Getting Schooled with the Los Angeles Poly Optimist School Newspaper, 16 November 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The high school newspaper has been a long-standing tradition, though with dramatic technological changes recently, the future of the printed versions, at least, are in question.

Over a century ago, though, the concept was pretty new and the Homestead has several early local examples from Los Angeles Polytechnic High School’s Poly Optimist from 1914-15.  L.A. Poly began less than twenty years before that as the commercial branch of the city’s sole secondary school, Los Angeles High.


The first location, from 1897 to 1905, was on Beaudry Avenue just to the west of Bunker Hill and then moved to the corner of Washington Boulevard and Flower Street, where it remained for half a century.  The name of the school was changed in the mid-1930s to John H. Francis Polytechnic, in honor of its founder and first principal.  In the late 1950s, the campus moved to a new site in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, near San Fernando, where it has remained since.  The Washington Boulevard location then became the home of Los Angeles Trade Tech College.

Among its alumni are long-time Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley; Cosmopolitan  editor Helen Gurley Brown; Los Angeles Lakers guard Gail Goodrich; Carl David Anderson, who won the 1936 Nobel Prize for physics; Bill Davila, who some of us might remember from his TV commercials when he was CEO of Vons markets; and Marcellite Garner, the first voice of Minnie Mouse.


The highlighted issue of the Poly Optimist is from this date, 16 November 1915.  The paper was four pages and contained much of what is expected from a school publication, including items on student academic matters, school activities, sports, editorials, a cartoon, and others.  What is a little surprising, considering what modern school papers have included, is the number of advertisements for local businesses.

Another notable item was about the visit to Los Angeles, as part of a nationwide tour, of the original Liberty Bell.  It left its home in Philadelphia to migrate cross-country for display at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, one of the best-known exhibitions of its time, in San Francisco.  The paper made mention that 70,000 school children, including many Poly students, attended a parade that ended at Exposition Park, a short distance southwest of the school.


A timely piece, given the intense debate now about the estate tax as part of overall tax reform, was one concerning a debate that Poly students were competing in against their fellows from Manual Arts and Santa Monica high schools.  The question at hand was about whether the federal constitution should be amended to allow for a progressive inheritance tax.  Pairs of students were to address the question in the positive and negative against their opponents at the other two schools.  Interestingly, the article concluded by noting that Poly should do as well against Manual Arts as it football team did against its counterpart in a recent match-up!


With respect to sports, the two main features in the issue had to do with the boys’ varsity football team blanking the Lincoln High squad 19-0 in a rain-soaked and, consequently, sloppy contest and with an effort by girls at Poly to set up intramural athletic contests.  As mentioned in a post on this blog last year, official girls’ sports under the auspices of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and, in this region, the Southern Section, were in the early stages.


Perhaps the most interesting element of the Poly Optimist, however, was a front-page article and editorial elsewhere in the publication concerning a proposal for compulsory military education in Los Angeles’ several high schools.  Proposed by a Major A.J. Copp, Jr., the concept was forwarded to the school principals who, in turn, wanted to discuss the matter with teachers.

The editorial featured arguments pro and con for the proposal with Valdemar Bray writing

Just because Europe has gone murder-mad is no reason why we should seek to instill the desire for murder into the hearts of those of our boys and girls who have higher ambitions.  Polytechnic is primarily a vocational and technical school and, as such, her ideals are constructive— not destructive.  This glory of wearing a uniform and the talk of physical development through military training are only a trap set to catch and trick innocent boys to the trenches—for what? . . . The business of the high school is to make men and women and not to destroy them.

Countering this impassioned argument was the editor, Howard Lewin, who stated

War is hell—that we stringently uphold.  Peace is a wonderful condition—that we concede.  But—when it comes to having our food, clothing or shelter taken from us (yes, this is a selfish world), all such ideas retire to the background  . . . we must be able to protect ourselves when any grave situation arises.  The boys of today are the men of tomorrow . . . it is therefore necessary to teach those who will guide the destinies of our country in the future, while they have time, and not interfere with the more noble pursuits of later life.

Both positions were well put and are interesting to ponder, given the generations that followed and had to consider the same basic question for World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and our current conflicts in the Middle East.


It is always interesting to get insights into the lives of people generally, much less the young people who were making their way into adulthood, from decades past and then compare their views and experiences to those from our own time.

By the way, note the gent is lighting up a cigarette in an ad appearing in a high school newspaper!

Obviously, the argument about military education seemed like an academic one in late 1915, although talk about America’s involvement in World War I was beginning to become more prevalent and the country was about a year-and-a-half from entering the conflict.  As the Homestead commemorates the centennial of the nation’s involvement in the “war to end all wars,” perspectives like the ones found in the Poly Optimist are particularly interesting.

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