Getting Schooled with the Special Educational Section of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, 15 August 1909

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Many of our local schools are back in session, while the rest will soon be following suit, so this post takes a look at the state of local education as seen by the Los Angeles Times Magazine of 15 August 1909. It was a notable time for education broadly as America’s rise as a global economic power involved a much more literate citizenry than in the 19th century, though there were obvious huge gaps in opportunities afforded to Asian, Black and Latino children as opposed to whites.

Moreover, there was a growing professionalism in what is called pedagogy, or the study of the theories and techniques of teaching, the development of curriculum and teacher education. While it was still very common for many elementary school teachers to comprise young, unmarried women who left when they married and had families, growing numbers of educators, especially at the secondary and collegiate levels, made long careers in the field.

The ubiquitous John Steven McGroarty, author of the Mission Play performed at San Gabriel, and future poet laureate of California, contributed this verse about a little boy and his first day at school.

Those receiving college educations also constituted a growing number of persons, though still relatively rare compared to modern times and it was particularly noteworthy how many more women were earning degrees, even if, in many cases, it was more or less something of the “finishing school” approach in advance of marriage and family.

The staggering growth of Los Angeles in the quarter century before the publication was issued was obviously accompanied by a tremendous development in public and private education. In one of the two main editorial for the section, titled “The Athens of America,” it was asserted that:

That is Los Angeles. This is rapidly becoming one of the leading educational centers of the continent and will be in time the leading one of all in the whole world. That is a strong statement, but it will proven a fact in no long period of years. The same influences hat made Athens the intellectual cradle of the century preceding the Christian era exist here and will bring about the same results. There is a similar climate, warm, sunny, bright, stimulating thought and creating brightness of mind and cheerfulness of spirit.

This emphasis on the impeccable climate of greater Los Angeles was raised over and over again in promotion of the region, with the same claim that the stellar weather meant that healthier people were happier, more productive in their work and, as claimed here, better in their studies. Not only that, but the beauty of the area inspired the artist, as well.

In all educational aspects, the region was averred to be superior and it was claimed that “few young people go away from Los Angeles to obtain educational advantages” and, instead, students flocked here from elsewhere, “even down into Mexico.” Promoting the Angel City as a progressive one (this did not, however, mean politically liberal), the essay concluded that “the schools of the city and those near by never stand still” and the people of the area “are highly cultivated and refined.”

Besides this, “the moral atmosphere is pure” thanks to the prevailing influence of religion as “churches of all shades of doctrine abound” and its ministers, pastors and priests were “of the widest reputation. So, too, “the home atmosphere is pure, and the young people enjoy unsurpassed opportunities for social intercourse, affording enjoyment for the moment, and giving a polish to the manners that make those so brought up, welcome in social circles all the rest of their lives.”

As to those young people, the second editorial, “Our Boys and Girls,” pulled no punches when it came to claiming to know what differentiated Los Angeles and environs from cities in the east: “the ‘foreign element’ does not figure here to an appreciable extent” and “our boys and girls are almost entirely American,” though, again, there were the children of color who were almost certainly not included in this description.

Brothers Walter P. and Charles P. Temple were graduates of the high school department at St. Vincent’s College in the late 19th century.

Returning to the climate, it was noted that “this is an open-air country” and, as such, “the physical bodies of our children are not exasperated by the confinement” found where the weather kept them indoors for long periods. The Times stated that most California adults were from the eastern states and well remembered the cold which meant that “the children became nervous and ‘cranky,'” which was certainly not the case in balmy southern California. Further,

Taking them at any point of view, we believe that our boys and girls are the most amenable school attendants in America. Clear-eyed and clean-limbed, they are destined to become a race of which the nation may well be proud and rom which it will receive great comfort.

Los Angeles children were deemed “far better-behaved than are the youngsters of many another place” with few “hoodlums” so that these “sons and daughters of well-to-do and God-fearing American parents” were “well-behaved from instinct,” which leads to the obvious question of what was nature and what nurture! After claiming that these model youth respected their elders and nice to the helpless and weak, the paper even claimed “the old Spanish sense of chivalry and a heritage of good manners from the same source has an influence here, also.”

Rising to rapture, the essay ended with the paean, redolent of the eugenics movement that was prevalent at the time, that “there will spring up in this favored part of America an almost ideal race, which will be strong in mind and body and great in soul—a race that will more nearly than ever before reflect the design of the All Wise Creator.”

With respect to Los Angeles schools, the first day of school was 13 September, with more than 40,000 students instructed by 1,164 teachers in 85 schools. All but 5,000 of these pupils were in the elementary and middle school range, with 500 of the former in night school and 20% of the high schoolers (there were four secondary schools: Los Angeles, Poly, Gardena and Olive Street [near 4th]) in the same category. By the end of the 1909-1910 year, however, the roll could have climbed to 50,000 students in the district.

