The History of Saugus High School (1872–1945)
(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series of articles in which readers contribute stories related to the town’s history. Today’s article was written by the late James H. Davis and was submitted by frequent contributor and longtime Saugus resident and writer Janice K. Jarosz. As a way of an introduction, she writes that Davis, a 1947 Saugus High School graduate, “penned this remarkable history of the first high school built in Saugus, MA. He was a 16-year-old junior at the time he wrote it back in 1946 and thanks to his research and words, he gives the reader a ‘window’ into those early days in Saugus, Massachusetts.” Jarosz cites two important footnotes to this story: 1. James Davis was a nephew to Marleah E. Graves, the famous teacher who taught at the Cliftondale School – now known as the MEG – for 47 years. 2. Students have often asked who John A.W. Pearce was. Now they know, he was the principal at SHS for 25 years, retiring in 1960. The senior class held a reception for him in the ‘new’ auditorium and presented him with a pair of Moon boots. Davis, who died in 2013, was an ordained Episcopal priest who served many years in Maine.)
By James H. Davis, 1946
In 1872, after several years of debate, the town fathers decided to establish a high school because of the large number of Saugus students who were attending the high school near Lynn Common. Mrs. Frances H. Newhall and a Miss Calley held classes for their 22 students in the Old Town Hall, now the American Legion Hall on Taylor Street. In 1877, for various reasons, the school was transferred to the New Town Hall, built in 1875.
In 1882, a large sum of one hundred dollars was appropriated for scientific apparatus after much debate by the Town Meeting. When Mr. F. E. Emerich was appointed principal of a student body of thirty-seven,(some classes today are larger than this) … the number of teachers was raised from two to four. When the enrollment rose to forty-eight, three years before the turn of the century, the still infant Saugus High was moved to the upper floor of the newly completed Roby School, named for the famed Revolutionary War preacher who carried a gun with his Bible into the pulpit in case the Redcoats should surprise the citizens of Saugus while they were at church.
At the turn of the century, the enrollment totaled 123 pupils and courses in bookkeeping, United States history and German were instituted. Incidentally, the German course was dropped during the first World War because of popular feelings against anything German.
In 1902, all of the faculty, except a Miss Bacheller, withdrew. One was granted a year’s leave of absence for study abroad; the rest resigned. In his report to the school committee, which was printed in the Annual Town Report, the new principal Mr. Stevens, deplored the fact that twenty percent of the boys had become cigarette smokers and wondered what the younger generation was coming to. What would Mr. Stevens think of us today! (1946) …
In 1903, the school appropriation for the entire town totaled $22,969.88. Principal Stevens resigned in that year and Mr. Leland A. Ross was appointed to take his place.
In 1904, the ancestor of our present Focus made its first modest appearance as the Advocate. After much deliberation, the New England College Entrance Certificate Board allowed Saugus High School the right to certify graduates to the New England colleges participating in the Board. Saugus High still holds this privilege… The Saugus High School band was born in the form of an orchestra of eight members. (What! No twirlers?) …
In 1905, The Saugus High School faculty consisted of Principal Ross, Miss Bacheller, Miss Ellsbree, Miss Moore, and Miss Nute. Nineteen pupils received diplomas at graduation ceremonies in June. A few pupils brought their lunches. (Nothing like the basement of SHS during a lunch period on a sub-zero winter’s day) … Many pupils were buying pie, cake, cookies, and candy at neighboring stores and from pushcart vendors, thereby incurring the displeasure of Principal Ross who advocated for a cafeteria to remedy this evil.
In 1905, the pressing issues were the advisability of employing a school physician, the confusion over the “no school” signals, and the question of a new high school. Land was purchased at the corner of Central and Winter Streets for $3,606.15, and fifty thousand dollars was appropriated for building expenses. In a few months, the citizens read that “The new High School building has eight classrooms, a chemical and physics laboratory, and an assembly hall.” (The assembly room is now used as the study hall) …
The building accommodated 180 pupils. About this time, the problem of keeping teachers was acute, as the turnover in the Saugus school system, including the high school, was large. The birthdays of President Lincoln and of the poets Whittier and Longfellow were school holidays.
