Western History & Genealogy Blog

Remember when...

We all have memories of our school days. It seems like it was a continual round of hurry up and waits. Days where we all stared at the clock counting the seconds to recess, then rushed outside to get as much playing and running before having to slog back into class for another round of multiplication. Then came the days where we went to school anxiously awaiting that big dance, to know who our teacher for the upcoming year would be, seeing who would sit next to us in the cafeteria, going to the big game and graduating. Well, this past year has brought all of that back to me and more.   Having not grown up in Denver it was an eye opening experience for me to start work on the Denver Public Schools collection. As I went through this collection I had waves of memories of using paint and glue on projects, teacher-parent meetings, and the awkward years that began in junior high and never really ended. Having just completed my first large collection alone, I feel, that in a way, I too have graduated.    To begin with the first school in Denver began in a log cabin in 1869. Over the years the system has morphed into what it is today, 158 operating schools having a variety of functions. This, or course, doesn’t account for the numerous school that are no longer in existence.     However, the real jewel of this collection is its photographs. Many of which were taken specifically for Denver Public Schools. They range from the early 1890’s to the 1980’s. Of course there are the typical building exterior or class photo, portraits of early and influential Denver educators. But some of my favorites are of children in the classrooms and those occasional photographs that only they can provide.    One of the most fascinating aspects of these photos is how education has changed over the years. The first of two great examples of this was taken at Park Hill Elementary School in the 1930’s.  It’s of a kindergarten lesson on the correct way to carry a hand saw. The second was taken at Dora Moore Elementary School around 1925. In it two kindergarten students, a boy and a girl are both using tools. The boy appears to be a mixture of concentration and euphoria while using a vice and hand saw to cut a piece of wood. At the same time as the girl looks at the camera, in mid-swing with a hammer. I’m not sure, but the thought of any five year old wielding a hand saw or a hammer terrifies me.    Of course there are too many fun pictures of elementary school students. From classes that dressed up to re-enact the coronation of Great Britain's King George VIin 1937, or a re-enactment of Little Miss Muffett, the first school bus in Denver.  Even students playing school bus.      Some of the photos demonstrate the pride of the United States during World War II. Photos show students saluting the flag, doing clothing, war and metal drives for the War Effort.     As most children are cute, the Junior High and High School photos are also quite interesting. Once again they’re a commentary on the society and life of the times. There are the typical pictures of students in classes, but there are also photos of kids, being, well, kids. For example, there are a few photos from Baker Junior High School of students hamming it up while in costume for a play.  There are even the photos of High School students that any parent or teacher can relate to. Such as the typical eye rolling, or “do I really have to be here” expressions, similar to this picture of a typewriting class taken at South High School around 1930.   And sometimes there is the just play awkward. Like the pictures of a drag queen beauty contest at West High School in the 1940’s (below).  I could keep going on and on, but basically, the purpose of this post is to not only let people know that this is collection is full of fun and entertaining images, but it is also a commentary on the evolution of a school, and a city. Each of the pictures, although not completely politically correct by today’s standards, demonstrates  different eras in Denver. It shows that no matter what the culture may dictate, or what their moral values and lifestyles are, we are still human. We still have the same experiences in different forms. But more importantly we want our children and youth to learn, grow, enjoy and expand their knowledge through what we can provide them with today.    For images from this collection click here.