San Antonio’s first public high school got off to a slow start and got support

Do you have any information on San Antonio High School? Where was it located? I found some really cool tracks on it in the diary of a woman (Isabel Wefing) who attended in the late 1910s.

The former student’s collection included memorabilia from San Antonio High School’s early June 1916 exercises in addition to her 1917 graduation year. At that time, the school held two graduation ceremonies per year; Isabel Joséphine Wefing was a member of the last graduating class under this name. Among her memorabilia were a felt armband printed with “SAHS” in the school’s red and white colors, a handwritten list that could be a dance card and a class ticket for 1917.

As detailed in a Fox Tech High School column (May 23, 2010), this was the city’s first public high school, founded in 1879 as a “one-teacher, all-grade school.” known as Central Grammar and High School, according to a history provided by the San Antonio Independent School District.

This institution first operated in Firemen’s Hall, headquarters of the Hook and Ladder and No. 2 Engine companies on C Avenue (later Broadway) just north of Houston Street. The following year, the classes migrated to the Old Vance Barracks, the army’s first barracks in San Antonio, built by merchant Vance and Bros. at the corner of Navarro and Travis streets behind the current site of the Gunter Hotel. In 1881, the high school found a temporary home in the basement of the original Temple Beth-El synagogue on Travis and Jefferson streets.

Renamed High School and Central Grammar, comprising the upper classes of the city’s overcrowded public high schools, the institution shut down in 1883 when a three-story stone building opened at 463-7 Acequia Street (later 637 Main Ave.). Known as the No. 1 school after consolidation, it officially became San Antonio High School in 1908 after the “No. 1 designation” went to a new elementary school that year. The high school was familiarly most often called “high school” or “high school”.

While it seems impossible that the state’s largest city – with a population of 96,614 in 1910 – could be served by a single high school, this makes more sense when you consider that in the 19th century a Secondary education was largely reserved for the elite children, who did not have to contribute their wages to household income or their work to the family business. In the 1900 U.S. Census, only 3% of Americans had graduated from high school, which is comparable to the current 2% of Americans with doctorates.

The ancestors of Central Catholic High School, Ursuline Academy, and the German-English School had all been founded here in the 1850s, but these were private schools that charged tuition fees. A few affluent families have sent their children out of state to boarding schools in Virginia and New England or have them tutored at home.

The first public high school presented a significant opportunity for middle-class families who could not afford these luxury options but could do without the lost wages of their teenagers.

The old Main Avenue High School building is shown in this photo from the early 1970s being demolished to make way for the current Fox Tech School building.

San Antonio Independent School District

A report on the town’s new high school in San Antonio Light on June 4, 1883, notes that a total of 45 students, aged 15 to 20, were enrolled for the upcoming fall term. The study program was to last four years (grades 8-11), “during which the following subjects are taught: languages ​​(Latin, German, English analysis and literature), mathematics (geometry and trigonometry), science (natural philosophy, chemistry) , physiology) and history (ancient and modern). At that time, only four students graduating from the city’s previously itinerant high school, all girls, had pursued higher education at universities or teacher training colleges (for teacher training) .

It took some time for parents and students in the city to adjust to the idea of ​​spending those extra years in school. In 1890, the promotion had only four girls. For years administrators pitched ideas to increase enrollment and retention – six or four years, more electives, or something like a core program? Classic or more practical studies?

Meanwhile, the high school has improved its course offerings, including more hands-on science classes under the supervision of future Witte museum director Ellen Schulz Quillin, Saturday classes in German and Spanish, promotions and classes. summer for an accelerated diploma and a range of extracurricular activities such as choir, orchestra, the Huisache directory and sports competition with private schools in the city.

By the time Wefing graduated in 1917, his class had a record 223 students, all the more impressive as the school held two graduation ceremonies each year, one in February and one in June. Only a year ago, the June 1916 class had been the largest. The growing number points to the reason for building a second high school, originally called “South Side High School” due to its location on Garden Street (later South St. Mary’s) in south-central San Antonio. The original school was also rebuilt, and the more modern three-story building was renamed Main Avenue High School from the 1917-18 school year.

Wefing’s classmates, known as the “Juins”, actually graduated on May 22, 1917, not only as the largest class in San Antonio High School history, but also as the first to started in the auditorium of the brand new George W. Brackenridge. High School, as opposed to the old Majestic Theater (covered here January 19, 2019) or Beethoven Hall, venues for previous high school classes.

Over 2,000 people attended the May 1917 ceremony, which included a sermon, speeches, a school orchestra and choral performances. Students have received college scholarships at Baylor, Southwestern, University of Texas, and University of Virginia. One graduate won the award for the prettiest graduation gown made by herself for under $ 5. Guest speaker FM Bralley, president of the College of Industrial Arts in Denton, spoke about the importance of high schools in teaching the value of democracy.

When school resumed in the fall, Brackenridge and Main Avenue were open, and students were allowed to choose the high school they wished to attend, usually for geographic reasons. The next new high school in town was Jefferson, opened in 1932 in what was then considered the far northwest of San Antonio. That same year, Main Avenue was redeveloped and renamed San Antonio Vocational and Technical School (now Fox Tech).

After graduating from high school, according to city directories, Wefing first worked at AB Frank Co., a large wholesaler of dry goods, and in 1921 was a “US government typist.” She married Myron R. Wood, a pilot stationed first at Kelly Field, then at Randolph. His career eventually took them to Washington, DC; Isabel remained in Arlington, Virginia, while her husband served in England during World War II. Brig. General Wood, then Army Air Force supply chief, died on October 29, 1946, in Washington, DC, of ​​a heart attack. His widow died in 1988 and was buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.

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