On June 6, 1918, the only high school in a community of 70,000 simply erupted. Student leaders, deeply concerned about real or fancied injustices, called a special meeting of the 1500 students. Teachers were barred from this meeting and a representative of the Board of Education was rudely ejected. After lengthy discussion, the student body approved a resolution to leave the school and not return until their demands had been met. En masse, the students marched to occupy the town square while their representatives charged to the offices of the Board to present their ultimatum. The police riot squad was called and the students retreated to the school, where they emptied their lockers, and then scattered to their homes.
The student demands received increasing community support. The School Board, in large newspaper advertisements ordered the students to return to school, but the students were as stubborn as the Board was adamant. Two of the Board members resigned in frustration and one of the new appointees, finding himself unable to arbitrate the differences, finally resigned.
A citizens’ committee was subjected to humiliating discourtesy when they appeared before the School Board, and, failing to change the attitude of a majority of the Board, instituted recall procedures. The last hectic weeks of the school year passed, and the students still had not returned to their classes. During the summer the recall petitions were qualified and the fall semester opened quietly. Then, just six months after the student walkout, the citizens by a vote of more than 3 to 1 recalled the stubborn Board members.
These facts, with some omissions and some distortion of emphasis, recount events which took place in San Diego some 55 years ago. They form the basis of this attempt to put events into perspective and to suggest some causes and consequences of this early instance of student unrest in San Diego.1
First let us look at the city in the spring of 1917. The Exposition of 1915 had been followed by a lesser fair in 1916 and that by a “Post-season” which quietly expired on March 31, 1917.
The great war in Europe had come to a virtual stalemate on land, but German U-boats were dominating the shipping lanes. The local papers, of which there were three, the Spreckels-owned San Diego Union and Evening Tribune and the San Diego Sun, part of the Scripps chain, were filled with war stories. Woodrow Wilson had just been inaugurated for a second term—won by the slogan “He kept us out of war”—but now it appeared the nation was headed toward intervention.
The community was enjoying the hottest mayoralty contest in its history—promoter Louis J. Wilde versus merchant George W. Marston—smokestacks versus geraniums. Advertisements, some full-page, and long reports of the many citizens’ meetings vied with war news for newspaper space. The primary election was held on March 20, 1917, and Marston led Wilde by a good margin, but failed to gain a majority. Then the contest really warmed up. From the papers it seemed that Marston was the favorite, but when the final election was held, a scant two weeks later, Wilde won by more than 3000 votes.
Standing on the sidelines was the imposing figure of Duncan MacKinnon, Superintendent of Schools. MacKinnon had been named principal of San Diego High School in 1905 and was appointed superintendent in 1906. He was a man of strong will, but most of his contemporaries considered him a fair man, and citizens as well as teachers appeared to be well-satisfied with his administration and with the quality of the educational programs. However, he had strongly supported the $200,000 community bond issue which built the stadium and some considered this a wasteful extravagance. Others disapproved of a school leader who smoked cigars and often dined at a restaurant where liquor was served. Others disapproved because he was “a bachelor who lived at the University Club.”
At this time, before the schools were unified, there were two Boards, a City Schools Board of Education and a High School Board of Education. However, the two five-member boards were identical and the one superintendent also wore two hats. The records show that the two boards occasionally lost track of their identities. Sometimes when joint meetings were held, the record is shown in the minutes book of only one of the boards.
In those days San Diego teachers enjoyed no job security. They were appointed annually, often obtaining their jobs through the influence of a friend of the superintendent or a Board member. Their positions, therefore, were often susceptible to the whim of these same influential persons. Teacher tenure existed in some cities, but it did not exist and was little discussed in San Diego. Although there were teacher organizations elsewhere, there was none in San Diego, nor any plans for one.
In the spring of 1917 the terms of three Board members were to expire. Hans Marquardt, the Board President, and Leo M. Schiller were completing four year terms. Mrs. Mary Lancaster, probably the most widely respected member, had been appointed in December, 1915, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Mrs. Carleton. All three filed for re-election, together with nine others.
E.R. Watson, having been appointed following a resignation, chose to run for re-election for the two-year unexpired term. Five others filed for this position. Claude Woolman, Clerk of the Board, having two more years to serve, was the only holdover member.
