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The High School 1880 - 1890

The decade 1880-90 saw the beginning of a high school for Tucson School District 1 and the building of the “Plaza School,” officially known as Safford School.

In February, 1881, Horton was succeeded as principal of the Congress Street School by George C. Hall. Horton, the following year, became Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Territory.

Hall had his wife helping him at the school and two other teachers, a Miss Smith and M. M. Sherman. The enrollment for the year 1881-82 was 280 at the beginning of the term and reached 350 by December, 1882, the following term.

Hall was a progressive educator. He arranged the school in three divisions--a primary department of four grades, a grammar school of four grades and a three-year high school department.

Of the 280 students, two-thirds were boys because the Sisters Convent and Academy for Females was still operating in competition with the public school, cutting the enrollment of the girls.

Two exercise or recreation yards were provided, one for the boys and one for the girls. Inside the classrooms, however, Hall mixed the boys and girls. This caused such anguish among parents, according to early newspaper reports, that 75 per cent of the children were withdrawn from school. The reports do not show when they returned nor how the situation was solved.

Hall also started a grading system.

In the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1881-82, Hall reported that “The outlook for the educational interests of Tucson is indeed bright. A new school building is contemplated and after it shall have been completed a high school will be organized.”

The contemplated school was to be popularly called “The Plaza School,” or “The Brick School,” and was to be located at the east side of Military Plaza, where the present Safford School is now located.

The Territorial Legislature in 1879 had authorized Tucson to issue bonds not to exceed $20,000 to build a school. It was to be constructed of brick, two stories in height and with a shingle roof. For some reason, the bonds were never issued.

In 1883, however, the Twelfth Territorial Legislature authorized the Tucson School District 1 to issue bonds to build a school. They were short-time bonds and were limited to a maximum of $40,000 for the purpose of building a modern brick school of 12 rooms on Military Plaza.

Ida Flood Dodge, a former teacher at Safford School, produced a manuscript on its history entitled Incidents and Thoughts Concerning the Origin and Early History of Safford Junior High, 1943.

In this unpublished manuscript, a property of Tucson School District 1, Mrs. Dodge tells of a third school (the Plaza School was finished in 1884) in existence during the 1880-90 period. It was known as “The Old Adobe School” and later in the 1900’s as “The Little Adobe High School.”

This school, thought to have been built as a non-school building in 1882 or 1883, was located in Buell’s Addition where the Education Center now stands at 1010 E. 10th St. Buell’s Addition in 1885 was organized as a separate school district, District 9.

(History does not record the purchase of the “Old Adobe School” but the land was recorded in the name of School District 1 at a later date. It is interesting to note that before the Old Adobe School was used and while the new school in Military Plaza was being constructed another eastside building was used for classrooms. The Board rented an existing building on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and First Avenue. This building, called “The Old Schoolhouse,” served the district during the period beginning in the fall of 1883 and continuing through the 1884-85 school year. The building, somewhat altered, still stands).

Mrs. Dodge reported that her family moved to Tucson from Bowie in 1890 and that the family rented the Old Adobe School from the School Board. She said it had “good walls, a good roof, plenty of room, and a well that was capable of yielding excellent water.” The inside must have been a single room because Mrs. Dodge describes how her father “put up firmly made and firmly placed screen walls over six feet high to divide the house into rooms.”

As to the rent of the building, Mrs. Dodge wrote: “I recall that father after having paid the rent several times, was told by a member of the Board to whom he had presented the money that he did not know what to do with it now that he had accepted it. Father knew what to do with it, so he ceased to annoy others with his finances and a spirit of gratitude seemed evident. I have an idea that during those years when the building was not wanted as a schoolhouse, our care of the place must have meant something to the Board as well as to us.”

Mrs. Dodge wrote that she was of the opinion that the name of Safford School, in honor of Gov. Safford, was intended for the Plaza School from the beginning. Minutes of the School Board lend authenticity to this theory. On May 26, 1910, the minutes note that the so-called “Plaza School” was given its “proper name” and that henceforth it would be called “Safford School” as it was named for Governor Safford of Arizona.

Anson P. K. Safford was called by a number of historians, “The Father of the Public Schools.” He was born in Hyde Park, Vermont, on February 14, 1830, the son of David and Lydia Peacely-Killen. His education has been described as “meager,” but travel and home study developed him into an educated person. It is probable that his lack of a formal education drove him to “father” the public schools of Arizona.

He spent his early years working on his father’s farm near Crete, Illinois, and did attend a small district school. In 1850, he journeyed to California to search for gold. At the age of 26, he was elected to the California State Legislature and was re-elected in 1858. He fought hostile Indians in Nevada, and upon his return in 1867 from a two-year period spent in Europe, he received an appointment from President Johnson as Surveyor-General of Nevada. He held that position until his appointment as governor of Arizona Territory.

