What Oneida club reveals about high school football history

The Oneida Football Club’s surviving members pose for a photo in 1925.
The Oneida Football Club’s surviving members pose for a photo in 1925. –The Boston Globe

The Oneida monument on Boston Common is one of 44 pieces of public art cared for by the Friends of the Public Gardens. The monuments, big and small, are in constant need of tender loving care. Want to help? The Friends of the Public Garden established the Henry Lee Conservation Fund in honor of the organization’s founder and longtime president. Those wishing to help care for the monuments can send a check payable to Friends of the Public Garden, 69 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass. 02108. Write Henry Lee Conservation Fund in memo line.

In the course of doing this story, we learned how much we didn’t know. Boston Latin and Boston English play football on Thanksgiving. But why, and whose idea was Thanksgiving anyway?


The answer to the last question starts with a question. What is the connection between Mary had a Little Lamb and Thanksgiving? The author of one of the most famous nursery rhymes, Sarah Joseph Hale, had made it her cause to have a day of thanksgiving become an official national holiday. Primarily a New England holiday and relatively unknown in the south, Thanksgiving was celebrated at different times by different New England states. She had petitioned numerous presidents, including Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, but was unsuccessful until Abraham Lincoln agreed with her and established Thanksgiving as an official national holiday on Oct. 3, 1863.

The first Thanksgiving game

The first Thanksgiving game between Boston Latin and Boston English was 1887. Prior to that, the two schools played against other Boston area schools as a united team called High & Latin School, or H.L.S. But by 1887, the two schools had grown enough to form their own teams, according to research done by Boston English trustee Peter Powilatis.

Who was the first running back?

Gerritt Smith Miller wasn’t the first running back in football – that honor belonged to William Webb Ellis, who in 1823, while playing an early form of rugby decided to pick up the ball and run with it, something that was against the early rules. The name of Ellis’s school? The Rugby School of England.


Oneida Football Club’s descendents

The effort to find James D’Wolf Lovett’s descendents came up empty. His daughter, Alice B. Lovett, was the very last interment at the Forest Hills Cemetery. She was the lot representative, the last Lovett family member, and did not have any heirs. At one point, we thought we had an heir close to home in former Globe sports employee and Boston Latin graduate John Lovett. But his family, which includes his brother James, arrived here from Ireland in 1905.

Framingham’s offshoot

Bowditch Field bears the name of a relative of Oneida football player Edward Bowditch. The Framingham field, home to Framingham High School sports, was named after Nathaniel Bowditch, one of the original members of the Framingham Parks and Recreation Department and the owner of Milwood Farm. Bowditch died in 1945 and the field was dedicated in his name the following year. The Town of Framingham purchased the land in 1917 and the first high school game was played there in 1924.

You’ve been warned

History can be purchased on eBay but let the buyer beware. An 1866 James D’Wolf Lovett medal, awarded annually by Noble and Greenough, is for sale on the site for $41. Trouble is, the award was created in 1926.

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