The press paid little attention to the school contest. The war in Europe, the imminence of United States entry into that war, and the heated mayoralty campaign pushed the contests for City Council and School Board into the background.
In the primary election on March 20, the incumbents, Lancaster, Schiller and Marquardt led the list for the four-year terms by comfortable margins. Dr. L. G. Jones and John Urquhart qualified for the final election and seven were eliminated. For the single unexpired term, Watson, the incumbent, had a wide margin over Mrs. Laura Johns and four others were eliminated.
The newspapers continued to ignore the Board contest, but on Sunday, April 1, 1917, there appeared in the San Diego Union a half-page advertisement which read in very large type:
The Following Candidates are Opposed to his Reappointment
L. G. Jones John Urquhart Mrs. Laura Johns
This ad Paid for by San Diego Parents
In the Union on Monday, April 2, the same copy appeared in a smaller advertisement.
A careful reading of the newspapers discloses very little other evidence of the open hostility of the three candidates toward MacKinnon, but there must have been comment in the many citizens’ meetings and a whispering campaign, especially in the brief two weeks between the primary and the final election. It was held on April 3 and Mrs. Lancaster still headed the list, but the three anti-MacKinnon candidates, in a dramatic reversal, swept the other three incumbents out of office. It is probable that a number of the candidates eliminated in the primary were opposed to MacKinnon and it was their followers who turned the tide in the final election. The Board now consisted of Mrs. Lancaster and Woolman and the three anti-MacKinnon members, Dr. Jones, Mr. Urquhart and Mrs. Johns.
The United States declared war against Germany on April 6 and local politics almost disappeared from the news. The big question seemed to be whether a great Army “Cantonment” would be built on Kearny Mesa or in Los Angeles’ Centinela Valley.
At the first meeting of the new School Board in early May, Dr. Jones was elected President and Claude Woolman was re-elected as Clerk. The Board then organized its committees. All but the Auditing Committee were composed of Mrs. Johns and Urquhart, with Mrs. Lancaster, who had previously supported MacKinnon, now showed signs of joining the “solid three,” as the new majority group was soon to be called. The committees increasingly took over the responsibilities of the superintendent, and for the next year MacKinnon was forced to sit at the meetings of the Board, virtually “voiceless and powerless.” The minutes of meeting after meeting fail even to mention his name. He was seldom permitted to make any suggestions or recommendations, other than those required by law, and no questions were referred to him for review and report.
On May 23 the City and High School Boards held a special joint meeting “for the purpose of obtaining information desired by the Teachers Committee.” This was not a committee of teachers but a Board committee with responsibility for all matters having to do with teachers. Mrs. Johns, the chairman, submitted a questionnaire which the committee wished to send to all teachers. Over the opposition of Mrs. Lancaster and Woolman, it was approved and ordered distributed.
At first glance the questionnaire seems no more reprehensible than one which might be distributed by any newly elected officials asking the appointees of the prior party-in-power if they believe in democratic principles and will work with, not against, the new regime. However, because teacher tenure was at that time so very precarious, the questionnaire appears much more threatening.
The same evening Mrs. Johns submitted a draft of a long letter and moved “that it be adopted as an expression of the feelings of the Board and that it be published in the newspapers as an open letter to the teachers.” There is some doubt that this letter was published in the local press. It was surely sincere, expressing a sound, if somewhat pious, philosophy and invited cooperation. It said also, “That, if in our judgment, for any cause, the best interests of the schools require it, changes will be made in the teaching force, with all possible kindness, but without flinching.”
The questionnaire was mailed the next day and was received by most teachers on Thursday, May 25. The reaction of elementary teachers is not reported in the press, but teachers of the high school and junior college reacted with consternation and wrath. Few had any illusions as to the probable personal consequences if they failed to reply in an acceptable manner. A small number pledged themselves not to return individual replies and, with the aid and encouragement of others, drafted a collective reply.
The faculty of the high school and junior college met on Monday afternoon to consider the situation. Ninety-one of the 94 teachers attended and the debate lasted more than an hour. When the vote was taken, 76 voted for the motion to approve the draft, five against and ten abstained. In the end, 77 signed the collective reply which was delivered to the Board of Education the next day.
