History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART SIX: CHAPTER 2: Schools and Education

In early Spanish days in California, the opportunities for education were extremely limited. The members of the wealthy class usually had some education, but few of the lower classes could read or write. There were no established schools outside the missions, but it was customary for the mothers of families to teach their children what they could.

The story of the struggle for education is a pathetic page in early California history. The governors were in favor of education, as a rule, but they received no support whatever from the missionaries and almost none from the other inhabitants. It was, indeed, the deliberate policy of Spain to keep its colonial subjects in ignorance, on the mistaken theory that this would prevent the growth of discontent. After the change to Mexican rule the cause of education received only a lukewarm support from the general government. The missionaries were at all times firmly opposed to popular education, which now seems to us a singular thing when it is recalled that they were men of culture; but this was entirely consistent with the policy of the Church and of Spain, at the time.

DUNCAN MACKINNON. City Superintendent of Schools.

As early as 1793, Viceroy Gigedo ordered that schools should be established for both the Spanish and Indian children. The wily missionaries professed obedience, but soon found an excuse for non-compliance in a mythical lack of funds. A few persons supposed to be competent to teach were found, and in 1794 or 1795 Manuel de Vargas, a retired sergeant of San José, who had opened there the first school in California, came to San Diego and began to teach. How long this school continued we do not know, but probably not very long, and if de Vargas was like the other retired officers who were selected for teachers at the time, his qualifications were very slight. In 1795 a tax was levied for the support of the schools, but they languished, and before the close of the century had been abandoned. During the rule of Governor Sola, from 1814 to 1821, schools were again opened. Settlers and invalided soldiers were employed, who taught reading, writing, and religion. Pio Pico, who was one of a class taught at San Gabriel in 1813 by José Antonio Carrillo, said that part of his work consisted of covering several quires of paper, from a copy, with the name “Señor Don Felix María Callejas.” Sola was earnest in his desire to aid the cause of education and spent his own means freely in the effort. He imported two Spanish professors with a view to founding a high school at Monterey, but the learned gentlemen found the conditions so unpromising that they remained only a few weeks. The missionaries were hostile, the people apathetic, and Sola was obliged to abandon the undertaking.

In 1824 Governor Argüello called the attention of the assembly to the subject of education, but nothing was done.

Echeandía was also a friend of education and tried to accomplish something. Before coming to California, he engaged the services of two teachers of primary schools; but when they reached Acapulco they could proceed no farther because the province was unable to pay their passage to Monterey. Shortly after Echeandía’s arrival, the assembly, at the governor’s suggestion, requested the government to send a few masters for primary schools, at his own cost; but this request was refused. Having failed to secure results through civil authorities, Echeandía ordered the commanding officers to compel parents to send their children to the schools which he had established. This had some effect, and by the year 1829 there were—on paper—11 primary schools in the territory, with an enrollment of 339 pupils.

A few details of the school which was taught in San Diego at this period have come down to us. It was maintained from August, 1828, to December, 1829, with an enrollment of 18 pupils. The teacher was Friar Antonio Menendez, and his salary was $18 per month. From the accounts which have come down of this friar’s character and attainments, there is slight doubt that he was, if possible, even more unfit for the work than the retired soldiers usually selected, who were often barely able to read and write.

But Echeandía, like his predecessors, found that zeal alone could not prevail against his heavy handicaps. Toward the latter part of his stormy administration he seems to have abandoned the unequal contest and surrendered the field to the forces of darkness.

In May, 1834, Governor Figueroa reported that there were primary schools at only three places, San Diego not being one of the three. In the following February, the same official advised the alcalde of San Diego that parents need not send their children to school, if they found it inconvenient.

Governor Alvarado was a believer in education, but his efforts were no more successful than those of his predecessors. In the fourth year of his rule, he declared there was scarcely a school in the whole territory. Micheltorena and Pico both struggled with the problem, in vain. On May 1, 1844, the former issued a decree providing for the opening of schools (with a solemn mass) on the first day of the following June; but this order was obeyed in only a few places, and in those few it was found impossible to raise money to pay the teachers.

The dearth of education and of schools was as great when the Americans took possession of the country as it had been in 1800—perhaps greater. Very often the commanding officer of a garrison had to request that a man qualified to act as amanuensis be sent to him from another presidio. The commissioned officers had only the rudiments of an education and the civil authorities were in many cases little better off. Pio Pico once went to Los Angeles at a time he was out of favor with the alcalde of that place. Being told that he would not be received without a passport he forged one, knowing the alcalde was illiterate, and presented it upon his arrival. The alcalde took and pretended to read it, then returned it to Pico and expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied.

