Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1991 Volume 29 Number 2, Pages 65–76

Our Public Schools During the First Half of the Twentieth Century

Bob Goshorn

Page 65

At the end of the nineteenth century there were nine public elementary schools and one high school in Tredyffrin, and three elementary schools and a high school in Easttown.

The elementary schools in Tredyffrin were the Paoli, North Berwyn, Strafford, and Mt. Pleasant schools along the "ridge" of the South Valley Hill; the Presbyterian, Howellville, and Fairview schools along Swedesford Road in the valley; and the Salem and Walker's schools in the northern part of the valley along Yellow Springs Road, with the high school located in the Strafford School building. In Easttown the elementary schools were the Ogden School, the Leopard School, and the Berwyn School, with the high school on the second floor of the Berwyn School building. Although the graded school program had been adopted in both districts, several of the schools were still one-room, one-teacher schools.

With the continuing growth in the population along the upper Main Line, however, additional facilities were soon needed to accommodate the growing numbers of pupils.

Even though it was less than ten years old by the beginning of the new century, the Paoli School on Chestnut Road had already become outgrown. Accordingly, in early 1901, a tract of land for a new school, on Darby Road, was purchased "with a view," it was recorded in the Minutes of the Tredyffrin School Board, "to erecting a new school thereon, the present building being inadequate and the site unfavorable".

Page 66

In June the Board approved plans to replace it with a two-story building, and the president was authorized "to advise the architect to prepare plans and specifications in order that the same may be submitted to bidders at an early date".

After some modifications in the specifications (as the construction bids under the original specifications "seemed excessive"), a contract was entered into with William H. Russell to construct the building at a cost of $7450. It was to be located, however, not on Darby Road but on the eastside of South Valley Road, just below Lancaster Avenue. (It was noted in the Minutes of the Board that two kinds of stone had been submitted for consideration by the Board for the construction of the school, and that it was the judgment of the Board that if a sufficient quantity of the stone "from the vicinity of Paoli" could be obtained it should be used, rather than going down to Howellville for the stone.)

In the meantime, while the new school was being built, in October the "senior department" of the Paoli School was moved to Foulkes' Hall because of the overcrowding.

The new school was opened in 1902, and at that time the high school was also moved from Strafford to the new Paoli School building.

Similarly, before the end of the first decade additional space was also needed at the Berwyn School in Easttown. As a temporary measure a two-room frame building, known as Building #2, was erected next to the Berwyn School building on the south side of Lancaster Avenue between Bridge and Central avenues.

This was replaced in 1912 by a new primary school building across Central Avenue, between Central and Walnut avenues on the south side of Lancaster Avenue. Plans for the building were submitted by two well-known local architects, Thomas Mellon Rogers and R. Brognard Okie, for which each of them received $25. In May of that year a contract for the construction of a two-story, six-room brick building was awarded to W. J. Elliott, of Coatesville. When the new building was opened in the fall it was used as the primary school, with the older 1888 structure becoming the grammar school. (After the new school opened, in May of the following year the temporary building, or Building #2, was used by the Berwyn Library and as a reading room. It later became the home of the local branch of the American Red Cross.)

An interesting addition was made to the curriculum in Tredyffrin in 1904 with the adoption of a "Course in Moral Instruction" for the pupils in the Tredyffrin schools. In introducing the course, adapted from a program that had been "in successful operation for years" in the public schools in Anderson, Indiana, the School Directors noted that it was their desire "not only to give these children the most thorough common school education but also to cultivate in them, at the same time, the moral values -- truthfulness, obedience, respect for law, patriotism, and the like, and in this way to cooperate with parents and guardians."

Page 67

"The moral instruction of children," they also pointed out, in an excerpt from the manual for the Anderson schools, "is the highest duty imposed upon teachers. Many children receive little moral training at home; they attend neither church or Sunday school; therefore if they [are to] receive moral instruction at all it must be in the public schools." (In his report to the County Superintendent the following year, R. S. MacNamee, the Supervising Principal, noted that the teaching of morals had been pursued "with gratifying results". "While the growth of character is a gradual one and 'quick returns' in this work cannot fairly be expected," he observed, "yet there are many unmistakable evidences of good results thus far obtained, and there is every reason to believe that from now on, this will be a definite, important and valuable part of the school work of this township.")

(All this was 85 years -- or three generations -- ago, when our staid parents or grandparents were in school!)