Here are the questions and the collective replies:
1. Q. Do you wish to remain in your present position in the city schools? R. We wish to continue our services in the San Diego city schools. 2. Q. Do you prefer a change of work or position? State your first and second choices and your reasons. R. We believe that the highest efficiency of the schools demands that any changes in work or position must come through the recommendation of the heads of departments, the principals of the schools and the city superintendent. 3. Q. The vote of the people at the last election seems to indicate that certain changes in the schools are necessary. The Board finds it incumbent upon them to comply with the demands so expressed. Do you feel that you can work in harmony with the new management and give them the loyal support necessary for success in school work? If not, state your reasons. R. Question three we find impossible to answer in the affirmative until we have more specific information as to what you mean by ‘certain changes.’ Our work could not be termed a service to the community were it not that we stand for loyalty to principle rather than to individuals or to policies. Our profession is itself a pledge of loyalty; the services we have rendered is the proof. We, as teachers of the city schools, are willing to be measured by that test now as we have been in the past. As a NEW Board you are an unknown quantity to us quite as much as we are unknown quantities to you, and we feel strongly that radical changes at this time would be unwise. 4. Q. Any suggestions you may wish to make with a view to improving our schools will receive due consideration. R. We believe that the system of annual contracts should be abolished and the tenure of office of teachers, like that of others in governmental service, should conform to civil service regulations. We feel that definite changes along this line must be evolved in our State school system or we shall fail in our part of the task which confronts all patriots today—to demonstrate the efficiency of democracy. 5. Q. If you wish a conference with any member of the Teachers’ Committee, arrange by phone, a time for such a conference. If you care to do so, leave with the Chairman of the Committee a written statement of the main points which you wish to present. This statement may then be presented to the entire committee or to the Board if desired. The Board invite the confidence of the teaching force. R. We agree with you that cooperation between the Board of Education and the teaching force is most desirable. As our part toward realizing that co-operation we pledge our loyal support to all that may wisely and justly be done to further the best interests of the San Diego school system. The questionnaire closed with: The Board will appreciate your hearty cooperation—if you feel that you can give it.
Kindly enclose your reply in self-addressed envelope and mail within three days.
The committee did not respond to the last two paragraphs. However, the joint reply must have been mailed within about five days.
In sending a collective reply to the Board the high school teachers of 1917 took their stand. Most of them felt that they were offering their positions in behalf of professional principles. It soon became clear that the Board was not prepared for the turn that events had taken.
In a long letter which appeared in the Union of May 26, Dr. Edgar Hewett, Director of the San Diego Museum, now the Museum of Man, was very critical of the Board action. He pointed out that in their campaigns the new majority had promised to cooperate for improvement of the schools. Their actions, he charged, hindered cooperation and would destroy all that was best in the schools. He called for the abolishment of the system of annual contracts and for some sort of tenure for qualified teachers. Hewett even suggested that recall might be justified for public servants who so badly misused their power. It is worthy of note that twice more in the year to come suggestions of and movements toward recall were to be made.
When interviewed by the press about the questionnaire, Mr. Urquhart said that it was inefficient to have teachers who lived in San Diego and taught in La Jolla, or vice-versa, and the questionnaire was intended to point up such problems. Mrs. Johns said that teachers were not required to reply to the questionnaire: it was merely intended to stimulate their suggestions for improvement, if they cared to offer them. The official climate seemed not conducive to frankness.
Now it was June. Summer passed uneventfully, and the entire personnel returned in September. However, uncertainty about who would find that dismissal was the price for an expression of independence was a serious demoralizing factor.
Those who wondered about the Board’s next action, however, did not have long to wait. At the meeting of the City Schools Board on October 8, 1917, Mrs. Johns presented a resolution which stated that: the term of the present superintendent would expire on June 30, 1918; there would then be a vacancy; sufficient time should be given for proper consideration of applications; the fact of the impending vacancy should be published; thirty days should be allowed for the receipt of applications or recommendations for the office of superintendent; at that point the Board would enter into negotiations with some suitable applicant with a view to appointing said person as superintendent. This resolution was approved by a vote of 3 to 2; the “solid three” voted for and Mrs. Lancaster and Mr. Woolman against. The first move had been made.