Soon after the organization of the city government, steps were taken to establish a public school. The minutes of the council show the following entry under date of November 7, 1850: “The mayor made a verbal communication to the council, stating that a lady was in the place who had the reputation of being a good teacher and who is desirous of opening a school. He recommended that the large room in the Town House be appropriated for a school room.” This lady was Miss Dillon. The front room of the Town House was set apart for the purpose, but Miss Dillon thought it unsuitable and declined to teach in it. The city marshal was thereupon instructed to find a suitable room to be rented, and he proceeded to let two rooms in his own house to the council, for which he was to receive $60 per month for the first six months and $40 per month thereafter. Bills amounting to $155.69 for furniture for the school were paid. The teacher’s salary was fixed at not exceeding $1,200 per annum, and there is a record of one month’s salary being paid, at the end of February, 1851. How long the school continued it is impossible to ascertain, but apparently it was not long, and in the two or three years following it was kept open very irregularly, if at all. On July 30, 1853, the Herald said “A short time since, one of the ward schools in this city which had been closed for a time was re-opened.” This was the occasion on which, the trustees having distributed a circular giving notice of the opening of the school and inviting all parents to send their children, Father Juan Holbein forbade the members of his flock to do so. The name of the teacher of this school does not appear.

The beginning of the period of steady maintenance of the public schools in San Diego dates from July 1, 1854. The county had received no part of the state school funds for that year, on account of its failure to maintain a school for at least three months prior to the first day of October the year before. In order that this should not happen again, hurried action was taken on the date named. E. W. Morse gave the following account: “Up to July 1, 1854, there had been no public school in San Diego County, but on that day the county court being in session, Cave J. Couts, the judge, appointed William C. Ferrell county superintendent of schools, who at once appointed E. V. Shelby census marshal, and J. W. Robinson, Louis Rose, and E. W. Morse school trustees for the whole county. Within a few hours the trustees had received the marshal’s report, had hired a room for the school, and employed a teacher, so that before night a public school was in full operation under the school law of the state.” Mr. Morse, although always accurate and clear-headed, had evidently forgotten the earlier attempts at a school; and the appointment which Ferrell received was that of assessor (the office being vacant on account of George Lyons’ refusal to qualify), and the law then making the assessor ex-officio superintendent of public schools. The teacher employed was Miss Fanny Stevens. On December 2d, the Herald, stated that she had about 30 pupils; and it may fairly be said that she was the first teacher who established and maintained a public school in San Diego.


From this time on, the school was maintained with regularity and statistics begin to be available. In October, 1855, School Marshal Thomas E. Darnall reported 117 children of school age in the county. In 1856, Joshua Sloane taught in San Diego from January 21st to March 21st, at a salary of $75 per month, and had an enrollment of 32. The branches taught were Orthography, reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, and English grammar. W. H. Leighton was then the teacher for three months beginning July 7th, at a salary of $50, and had an enrollment of 29. He taught the same branches, excepting grammar, and also taught history, geometry, algebra, French, and Spanish.


In the spring of 1857, Leighton taught four months at a salary of $75. In the fall, James Nichols taught 3 1-3 months at $60, and had 49 pupils enrolled. There were 138 children of school age in the county. Nichols taught both the spring and fall terms in 1858, also a four-months term in 1859. By the year 1860, the pupils of school age in the county had increased to 320. The only school house in the county had been erected at Old Town. It consisted of one room, 24x30 feet, with a ceiling 10 feet high. During the year 1863, 8 months of school were taught, Mary B. Tibbetts and Victor P. Magee being the respective teachers of the two terms.

In 1864, J. L. McIntier was school marshal and E. W. Morse school trustee. Total children of school age, 317. The year 1865 is when Miss Mary C. Walker came to teach the school, and an entry in the records in 1866, reading, “We have been without a teacher since June 1,” probably marks the date of her resignation. Miss Augusta J. Barrett came in this year to succeed Miss Walker, and taught until she was married to Captain Mathew Sherman, in 1867. The records are meager during the ’60’s, the names of teachers not appearing in many instances. In the year last named, there was a school library of 61 volumes, valued at $50.

The first school in New San Diego was taught by Mrs. H. H. Dougherty, in the old government barracks, in 1868. In the same year, the first public school in Horton’s Addition was opened in rented rooms on the lot at the corner of Sixth and B Streets, donated by Mr. Horton. The teachers named in the records in this and the following year are Mr. Parker and Miss McCarrett. In August, 1869 a public school was re-opened in the barracks, under Mr. Echels, and in December the teacher at the B Street school was Mrs. Maria McGillivray.