A landmark innovation in the organization of our schools took place in 1907. As recorded in the Minutes of the May 23 meeting of the Tredyffrin School Board, "A joint meeting of the School Boards representing the townships of Tredyffrin and Easttown was held in the Easttown High School building on Bridge Avenue to consider the advisability of uniting the two townships in high school work." Their consideration of the various factors involved convinced them of "the wisdom and economy of consolidating", and at a meeting the following month it was agreed that a letter be sent to those property owners of both townships "who are the most interested taxpayers, requesting their presence at a town meeting at which time they will be informed of the proposed union of the two townships, the probable costs, the location of the buildings, and the advantages [to be] attained".

At that meeting a resolution favoring the plan was adopted by those present, and with this "approval of the people" the project proceeded. It was the first joint high school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a forerunner of the later state-wide movement for the consolidation of schools, and it has been suggested that the legislation providing for such a jointure was, at least in part, drafted by R. S. MacNamee. (It was not, however, the first instance of "joint" activity by the two school districts: as early as in 1868 the teachers of the Easttown and Tredyffrin districts, it was recorded in the Minutes of the Tredyffrin Board, met at the Howellville School and formed the "Tredyffrin & Easttown Teachers Institute".)

The architect for the project was D. Knickerbocker Boyd, who designed a classic two-story brick building "along the lines of Carpenters Hall", with four classrooms and a laboratory on the first floor and an auditorium on the second floor. A three-and-a-quarter acre tract of land, a part of the John Beadle property at the southwest corner of Conestoga Road and [then] Cassatt Road, was purchased as the site of the school. The contract for its construction was awarded to William H. Burns of Berwyn.

Page 68

Although the new building was not yet completed, the jointure became effective in the fall of 1908, with the classes held at the Easttown High School until the new school was ready in December. The school was formally dedicated on February 5, 1909, with some 300 persons present despite a driving snow storm that day. The principal speaker at the dedication ceremonies was Joseph Swain, the president of Swarthmore College.

The school opened with four teachers and 78 students, 19 of them seniors. The five non-resident students (or "foreigners", as they were described) were charged a tuition fee of $4.00 each. The first principal was Hayes C. Taylor, but in September 1910 he was succeeded by David H., Robbins, and in 1914 S. Paul Teamer, a member of the first class to graduate from the joint high school, became its principal, a position he held until his death in 1940.

From the beginning, it was felt that the course of study in the school should be given "a practical character and that the school should be made, as nearly as possible, to serve the future needs of all who attend it, and not [just] especially the needs of those who intend to enter college". Thus the curriculum included a program which aimed at "preparation for life and gives a training to students along several possible lines of work they may take up on leaving school" and an agricultural course "to be helpful to those who intend to pursue a scientific study of this subject, or drop out of school at the end of high school to take up farming as a vocation". The Directors also proposed "to establish at an early date Departments of Manual Training and Domestic Science, and thus enlarge and strengthen the 'Vocational' character of the school work".

It was also provided that "continued neglect of school studies and school duties; marking, cutting or defacing chairs, desks, walls, books, or other property; insolence to teachers; willful tardiness; use of tobacco on the school property; profane or improper language; fighting; and wrestling in the school building" were prohibited. For violation of these rules a student was subject to a week's suspension, while "continued violators" rendered themselves subject to expulsion.

At the end of the first year Professor MacNamee, in his annual report to the County Superintendent, observed, "Despite the misgivings of many, the school machinery of the two townships was merged, the students brought together in the High School with very pleasing and satisfactory results. Good will has steadily prevailed, and real friendly feeling constantly grown until, by the end of the term, the most cordial relations existed and the results were so satisfactory that few, if any, today would return to the old plan of separate schools. The experiences in the 'joint' high school work of the last year simply confirm the belief entertained in advance of our taking this step -- that the plan, with us at least, is practical [and] that it will give to both townships better high school advantages than either could afford alone." (Despite the broader scope of the high school program and the emphasis on a "practical character", it was also noted, "The graduating class numbered eighteen, one-third, possibly one-half of which will enter college next term.")

Page 69

With the formation of the joint high school, in addition to his duties as the Supervising Principal of the Tredyffrin schools, MacNamee also became the supervising principal of the high school and of the Easttown schools. In his report to the County Superintendent he also noted, "The abandoning of both the Easttown and Tredyffrin Township High Schools and establishing in their stead a joint high school for the use of both townships, suggested the advisability of uniting the school work on down the grades, looking eventually to the use in both townships of identical courses of study and uniform textbooks. A very satisfactory start was made in this direction during the past year, identical textbooks being used and uniform requirements being established in nearly all the important branches of study." By 1913 the rules and regulations, courses of study in each grade, memory work, and guidelines for instruction in literature, nature study, music, morals, drawing, and industrial work were the same in both districts.

The annual reports of the Supervising Principal to the County Superintendent similarly provide information on other developments in the programs in the schools during the second decade of the century. Here are a few examples of innovations or happenings that were considered noteworthy.

In 1910, for example, it was reported, "Nearly three thousand packages of veqetable and flower seeds were distributed [to the pupils]; parts of two school grounds (Ogden and North Berwyn) were made into thrifty, well kept gardens; and through the generosity of a member of the Easttown School Board, the use of half an acre of ground in Berwyn was granted for school gardens. This was laid out in over two hundred plots, five by eight feet, and rented to pupils ... for [an] annual rental of five cents each. With the proceeds, fertilizer and garden tools were purchased. Each [elementary] school has been made a center for carrying on this work." During the next few years an annual exhibit of the flowers and vegetables produced was held in the fall.

Three years later "an important advance" was the introduction of a warm article of food at lunchtime in the Salem and Presbyterian schools, "two of the outlying schools" in Tredyffrin. At Salem, it was reported, "a warm lunch was prepared and served by the pupils themselves, a distinction of which they feel justly proud". (The pupils, it was noted in the County Superintendent's report in 1915, not only prepared the lunches, but also "during the fall of the year ... can the vegetables to form a basis for the winter lunches".) The cost of the lunch was one cent, but "all the pupils were always regularly served regardless of whether they were able to pay their penny or not". (It was also noted that the program, which was soon extended to the other schools as well, was aimed "not only to conserve the pupils' physical welfare, but to bring to the school a refining, civilizing social influence, much needed but rarely found, in our schools".)

Page 70

In 1913 the total budget for the Tredyffrin School District was about $35,000

Page 71

Over the next few years either a piano or victrola was bought for several of the schools, paid for in part, in some cases, by the school's Home and School Association or from the proceeds from concerts offered by the school's music department. (When the School Board purchased a victrola for the high school, in his 1914 report the school's principal pointed out that the object of the purchase was "not to entertain, but to educate, to teach our young people to appreciate the best music and speaking".)

In 1917 and 1918, during the First World War, the war obviously had an impact on the various schools, including the dropping of second-year German from the high school curriculum. (Ironically, the class motto of the first class that graduated from the joint high school in 1909 was "Deraufang aber nich das ende" -- the beginning, but not the end.) In the Supervising Principal's report in 1918 he noted that more than 300 elementary school pupils had participated in the thrift stamp program, and that in the high school "every girl offered to give two periods a week to the Red Cross and a great amount of work was done". Nor was it unusual to see both girls and boys knitting squares for afghans as they went down the halls from one class to another.

It was also reported that the Berwyn School was closed for five weeks in early 1918 because of a shortage of fuel, and in both the 1917 and 1918 reports it was observed that epidemics, "chiefly of measles and mumps", had "interfered greatly with the attendance". In 1917 it had also been necessary to close the Salem School entirely near the end of the term on account of scarlet fever, and in 1918 the high school was closed for several weeks during the influenza epidemic.

When the principal of the high school, S. Paul Teamer, left for military training at Fort Niagara, New York in May 1917, Mary E. Wingard, the English teacher, was appointed acting-Principal during his absence. (She also substituted for him as the football coach that fall, and the team had a successful season, including a 6-0 win over West Chester!)

Shortly after the First World War a state-wide program of school consolidation was undertaken to eliminate the one-room and one-teacher schools. As early as 1915 the County Superintendent had advocated school consolidation to "guarantee to the country child the same educational advantage as one afforded the city child, without taking him out of his home and to the city". (Today our concern is how to bring the city schools up to the standards of the schools outside the cities!) Among thirteen advantages "claimed" for school consolidation in his report that year it was pointed out that the "health of the children is better when conveyed [to a consolidated school] in wagons and landed warm and dry, than when sitting all day with wet feet and draggled clothing after tramping through all kinds of roads, in all kinds of weather" -- though it was also noted that the "only humane way" was "to transport them in wagons that are covered, and, when necessary, warmed, or in automobiles. From the teachers' standpoint, it was also observed that in consolidated schools teachers "feel and exhibit the effect of contact with other teachers, a condition in marked contrast with that of one working alone, month after month, with no companionship but that of children".