Yet, there was a clear concern of overcrowding and the inability for new campuses to be built quickly enough to meet demand. While it was noted that “many families will send their sons and daughters to private institutions” which “will bring about some relief,” public school officials affirmed that no student would be turned away and “should the situation warrant it, some of the pupils will be put on half-day time in order to make room for others.”

Walter P. Temple attended Woodbury College in the late 19th century, the school, now a university, is in Burbank.

For new permanent schools, though “large sums of money will be necessary,” hence the resort to bonds and the accompanying elections for the approval of them. There were plans for example, for a new manual training high school and Manual Arts opened in 1910, while there were additions and enlargements for Gardena and Poly, as well as new elementary school campuses “as their need is made manifest.” The areas of the city most desperate for new schools were in the southwest, southeast and northeast and 43 teachers were needed for the upcoming year.

Finances were discussed, including balances in funds, expenses, values of buildings and material, liabilities, and average cost per pupil ($42.75 on attendance, with the range from $21,59 for elementary age students to $63.99 for those in high school.) It was added that “it is the object of this city to have many moderate-size schools, rather than a few large ones,” which meant having “an unusual number of principals.”

The essay stated that “the current expenses of this department are lower than other cities of its size,” with the Los Angeles amount being $5.38 per capital and $5.87 elsewhere. It also highlighted the importance of student health in the areas of eyesight, hearing, breathing, heart action and teeth and hiring more school doctors and physical education teachers was noted.

The district was to be divided into four zones “with a large playground at the center of each” while reference was made to avoiding crowded classrooms as well as the need to build more trade schools and rethinking the grade levels for elementary schools with respect to the intermediate or junior high schools. Finally, a priority was to have a large auditorium at each grammar school.

The study of music was the subject of another article with the climate again invoked as predisposing locals to the arts and it was claimed “that Southern California, per ratio of its population, develops more great singers, wonder-violinists and geniuses of the piano than any other section of the country.” It was reported that there were about 10,000 music students in Los Angeles with a few schools in the upper echelons of such institutions in America.

One feature was the Blanchard Building, built by music store owner Frederick W. Blanchard, and which was accounted as “a sort of Los Angeles Carnegie Hall” with teachers occupying offices in the three floors of the structure, though there were also the YWCA building and Hamburger’s Majestic Theater that had ample space for music instruction. Instruction in singing was deemed the most popular, followed by that for violin and piano, while the field of composition wsa also highlighted.

Then there was the “fakir,” but it was claimed, “the half-baked, ignorant teacher” was exposed with the formation of the Gamut and Dominant clubs, with the first known for having “waged increasing war on the fakir” and having worked to make the situation such as “to cleanse the musical atmosphere of the town.” In all, the music teaching profession in the Angel City was “wide-awake, progressive, keen to its own shortcomings, even [ever?] after the newest and best in method and production.”

Walter P. Temple sent his youngest sons, Walter, Jr. and Edgar to this Bay Area school in the mid-1920s.

Art education was also featured in an essay that obviously linked the natural environment locally with that of Italy and, in turn, this provided abundant encouragement to artists a their education. It was asserted that Los Angeles “has established, and is still establishing, excellent art schools,” particularly for those who didn’t have the funds to study in Chicago, New York or Paris.”

Landscape painters were in luck as there were excellent teachers, plenty of compatriots in that discipline, and “wonderful vistas awaiting his brush on every hand.” Moreover, it was claimed “Los Angeles has more art exhibitions than any other city of its size in the country, including those featuring works by locals, loans from local private collectors, and works other painters from elsewhere brought in for special displays. It was predicted the Angel City would become an art center and would have “a permanent art gallery of its own, thanks to the noble civic pride and tireless interest of some of our leading citizens.”

As for business education, it was claimed that there were half a dozen or more that “compare favorably with any in the entire country” and the influx of students from other locales was said to be testament to the quality of these institutions. The campuses, some leased in office buildings and others with their own facilities, “are sumptuous, almost palatial, in some instances” and often “thoroughly equipped with all of the latest office furnishings and equipments.”

Los Angeles native and student Hernando G. Villa (1881-1952) drew this rendering of the Los Angeles School of Art and Design. He went to a notable career as an illustrator and artist for the Santa Fe Railroad for some four decades.

Tuition was said to be comparable to schools in other parts of the country, with a half-year course costing $50-60 and a full year ranging from $75-100, with a monthly rate of $10 typical and a book-keeping course would generally take six months, followed by the same period of time for a stenographers’ course, though exceptional students could finish sooner. The top-tier colleges, which, it was said, had student bodies about evenly divided between men and women, usually found employment for graduates “as soon as they secure their diplomas” as demand was high for their services. It was asserted that every grammar or high school graduate would benefit from following with a business college course.