In 1870 the first public school building was erected on the B Street lot, the school removed into it and divided into three grades. The principal was J. S. Spencer, the intermediate teacher Miss Lithgow, and the primary teacher Miss McCoy. The number of school children in the Old Town district was 512 and in the new town, 243. In 1871, the schools were reported to be in “a deplorable condition.” “The county superintendent is paid nothing for his increased service, and consequently did nothing.” Only one district in the county had sufficient funds to maintain a school eight months. Notwithstanding these conditions, another school was opened in Sherman’s Addition, on lots donated by Captain Sherman. This school was named “the Sherman School” in honor of Captain Sherman and is still so known.

From this time onward, the story is one of continuous growth. The annals are too voluminous for reproduction, but the most important events will be noted and present conditions described.


In 1873 the first county institute was held in San Diego. Thirteen teachers were present. Lectures were delivered by State Superintendent Bolander and Dr. G. W. Barnes. During 1876 and 1877 a more thorough organization into grades was made and the work systematized. In 1878 there was much complaint about inadequacy of accommodations, and an election was held which authorized the levy of a special tax to build schools and employ teachers. In the next year the enrollment increased 50 per cent, and a bonded indebtedness of $50,000 was thought necessary to relieve the strain.

In 1881, Joseph Russ, of the Russ Lumber Company, offered to give the city all the lumber necessary for the construction of a new school building. This resulted in the building of the “Russ” school building, later and at present used for the San Diego high school. The first school was opened in this building on August 14, 1882, when 276 pupils were enrolled and 32 turned away for want of room. The principal was J. A. Rice; assistant, Miss E. O. Osgood. The total cost of the building to the city was $18,418.73. This was the first good school building which the city owned.

The High School was organized in January, 1888. The first instructors were: Mrs. Rose V. Barton, Mrs. Julia F. Gilmartin, Mr. and Mrs. J. K. Davis, and Miss Ella McConoughy. Professor Davis was principal.

The Kindergarten Department was first introduced at the Sherman School, in 1888, in charge of Miss Fischer. It was soon after extended to other schools, and is now an established and valued part of the school work.

The high school building was erected, as stated, in 1881 and 1882. The erection of a new high school building has been recently begun. It will cost $201,000 for the building alone, and the furnishings will cost $35,000 more. It will contain 62 rooms, whereas the old one contained but 17, which throws an interesting side light on the growth of the city. The new structure will be one of the most substantial, beautiful, and up-to-date buildings in the state. It will be provided with several lecture rooms, assembly halls, science rooms and rooms for the art department, gymnasium, study rooms, and offices for the officials. When the new building is completed and occupied, the present high school building will be utilized as a polytechnic school.

The Middletown School was built in 1888. It contains 11 rooms.

The B Street and Sherman Schools were built in 1889 and the Logan Heights (then known as the East School) a little later. The first two named cost $30,000 each. The B Street and the Sherman School have each 14 rooms. At Logan Heights, there are 12 rooms. The University Heights School has 9 rooms. The other schools in the city are: The Lowell School, 7 rooms; the Franklin School, 9 rooms. The Manual Training School has 1 room, and there are 2 kindergarten bungalows. The schools outside San Diego proper, but within the city limits, and under the charge of its Board of Education, are: La Jolla, 2 rooms; Old Town, 2 rooms; Roseville, 2 rooms; Pacific Beach School, 2 rooms; and Sorrento, 1 room.


In 1888, a school building was erected in Mission Valley and a school maintained for about ten years, but it has now been abandoned.

On June 30, 1906, the citizens of San Diego voted to issue bonds amounting to $120,000 for the construction of several modern school buildings. The money is now available, and the work progressing rapidly. When these buildings are completed, San Diego will stand second to no other city of its size in the completeness of its school building equipment. The corps of teachers numbers 100. The salaries paid run from $900 for the first year to $1200 for the second and subsequent years. In the grammar schools, the pay for the first year runs from $600 to $800; in the second year $30 is added, the same in the third, $40 in the fourth and $40 in the fifth. Duncan MacKinnon is the present city superintendent of schools. S. W. Belding is secretary of the board of education, having served since June, 1903. He is the first regularly appointed secretary, a member of the board of education having served as secretary without pay prior to his appointment. The enrollment of the pupils in the city proper the past year was 4,243, and the census marshal’s return 4,379, leaving only 136 children of school age not enrolled. The total expenditures for the support of schools last year were $100,253.47.

The course of physical culture in the public schools is one of their most valued features. It was first suggested and largely brought about by the Concordia Turnverein. The first instructor was Professor L. de Julian, who acted as physical director from 1900 to 1902. The present director, Professor Trautlein, began the work in 1903. The German system is used, consisting of dumbbell exercises, club swinging, apparatus work, calisthenics, and games. These are for the children of all grades, from the first to the eighth. The director visits one or more schools each day and gives fifteen minutes’ instruction to teachers and pupils, and each class devotes the same time daily to the work, under the instruction of the teachers. Each school is equipped with dumbbells, wands, clubs, horizontal bars, rings, and climbing ropes, also a basket ball court for boys and girls.

