Getting Schooled with a Postcard from Heald’s Southern California Business College, Los Angeles, ca. 1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the major debates about higher education these days is about whether we should put more effort into providing alternatives for those who do not want or need to attend a junior college or four-year university, but may be better suited, for instance, to go to vocational schools. There was a time when this aspect of education was far more emphasized, though the myriad problems with some of the for-profit schools, such as, to give just one example, the recent debacle involving Corinthian Colleges here in California, has brought attention to whether we need to have more public or non-profit institutions.

In any case, not all for-profit vocational or technical schools are like Corinthian and, historically, one of the best known California examples was Heald’s Business College, founded in San Francisco in 1863 by 20-year old Edward Payson Heald. A native of Maine, he began his educational career at a business college in the city of Portland in his home state before launching his own enterprise on the opposite end of the United States.

Los Angeles Herald, 16 May 1884.

His school, said to be the first of its kind in the western part of the country, was also notable for its commitment to educating women for business work, while Heald also established a school for mining (he had positions in a half-dozen such firms, as well as a couple of oil companies) and engineering that distinguished the enterprise from others. He was also an avid farmer and horticulturist and a breeder of purebred cattle and horses, while also a director of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and well-known in the San Francisco art community (Michael H. de Young was a Heald graduate and his art museum in Golden Gate Park is widely known.)

In mid-May 1884, the Los Angeles Herald reported that Heald was in town “with a view of establishing a similar institution in this city” to his San Francisco college and it was added that “the prospect is fair for a successful beginning of the enterprise.” By July, however, what was inaugurated was Woodbury’s Business College, opened by Francis C. Woodbury, who was with Heald for seventeen years, and which is now Woodbury University.  One of the students at this institution was Walter P. Temple, owner of the Homestead from 1917 to 1932.

Herald, 4 July 1884.

It was over two decades before Heald’s made a direct entre into the Angel City (there were branches at Fresno, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Stockton) and it came about in April 1907 when the school merged with the Southern California Business College.  This fifth location was advertised in the Los Angeles Times so that prospective students were to understand that all branches:

consist of one great school, having everything in common.  Their methods, systems and text-books all harmonize with each other.  They are all uniformly standardized, systematized and imbued with the Heald spirit of concentration, business, integrity and moral courage . . . During all these [forty-four] years it has been personally conducted by its founder, who is one of the old masters, and who is now more vigorous and enthusiastic in the work than ever before.

The piece claimed that there were 25,000 graduates since 1863 and that “there is hardly an incorporated company or mercantile or manufacturing concern of any magnitude on the Pacific Coast which is not owned or controlled by, or has one or more of Heald’s graduates in its employ.”  Declaring that “it has laid the foundation for a still greater, grander and more glorious future, the ad went on to insist that “its future greatness is about to be realized, and in future years will be indelibly stamped upon the memories of the united population of our country, and will be the pride of every resident of the Pacific Coast.”

Los Angeles Times, 9 April 1907.

A September “puff piece” in the Herald referred to Heald’s Southern California Business College as a “model institution,” that “educates in all branches of business, inspires confidence, builds character and insures success in business life.”  With an expenditure of $12,000 for new equipment, and a total ten times that for the chain, the college averred that “it is notable for its high-grade instruction, strict school room supervision and its ability in securing good positions for its graduates.”  Among the equipment utilized were adding machines, billing machines, carbon copy and letter presses, mimeographs, multigraphs and typewriters and “its new typewriting department, 46×100 feet, is one of the largest and finest in the world.”

Located on Grand Avenue near Sixth Street, the institution taught bookkeeping, business, engineering, mathematics, modern languages, stenography, telegraphy and typewriting and it was noted in ads that students could apply tuition fees to any of the Heald campuses.  Within little more than a year, branches were opened at Long Beach and Ocean Park (Santa Monica) and summer programs were also in the offing.

Los Angeles Express, 1 May 1909.

The knack for publicity employed by the institution extended to such examples as a May 1909 typewriter demonstration sponsored by well-known manufacturer Underwood.  Miss Rose L. Fritz was deemed the “champion typewriter operator of the world” and hammered out 214 words “from new matter” in two minutes with just one error made, while she also, from a dictation of new matter, punched out 122 words per minute while wearing a blindfold.  With practical copy and eyes not hindered she established “the splendid record of 193 words per minute.”  It was concluded that while Fritz learned to type on another make and had tried all others on the market, she would only use an Underwood.

After two or so years of management under J. W. Lackey, Isaac N. Innskeep (who should’ve ran a hotel with that surname) took over and pushed the institution to greater heights with advertisements that ratcheted up the rhetoric with such invocations as one notice from August 1909 “don’t blame poor luck or opportunity” for a lack of advancement in work, “blame yourself.” 