An essay on the University of Southern California noted that “the growth of Los Angeles during the past five years has been marvelous; and the city seems but to have begun a career of magnificent expansion” and, along with that development, the university expanded. USC began almost thirty years before as a Methodist Church school, but, by 1909, only the Liberal Arts college, of eight total, had such a link, though it was added that there was a decide non-sectarian bent even there.

Throop Polytechnic Institute opened in Pasadena in the 1890s and became the California Institute of Technology, where Thomas W. Temple II attended for the fall semester of 1922.

The colleges, with the others being Music, Pharmacy, Oratory, Theology, Law, Dentistry and Fine Arts, were spread throughout the Angel City. The Liberal Arts building, completed in 1905; the engineering programs; the chemistry building; the departments of sociology, economics and education; and the prep school under the auspices of the College of Liberal Arts, were also featured.

Sports was mentioned, along with debate and oratorical contests, and the piece ended with the claim that USC “is steadily coming to the front among national institutions of learning” with its professors such that the university “is making it possible for Southern Californians to find in their own territory all the requisites of a complete higher education.”

An interesting essay concerned “Our College Women” and which focused on the growing prevalence of females in regional colleges and universities. For example, Occidental College had, among its 146 graduates, a slight majority, 74, were women with about two-thirds of them matriculating in just the last two years. Of these, more than twenty went on to post-graduate work, nearly three dozen were teaching (a pair of them at the college level,) while others were missionaries, one a librarian and another a doctor. Concerning the 135 attending the school, a dean reported:

They hold their own in competition with the young men in every department. Their presence is welcomed by the young men and by the college authorities. it must also be said that their influence over students of the opposite sex is decidedly helpful, their refinement goes a long way toward improving the manners and the ideas of everybody else in the institution.

Featured in the text and also in accompanying photos were Anna Pearl Cooper, head of the English department and dean of women, and Marry Carruth Cunningham, chair of the History department.

At the University of Southern California, it was noted, “women take a prominent place in all branches of study and upon the faculty,” with 194 of 432 students being female and 102 of the graduates in he school’s history being women, “many of whom occupy prominent places in the educational world and in the arts and professions.”

Two Los Angeles physicians, who were, unfortunately, not named, were graduates, while Margaret Graham Bostwick was chair of the German department, Beulah Wright headed the Oratory department and taught dramatic art, and Katherine T. Forrester was chair of the Spanish department. Moreover, 18 of 45 members of the Liberal Arts staff were females and the roles of women in law and medicine were cited. A dean observed that “women are most liberally treated . . . there is no distinction or partiality on account of sex, either upon the part of the faculty or among the students.”

At Pomona College in Claremont, it was noted that, while six of fourteen offices among faculty were held by women, with Hannah T. Jenkins, head of the Art and Design school, and 22 of 43 seniors were female and were decided majorities among underclass students in most departments, “women are prominent as benefactors” with eight of eleven endowments coming from females. The article, appearing two years before women were given the right to vote in California elections, concluded with the statement that

The broad western spirit which tends to obliterate caste lines in all walks of life seems to be especially clear in the educational life, where ability is recognized, regardless of personality or sex, and is rewarded according to its merits

Rockwell Hunt of USC contributed an essay on California history with his “Standing True in Time of Period, A Critical Period” and which concerned the Golden State in the Civil War, though why it was included here is a bit unclear.

Finally, there is “Our Mexican Colony,” though no such short pieces about the Asian or African-American “colonies” in the region. In any case, it stated that “the two republics are closely connected, and becoming more so each year,” even though dictator Porfirio Diaz was soon to be deposed during the revolution that engulfed our southern neighbor.

Lauded was the idea that learning Spanish “is a great advantage to Americans of today,” while Mexicans found it equally the case to know English. In particular, the elites of that latter nation were growing in number “and it is quite natural that many of them should prefer Los Angeles to Brussels or Paris as a place in which to educate their children.” Besides, there was “quite a Spanish population here” and the climate was far superior to that of “bleak Western Europe.”

For those Mexicans of wealth “it is generally conceded that Los Angeles schools are excellent” and “there are scores of Mexican families here for the purpose of taking advantage of these educational facilities.” A man may have a business in remote areas or have a hacienda far from good schools ad so sending his children to the Angel City was desired because “the Mexicans are artistic, lovers of music, [and] very desirous of acquiring the gradeful [?] branches of education.” Finally, “they have histrionic talent and love to develop it,” so Los Angeles was, presumably, the place to develop this melodramatic ability!

This publication is certainly interesting and informative concerning the state of education (well, for some and through the lens of those writing for the Times) over 110 years ago and as a contrast to the situation today. With students returning to school at all grade levels this month and next, look for more “Getting Schooled” posts in coming days and weeks.

Leave a Reply