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More History of Washington High School
Courtesy of Vernon Hudnut (Class of 1954)

Originally, the City of Portland was just on the West Side. Cities later settled and incorporated on the East Side were East Portland, Albina, and, I think St Johns, all of which were eventually annexed by Portland. The oldest high school was Portland H.S. The second high school, in East Portland, was East Portland H.S. at the site of what we knew as WHS. The Hawthorne Building at WHS (long-gone, fortunately, as it was a fire-trap) originally was Hawthorne (elementary) School (original location unknown to me).

Early in the 20th Century, when the PPS decided to build a third high school in North Portland, the school board decided to use the names of U.S. Presidents and Founding Fathers for high school names. The first three names selected for the soon-to-be three high schools were Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, but none of the names was assigned to a particular high school. The names were assigned by lot. The first name drawn, for Portland H.S., was Lincoln. The second name drawn, for East Portland H.S., was Washington, and, by default, the third, new high school was named Jefferson.

The cornerstone for the "new," fireproof Lincoln H.S. facing S.W. Park Ave was laid in 1911, the building was opened in 1912, and is now Lincoln Hall at Portland State. Close examination of the physical layout of Lincoln Hall and the WHS Main Building will reveal that the two buildings have the same footprint and are essentially identical in layout. The major differences are that WHS had a separate heating plant which permitted more classrooms on the east side of the building, a separate gymnasium, and the cafeteria was under the auditorium instead of the gym's being under the auditorium as at the 1911 Lincoln H.S. The gym at LHS on S.W. Park was rated the worst high school basketball venue in the city (low ceiling), with WHS being second-worst (the overhead indoor track curved over the corners of the basketball court).

WaHi had a very strong instrumental music program under Arlen O. Bogard. The WaHi band was a major winner of the Rose Festival Parade Band Trophy. The other major winners were Grant and Jefferson. Sometime in the 1960s(?) the question of continuing the Rose Festival Parade Band Trophy was put to a vote by the several PPS high schools. Only WHS, Grant, and Jefferson voted in favor of continuing the competition.

WaHi was a major source of Rose Festival Queens, along with Grant, Jefferson, and Lincoln. (I think that WaHi was in a tie with Grant and Lincoln for "the most Rose Festival Queens" when I graduated in 1954.) Principal Stephen E. Smith was Prime Minister of the Royal Rosarians, but, unfortunately, not during one of the years when the Queen was from WaHi.

Although WaHI was not one of the larger high schools in the 1950s, its graduates were major winners of college scholarships. It was stated in the "WaHi Bio" at the 1953 Portland High School Football Jamboree that the WHS Class of 1953 had been awarded more money in college scholarships than any other high school's 1953 graduating class.

In the 1950s, the WaHi counselors had very aggressive program for college-bound students to prepare them for the College Boards (aka SAT) so that we would be "test wise" when we took them, as there was no PSAT then. We were encouraged to "aim high" when making applications for college, both by the counselors and the faculty. 

Louise Randall, who taught Algebra and Plane Geometry kept a brochure for MIT (generally considered to be the place to study engineering, architecture, and the physical sciences) in her desk. When she had seen that a student "had the aptitude for engineering, architecture, or the physical sciences," she'd call the student up to her desk, pull-out the MIT brochure and say "This is the top engineering school in the U.S. If you meet their requirements for admission, you'll be qualified to go to any college you want and study anything you want." (As one of my closest friends, also a graduate engineer, once said to me, "Mrs Randall was probably responsible for more students' studying engineering in college than any one else.") When one senior reported to our Principal, Stephen E. Smith, that the Cal Tech recruiter had made rather disparaging remarks about the senior's academic qualifications, "Stephen E." informed the Cal Tech recruiter that Cal Tech needn't send a recruiter in the future, as "we weren't interested in sending our graduates to a college with that kind of attitude."

We also had some other outstanding teachers: Violet McLean (English - "You will master English grammar in my class if it kills you."); Ethel B. MacRae (English and Public Speaking - "You will learn in my class, and you will have fun doing it."); Phyllis Finnegan (Counselor and English - "A split infinitive is no longer considered to be a major grammatical sin."); Norman Sipple (General Science and Physics - "No eating in my classes unless you bring enough for the whole class to eat."); James V. Blake (Counselor and Algebra - "I have a feeling in my toes that I'm going to give a test, and in 'x' days that feeling will have risen to the top."); Nathan Berkham (Social Studies, especially Civics); Fred Parks (Math, including the course for college-bound seniors intending to study engineering, architecture, or the physical sciences: Trigonometry, Advanced Algebra, and Solid Geometry); Luella Metcalf [Counselor (primary contact for college-related matters) and Social Studies]; All of the Biology teachers. Yes, there were others who were outstanding, and, yes, we had some clinkers, but they shall go unnamed, even though I did have a few of them and still remember who they were.

In the 1950s, WHS was one of two high schools in the U.S. which taught Russian, but did not require two years of Latin as a prerequisite. (Latin grammar is similar to Russian grammar.) Given the present emphasis on "racial and ethnic balance" in our public schools, when I was a student at WHS (1950 - 54), it was racially, culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically mixed, and no one gave it a second thought. (Well, if they did, they kept it to themselves.)

Another aspect of the Portland High School Football Jamboree was that the several high schools were "paired-off" by lot, and each pair played only one quarter on Friday night, the games being completed on Saturday. Regardless of which school was playing Grant at the Jamboree, everyone in the stadium, except, of course, the Grant H.S. loyalists, cheered for the other team.

When I started WHS, Gerald Exley was the head football coach. His son, Jerry, was a star football player at Grant. I knew Jerry Exley, his sister, Barbara, and their mother from my first years at Gregory Heights School, where Mrs Exley taught. I had the opportunity to ask Mrs Exley how she "handled the conflict" when WHS and GHS played each other. Her reply was "I cheer for whoever has the ball."

When PPS, faced with declining enrollment, targeted Cleveland H.S. (originally Clinton Kelly High School of Commerce, more commonly known as "Commerce H.S." or simply "Commerce") for closure, a parents' committee was formed. One of the parents was an attorney, and he researched the original Clinton Kelly grant for the property. (The property is in two parcels: The site of the school building and the site of the athletic field, originally the site of the Clinton Kelly mansion.) Clinton Kelly, an early Portland settler and minister, specified that the property was to be used solely for a public school. If the property was used for any other purpose or put-up for sale, the property would revert to the Kelly estate (meaning the living heirs of Clinton Kelly). Finding itself "between a rock and a hard place," PPS decided to close WHS ("Washington-Monroe" by then) and keep Cleveland H.S. open.