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Home > Lowell Alumni Newsletter > History : 19th Century

19th Century Lowellites
The Early History of Lowell High School

In 1856, the first public high school in California was founded in San Francisco on Powell Street between Clay & Sacramento (in the shadow of today's Fairmont Hotel Tower). For two years it was called the Union Grammar School and in 1858 became the San Francisco High School. Mr. G.W. Minns, a Harvard graduate, was the first principal. A picture of the original site has survived, against the backdrop of the Bay with sailing vessels anchored near the base of Telegraph Hill. The young scholars trudged up planked sidewalks of streets leading up Nob Hill to the school.

The new school had its critics, indignant that the cost of $10 per student per month was over three times the cost of educating a grammar school student. Voices were raised against spending public funds to educate the poor beyond their position. However, it was soon recognized that the course of study was on the secondary level and California's first public high school soon became the pride of San Francisco.

Dr. Henry Gibbons, Jr., Pioneer Class of 1859 - Physician, M.D. UOP; Union Army Medical Officer; S.F. Health Officer; Dean, Cooper Medical College; Prof. of Medicine, Stanford Medical School; gave the inaugural address to its first class of graduates.

In 1864 the boys and girls were separated - girls to a new Girls High School; the boys remained on Powell in the same school with a new name, Boys High School.

In 1868 the University of California was founded and accepted its first class in the fall of 1869. Lowell graduates made up approximately 1/3 of each graduating class for the next 20 years. During Cal's first decade, six of the Gold Medalists (tops in the graduating class) attended Lowell.

  • Harry J.W. Dam '71 was the first editor of Cal's Blue & Gold yearbook published in the spring of 1874.
  • Albert Michelson, Class of 1868 - Annapolis Class of 1873. Naval officer, teacher, and scientist. Head of Physics Dept., U. of Chicago. Measured the velocity of light, distance to the stars, etc. The Michelson Hall of Science on the Naval Academy campus honors his name. First American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1907. A book titled The Master of Light describes his scientific achievements.
  • Frank Otis '68, Jacob Reinstein '70, and Nathan Newmark '68 were members of the University of California's first four-year graduating class of 1873, called the Twelve Apostles. Otis was the University's first Gold Medalist.
  • Jacob Reinstein, Class of 1870 - UCB's Pioneer Graduating Class of 1873 (the Twelve Apostles). Attorney; first Lowell or Cal alumnus to be appointed Regent, 1895. Around the turn-of-the-century, he and Mrs. Phoebe Hearst cooperated to beautify the inner campus (sponsored an international competition). Pres., UCB Alumni Association; a marble bench in the Greek Theatre honors him.
  • Joseph C. Rowell, Class of 1870 - He was a member of Berkeley's Class of 1874. While a junior, he was on a committee charged with selecting the school's colors. The boy's father was the Reverend Joseph Rowell, Yale Class of 1848, San Francisco's "Apostle of the Seamen". Young Joseph's fondness for Yale blue caused him to lobby in favor of that color. Gold was added for the Golden Gate (or Golden State) to give Cal its now familiar Blue & Gold colors. As University Librarian for 44 years (1875-1919), he became one of Berkeley's most revered Old Blues.
  • Josiah Royce, Class of 1871 - U.C. Berkeley, Class of 1875. 19th Century Harvard professor, author and philosopher. He and William James at Harvard helped legitimize American philosophical thought. Royce Hall on the UCLA campus memorializes his name.
  • Frank Deering '71, attorney; first librarian and later president of the S. F. Law Library; annotated the penal and civil procedure codes of California, the first work of its kind in the United States; Stanford U. Trustee; co-founder of the S. F. law firm; Myrick, Deering & Scott.
  • Charles Lee Tilden, Class of 1874 - Attorney. President of the Overland Freight and Transfer Company. Creator and first President of the East Bay Regional Park District's Board of Directors. Tilden Park - the Jewel of the East Bay, is named in his honor. He was a Mills College Trustee.
  • Alexander Morrison, Class of 1874 - Attorney; UCB graduate; Hastings College of the Law Pioneer Class of 1881. Co-founder of the S.F. law firm, Morrison & Foerster; president of the UCB Alumni Association; The Morrison Reading room in the Doe Library, UCB and the Morrison Planetarium in the Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, honor his name.
  • James Deering '75, attorney; succeeded his brother as librarian of the S.F. Law Library, served for 39 years, 1889-1928; the library was destroyed in the 1906 fire; Deering spent much of his later career rebuilding it to its former state.
In its first half-dozen graduating classes (1873-78), the University of California conferred degrees on 147 students. Fifty-one or slightly more than 1/3 attended Lowell (BHS). An early principal had this to say about Lowellites in the 1870s, "A powerful influence to draw students away from the school was contributed in 1869 when the University of California registered its first class with entrance requirements but little in advance of grammar school training. There was no need to finish high school to enroll as a freshman. Anyone who could answer some simple questions in geography and American History, and who had some elementary algebra could start the college course at once. That is why many names that appeared on the Boys' High Register were not on the graduation list. . . Since a large number of pupils wish to fit themselves for the University as early as possible, I desire to recommend a change in the course of study so that the boys may be prepared in ONE year for admission to the freshman class of the University. . . Any boy with ordinary capacity can prepare himself in mathematics, grammar, history, and geography. It would meet the demands of a large number of young men who feel that their time is too precious to spend three years in preparing themselves in studies which they will have to review after entering the institution." (Cal graduate Josiah Royce '71, Ph.D., philosopher and Harvard professor is an example of a Lowellite whose name is on the BHS register but not on the graduation list. The School Board never did act on the proposed one year of high school. ED)

