HISTORY OF WEST HIGH
This little sketch is the result of a very hurried review of some of the more interesting facts of our high school history, and it is anything but a satisfactory account of the very interesting history of our school. The author would be glad to receive material and suggestions from former students and others preparatory to the preparation of a more correct account of the school at a later date.
NOTHING could be more modest or unassuming than were the beginnings of West Des Moines High School. On the second floor of a little brick school house situated at Sixth and School Streets, on a portion of what are now the grounds of Crocker School, a few pupils with one lone teacher, assembled some time in September, 1864, to inaugurate the work of the new high school.
The first formal step toward the establishment of this school had been taken May 30, 1864. On that date. Rev. Simon Barrows, county superintendent of schools, appeared before the board of directors of what was then officially known as the "School District, City of Des Moines, West Side," and urged "the necessity and propriety of opening a high school." Thereupon the board appointed Messrs. J.H. McClelland, W.H. Leas, and M.S. Dickerson a committee "to examine into and report upon the propriety and feasibility of establishing a high school next fall."
Acting upon this report the board decided on July 1 to establish a high school in the fall, elected Mr. Barrows principal, and requested him to furnish "a schedule of studies."
Some time in September an examination of candidates for admission was held by the board, assisted by Mr. James S. Ross, 50 percent being the passing grade. At this examination Miss Louisa Napier won the honors with a grade of 94 per cent, a fact which secured for her shortly after a situation as teacher in the schools of the town.
A Committee appointed by the board October 11, "to classify the schools and draft a course of study" with special reference to requirements for graduation, reported about two weeks after that the course was not yet ready "owing to the recent excitement on account of rebel raiders in the state." but the members of the committee must soon have laid down their arms and returned to the pursuits of peace, for a somewhat extended report was made by them and adopted November 9, 1864. The following was accordingly the first course of study of the West Des Moines High School:
Grade DSpelling, Reading, Definitions, Arithmetic, [missing], Penmanship, Declamation, Composition, Sing.
Grade C.Spelling, Reading, Definitions, Arithmetic, [missing], Composition, Singing.
Grade B.Algebra, Geometry, Natural Philosphy, Latin, [missing],
Grade A.Trigonometry, Astronomy, Latin, Surveying, Botany, [missing]
Part of the first few pages are gone, as my one year old granddaughter decided to "read Grandma's" book, with the help of our dog. I am sorry, and I hope that you can still find the remaining data helpful. djc
It is an historic fact that four students escaped nervous prostration and were graduated from that course at the end of four years, having supposedly toiled through the entire list from spelling to surveying.
During its first year the high school had to give up its commodious quarters on the second floor and move into the primary room, which department was crowded and needed more space. At the close of the year Mr. Barrows, appears to have severed his connection with the school.
Although the only record regarding the election of the second principal names J.D. Hornby as the successful candidate, the salary for the position, during the latter part of the year at least, was drawn by Mr. F.W. Corliss, who remained as principal until the fall of 1868, when he was succeeded by Mr. W.A. Willis, who served until 1870.
Upon the completion of the Second Ward building, now Lincoln School, in 1868, the high school was moved to the third floor of that building, occupying one large room and two small recitation rooms. There were at this time three teachers for the school, but the number of pupils is not recorded.
Professor Snow, Miss Mann, and Superintendent J.H. Thompson are named as principals between 1870 and 1873, each serving one year. At this time began the five years of service of Mr. A.N. Ozias, who did much to organize and strengthen the work of the school and to give it standing locally and abroad. During his term the enrollment ran from 100 to 150, and three teachers were employed.
Another of the long occupancies of the principalship begins in 1878, when Principal L.B. Cary assumed his the position. Mr. Cary was very popular with the pupils and patrons and the high school was a prominent factor in the town life. For a number of years two literary societies existed in the school which held meetings alternate Friday evenings in the high school room, and these evening entertainments were very highly considered by the young people in the school and out. Some of the literary and musical numbers appearing on these programs were of considerable merit. Each society ran one of the old-fashioned "school papers," which were read instead of being printed, and these occupied fully as important a place in the school life as The Tatler does today.
Allied to the literary society work were the declamatory or so-called "oratorical" contests, the first of which, in 1875 or 1876, was won by Will, now Judge, McHenry. Later the school entered the state declamatory contests, which are still being carried on by the smaller schools of the state. These contests took the place to some extent of the athletic contests and interscholastic debates of the present day, which were then unknown. The gold medal for first place at these contests was won for West Des Moines in 1882 by Ida Clemens, in 1884 and 1885 by Edith Payne, in 1886 by Rose St. John, and in 1887 by Florence Musson.
First paragraph partly missing.
During the principalship of Mr. R.D. Jones, who succeeded Mr. Cary in 1883, the first regular high school paper, the High School Herald, was published, Alice Clark being editor-in-chief and Falk Younker, business manager. The first of a long series of debating societies was organized in 1885. Perhaps a forerunner of the athletic trips of a latter day may have been the trip made during this administration by a class of boys and girls to the town of Panora, of athletic fame, where they entertained the admiring citizens by such mild forms of athletics as wand drill and fancy marching exhibitions in an overheated dimunitive hall called an "operal house."
Mr. Jones was succeeded in 1886 by Mrs. L.t. Morrow, during whose term the board of directors began a more liberal policy toward the school, which resulted in the beginning of what has been constant growth ever since. The beginnings of a commercial curse were made in 1886, another teacher was employed, science was made more of a feature and laboratory methods were introduced, and on the nineteenth day of April, 1889, the school dedicated its new building, a part of the present school plant. At this time one of the speakers remarked that Des Moines now had a high school building that would serve and be sufficient for the needs of all future time. But new accommondations and new advantages attracted pupils and the growth of the school has been very rapid. At this time there were 210 pupil, in 1892 the 300 mark was passed, and in 1896 the enrollment was 476.
In 1889 Mrs. Morrow was succeeded by Miss Celia Ford, who was principal for two years. Mr. H. T. Kincaid served as principal from 1891, to 1893, followed by Mr. William Wilcox from 1893 to 1896. Manual training and domestic science departments were opened in September, 1890, and much advancement was made in all lines of work during this time.
Perhaps the first appearance of athletic activity of definite form was in the organization of a football team in 1892, and since that time this has been a factor of high school life of ever increasing importance.
The golden age of the high school came not at the beginning but in its most recent history. The administration of Principal W.O. Riddell, beginning in 1896 and closing but a few months ago, was an era marked by great advancement in equipment, by development of the courses of study, by increased influence and reputation of the school, and by the growth of a school spirit and loyalty which means much more than is generally understood. But extended treatment of this period is perhaps unnecessary at this time. The most notable event was the addition of the new building, which was occupied for the first time in October, 1903.
Mr. W.A. Cusinberry, who entered upon the duties of the principalship in January, 1905, had already been connected with the school for so long a time and has so favorably impressed teachers and pupils that his coming from North High was but the return of old friend rather than the beginning of a new rule.
ALBERT W. MERRILL, '08
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