The City Schools Board met again on November 12. Because word had passed in the community that the coup de grace was to be administered to Duncan MacKinnon, a delegation of leading citizens appeared in his behalf. Mr. John Ackerman, a businessman and past-president of the Chamber of Commerce, asked permission to address the Board. He spoke of the achievements of Superintendent MacKinnon and of the growing reputation of the schools under his leadership. He asked the Board to consider carefully what should be their course of action. Mr. Ackerman was followed by Mr. Melville Klauber, President of the Chamber of Commerce, who spoke in the same vein. Charles Andrews, Judge of the Superior Court, Mrs. Ed Fletcher, Mr. Alfred La Motte, Attorney Ed Sample and Mr. Carl Heilbron also addressed the Board in support of MacKinnon. Mrs. Johns explained that the Board could not consider employment of Mr. MacKinnon for another term because he had failed to apply for the position within the 30 days which had been allowed for the receipt of such applications.
Mrs. Johns then presented a resolution which passed by a vote of 4 to 1, Woolman, alone, dissenting. The resolution directed the secretary to notify MacKinnon that he would not be hired in his present position or in any other position under the jurisdiction of the Board after June 30, 1918. In what seemed to MacKinnon supporters to be simple brutality, the resolution also directed that a copy be sent to MacKinnon by registered mail and that a second copy, together with the postal receipt, be incorporated in the minutes of the meeting. At this time it was indicated that there were on file nine applications for the position of superintendent.
Two days later the Board met again and Mrs. Johns moved that Mr. Guy V. Whaley, then Superintendent of Schools in Vallejo, California, be elected superintendent of the San Diego City schools for a term of four years beginning July 1, 1918, at a salary of $4,000 per year. Again only Woolman dissented. The second move had now been made. Duncan MacKinnon had been asked to pay the price “mandated” by the voters six months earlier. But there was still no suggestion of the price to be paid or who would be asked to pay for the insubordination of the teachers on the previous May 29.
In the spring of 1918 Arthur Gould,2 principal of the high school, and “a good friend of MacKinnon,” began to pay. He was required by the Board to hand over his school keys to the head custodian of the school and was thereafter subjected to a variety of harrassments and indignities.
The feelings of the teachers who had signed the collective reply to the Board in 1917 were obviously not shared by all their colleagues. Some continued openly to support the Board, while at least one or two others, it later turned out, were reporting to Board members, verbatum, statements made presumably privately in teachers’ restrooms or at luncheon tables.
In June the pace of events quickened. A special meeting of the High School Board was held on the evening of Monday, June 3, 1918, “to authorize a notice to be sent to teachers whose services would not be required for the ensuing school year 1918 – 19.” The special meeting was unannounced and no reporters or visitors were in attendance.
Mrs. Johns for the Teachers Committee presented a list of nineteen high school teachers recommended for dismissal. No charges were presented because none were required. Mr. Woolman, in acrimonious exchanges with Mrs. Johns and Mr. Urquhart, succeeded only in forcing a separate vote on each individual, but was able to save only Fred Finn, principal of the night school, from being “fired.”
The list included: Arthur Gould, Principal; Gertrude Allen, head of the mathematics department; Harriet Bromley; Willis Newton, chairman and Pauline Gartzmann, secretary of the teachers’ meeting which had approved the joint reply; Mary A. Hill; Bernet S. Hale, later head of the mathematics department; George Lourenco; Ruth Price, later head of the English department; Jere Turpin; Elizabeth Freese, then and for long afterward the Girls’ vice-principal; and Fred Finn, the night school principal who was reprieved. It is possible that one or two of the seven not here listed were, in fact, not truly competent, but most of those named above were absolutely outstanding persons and exceptional teachers. No testimony has been advanced to explain why the particular list of nineteen was presented. Many others, it seems, were equally worthy of the “honor.” All they appear to have had in common was that they were “friends of MacKinnon” and each had signed the collective reply just over one year earlier.
The dimissal notices were mailed on Tuesday, June 4, and were received by most of the teachers when they returned to their homes on the afternoon of June 5.
The Union of Thursday, June 6, carried the story in some detail but in the second section under a small headline.
