On October 20, 1839, Nathan C. Brooks, Principal, gathered forty-six students together to begin what was later to be called Baltimore City College. The students met in a rented building on Courtland Street. Their day was divided into two parts with a morning session from 9 to 12, and an afternoon session, from 2 to 5. During the first half of the day, Professor Brooks divided his time between the sixteen students who chose the Classical course and the thirty students who concentrated on the study of English and Mathematics. In the afternoon, everyone concentrated on the study of English. The Classical and English courses were identical except for the addition of Greek and Latin. Professor Brook’s pupils were chosen from among the best students of the elementary schools, which had first begun in Baltimore only ten years earlier in 1829. By 1839, there were four “Male Schools,” each employing only one teacher regardless of the number of students.
The resourcefulness of these early teachers and students must have been remarkable. In 1829, the Board of School Commissioners congratulated the William H. Coffin, the principal of the first public school in Baltimore, for his ability to handle his 212 students. To accomplish this task, the principals employed the more advanced students as monitors who acted essentially as assistant teachers, and separate classes were set up for their advanced studies. It was from among these monitors that the students were chosen for entrance into Professor Brooks’ new high school. There are few detailed records of the life of the first years of City College. No list of the early graduates exists since records were not kept until the school began to grant certificates of graduation in 1851. The sole personal characterization that remains came from Professor Brooks in his annual report to the School Board in 1839: It is no doubt, a matter of desire to be informed respecting the attendance, habits of study, behaviors, and general morals of the pupils under my care, as I am aware that an opinion prevails to some extent, that the children of the schools established by the Commissioners are rude, inattentive, ill-mannered, and vicious – I have conducted schools in the city and in the country – composed of day scholars, and boarders and last which I conducted was a select school of boys, carefully nurtured, and principally in the upper walks of like - and yet I must say that I have never superintended any school in which the boys were more generally prompt in attendance, more industrious, more respectful to myself, more kind and obliging to each other, or more correct in their general deportment, than students of the High School.
Their conduct is truly praiseworthy. While this praise from Professor Brooks remains, as the only direct description of the first years of the school, there is considerably more direct evidence that can be used to develop an understanding of life at the school. Professor Brooks’ institution was designed to be the capstone of the public system begun in 1829, and the program of the elementary school led naturally to its establishment. When the school opened, it represented the fulfillment of a campaign for public education that had begun many years before. From the account of this early campaign, reported in the newspapers of the day, it is possible to get some understanding of what the City and its educators intended to accomplish with Baltimore City College.