San Diego is with reason proud of its schools. The course of study is good, and the schools are accredited. The teachers are well trained and devoted, the board of education progressive, and the whole system one which reflects the highest credit upon the place and people.

Of private schools, San Diego has had a number from an early day. The first was the academy of Professor Oliver, established in 1869. In 1872 he sold the buildings to Miss S. M. Gunn, who removed them to Ninth and G Streets, added improvements, and opened the San Diego Academy. J. D. Dorlan had a “select school” at the corner of Seventh and H Streets, in 1872. Rev. D. F. McFarland opened his seminary in 1873, and Mrs. O. W. Gates established the Point Loma Seminary in the same year. R. Roessler had a private academy in Gunn’s academy building in 1879. The first “business academy” was opened by Professor E. Hyde, in 1882.

The Academy of Our Lady of Peace, 1135 A Street, is conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It is a boarding and day school for girls and young ladies, well equipped for the development of the mental, moral, and physical powers of its pupils. There is also a separate school for boys.

The San Diego Free Industrial School was founded in 1894 by Mrs. J. F. Cary, of San Diego. Her original intention was to start a sewing school for girls and to improve the condition of the children living on the water front. It was soon found necessary to make provision for the training of children of both sexes, and after six months boys were also admitted. From this beginning the scope of the work has grown until it now embraces a number of activities.

In its early days, the school occupied a room on the ground floor of the Montezuma Building, corner of Second and F Streets. Later it was removed to the Tower House, on Fourth and F, and thence across the street to what is now known as the Worth lodging-house, where it remained until the summer of 1897. At that time the new Congregational Church had been completed and the congregation was ready to move out of the old tabernacle, then standing on Ninth and F Streets. Through the efforts of Mr. Marston and Mrs. Cary, the old building was secured as a home for the industrial school. A lot on the northwest corner of State and F Streets, fifty feet wide, was purchased, and the building renovated and removed thereon.

WILFRED R. GUY. Who represented San Diego in the Assembly at Sacramento when the State Normal School bill was passed for the second time and signed by the Governor.

Since securing permanent quarters, the school has grown steadily. There is a manual training school where boys are taught the use of tools in various trades, a cooking school in which girls learn plain cooking practically, a sewing school, etc. The school is supported by voluntary contributions and all tuition is free. The school is incorporated, and Mrs. Cary was its first and is its present president and manager.

The State Normal School at San Diego, situated on University Heights, is a singularly majestic and beautiful building, and an institution which is performing a great public service. Its location here was the result of an agitation begun in December, 1893, in which John D. Parker, who was a retired Post chaplain of the United States Army, 0. J. Stough, M. A. Luce, W. R. Guy, Philip Morse, Harr Wagner, F. P. Davidson, Hugh J. Baldwin, Eugene De Burn, C. H. Parker, and others took a prominent part. Wagner, as county superintendent of schools, presented the matter to the state biennial convention of school superintendents, in May, 1894. In the following December, Professor Hugh J. Baldwin appeared before the Chamber of Commerce and induced that body to work for the establishment of the State Normal School in San Diego. The legislature was petitioned and public sentiment educated in favor of the proposition. By this united action, favorable results were secured. The site selected is one of the most commanding in San Diego, affording a magnificent view of ocean and mountains, and making the school building visible for a very great distance in every direction. The central section was completed and the building publicly dedicated on May 1, 1899, with a program arranged by President Black and the board of trustees. Hon. W. R. Guy was president of the day. The east wing was completed in 1900, and the west one in 1904. In 1905 the grounds were greatly enlarged by the purchase of adjacent property, and in that and the following year extensive improvements made by planting trees, constructing drives, etc., on plans prepared by Cooke & Parsons, of New York, the architects of the park.


The building is substantially built of brick, faced with cement. The faculty consists of Samuel T. Black, president, who has served in that capacity ever since the school was opened; Emma F. Way, preceptress; Alice Edwards Pratt, registrar; Edith McLeod, principal training school and supervising teacher grammar grades; Elisabeth Rogers, supervising teacher primary grades; J. F. West, mathematics; W. F. Bliss, history and civics; W. T. Skilling, physical sciences; W. W. Kemp, director of training school; Lucy A. Davis, music; Anna H. Billings, English; Jessie Rand Tanner, physical education; Harriet H. Godfrey, English and history; Emily O. Lamb, drawing and manual training; W. C. Crandall, biological sciences; and Mrs. Lydia M. Horton, librarian. The library contains over 6,000 volumes. The normal course proper is two years, to which only recommended graduates of accredited high schools are eligible, thus placing the requirements for admission on the same footing as for admission to the University of California. On September 1, 1906, a preparatory course of four years was established and the old four-year course discontinued.

Return to Books.


Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County