Safford is reported to have left Tucson shortly after retiring as governor and returned in 1881 to marry Soledad Bonillas, the sister of Ygnacio Bonillas.

Whether he was living in Tucson at the time of the building of the Plaza, or Safford, School is not known.

At the close of two years of residence in Philadelphia and New York, he became interested in Florida land and with others purchased a vast tract. He was instrumental in founding the city of Tarpon Springs.

Safford died in Tarpon Springs on December 15, 1891.

Minutes of the School Board of Tucson District 1 are only in existence back to September 1,1884. Minutes taken before that time have either been lost, or as has been reported, were destroyed in a fire.

At the September 1, 1884, meeting of the School Board, Joseph Sessions was elected (the Board voted on the principal) to replace Hall as principal of the school with classes scheduled to start the next day in the new Safford School. Five teachers were also hired. They were Miss L. A. Royce, Mrs. M. A. White, Mrs. H. B. Lawrence, Miss E. J. Monk and Miss Lizzie Borton, for whom a school in District 1 was later named. Thomas Foster was employed as janitor.

Chairman of the Board was W. F. Smith, and members were Thomas Hughes and C. B. Sessions. At the next meeting, September 8, Smith placed himself on record as protesting the hiring of John Sessions as principal, since Board member C. B. Sessions was the principal’s brother.

A number of historians have reported that parents of school children opposed the Military Plaza location of the school named for Safford because, as Mrs. Dodge wrote, “It was too far for the children to walk.” She said that beyond the new building to the east and south was open desert and that Apache raids on Tucson had come from that same general direction.

“No protection stood between Tucson’s youth and Tucson’s inherited foe,” she wrote.

Apache raids were always a possibility, since Geronimo was not captured until 1886.

Mrs. Dodge reported that the classrooms of the school--she enrolled as a student there in 1891&--were spacious, high ceilinged and had long windows shaded by green shutters.

Classes were mixed, but the playground was divided into areas for boys exclusively and girls exclusively. The boys entered the school through the east door, while the girls came in on the west side.

Construction troubles were soon reported at the Safford School. The exact nature of the construction fault was not reported in the School Board minutes, but at the September 8 Board meeting, George Barnhardt and E. O. Hale were employed at $100 each to examine the new school and “ascertain in what particulars W. J. Doherty, contractor, had deviated from the plans and specifications.” Also appointed was a committee to order from C. T. Etchells four log chains for bracing the tower of the new school. These and “irons” were placed on the tower before the next meeting of the Board on September 20.

On October 3, a “question as to the safety of occupying the new school house building for school purposes” came up. Two attorneys, “Hoover and Satterswhite,” were appointed to represent the school district in a legal dispute over the building with contractor Doherty, who had sued to obtain payment for construction.

On February 23, 1885, a judgment was rendered against the District in favor of Doherty in the amount of $14,430.33. Apparently, the Board had not lost faith in the contractor--or he was the only one in town--for in the summer of 1885 the Board minutes record that Doherty was placed under contract to repair the school. The following October 7, the repairs were accepted by the Board.

During 1884, the first teacher of music was hired by District 1. She was Miss Jessie Medberry, employed at $50 a month, but she didn’t last long. Her services were “dispensed with” the following July as were those of the Spanish teacher, C. H. Tully. The Board decreed that music and Spanish were “not considered necessary.”

On November 21, 1884, either some rooms in Safford were not being used due to construction faults or the school was becoming overcrowded. The Congress Street School was not operating, so the School Board transferred Miss Borton and Mrs. White to rooms in the “Goodman Building” to teach classes there.

A new School Board was elected on June 27, 1885 consisting of W. F. Smith, John Gardiner and Charles J. Freeze. They elected Dana Harmon as the new principal of the grammar school while Mrs. White was made principal of the primary department.

Prior to the opening of school that fall, it was reported that the Tucson Water Co. could not produce enough pressure to send water to the second floor of Safford School. Water coolers were purchased.

Harmon, the new principal of Safford, was instructed by the Board on October 7, 1885, to begin teaching high school classes in Algebra, Natural Philosophy, Universal History and Geometry. The principal, incidentally, was being paid $150 per month. Present principal of Safford Junior High and Elementary Schools is William D. Corcoran.

The high school curriculum was expanded in the fall of 1886 with option courses offered in English Literature, Universal History, Latin, Bookkeeping, Commercial Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Natural Philosophy. Pupils were required to take three of these studies in the minimum and no more than their teachers thought advisable. Harmon and -two male teachers taught the high school classes.