Page 72

New Schools in Paoli and Strafford opened in 1927

Page 73

The Easttown schools were consolidated first. In 1920 the Leopard School was closed, and its pupils transferred to the primary and grammar schools on the Lancaster Pike in Berwyn. Two years later, the Ogden School, the last one-teacher school in the district, was similarly closed. (Actually, an attempt had been made in 1903 to close the Ogden School, when the total enrollment in the school was only 15 pupils, and have the pupils transported to the Berwyn School by horse and wagon. After a protest by the families concerned and the transfer of some Tredyffrin pupils to the school, however, it was opened again the following January.)

Partial consolidation in Tredyffrin came five years later. The need for new facilities in Tredyffrin became quite obvious in the mid-1920s when two of its schools became no longer usable: the Walker's School was closed in 1923 after a cyclone took its roof off, blowing the school bell and bell tower into an adjacent field; and later that same year the Howellville School was destroyed by fire. As a result, the seven remaining elementary schools were seriously overcrowded, with more than 40 pupils in seven classrooms. In a special report, made by the State Department of Public Instruction in Harrisburg at the request of the School Board, it was noted that "by reason of their construction" none of the existing buildings could be profitably remodelled, that two of the schools in the district were still one-room school houses, and that the school buildings in Strafford and Paoli, both "rapidly developing communities with many new houses under construction", were not "readily expansible". Under the circumstances, the School Board accepted the recommendation of the report to build new, larger schools at both Strafford and Paoli.

The architect for the two projects was Ritter & Shay, of Philadelphia, with the F. K. Gorley Construction Company the general contractor. The new Paoli School was located on the north side of the railroad, on a 6+- acre tract of the old Biddle estate, purchased from the Dalton Brothers Company, and the new Strafford School was located on an 8-acre parcel of land bought from J. Howard Mecke, adjacent to the old Strafford School building.

When the new schools opened in the fall of 1927 the two remaining one-room schools, the Fairview School and the Presbyterian School, were closed and their pupils transported by bus to the new Strafford and Paoli schools, respectively, with the pupils of the old Strafford and Paoli, of course, similarly transferred to the new buildings. (The old Paoli School was used for several years for a kindergarten, and the old Strafford School was refurbished for possible re-opening later on. It was, in fact, temporarily re-opened from time to time in the latter half of the century, after the Second World War.)

Early in 1930 an ad hoc committee of the Easttown Board reported that new facilities were also needed for its consolidated school, noting that the primary school building on the highway was "inadequate in size, unsuitable in location and construction, and inconsistent with the needs of the township and requirements of the Department of Public Education in the State". (The 1888 grammar school building had previously been closed in 1926.)

Page 74

Accordingly, in February the Board named Davis & Dunlop, of Philadelphia, as architects to prepare plans and specifications for a new elementary school, to be located on the William M. Coates property on the south side of First Avenue east of Bridge Avenue in Berwyn. A bond issue to finance its construction was approved by the electorate that fall by a three to one margin, and construction work was begun in the summer of 1931. The building was completed for the opening of classes in the fall of 1932.

Before the opening of school that fall, however, the Board decided to close the 40-year old North Berwyn School and transfer its pupils to the new school rather than to close the primary school building on the highway. At the same time, the Lincoln Highway School was refurbished and, along with the Mt. Pleasant School, staffed with a negro principal and negro teachers for the instruction of the negro elementary school pupils in the two townships. (Although the idea of segregated schools was new to our area, in other parts of the county there were more than 20 such schools in fourteen different school districts.) "The colored children," it was reported in the West Chester Daily Local News on March 11, "will have the advantage of being taught by colored teachers that have training of the same standards as the white teachers." It was also pointed out that the plan would provide employment for eight negro teachers who otherwise would not be on the staff. The problem was that the Afro-American parents totally rejected the concept, contending that the older schools, even though refurbished, were not up to the standards of the new one. More than 200 black children were kept out of school and taught in makeshift classes set up in the parent's homes, at the Mt. Zion Church in Devon, and at other locations. After two years of bitter litigation, the proposal for separate schools was dropped.

In the meantime, the joint high school was also beginning to feel the impact of larger enrollments. In 1927 two portable classrooms had been put up for use by the Commercial Department, and in the following year a new wing, containing six additional classrooms, a combination auditorium and two gymnasiums, and locker space, was added to the high school building. Additional space and facilities for the athletic programs were also provided.

With the enlargement of the high school the curriculum was also changed, with both the manual arts and mechanical drawing classes and the domestic science program expanded to a four-year Practical Arts course to meet more fully the needs of the students. Ten years later the shop and domestic science facilities and art and mechanical drawing classes were moved to the old North Berwyn School building, which had been closed and extensively refurbished, using WPA resources for the project.