The reaction of the more than 1400 high school students and 75 junior college students was immediate and forceful. Shortly after school opened on Thursday morning June 6, the Executive Committee of the Student Body asked leaders of the junior college student body to meet with them. Later, word was passed that all students should meet in the stadium after the 4th period. The student leaders clearly favored forceful action and very carefully planned the presentations to the assembly.
The meeting was attended by a large majority of the 1500 students of the high school and junior college. It was called to order by Veda Wiebens,3 vice-president of the student body, who said: “This is the most serious meeting in the history of this school and if you are serious in this matter you will observe order.” She explained that Warner Praul, president of the student body, had declined to preside. The action of the Board in dismissing eighteen teachers was reported, as were the deliberations of the Student Body Executive Committee. The discussion was earnest and the meeting orderly. In the end a resolution addressed to the Board of Education was overwhelmingly approved.
It read: “Resolved that the student bodies of the San Diego High School and Junior College leave and not return to school until the Board of Education has given satisfactory reasons, other than political, for the dismissal of several teachers, and furthermore, that they offer to reinstate all who are not proved inefficient.”
A committee of high school and junior college leaders was appointed to conduct negotiations with the Board of Education, and, with the approval of the students assembled, responsibility then passed from the “Ex-Committee” to this special committee.
It was agreed that the students would march as a group with their leaders to carry the resolution to the Board. Permission to stage a parade was obtained by telephone from the Chief of Police.
A majority of the students assembled on the diagonal walk in front of the high school and then, with Stanley Barnes,4 Senior Class President, as Marshall, and under direction of Cadet Corps officers, they marched through the business district to the Plaza where the offices of the Board were on the sixth floor of the Southern Trust and Title Building. While the parade was in progress someone called the police to report a “riot” at the high school. The Union reported that “several motorcycle cops and an automobile loaded with detectives rushed to the school.” They found the place deserted and returned to the station, willfully or accidentally missing the fun at the Plaza. After the leaders returned from the Board rooms the students marched in order to about 8th and C streets where the parade disbanded. Most students returned to school to claim their books and belongings, then dispersed to their homes, not to return to school for more than three months. Sometime that same day, and repeatedly over the following weeks, the dismissed teachers petitioned the Board of Education for the reasons for their dismissal.
On the next day, Friday, June 7, only twelve students attended San Diego High. The teachers all reported for duty and held classes for the few students who turned up. Five students reported on Monday and the same number on Tuesday, then the Board declared a holiday for the rest of the week to save funds granted by the State of California.
Probably no other local matter ever attracted so much attention in the daily papers. For three weeks the student strike made page-one headlines in the local papers and during this period the three dailies devoted more than 125 column inches to discussion of the situation.
The student committee accepted the proferred services of A. J. Morganstern, a prominent attorney, and established headquarters in the U. S. Grant Hotel. On Saturday afternoon a group of prominent citizens, under the temporary chairmanship of Mr. M. T. Gilmore, met to consider the school crisis. A permanent organization was created with Dr. Edgar Hewett as chairman and Attorney Harrison G. Sloane as secretary. This group adopted a resolution commending the action of the students and agreed to start recall proceedings against Board members, Jones, Johns and Urquhart. The P.T.A. added its support and the Chamber of Commerce sent an ultimatum to the Board.
During the height of the controversy many letters appeared in the papers. A small number questioned the propriety of the student walkout, but, without exception, they were critical of the Board action. One of the best letters appeared on page 4 of the Union, Monday morning, June 10. It read:
There are few occasions that could justify or even excuse actions such as those of the students of our high school last Thursday. Commonly, such a manifestation is disruptive of disipline and merely disintegrating and ought, therefore, to be discountenanced by anyone who believes, as I believe, that the idea of order is one of the fundamentals of all government. Now and then, however, there arise circumstances in which persons entrusted with a little brief authority so flagrantly abuse it that it becomes necessary to take such action within the limits of the law as will call the attention of the community to the extent and gravity of the evil.