In 1875, the school was moved from Powell Street to Sutter between Gough & Octavia. The site is now occupied by the Coventry Park Assisted-Living Facility. A plaque in the forecourt pays tribute to the teachers and students who attended the school, 1875-1913. The iron datemark of the opening of the Sutter St. school, 1875, was salvaged from the old wooden building when it was demolished in 1930. The datemark is in the school archives.

An early principal, Mr. W.T. Reid chose the dedication of the Sutter St. school to give his philosophy of education, "To read the English language well, to write with dispatch a neat legible hand, and to master the rules of arithmetic . . . this I call a good education. And if you add the ability to write pure grammatical English, I regard it as an excellent education. These are the tools. You can do much with them, but you are helpless without them. They are the foundation, and unless you begin with them, all your flashy attainments - all your "ologies" and "osophies" - are ostentatious rubbish."

In 1882, a high school phenomenon began at BHS. The Gamma Eta Kappa (GEKs) fraternity was founded, the oldest NATIONAL high school fraternity in the country. The frat eventually expanded to 15 other California high schools AND CHAPTERS NATIONWIDE. For the next 25 years frats and sororities (five boys and three girls in 1904) were the center of social activities at the school. Now you see them . . . now you don't! In 1909 the State Legislature banned all secret societies from the public schools. From then on, no reference to the frats appears in the yearbooks, though suspicions are strong that they existed underground until the late 1940's. Those suspicions were well founded. Last August a parcel was received in the LAA office containing memorabilia. Dear Sir: "The Gamma Eta Kappa fraternity was dissolved on June 9, 2002 after 120 year of fraternalism. At the business meeting of the 49th biennial conclave, the 24 attending members could not muster four members to take the leadership offices, so it was voted in favor of dissolution. As you know, the fraternity was conceived, March 10, 1882, at Boys High School which is now Lowell High School. I am sending you some memorabilia. We hope these items might be put on display some time for all to see. Sincerely, Gordon N."

In 1882, a Cadet Corps under the auspices of the Calif. National Guard was started at Boys High (uniforms were Union Army Blue). For two decades it was an important part of campus life. In 1898 many of the cadets enlisted for duty in the Philippines in the war with Spain. The Corps was not revived after the war. There were no cadets at the school until 1915 when today's U.S. Army JROTC was organized.

Lowell (BHS) was one of only three schools initially accredited by the University of California (1884), the accrediting agency until supplanted by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC). It was the lack of qualified feeder schools that made San Francisco's small college-prep high school so important to Cal. Until the early Nineties, Cal's growth was relatively slow; by contrast, Stanford was an "instant" university with an initial student population close to that of UCB. It wasn't until 1891 that the Legislature authorized localities to levy an annual tax for high school support. Then, with high schools springing up all over the state, Cal's mushroom growth began on its way to the giant university we know today.

After a 22-year absence (since 1864) girls were readmitted to BHS in 1886 in order to take courses to prepare them for the University of California. Female names appeared once more on the 1888 graduation list. Six years later the School Board faced up to the coed situation and renamed the school Lowell after the New England poet and Harvard professor, James Russell Lowell.

  • Leon Sloss and Joseph D. Grant, Class of 1876, were appointed by Leland Stanford to Stanford's first Board of Trustees, 1891.
  • Frederick H. Clark, Class of 1878 - Lowell Principal, 1919-1930; first Lowellite and Westerner to become principal of the school.
  • Abraham Ruef, Class of 1879 - Went to Cal where he received Honorable Mention as runner-up for the University Gold Medal (top student). In the years just prior to the Earthquake, attorney Ruef was the city's political boss in virtual full control of the city's political activities and of its nominal leader, Mayor Gene Schmitz. Eventually Ruef was indicted by the Grand Jury and spent four years in beautiful Marin where, as a guest of the State of California, he wrote his memoirs in San Quentin.
  • Julius Kahn, Class of 1878. - U.S. Congressman, 1898-1924; instrumental in having San Francisco named the host city for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in the Marina. The Julius Kahn Playground in Pacific Heights is named in his honor.
  • Alfred Roncovieri, Class of 1879 - S.F. Supt. of Schools, 1906-1923; member, S.F. Board of Supervisors.
  • Keizo Koyano, Class of 1881 - First student of Japanese descent to graduate from Lowell (the picture of his graduating class is displayed in the library). He was one of the founders and first president of the Japanese Gospel Society - the oldest formal Japanese organization in the United States, established in 1877 in the basement of the Chinese Methodist Mission at Washington & Stockton Sts. in the City.
  • Frank M. Angellotti, Class of 1882 - Former Chief Justice, California Supreme Court (only Lowellite known to hold that office).
  • Eugene De Sabla, Class of 1883 - Visionary builder of the first hydroelectric powerhouses on Sierra rivers to supply electricity to the farms, homes, and mines of Northern California. In the 1890's he and his partners controlled the vast majority of all electric and gas systems in NorCal. They purchased the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company to create the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) in October 1905. De Sabla and his partner, John Martin, share the sobriquet, "Father of the PG&E".
  • Stephen Mather, Class of 1883. - Businessman; "Father of the National Park System"; first Director, appointed by President Wilson, 1916; Mather AFB & the S.F. summer camp, Camp Mather, honor his name. Members of the Stephen Tyng Mather Society continue to insure the thoughtful stewardship of our National Park System. Awarded an honorary LL.D. by UCB in 1942.
  • Franklin K. Lane '82 was City Attorney of San Francisco; S.F. Mayoral candidate; Secretary of the Interior under President Woodrow Wilson. It was the teamwork of Lane and Mather that opened the primitive national parks to the American public (earning John Muir's undying enmity). He was the first Lowellite to be awarded an honorary LL.D. by UCB, 1915.
  • Frank D. Madison, Class of 1884 - Co-founder of one of the city's largest law firms: Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, sometimes called the Thundering Herd because of the large number of lawyers it employs.
  • Willie McGee '83, George Merrill '84, George Rothganger'81, Frank Dunn '81, Monty Koshland '84, and Milton Blanchard were on the 1886 Cal football team at the dawn of college football in the West.
  • Blanche Bates, Class of 1888 - Star of the stage and silent screen during the first quarter of the century. A little over a year after her stage debut she was playing leading characters in a wide variety of comedies and emotional plays: Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, 1897; Miladi in The Musketeers, 1899; and Cho-Cho-San in Madam Butterfly. Blanche was in the first class of girls to graduate from Boys High School. Theodore S. Solomons, Class of 1888 - He was one of the pioneer explorers of the high Sierra. During three Sierra trips in the 'Nineties', Solomons established a route that is now the northern half of the John Muir Trail. He named the Evolution Group - Mts. Darwin, Haeckel, Wallace, Fiske, Spencer, and Huxley. Seven Gables, Disappearing Creek, Enchanted Gorge, Scylla and Charybdis are all Solomons' names. A biography by Shirley Sargent, Solomons of the Sierra-The Pioneer of the John Muir Trail, is a tribute to him. Mt. Solomons, near the Trail, honors the intrepid explorer.
  • Mary B. Clayes was the first Lowell alumna to graduate from the U. of California, 1892. (After 22 years of separation (1864), girls were readmitted to BHS (1886) to take courses needed for entrance to Cal).
  • Mr. Frank Morton, a Dartmouth grad, was Principal of BHS/Lowell for 30 years, 1888-1918, twice as long as any other principal.
  • Florence Prag Kahn, Lowell Teacher, 1888-1899 - She succeeded her husband, Julius Kahn '78, to his U.S. Congressional seat in 1924. Congresswoman Kahn won the seat in a special election and served in her own right for the next twelve years, 1925-1936. She served on the Appropriations Committee and was successful in securing federal money for numerous Bay Area military installations and financing for the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Her legislative support for a strong FBI evoked the sobriquet, "Mother of the FBI" from its director. Her wit in floor debate made her a gallery favorite.
  • Holbrook Blinn, Class of 1890 - President of Stanford's three-year pioneer Class of 1894. He was a popular London and Broadway stage star at the beginning of the century and had his own New York stage company in the early 1910's. He was very handsome and a favorite with the ladies, appearing in several notable silent films in the 1920's with stars including Mary Pickford and three Marion Davies features. He did not make it to the talkies, for he died suddenly in a horseback riding accident in 1928.
There are twenty-nine inscribed marble benches in the UCB Greek Theater honoring illustrious graduates. Three are Lowellites: Samuel Benedict Christy '70, first Dean of the College of Mining; Saxton D. Pope '95, M.D., Professor of Surgery at the U.C. Medical School and Jacob Reinstein '70, Regent, 1895.

  • Sidney Ehrman, Class of 1891 - Attorney; Co-founder (w/Emmanuel S. Heller '82) of the S.F. law firm: Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe; established Hastings College of the Law Endowment Fund, 1920's; UCB Regent for 22 years; Many Lowellites at Cal have probably lived in Ehrman Residence Hall, named in his honor; honorary CAL LL.D., 1953.
  • Oscar Sutro, Class of 1891 - Atty; Pres. of the California Alumni Association; Trustee of Mills College.
Five Lowellites played in the first Cal-Stanford Big Game: Tommy Code '91 and Milton Grosh '91 for Stanford. Guy Kennedy '91, George Foulks '89 (Capt.) and Roy Gallagher '87 for Cal. Kennedy and Code were opposing quarterbacks.

  • Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, Class of 1892 - A UCB graduate; Ph.D. in English, Yale; President of Mills College for 27 years. She enjoyed saying she was the only college president who came onto the job pushing a baby carriage. Another favorite quip was "I am a girl graduate of Boys High School." Reinhardt Hall and Library on the campus honor her long service to the college.
  • Eugene Meyer, Class of 1892 - UCB & Yale; first president of the World Bank, 1945, appointed by President Roosevelt; Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; publisher of the Washington Post and father of Board Chairwoman, Katherine Graham, prominent during the Watergate crisis. UCB LL.D. in 1942.
  • Joseph Erlanger, Class of 1892 - Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1945; Head, Dept. of Physiology, Washington U., St. Louis; Honorary LL.D. by UCB in 1932.
In 1892, Lowell's first student activity, the Forensic Society, was organized.

In 1894, the name of the school was changed from Boys High to Lowell after the New England poet and Harvard Professor, James Russell Lowell. Archibald Cloud explained the politics of how an Easterner's name became attached to a San Francisco school as follows: "A San Francisco businessman by the name of Pelham W. Ames was a member of the Board of Education. He was a native of the town of Lowell, Massachusetts, a Harvard graduate, and an admirer of James Russell Lowell. He proposed the name "Lowell" to the Board, and his colleagues concurred, voting to bestow that honored name upon the high school formerly designated as Boys' High School."

  • Clement C. Young, Lowell Teacher of English and Latin, 1892-1906. He left the teaching profession to enter politics and became Lt Gov. in 1913 and Governor, 1927-31. Ex-officio UCB Regent, 1913 to 1931.
  • Jesse C. Colman, Class of 1896 - Business and civic leader; President of the S.F. Board of Supervisors.
  • Jesse Steinhart, Class of 1897, attorney; Regent of the University of California.
  • George Fuller & Edmund Russ, Class of 1898 - Lowell's bicycle team held every school record at the time. The Bicycle Trophy won by them is on display in the Meyer Library - Lowell's oldest sports trophy.
  • Monroe Deutsch, Class of 1898 - First student editor of The Lowell; UCB graduate; Cal Provost in the 1940's & 50's; Recipient of the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Award for public service to the Berkeley community; awarded honorary LL.D. in 1948; Lowellites at Cal have probably lived in Deutsch Residence Hall named in his honor; Mills College Trustee.
Eight Lowellites were charter Initiates into Berkeley's Phi Beta Kappa Society, Alpha of California, established in 1898 - the first in the State.

  • Edgar C. Levey, Class of 1899 - UCB Phi Beta Kappa; Attorney; Speaker of the California State Assembly (only Lowellite); ex-officio UCB Regent, 1927-1932; President of the Lowell Debating Society.
  • Thomas E. Selfridge, Class of 1899 - West Point, 1903; U.S. Army aviation pioneer; one of the first military pilots of a heavier-than-air machine; aircraft designer; killed in a flight of the Wright Flyer at Ft. Myer, Virginia, 1908 (the pilot, Orville Wright survived the crash); first person to die in a heavier-than-air flying machine; Selfridge AFB in Michigan honors his memory; he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery near the very spot where he fell to his death. The Arlington National Cemetery website provides more information about the tragic death of Lt. Selfridge.
  • Charles G. Norris, Class of 1899 - Author of eleven novels; brother of naturalist writer, Frank Norris; his wife was popular feminist author, Kathleen Thompson Norris. He was on the editorial staff of The Lowell and wrote feature articles in the 1899 Annual.
  • Paul Castelhun '95, Tadini Bacigalupi '98, Alex Adler '98 and Billy Drum '97 took part in the fight that captured The Axe from its Stanford guardians after an 1899 baseball game in San Francisco. It rested safely in a Berkeley bank vault until a daring Stanford coup regained it after a Cal Axe Rally in 1930.
  • Reuben "Rube" Goldberg, Class of '00 - UCB grad; sports cartoonist for the S.F. Chronicle and N.Y. Evening Mail; sculptor; illustrated and wrote in early turn-of-the-century Lowells; "Dean of American Cartoonists"; created cartoon characters: Boob McNutt and Mike & Ike; name is synonymous for an outlandish contraption designed to provide the simplest service (scratch one's back); Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoons; his 1900 diploma is displayed in the school's main office.
  • Frank Mandel '00, playwright and Broadway producer of musical shows; collaborated with Victor Herbert, George M. Cohan, and Laurence Schwab to produce such plays as No, No, Nanette (includes the memorable melodies, Tea for Two and I Want to be Happy) and the popular musical, The Desert Song. Introduced Edward G. Robinson and Frank Robinson to Broadway.
Boys High School/Lowell 19th Century graduation figures:

Year Graduates
187016 (No girls)
187521 (No girls)
188035 (No girls)
188559 (No girls)
188850 (1st year - 5 girls)
189076 (14 girls)
189583 (24 girls)
190078 (29 girls)

It is amazing that this relatively small number of graduates made such an impact on the professional and business life in San Francisco. Their influence on the University of California is even more impressive. By the end of the century, a Lowellite was Dean of the Faculty of Mining, Dean of the Faculty of the College of Medicine, Dean of the Faculty of the College of Chemistry, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Ass't Prof. of Geology, Dean of the college of Letters and Science, Librarian of the College, Ass't Prof. of Math, Dean of the School of Jurisprudence, Regent of the University, Instructor in Latin & Greek (Monroe Deutsch '98 later Provost of the University).

So far as the coeds were concerned, the first Lowell in 1898 editorialized, "Much as been said in the various colleges and high schools against the Co-eds, but we are glad to say that at no time in the history of Lowell has anything been said or done against the young ladies. At first they were certainly looked upon as interlopers and left severely to themselves, but for the last two years they have been steadily advancing, until within the last year they have become active members of the Athletic and Debating Societies; and here they have shown themselves such efficient and willing workers that the societies would now be at a great loss if at any time they should be deprived of the encouraging influence of the gentler members." The Principal concurred (1899), "The wisdom of accepting the young ladies has been fully proved. The girls have taken hold of the work with a zeal born from a desire to excel. They have shown themselves able to meet all the requirements of a vigorous course of study . . . and the scholarship and moral character of the school have been elevated by their pres-ence." (During the next 100 years, the achievements of the "Coeds" would include Rhodes Scholars, a British Marshall Scholar, UCB Gold Medalists, a MacArthur Fellow, a U. S. Ambassador, a S.F. Superior Court Judge, a college President, and a Lowell Principal. Ed.)

At the turn of the Century, two important developments changed the LHS campus scene. Firstly, the school changed from a three-year to a four-year school, (until 1962 when the school temporarily lost its 9th grade); secondly, the Class of 1899 saw the first Winter or mid-year graduating class. This development would become the bane of the Alumni office because graduates were often uncertain where their allegiance lies -- with the previous June class or with the year in which they actually graduated (the next June class). Happily for alumni office bureaucrats, 1974 was the last of the mid-year graduation and henceforth, graduates have been spared the anxieties of a Hobson's choice.

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