The schools during the summer of 1886 were brought under the control of one principal--Dana Harmon--who, thus, became the first Superintendent of Tucson School District 1.

Two more firsts were established in the fall of 1886--the establishment of a kindergarten class and the hiring of a substitute teacher, Miss Olive E. Monahan. That fall, the Board also permitted students over the age of 18 to be educated if their attendance did not require added expenses such as the hiring of an additional teacher. The “study of the nature of alcoholic drinks and narcotics and their effect on the human system” was taught, since Congress enacted a law requiring such instruction in Territorial schools.

Harmon, while an apparently capable teacher, found himself in hot water with the Board on January 13, 1887. He was brought before the Board by A. W. Stiffel on charges that Harmon had used a leather strap on a pupil, one Gustav Klein. The Board instructed Harmon to stop the use of the strap.

Harmon must have been happy when, a month later, pupil Klein was expelled by the Board for “defiance of the teachers” authority.”

Harmon was soon to be released as principal, or superintendent. On May 30 of that year, he presented a demand to the Board for $300, charging that the amount was due on his salary. His request was turned down and the newly elected School Board in September failed to elect Harmon to his old job, preferring a J. A. Young.

That new Board was elected June 25, 1887 under a new law which prescribed that three members would be elected, one for a three-year term, one for two years and one for one year. The following year, the one-year term would be filled by a member elected for three years with the election of one member to come each of the succeeding years.

The Board elected was composed of Samuel Hughes, three years; H. D. Underwood, two years; and Pierce Ford, one year.

One of the first duties of the new Board was to accept a petition from five families for the annexation of Tucson School District 9 to Tucson School District 1

No. 9 was a small district--composed of Buell’s Addition--which contained “The Old Adobe School.” It was formed in 1885. In the fall of 1887, Miss Jessie M. Ziegler was hired by School District 1 to teach a primary class at the adobe school.

In 1885 there were 15 school districts in the county. It should be remembered that at that time Pima County included what is now Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz was cut from Pima County in 1899. At that time there were 28 school districts in Pima County with the county losing 11 active districts to Santa Cruz. The remaining 17 districts in Pima County were renumbered consecutively.

As of 1899, Tucson District 1 was bounded by Grant Road on the north, the vicinity of Alvernon on the east, Irvington Road on the south and the Tucson Mountains on the west.

In other 1887 activities, the Congress Street School was leased at $40 per month to “parties who are about to start an Indian School.”

There exists, in a private Tucson historical collection, a ledger book with the identifying scroll, Tucson Public School--Discipline Book.

The book was originated by Superintendent Young and was continued by three succeeding superintendents. It contains some interesting entries. Examples, as recorded by Young, include:

Sept. 22, 1887--Goldberg, Aaron. Impolite toward the principal. Would not obey when told to sit erect in his seat. Promised to give no more trouble and be more polite to teacher or principal.

Sept. 26,1887--Fred Berryman. On front steps without permission ( this was at the Safford School) Knew better but did so to be contrary. He is inclined to be insolent.

October 7, 1887--Knapp, Zoe. She told Myra Drachman that Clara Fish and Ann Sanford were speaking disrespectfully of some girls. (Clara Fish Roberts later became the first woman School Board member in District 1. Roberts Elementary School is named after her).

October 12,1887--Carrillo, Francisco--Took screws out which fasten his ink well. Who told you to take the screws out? “Nobody.” Will you do it any more? “No sir.”

Nov. 2, 1887--Zeckendorf, Alex. Made picture on back of Abrm. Goldbaum’s back when at blackboard.

Goldbaum, Abrm. Told A. Z. to make the picture. They both promised good behavior in the future.

Nov. 22, 1887--Levin, Charles Soto, Francisco. Throwing stones at Joe McDonald. If any more trouble they must remain at school after others have gone home.

Young resigned as Superintendent on December 9, 1887 and was replaced by W. W. Gillette at a salary of $125 per month. In a report on the school system for the year 1887-88, Gillette gave the following statistics:

Receipts $15,333.95
Expenditures 11,106.14
Value of buildings and sites 68,200.00
Value of School Library 125.00
Value of apparatus 100.00
Total $68,425.00

General Statistics:
Number of Pupils in High
School Department 21

Number of pupils in
Grammar Department 117

Number of pupils in
Intermediate Department 107

Number of pupils in
Primary Department 283
Total 528

Number of volumes in Library 40
School buildings owned by
district 3
Number of sites separate from
buildings 3
Number of months in school
year 10
Gillette also told of the school population in his report:

“The average number of pupils to the teacher for the past year was 528 to 10. Some of the grades numbering from 50 to 80. The Board has made wise provision for the future. Hereafter the basis of each teacher’s attendance will be 40 pupils; and as the number increases above 40 in like proportion will the corps of teachers be increased.”