This is the opening paragraph of a well-written and closely-reasoned letter which filled thirteen column inches and closed with the statement: “It is clear that the Board majority have destroyed any usefulness that they might once have had in their present position and that the best service they can render to the community is to resign. It was written by a young lawyer who signed himself, Charles C. Haines.5
When the Board met that evening, Dr. Jones reported that he and his family were under intolerable pressure and that in the interests of harmony he was resigning. At his suggestion the Board appointed Mr. Fred L. Edwards in his place. Mr. Woolman asked the Board to reconsider their action in dismissing the teachers and when his motion failed for lack of a second, he too resigned. Dr. H. N. Goff was appointed to succeed him.
The next day, Tuesday, June 11, the Rotary Club demanded that the Board “immediately restore the schools to their former high state of efficiency.” The Cabrillo Club condemned the Board action and the Chamber of Commerce sent a second message to the Board.
On Tuesday evening a meeting of students and citizens was held at the Grant Hotel. The auditorium of the hotel was too small to accommodate all who wished to attend. Veda Wiebens chaired the meeting with poise and skill. Attorneys advised the group that the recall petitions which had been drafted with three names had been invalidated by the resignation of Dr. Jones. The meeting resolved to start new separate petitions against Mrs. Johns and Mr. Urquhart. A motion to start proceedings against Mrs. Lancaster, too, was overwhelmingly approved. It was agreed to withhold circulation of the petitions while the committee attempted to negotiate with the Board.
At an adjourned meeting of the Board on Wednesday, Mr. Edwards and Dr. Goff were formally seated. Dr. Hewett requested permission to address the Board. He asked, in a spirit of earnest cooperation, if the Board would not consider the reinstatement of the dismissed teachers. He suggested that the matter be put into the hands of Mr. Whaley, the newly appointed superintendent. His communication was “placed on file.” Mr. Morganstern also addressed the Board and received the same treatment. A number of other communications, including one from the student body of the high school, were summarily “placed on file.” Following this session Dr. Hewett met with the Citizens’ Committee which approved his recommendation to start circulation of the recall petitions.
The students asked their parents and the general public to meet with them in the stadium on Thursday evening, June 13. In spite of short notice, a crowd estimated at over 4,000 gathered there at 7:30 p.m. Chairman Wiebens reviewed the events of the past week and from all accounts her speech was a masterpiece. Dr. Hewett then reported on the activities of the Citizens’ Committee. The Board, understandably, had declined an invitation to attend the stadium meeting; however the Board members had met earlier in Executive Session. They sent a letter to Attorney J. K. Stickney which they asked him to read to the public meeting. In it they accepted a previous suggestion by Dr. Hewett that they meet with representatives of community organizations to discuss the general reasons for dismissing the teachers. The audience, however, was not in a mood to accept this apparently constructive gesture on the part of the Board. When Mr. Johns, husband of the Board member, attempted to speak, he was rudely shouted down. Morganstern dominated this meeting and his courtroom dramatics aroused the crowd to a degree which almost destroyed the effectiveness of the meeting, but the steadying influence of Dr. Hewett and the poise and balance of the student leaders saved the day. At the conclusion of this meeting it was decided that the students should be asked to meet on Monday morning, June 17.
However, on Friday it was learned that while their seemingly conciliatory letter was being read to the gathering at the stadium, the Board had elected Mr. H. 0. Wise to replace Arthur Gould as principal of the high school. This demonstration of apparent insincerity and duplicity strengthened the resolve of the citizens who were working for recall and alienated many who still supported the Board.
Then, in Sunday’s Union there appeared a 1/4-page paid advertisement:
To The Citizens of San Diego
You are hereby notified that the Board of Education of the City of San Diego do not in any manner recognize the insurrection and the alleged resolution of the so-called Student Body of the High School of the City of San Diego.
And that each and every student is hereby notified to be in his or her accustomed place at said school the hour duly appointed and heretofore recognized for assembling, June 17, 1918, , and there to abide and be governed by such authority as shall be designated by said Board.
The Principal and Faculty of the High School are further directed to take immediate action to secure the attendance of the Students and continued failure on their part to perform their duty in this respect will receive the attention of the Board.
