The New Public High School Opens
By Beverly Lane
For decades San Ramon Valley students had no high school in the valley. But, at the turn of the twentieth century, that changed. The Danville Grange No. 85 and the Danville Improvement Club (established in 1905) joined to organize a new high school.
At that point state law required that children between the ages of 8 and 14 attend school, usually for five months. They received an assured, but scant, grammar schooling. For high school, students boarded during the week and went to school in Oakland or San Francisco.
A Grange resolution dated June 19, 1909, stated:
whereas there is no high school in this area, most of the children are being denied this educational advantage be it resolved that every effort must be made to secure a high school in Danville.
A committee of five members was named, authorized and instructed to hold meetings of the general public to secure information on procedures to secure a high school in the valley. The Grange committee consisted of Nina Williams, Ben Boone, W. E. Stewart, Ida Hall and Florence Steinmetz.
November 13, 1909, the Contra Costa Gazette reported a meeting was held in Danville to discuss the high school project. “The Danville Grange, one of the oldest organizations of the kind in the State, is back of the movement.” “At present the only recourse…for high school privileges is Concord, Oakland and other Alameda county towns, all too far away to be reached by pupils who will have to make daily trips.” The absence of “such school has repeatedly deterred homeseekers from settling in the valley.”
At that meeting W. N. Hanlon, County Superintendent of Schools informed the citizens gathered that a census of 200 students was necessary to establish a high school. If Lafayette and Central District would form with Danville, Alamo, San Ramon, Green Valley, Sycamore Valley and Tassajara grammar school districts, there was a possible 452 children. The taxable property of such a district was $2,311,888 with a net tax role of 15 cents on the $100.
A census was taken and, after Lafayette, Central and Tassajara schools decided against joining, the five other grammar schools agreed to form a high school district. On Jan. 15, 1910 Charles J. Wood announced to the Grange and to the general public that he had secured the necessary and proper papers and notices calling for an election to create a unified district and elect a board of trustees.
After a successful election, the first meeting of the elected trustees of the San Ramon Valley Union School District, was held on March 31, 1910, John F. Baldwin was elected president and W. E. Stewart secretary. It was moved and carried unanimously that the high school be located in Danville. The first board of trustees consisted of Baldwin, Stewart, Charles J. Wood, William Meese, and David Bell.
The trustees planned to open school in early August, with a 10-month school calendar. Mr. Eddy rented one of his houses, located two doors east of Hartz Avenue on Church Street. A Mr. Cutting was hired as teacher/principal for $150 a month. He insisted another teacher was needed was instructed to make a trip to Stanford and Berkeley to find a “suitable” teacher. He hired Miss A. Maude Cornwall for $80.00 a month. Rent was $25.00 a month with Mrs. Eddy doing the janitorial work for $1 a month.
The trustees worked hard, creating a new curriculum by visiting other schools in the Bay Area. The school initially offered six courses: commercial, history, English, German, mathematics and physical geography. Chemistry and physics were added in 1912. A porch on the house was enclosed to create the lab.
Thirty children attended the first school year; the Eddy house served as the school from 1910-1914. As the student population grew, another location was needed. A new Social and Fraternal Hall on Front Street had been built in 1913, making the former Odd Fellows Hall down the street available. In August of 1914, forty-eight students and four teachers opened the new rooms which were upstairs in the Close building.
The first students to complete all four years at the San Ramon Valley Union High School were Astrid Olsson, Viola Lynch, Ora Bell, Ruth Weinhauser and Alice Bell who graduated on May 29, 1914.
The trustees continued to look for property for a new high school and, in 1915, they found 10 acres of land north of Danville. Next week’s column tells that story.
Sources: Inez Butz’s “The Founding of San Ramon Valley Union High School,” Contra Costa Gazettes, Valley Kernel for 1925, museum archives.
First appeared as a column called Presenting the Past in the Danville Weekly