Express, 14 August 1909.

It was asserted that jobs were plentiful “but you were not prepared,” so the only answer was to attend Heald’s Business College and training that was “the opening wedge to business success.”  The ad implored prospective students that “business men do not care a whit about what you know;” rather, “it’s what you can DO that determines the size of your pay envelope.

Unlike with promotion under Lackey, Inskeep had his visage on advertising and the Times of 20 September 1909 featured him in its cartoon “Men of Affairs in Los Angeles” series , showing the manager stirring the college building with a pen, while holding a “Ledger Demain” (legerdemain means the skillful use of one’s hands when performing tricks) in the crook of his right arm as students entered the building looking like country yokels and emerging as freshly minted and nattily attired graduates “meaning business.”

Times, 20 September 1909.

After the Grand Avenue building was sold in late 1909 and it was made known that the investment firm that purchased it planned to build a larger commercial structure on the site, with a basement fire delaying plans, Heald’s moved to the top floor of the Hamburger Building, known as the May Company Building for the department store that took over Hamburger’s long-existing store, at the northeast corner of Hill and 8th streets.

By February 1910, as the move was imminent, the institution noted, in the Herald of the 20th, that it had a dozen locations in California and neighboring states, while Inskeep was hailed for two decades of educational endeavor in the Angel City.  Promoting its “highest efficiency in business training” providing “more graduates of the kind who really make their mark in the business world,” the college proclaimed

To the young man or woman who has been barred all the advantages of a good common school education the primary instruction in a “Herald” school soon overcomes all that, and by close application to the studies in the course of business training you select you can graduate from the school with a satisfied feeling that you have had the best course of instruction it is possible for any school to offer.

A week later, in the same paper, the institution claimed that its relocation was designed “to keep in touch with the progressive spirit and rapid growth of our city” with the new quarters possessing “many innovations not found in business college construction anywhere.”  For example, windows on the roof admitted plenty of natural light so that “these college rooms [were] the best lighted and ventilated business college quarters in the country.”

Herald, 6 March 1910.

The equipment and furniture were adjudged to be “elaborate” and included solid oak rolltop desks and chairs with fixtures found in accounting firms, banks, commission houses, and wholesale businesses; new typewriters with the latest desks; dictation phonographs; tabulators; adding and billing machines; mimeographs and much else.  The Angel City branch was promoted as “the finest equipped and best arranged business college on the Pacific coast” while Inskeep and the faculty “makes this one of the strongest institutions of its kind to be found anywhere.”

A public opening and reception was held on 7 March and another new element to Heald’s was the introduction of a school baseball team which played in a local business or commercial league.  One late October contest, however, found the club hammered by the “Clunes,” these being employees of William H. Clune and his movie theater enterprise, 10-2, with Clune’s pitcher allowing but one hit, though he walked nine, which accounted for the two runs.

Herald, 24 October 1910.

About a year after occupying its quarters in the Hamburger Building, Heald’s merged again, this time with the Los Angeles Business College, but it was under the latter name that the institution was known after March 1911.  The highlighted object from the Museum’s holdings for this post is a postcard that uses the name “Heald’s Southern California Business College” and features a real photo of a young woman in what looks to be a Gibson Girl hairdo, seated at an oval polished wood table, with a lamp on it and holding a pen in her hand to her mouth.

The caption states that the student was writing to her folks back home “how well she is progressing in her studies, and that she finds everything about the school as represented in the catalog.” Adding that Heald’s was “the best-equipped school [not just for a business college] in Southern California,” the text noted that there were 35,000 graduates from the chain and that all “had opinions when they enrolled.”

Times, 24 March 1911.

It would, of course, have been great if the message had been about the school and it is not known if Ada Jessup who penned the missive was a Heald’s student, though the postmark is from Whittier. Ada resided in the Quaker City in the 1910 census and the 30-year old, who was then single and a Quaker, worked in the post office for at least five years prior.

She did write her older brother Loren, residing in Denair, a town northeast of Turlock and southeast of Modesto in the San Joaquin Valley, if the siblings were going to purchase a car together. She added, “Dear me! Don’t I wish we had a ‘Stanley Steamer’ one to use while Leona is here?,” while observing “what a good glad time we would have.” She concluded that he “could auto here to see me without any trouble.”

So, whether Jessup was a Heald’s student or graduate or not, the card is an interesting one concerning the presence of one of California’s longest lasting business colleges, if not the one in Los Angeles. Heald’s did survive for just over 150 years, but it was bought out by the Corinthian Colleges mentioned at the beginning of this post and, once the latter collapsed in 2015 amid fraud investigations, so did the longstanding institution.

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