The meeting at the Stadium on Monday morning was attended by a large number of students and a sprinkling of adults. It was held at the extreme southeast end of the stadium, surely not an “accustomed place.” Again Veda Wiebens chaired the meeting, discussed the events of the past ten days and raised the question of whether or not the objectives of the walkout had been achieved. Some student leaders felt that the walkout had accomplished its purpose and that students should return to classes. Stanley Barnes, president of the Senior Class, read a letter from Principal Gould recommending that students return, but Barnes himself did not so recommend. A number of seniors expressed concern that their diplomas would be withheld. Dr. Hewett promised that the Citizens’ Committee would continue the good fight started by the students, but made it clear that the decision about continuing the walkout was entirely up to the students. Other speakers pointed out that the Board had made no move to reinstate a single one of the dismissed teachers. After a lengthy meeting, the students voted by a large majority to continue their walkout.
That evening the Board instructed Principal Gould that there would be no class play, no dances or entertainments and no commencement exercises. The Board had intended to withhold diplomas, but was advised by the District Attorney that it could not do this if the principal and the teachers certified that all requirements had been met.
The Baccalaureate Sermon had already been delivered on Sunday, June 16, and now, in spite of the Board injunction, the class play was presented, a Senior dance took place and commencement exercises were held. In fact, except that no students attended classes, “business as usual” seemed to be the word. San Diego High’s baseball team even defeated Sacramento High for the State Championship in the Stadium on Thursday afternoon, June 20.
The Board finally acceded to the requests of the dismissed teachers that they discuss the “general” reasons for the dismissals. On Wednesday, June 19, the teachers, their attorneys and stenographers assembled at the Board Rooms for the meeting. They cooled their heels for an hour while the Board met in Executive Session. Arthur Gould was then invited to enter the Board Room. After 45 minutes Gould was excused and a Board member emerged to report that there would be no further discussion. The teachers, understandably and regrettably, made a scene, but to no avail.
One of the most bizarre, tragic is more accurate, exchanges in this whole sorry tale began on Friday, June 21, the last school day of the year. That evening there was delivered to the office of the San Diego Union a letter signed by the “Royal Three” which they asked to have printed in the Saturday morning edition. It opened with the statement that the members of the Board would attend no more conferences with teachers for the purpose of discussing the reasons for dismissal; that the attitude of the teachers on Wednesday convinced them that the teachers were not sincere in their demands. Finally came the significant paragraph:
Again the question of whether we should have in our schools teachers who are absolutely and unqualifiedly loyal to our government and our institutions and 100% American is not a debatable question. At the time the order was made dropping certain teachers we were informed that several among those dropped were under surveillance by the authorities for Pro-Germanism and these teachers were dropped for that reason.Signed: Laura M. Johns
Mary W. Lancaster
It is difficult to make any adequate comment upon this signed statement.
The editors of the Union, upon receipt of the letter, immediately sent reporters to contact the signers with instructions to ask each of them four questions. The questions and answers were reported by the Union:
|When were you informed that the teachers were under surveillance?
|I think along in April.
|Some time ago.
|Some time ago.
|Who so informed you? U.S. authorities or not?
|I refuse to state.
|I cannot tell.
|The United States authorities.
|Did this mere information convince you that the teachers were guilty?
|I came to the conclusion after an examination. We do not want negative Americanism in our schools, but positive Americanism—100% Americanism. We are determined to bring our teaching staff to this standard.
|I consulted Gordon Gray, head of the Citizens’ Protective League, and he said if there were any suspicions of teachers, to get rid of them.
|Did you take any step to look into the guilt or innocence of the teachers of whom you had heard such reports?
|We are waiting for the conclusion of the government investigation now. We felt that if the government investigations showed these teachers to be guilty they would already be out of the school and we would have nothing more to do.
|I have no means of conducting an examination. I must rely upon the word of the United States officials.
The Union staff also called Dr. Hewett and asked him to come to the editorial offices to see the communication. Dr. Hewett prepared three identical letters of inquiry addressed to Lt. Frank M. McGraw, Intelligence Officer, Infantry Reserve Corps; to Gordon Gray, chief of the local branch of the American Protective League; and to Dave Gershon, special agent of the Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice. Each letter made the following request: “Will you kindly inform me if any of the following teachers are or have been under investigation for disloyalty by your office?” The letter then listed individually the eighteen dismissed teachers.
