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The number of graduates, by class year, is shown during the initial two decades at the second York High School; i.e. when it was located along West Philadelphia Street in York, PA. (Chart per S.H. Smith research during 2019)

Number of Graduates in early history of York High

At the York County History Storytellers event this past week, a gentleman in the audience commented on an article displayed on the screen, which noted “this year’s graduating class is a large one;” referring to the York High Class of 1898. He asked how a class of only 22 graduates, is considered large? Samantha Dorm replied it was large relative to other graduating classes in that era.

For a History of York High talk, which I researched and presented in 2019, one of my slides showed the number of graduates, by class year, during the initial two decades at the second York High School; i.e. when it was located along West Philadelphia Street in York, PA.

From the 2019 presentation:

Since 1834, free public education was provided for the children living in York Borough, although only through the eighth grade, however in 1870 that changed. A Committee on the establishment of a High School for the Borough of York carefully reviewed the course of study adopted by many of the best High Schools in the State and on August 8th, 1870, their report of recommendations was published in the York Gazette.

Even though taxes would be increased nominally to pay for the public High School, with surprising speed, residents approved of the plan; such that the first classes in York High School began in the Fall of 1870.

First York High Building

Although free, potential students had to pass a test, upon completion of the eighth grade, for admission to the High School. There were 65 students in all grades at the high school during the 1870-1871 first school year of operation, with several students testing high enough to enter; as the Junior Class. The faculty during the first year included three male and one female teacher: William Shelley, Peter Bentz, George R. Prowell, and Mary Kell.

The first York High building, from 1870 to 1872, was housed in an existing school building in York Borough. That building still stands at 220 South Duke Street, and remained a York City School District property until 2018; when it was sold to Imperial Family Holdings LLC.

The Class of 1872 was the first graduating class from York High School; containing one male and one female: Edward Stair went into banking and Flora Hays became a teacher in York schools. That Class of 1872 was the only class to graduate from the high school on Duke Street.

Second York High Building

High school enrollment had escalated, which led to construction of the second York High building; first occupied during the 1872-1873 school year. That building stood three stories high along East Philadelphia Street, across from the Quaker Meeting House. The following eastward aerial view, from 1933, shows the second location of York High School. At that time, the building was know as “Old York High”.

Eastward aerial view in 1933 shows the second location of York High School along West Philadelphia Street in York, PA. At that time, the building was know as “Old York High,” and was destroyed by fire in 1942. (York County History Center)

Even though enrollment at the second high school building regularly topped 100, the number of graduates only averaged 12 per year, over two decades. The number of female graduates regularly far exceeded the number of male graduates. Where the young women smarter than the men? The greatest ratio occurred in the tenth graduating class at the new high school; the Class of 1882 contained 7 females and one-male graduate. Ten years later, the Class of 1892 contained 8 females and 4 males.

Lets look closer at a typical graduating class from that era, the Class of 1886; which contained 10 female and 5 male graduates. Which is the average ratio through the end of the 18th Century; about two female graduates for every male graduate from York High. One of the young women, within the Class of 1886, was the first black to graduate from York High School. Ella Robinson became a teacher; her career spanning 48 years of teaching within York City schools. My post about Ella Robinson and other early black graduates is at this link.

High school enrollment continued to escalate, which led to plans for construction of the third York High School building. The Philadelphia Street building was last used, as York High School, during the 1898-1899 school year. Thereafter that former high school building took the name “Old York High” until it was destroyed by fire in 1942.

Third York High Building

The third York High School building was built upon Potter’s Field, at the corner of Beaver Street and College Avenue. It was first occupied during the 1899-1900 school year, with a student enrollment of 405 pupils. The name chiseled in stone over the main entrance was simply York High School.

York High School was carved in stone above main entrance facing Penn Common from 1899 until 1926; on the third York High building; located on northeast corner of West College Avenue and South Beaver Street in York, PA (York County History Center)

Two years bookend “York High School.” The year 1870 represents the year York High was established. The year 1897 represents the year ground was broken to build the third York High School building.

After three decades of graduating classes, the York High Class of 1902 contained 19 male and 25 female graduates; 44 total. Ten years later, the graduating class size topped 100, and from then on, about evenly split between male and female graduates.

By the mid-1920s student enrollment soared, with graduating classes surpassing 250. The third York High building was no longer large enough to house the entire student body. By 1924, Asbestos Temporary Two-Room Schoolhouses began being set-up next to the main building to house increasing enrollment. One of those temporary schoolhouses is shown as the gray building in the lower left side of the following postcard.

Postcard of third York High School Building at northeast corner of West College Avenue and South Beaver Street in York, PA. The gray building at lower left is one of several Asbestos Temporary Two-Room Schoolhouses set-up to house increasing enrollment by 1924. (York County History Center)

Fourth High School Building in York

Due to the overcrowding at the third York High building, the School Board initialed discussions for the construction of the fourth high school building in York, which would be located west of the third York High School building along College Avenue. The reason why the name of the school was changed from York High to William Penn is told in my post at this link.

Toward the end of 1926, York’s fourth high school building, the new William Penn Senior High School was nearing completion. At a School Board meeting on December 9th, 1926, T. W. Birchall was awarded the contract to remove the York High School chiseled lettering from the third York High building and then to carve on the entrance stones, the inscription “Hannah Penn Junior High School.”

Hannah Penn Junior High School was carved in stone above main entrance facing Penn Common during December 1926; on the former third York High building at northeast corner of W. College Ave. and S. Beaver St. (York County History Center)

In December 1926, the York High School name was removed from the last school building to be so named in York City. The whole stone surface was removed to the depth of the York High School lettering, creating a new flat surface to carve the inscription “Hannah Penn Junior High School.”

February 8th, 1927, is the William Penn Senior High School and Hannah Penn Junior High School first day both buildings were being utilized as planned. All the temporary Asbestos schoolrooms could thus be removed. William Penn Senior High School contained 1400 pupils and Hannah Penn Junior High School contained 1340 pupils. Hannah Penn enrollment increased rapidly, such that during January 1931, Phineas Davis Junior High School was opened in the eastern part of York and during November 1931, Edgar Fahs Smith Junior High School was opened in the northwestern part of York.

The 1932 graduating classes of William Penn Senior High School topped 400. Twenty-five years later the Class of 1957 had nearly 600 diplomas conferred during the May 31, 1957 commencement.

In 1926, the building at northeast corner of West College Avenue and South Beaver Street was the first school building bearing the name of a woman in the City of York; Hannah Penn. Student use of the building ceased in 1959 and the building was demolished in 1965, to create a parking lot.

Related posts include:

Ella Robinson trailblazer for a family of Teachers

Asbestos One-Room Schoolhouses utilized in York County

Meeting where York High became William Penn

Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts