by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It is pretty amazing that, within the fifty years of 1850-1900, greater Los Angeles went from having no public schools or institutions of higher learning to having a well-developed public education system and some excellent colleges and universities. In many ways, this development mirrored transformations in education throughout the United States, which was a rapidly rising economic power in the world during that era.
The first public school in the region opened in 1854 in Los Angeles, followed a little over a decade later by St. Vincent’s College, a private Catholic boys school serving elementary through college age students. By the 1870s, there were many small school districts throughout the region and the first high school opened in Los Angeles in 1873.
In 1880, the University of Southern California opened as a Methodist-affiliated institution, though the association was dropped several decades later. During the famed Boom of the 1880s, Occidental College and Pomona College opened, as did a branch of the state Normal School (which began in San Jose) where the Los Angeles Central Public Library is now.
Amos Throop was a noted abolitionist who was Chicago’s city treasurer when the great fire destroyed much of the metropolis in 1871. Later, he moved to Pasadena and served as its third mayor in the late 1880s, founded, in 1891, Throop University, renamed Throop Polytechnic University two years later.
In its early years, the institution, which included a high school, was devoted largely to vocational education and wide variety of academic subjects. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Throop was transformed by the noted astronomer George Ellery Hale and others into a university specializing in engineering and the sciences with a goal to being on par with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where Francis W. Temple, grandson of William and Nicolasa Workman, attended in the early 1870s.)
In 1913, the school’s name was changed to Throop College of Technology and by the 1920s, a major initiative was made to build an endowment and elevate the college to a higher status, especially in the teaching of and research in physics. In 1920, the name was again changed to California Institute of Technology, Cal Tech for short.
When Walter and Laura Temple’s oldest child, Thomas, completed high school at the preparatory school at Santa Clara College near San Jose in 1922, he was enrolled at Cal Tech with an eye to having him get a scientific education and help his father in the oil industry. Laura’s death at the end of the year, after Thomas finished his rigorous first semester led the young man to change course (!) and return to Santa Clara for his undergraduate work, completed in 1926. He then got a law degree at Harvard University, graduating there in 1929.
Cal Tech, meanwhile, grew dramatically in stature, earning a reputation as one of the top universities in the nation and the world in the sciences and engineering, with another major shift in the institution taking place after World War II. Today, the school remains small in population, with roughly 900 PhD level researchers, the same number of undergraduates and about 1,000 graduate students, with 300 faculty members working with them.
Today’s “Getting Schooled” post features a cabinet card portrait photograph of Professor Edward W. Claypole, an early major figure in the school’s development. A native of Ross, a town near Gloucester in England, and born in 1835, Claypole was educated at the University of London and became a teacher in the Cornwall area in the southwest tip of the country. He married Jane Trotter in 1865 and the couple had a son, who died young, and twin daughters. After his wife’s death, he married her sister Catherine in Montreal in 1879.
In the 1871 English census, Claypole’s profession was “Classical Tutor” in a town near Bristol. The following year, Claypole and his family migrated to the United States, where he took up a position as professor of natural sciences as a geologist at Antioch College (which is a small, independent college today 170 years after its founding) northeast of Dayton, Ohio. In the early 1880s, he worked as a staff paleontologist for the second Pennsylvania geological survey, followed by a return to academia at Buchtel College, now the University of Akron, where the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of the colleges.
After fifteen years, health reasons brought the Claypoles, specifically Mrs. Claypole, to greater Los Angeles, as it did for so many other “health seekers.” In 1898, Claypole secured a position as an instructor of biology and geology at Throop and his status as one of eminent paleontologists and geologists of his time was reflected in important published work on ancient plant and animal fossils, especially fishes and sharks. He was an editor and contributor to the journal American Geologist from its founding in 1888. He was also a fellow of geological societies at London (1879) and Edinburgh (1887) and was a charter member of the American Geological Society, when it formed (!) in 1888.
Even though it was his wife’s health that brought them to California, Claypole died suddenly of a stroke while they and their daughters (one, Agnes Claypole Moody, was a rare female who earned a PhD, taught at Wellesley, Cornell, Mills College and Throop and served on the Berkeley, California city council) were vacationing for the summer at Long Beach in August 1901.
The eminent scientist was 66 years of age and it was particularly noted in one obituary that “he was a genial and successful teacher, much beloved of his pupils” as well as known for his research and published papers. Claypole was a major figure in his fields and was representative of the rapid growth of academic development in greater Los Angeles at the turn of 20th century.