Lt. McGraw replied: “With reference to your communication of this date asking for information of any investigation made by this office, I can reply that this office has investigated no teacher in the list below.” Lt. McGraw then listed each of the eighteen names in Dr. Hewett’s letter. Mr. Gray’s reply was essentially the same, listing the names of the eighteen teachers. The reply from Mr. Gershon stated that upon complaint of a suspicion of Pro-Germanism, B. J. Lauterbach had been investigated, but that Mr. Gershon’s office had discovered absolutely no foundation for the complaint.
Dr. Hewett stated publicly, “What this demands of the members of the Board of Education who have so recklessly endangered the reputations of these teachers, I leave to their own consciences. I cannot refrain from pointing out that one of the everlasting principles of this blessed country of ours is that the protection of the innocent is more desired than punishment of the guilty.” The dismissed teachers asked for retraction of the charge of disloyalty, but there is no evidence that the “Royal Three” ever retracted their reckless charge.
After the press had had its innings with this story, the Board did reinstate many of the dismissed teachers, but most of them had accepted employment elsewhere or had entered war work. Eventually all but Miss Gertrude Allen were reinstated. On August 5 Dr. Goff’s motion to reinstate Miss Allen failed for lack of a second and Goff handed in his resignation. In September, Mr. Jacob Weinberger was appointed in Dr. Goffs place. in the end, three of the dismissed teachers accepted reinstatement. The others went elsewhere.
The recall petitions were certified, but there was a long delay because of a controversy over what funds should be used to pay the costs of the election.
San Diego High School opened quietly on August 31 with Mr. H. O. Wise as principal. The recall election was finally held on December 3 and the people, by a vote of more than three to one, turned out the “Almighty Three.” The new members elected to the Board were Mrs. Lena Crouse, Mrs. Anna Connell and Mr. S. M. Bingham.
By this time the San Diego Teachers’ Association had come into being and before the end of the first semester its membership included more than 90% of the whole teaching staff. Teacher tenure had not arrived, but it was soon to be a fact. By every measure the status of teachers in San Diego had undergone a dramatic improvement.
1. This article is based on personal recollections of the author and careful reading of the minutes of the City and High School Boards of Education and the files of the San Diego Union. For background material it relies heavily on the Preface to Gilbert Deeve’s A History of the San Diego Teachers Association. The author acknowledges his debt to Mr. Deere and expresses his appreciation to Mrs. R. M. Price Weis, Judge Stanley N. Barnes and Mrs. Rodney Brink (Veda Wiebens) for their comments and suggestions.
2. After leaving San Diego, Arthur Gould served with distinction in the Los Angeles City Schools and was Deputy Superintendent at the time of his retirement.
3. Veda Wiebens entered San Diego High School in February, 1914, at the age of sixteen. More mature than most of her classmates, she demonstrated considerable leadership in girls’ activities and was elected vice-president of the student body in January, 1918. On June 6, 1918, at the age of twenty, she was propelled into the limelight and leadership of this remarkable demonstration of student dissent. Gilbert Deere, long chairman of the History Department of the high school, who knew her as a student, wrote twenty-seven years later of his “amazement at the leadership of this remarkable girl. It was a leadership which was not arrogant; she had said, ‘If you are serious in this matter you will keep order.’ It was not presumptuous; there was a constant appeal for adult advice and counsel. It was not solitary; her associates were worthy of their leader. It was a leadership sure in its judgments and quick in its seizure of effective controls—a leadership which had expanded beyond the student body to include the entire community.” After leaving high school Veda Wiebens worked for the San Diego Sun for two years. She married Rodney L. Brink of the Sun’s staff and together they worked for Scripps-Howard newspapers in a number of cities until their retirement. They now reside in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California.
4. The Honorable Stanley N. Barnes is Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals with chambers in Los Angeles.
5. The Honorable Charles C. Haines, now active and elert at ninety-three, is the senior retired Justice of the Superior Court in the San Diego District.
Robert F. Heilbron, a native San Diegan, received his B.S. in physics from Caltech and a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy and economics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Heilbron has taught in private and public schools, was a principal and assistant superintendent in the San Diego City Schools, and was the first President of San Diego Mesa College. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the San Diego History Center. This paper was originally prepared for presentation before The Scholia Club of San Diego.