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October 31, 2007 > History


Our Pioneer High School

By Phillip Holmes

There was no public high school in the Washington Township before 1890. Students who wanted to continue their formal education beyond the eighth grade had to relocate or ride the train to one of the nearest high schools in San Jose or Oakland.

The California State Legislature adopted a Union High School law in 1890 to provide for high schools in rural areas. Lida Thane led a petition drive to secure a high school in Washington Township. The petition drive was successful and local residents voted Sept. 12, 1891 to form Union High School NO. 2. Livermore had already voted to form district NO. 1, so ours was NO. 2.

The Alameda County Superintendent called together trustees from the 12 local elementary districts, and they voted to locate their high school at Centerville. Trustees selected H. H. Mayhew, L. F. Jarvis and John Robertson to locate and furnish a room for the school. They rented the first story of the Masonic Hall on the present Peralta Blvd. and hired William H. Wentworth to teach 22 students in 18 classes at a salary of $150 per month. School began January 11, 1892. In June of 1892, May Burdick became the first graduate.

Trustees awarded a contract to Anderson & Greig for $6,582 to construct a three-story school on the present Peralta Boulevard. Students and teachers moved into their new building in March of 1893. Martha Brier became the third teacher in May; Daniel Crosby and William Jarvis were the 1893 graduates.

The "Bi-Weekly" began reporting that tennis was so popular the boys had to make a second court, but the real excitement came when the first football team was organized - without helmets or uniforms. Other highlights included a Halloween party, dances at the Town Hall, and debates about woman's suffrage.

Trustees voted that "assistant teachers must be ladies and not gentlemen." Enrollment rose to 63 with seven graduates. The trustees erected a windmill and spent $65 to build a cesspool and $189 for a front fence. They also voted to forbid playing on school grounds on weekends or using the schoolhouse at night without the clerk's permission.

The football team secured regular suits, a coach and assistance from the Centerville Athletic Club next door. With only two substitute players, they defeated Oakland, Berkeley and Lowell High Schools and tied for the state championship. W. D. Patterson came to coach the team in 1906 and almost won the championship of Northern California.

Alvarado joined Union District NO. 2 in 1901 and students planted an araucaria tree beside the memorial rock in memory of recently assassinated President McKinley. The 1902 commencement debate on women's right to vote stated, "If women are granted the right to vote, they will, before many years, be wearing trousers, painting their faces and cutting their hair."

The 1906 earthquake shook plaster off the building and disrupted the routine. Classes were held in the Town Hall while repairs were made.

Washington students have produced some interesting publications starting with the "1900 Blue and Gold" and the 1901 "Orange and Gold" published by the senior classes. The class of 1912 produced a booklet entitled "The Epitaph." The "Hatchet," the school newspaper began publication in 1916 to "bring untruth and deceit to an end." The Quarter Centennial Souvenir of 1916 gave a summary of the first 25 years and a review of the graduates. The "Washingtonian," the senior annual, began in 1923.

Union High School NO. 2 officially became the Washington High School District in 1914. The word "Union" was added in 1921. Curriculum changed through the years to "offer instruction in the newer lines of work as well as the old." The last class in Greek was in 1912, but 60% of students still took Latin in 1916. Other offerings included French, German, solid geometry and plane trigonometry.

School enrollment grew to 120 and seven teachers including Principal George Wright by 1916. Teachers and students worked together to clean up the school building and grounds outside.

Enrollment continued to increase, and trustees called a bond election for a new school. Washington Township citizens passed a $150,000 bond election in Jan. 1923. Trustees purchased 20 acres for a new campus and established the new high school at the present site where bare farmland became "the most beautiful spot on earth" and ushered in a new era with the dedication of a new high school in Aug. 1924.

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