Nevertheless, by the end of the decade of the 1930s, both the high school and the five Tredyffrin elementary schools -- Strafford, Paoli, Salem, Mt. Pleasant, and the Lincoln Highway School which was rented from Easttown -- again were overcrowded, a situation, it was reported, "due to the Tredyffrin-Easttown change from a rural community to a suburban community of the metropoilitan area".

Page 75

Overcrowding, however, was not the only effect of this change "to a suburban community of the metropolitan area". In the report it was further noted, "Our graduates [now] are not in competition with other county schools but with Philadelphia and Main Line schools. This requires a modernization of the T-E set-up if we are to give our pupils their full preparation for life."

After consideration of several options the Board decided to change the program from the the traditional 8-4 program (eight grades in the elementary schools and a four-year course in the high school) to a 6-3-3 program with a junior high school, noting that this arrangement was more "in keeping with current educational trends". "This 6-3-3 plan," it was also observed, "relieves the Senior High School congestion, allows for growth... and avoids the need for additional building either [at the] elementary or high school [level]." (The establishment of a junior high school had, in fact, been suggested as early as in 1922 and was also recommended in the survey made by the State Department of Public Instruction for the Tredyffrin schools in early 1927, but no steps were taken to change from the 8-4 plan at either time.)

The change in organization did, of course, involve the construction of facilities for the junior high school, and in 1939 a second wing was added to the high school building to accommodate it. The architects for the project were again Davis & Dunlop. The new wing included six new classrooms, five oversized classrooms, a large gymnasium, and locker room and shower facilities, as well as several smaller accessory rooms.

Although the senior high school and junior high school were in the same building, they were operated as two separate schools, each with its own administration and supervision of its educational program, each with its own distinct organization of principals and faculty.

When the junior high school opened all 7th, 8th, and 9th grade pupils from Tredyffrin were transferred to it, as were the 9th grade students from Easttown, the Easttown 7th and 8th grade pupils continuing to attend the Easttown School until 1946. At the same time, with the opening of the junior high school the Lincoln Highway School was no longer needed by the Tredyffrin Board, and in the following year it also closed the 75-year old Salem School, though not without some protest from people living in that area. (The Mt. Pleasant School continued in use until 1952.)

The "modernization of the T-E set-up" also included "numerous innovations and improvements" in the high school curriculum, particularly for the college-bound students. The Academic course, as it had been known for years, was renamed the College Preparatory course, with the standards for English, foreign languages, mathematics, and science "raised considerably", making it, as it was described in the Eastfrin, the school newspaper, "more difficult to remain in the course". It was also noted in the Eastfrin that "others [than those intending to go on to college] who are capable of keeping up with the class are welcome, provided they are able to do the work".)

Page 76

At the same time, the former Commercial course was divided into a Secretarial course and a General Clerical course, the principal difference being that short hand was included in the curriculum of the former. And finally, while the Vocational Agriculture course was unchanged, the Practical Arts curriculum was revised to provide specialized clases in the fields of homemaking, wood work, metal work, and electricity.

With the problems of adequate facilities in both the elementary schools and the high school alleviated by the adoption of the 6-3-3 plan and the establishment of a junior high school and with the revision of the high school curriculum to offer a wider selection of more intensive courses, the schools were ready to meet the challenges of the Second World War years and the 1940s as the 20th century approached its mid-point.

During the first half of the century our are a had changed materially. The population of Tredyffrin and Easttown townships more than doubled, from4836 in 1900 to 11,614 in 1950, with school enrollments showing similar increases. The suburbanization that had started in the last quarter of the 19th century continued to develop, and by 1950 both Tredyffrin and Easttown were primarily "suburban" in character. Better roads and automotive transportation made it easier to get from one place to another.

Our public schools reflected these changes as they took place.

Early in the century the first joint high school in the state was established to provide a better and more practical secondary education, and at the same time uniform textbooks and requirements were adopted for the elementary schools of the two townships. After the First World War, to provide better elementary school buildings and programs for both pupils and teachers and to eliminate the one-room, one-teacher schools in the two districts, consolidated schools were created, made possible in part by better roads and bus transportation of the pupils. And as the area became more suburban in nature courses of study in both the practical arts and college preparatory work, comparable to those of the "Philadelphia and Main Line schools", were developed.

No longer were our schools "country" schools. The twelve elementary schools and two high schools in the two districts at the start of the century were now but four elementary schools, one junior high school, and a senior high school as the first half of the century ended.

But what changes were yet to come in the post-World War II era and the second half of the century!


Page last updated: 2009-07-29 at 14:31 EST
Copyright © 2006-2009 Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to make copies for personal use only.
All other uses require written permission of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.