the country over telephone wires in seven minutes.
Russell retired in 1937 and was succeeded by Brackett K. Thorogood, who had already served the school almost as long as his predecessor. Thorogood was an instructor at the school when it opened in 1908, and when he became director, he had been in charge of the day programs for several years. Under Thorogood, the school changed its name to The Franklin Technical Institute in 1941, contributed its facilities and teachers to the war effort again in World War II, and saw its programs and enrollment expand. Moreover, Thorogood's effort to upgrade engineering programs in the late 1940s laid the foundations for the school to become a degree-granting institution. A major step toward this goal was taken in 1957, when the legislature authorized the Foundation to grant associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees in engineering and science. The next year, the Massachusetts Collegiate Authority, which oversees the granting of degrees in the state, also authorized the school to award associate's degrees in engineering.
Thorogood had retired the previous year and was succeeded by Louis J. Dunham, another teacher and administrator with many years' experience with the school. Dunham's tenure began with a major push to improve the school's financial outlook. Steadily rising operating costs, coupled with the need to expand facilities for an increasing student body, produced a situation by the mid-1950s that clouded the school's future. To resolve these problems, the state legislature created a commission of legislators and prominent businessmen and lawyers in 1957 to study the situation and make recommendations.
The commission's report, issued in February 1958, concluded that the school needed new funding and that if the Supreme Judicial Court agreed, the state and city should give the school the funds in the Second Part of the Franklin Fund immediately. The legislature followed up the report with Chapter 596, approved on September 25, 1958 (and subsequently approved by the Boston city council), which stated that upon termination of the Franklin trust, the money would be turned over to the Franklin Foundation as trustee for the benefit of the school.
V. An Evening School Becomes a Daytime College: 1961-1991
By 1961, the school once again had a new name, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and was a technical college, awarding associate's degrees in engineering. In the decades since then, the college has continued to vigorously update programs to meet changes in the workplace and in student needs. By 1971, students could choose from among six associate degree programs: five in various branches of engineering technology, and one in industrial chemistry.
In the 1960s, the school introduced new certificate programs in fields such as construction and highway surveying, automotive technology, and applied industrial photography. The 1970s brought programs in medical electronics engineering technology and computer engineering technology--specialties with particular value in the Boston-area economy. By the late 1980s, the BFIT's computer offerings had evolved into degree programs in computer engineering technology. In 1984, a degree program in energy systems began, a natural outgrowth of the school's long tradition of courses in a range of engine technologies.
During these years, the college gradually eliminated most of its evening courses. This shift occurred in part because the rapid growth of state-funded community colleges in the 1970s gave many Boston-area workers new choices for evening study closer to their homes. Currently the college's only evening offerings are courses in electrical contracting and plumbing. BFIT, which began as the Franklin Union, an evening school for working people, has become primarily a daytime college.
In the 1960s, the college introduced a new one-year preparatory program, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, and English, for students planning to join the two-year degree program. In 1988, the college updated the preparatory program, making it more technical and integrating it into the engineering technology programs. Renamed the Extended Degree Program, the plan is offered through the college's newly-established School of Community and Continuing Education.
Through the School of Continuing and Community Education, the college has introduced several other programs in recent years, including the Career Exploratory Program for Boston high school students, the Franklin Academy Program for at-risk Boston high school students, the Engineering Preparatory Program for Women, and the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. The high school programs and the ESL programs are intended to open up technical professions for two large groups of potential workers in today's Boston--inner-city youth and recent immigrants. The preparatory program for women seeks to encourage women to enter technical fields, where they have been underrepresented in the past.
Three talented educators have overseen the school's transition from a technical institute with a range of certificate programs to a technical college offering innovative preparatory, certificate, and degree programs. Louis Dunham, who became director in 1956, just before the Franklin Technical Institute began its two-year degree programs in 1958, remained director until his death in 1975. He was succeeded by Michael C. Mazzola, then dean of the faculty. Like other directors, Mazzola brought many years of experience at the college to his new post, first as a student after World War II, and after 1952, as a teacher and administrator.
In 1980, Richard P. D'Onofrio succeeded Mazzola (the job title was changed from director to president in 1975). Like his recent predecessors, D'Onofrio knows the school well as a student, a teacher, and an administrator. He joined the teaching staff in the early 1960s and served for eight years as vice-president before becoming president.
Between 1960 and 1990, many important changes were made in the BFIT's physical plant. The college purchased the Boston Protective Department building at 4 Appleton Street in 1959 and another building on the northwest corner of Appleton and Tremont streets in 1965. The second building was sold in 1988 for $1.3 million, which enabled the college to renovate the original Franklin Union building and to establish a $1 million reserve fund as a source for scholarships and a hedge against demographic changes.
Today the college occupies almost all of the triangular plot of land formed by the crossing of Appleton, Berkeley, and Tremont streets. In the 1960s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) designated the college as the developer of the properties along Tremont Street between Appleton and Berkeley streets. By 1982, the BFIT had created a park along Tremont Street, built a new plaza and underground garage, and renovated a vacated tenement on Appleton Street as an administration building. The college also renovated the old Boston Protective Department building, connected it with the new administration building, and constructed a breezeway between the rear of the 1908 building and the administration building. A new main entrance to the college from Tremont Street was included at the east end of the breezeway.
VI. BFIT Today
Today, the College continues its evolution into the 21st Century. In 1995 the College was granted the authority to award the Bachelor's of Science in Automotive Technology Management by the Higher Education Coordinating Council. This is a 2-plus-2 program that allows students with an Associate Degree in Automotive Technology from any accredited college to continue their studies toward a Bachelor.
The codicil bequest devised by Benjamin Franklin over two centuries ago has reaped great public good. Its current managers continue to fulfill their responsibilities with the same dedication as their "virtuous and benevolent" predecessors.
Because of the work of a legion of men and women like these, the history of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology is a story of innovation, dedication, and accomplishment. As one of Boston's major educational assets, the codicil legacy of Benjamin Franklin is a precious trust that needs to be preserved, encouraged, and supported.