Tucson School District 1 at present tries to place a maximum limit of 30 students in each elementary school classroom and 26 to 27 in junior and senior high schools.

Of the high school in session, Gillette wrote:

“The complete high school course which has been organized has done more to raise the standard of the school than any other one feature of improvement. This together with the new laboratory, reading room, and library which have been added, renders it possible and convenient for pupils to acquire an education here as complete as they would receive in any school outside of a college.”

The School Board election on June 30, 1888 elected J. S. Mansfeld to succeed Pierce Ford.

On July 9, the Board set primary teachers’ salary at $65 per month and grammar school teachers’ pay at $75 per month. This was later raised to $70 and $80 when it was pointed out that the janitor was being paid $70 per month.

A decision was made August 31, 1888, to establish a ward school in the Baptist Church because of overcrowding at Safford School. The church offered its facilities for no rent. In the meantime, plans were made to use the Congress Street School again as soon as it could be “vacated by present occupants.” Although the record is not clear, these occupants were probably those connected with the Indian School. On December 21, 1888, the Board decided to open a Ward School “in the southern part of the city,” the Barrio Libre--in the vicinity of S. Main Avenue.

The exact location of this school is not shown in the records but it was an existing building. Board member Sam Hughes told members that he could get the building for $150 per year rent. The owner was J. D. Beckrup. While in operation, this school was known as Ward School #2. Miss Lizzie Borton was transferred from Safford School to the ward school as its teacher. Hughes, with the consent of the other Board members, employed himself to dig tree holes and level the grounds for the sum of $194.50.

Hughes resigned from the Board on June 25, 1889, and Henry Buehman, remembered as a pioneer photographer, was appointed as his replacement. In the Board election that spring, Lon Holladay replaced H. D. Underwood.

The Buell’s addition school, The Old Adobe School, was closed during this period. The Board denied a petition from residents in the area to reopen it for classes, apparently feeling that the reactivated Congress Street School could handle any overflow from Safford. Minutes of the September 13, 1889, School Board meeting mention the purchase of a large flag for the high school building. This probably was for the Safford School.

Superintendent Gillette, the minutes note, sued the School Board that year for two months' pay he thought he should have received in July and August. Records do not show whether he taught those months nor the disposition of the suit.

Gillette, himself, was disposed of the following year, perhaps due to the suit but more probably due to an incident that occurred in October, 1889.

A delegation of Safford School parents appeared before the School Board on complaints that a teacher, William Holladay, brother of Board member Lon Holladay, had disciplined a boy student, throwing him to the ground and injuring his leg.

Testimony before the Board revealed that Gillette condoned such action on the part of the teacher and further testimony showed that a total of five boys had been injured. As a result, teacher Holladay was “severely censored” and told that if another incident occurred, he would be dismissed. Gillette was criticized for condoning the punishment.

The Holladay incident was not noted in the Discipline Book, but Gillette did record some infractions of the rules. Here are two examples.

October 28, 1889--Drachman, Herbert(son of Sam Drachman).
Has been reported by his teacher for failure in work, for impudence and willfully violating rules and refusing to do what his teacher asked him to do.

He asked teacher to go out and was refused whereupon he deliberately walked out and when reprimanded by principal, he stated that his father told him to go out when he wanted to even if teacher did tell him not to go. Said his father had control of him even if he did not control school. For some time past he has been failing in studies and very important in his manner in and out of the school room.

March 7, 1890--Orondor, Seth. Suspended for one week for leaving school contrary to request of Supt.

The text of this chapter notes the School Board memberships of some of the years during the 1880-90 decade. Following is the complete list. Although the Boards were elected, voting tallies are not known

1880-81--Samuel Hughes, R. C. Brown and F. P. Thompson.

1881-82--Samuel Hughes, R. C. Brow and F. P. Thompson.

1882-83--J. N. Mason, William A. Scott Jr. and a Mr. Gregg.

1883-84--J. N. Mason, William A. Scott Jr., and C. B. Sessions.

1884-85--Thomas Hughes, W. F. Smith, C. B. Sessions.

1885-86--John Gardiner, W. F. Smith, Charles J. Freeze.

1886-87--F. H. Goodwin, L. M. Prince and A. V. Grosetta.

1887-88--Samuel Hughes, H. D. Underwood and Pierce Ford.

1888-89--J. S. Mansfeld (sometimes spelled Mansfield in the minutes of the Board), Samuel Hughes and H. D. Underwood.

1889-90--Lon Holladay, J. S. Mansfeld, Samuel Hughes (resigned) and H. Buehman.

First Hundred Years, By James F. Cooper, Edited by John H. Fahr, Tucson, Arizona, 1967