When the present century was eight years old, Fairfield Whitney was appointed Superintendent of Schools, a position then paying $1,500 per year. Several school physicians were appointed to comply with a recent state law. The school committee decided that high school students were having too many activities and laid down the law.
Hereafter, there was to be only one evening social in any one school week, except the senior dance and operetta; the Junior Prom was abolished and only two Athletic Association whist parties were allowed per week; debates were restricted to Friday evenings. Soon afterwards, the school committee recommended a commercial and a manual training course. In 1911, a domestic science course was requested by Principal Butterworth and the total school expenditures were almost double what they had been eight years ago, having reached $44,764.10.
In 1912, the salary of Principal Butterworth was raised to $1,700, and the minimum salary for teachers was $500. The superintendent recommended a commercial course and also suggested oiling the schoolroom floors to counteract floating dust. (“Oil, when properly applied, will not soil the teacher’s skirts!”) … In this year, Mr. McKenna was appointed as submaster to assist Mr. Butterworth at $900 per annum; for the enrollment had now risen to 137 pupils. Incidentally, the motto of the graduating class was “Row, don’t drift.”
By1914, the salary of the school superintendent rose to $1,800 and the enrollment skyrocketed to 335 pupils because five grades were now included in the building. Mr. Butterworth resigned, and Mr. Arthur L. Williams was appointed to fill the vacant position. It was this year that the high school library was inaugurated.
1915 was a big year for Saugus High School. Because of the large enrollment, the two platoon system started when plans for a badly needed addition to the high school were delayed. In the summer came the Saugus Centennial. The town was one hundred years old; and the big event was celebrated by parades, pageants, special church services, speeches by prominent people and by an essay contest, prize $20 in gold [won] by Constance Hughes with her essay, “Boston’s Country Cousin.”
Mr. H. H. Atherton compiled a history of Saugus for use as a school textbook. Monday, July 5th, was also a big day in Saugus; bands were playing, flags were flying, and crowds lined up the streets to watch the Saugus Centennial Parade. The Saugus school system had nine colorful floats picturing among other things, the Old Rock Schoolhouse, a district school, a primary school, a number of pupils typewriting to show our commercial department; four boys doing bench and lathe work typifying our manual training department. Another float held two pictures of the Ballard School. Principal Williams urging that girls’ basketball should be played for pleasure only said, “I am opposed to all public exhibition of girls’ basketball!”
Cafeteria prices were extremely low as compared to prices today; sandwiches were only two cents; soup, stew, chowder, and fishcakes were five cents each; a piece of pie cost only three cents; and cupcakes and doughnuts were only one cent. There was talk of buying a barge to transport pupils living in North Saugus across Lily Pond. The Bay State Street Railway was paid $600 for transporting pupils to school. The sum of $51,207.29 was appropriated for the new addition to the high school.
The new addition was opened for public inspection on Friday, September 7th, 1917. The first class was held on Monday, September 10th. The building now held 850 pupils. The building now looked much as it does today with the exception of the Junior High Annex. The superintendent, extolling the new stereopticon, quoted President Eliot of Harvard as saying that “a school would as soon get along without a teacher as without a stereopticon.”
The principal suggested a large athletic field and physical education for all students. The influence of the First World War was making itself felt as students collected $31.18 for relief of European children and purchased a Liberty Bond for the school.
In 1918, when Mr. Jesse Lambert was appointed superintendent, the schools were closed for five weeks in September because of the terrible flu epidemic. High wages lured 33 students to the factories. Five died from the flu. The school day was five hours and twenty-five minutes long. The youngest student was twelve years old, and the minimum salary of Saugus teachers was fixed at $700 dollars.
In 1920, the difficulty of transporting pupils from outlying sections of town increased as the Eastern Mass Street Railway Company abandoned several trolley lines. The enrollment came to 806 in the combined junior and senior high schools, the principal’s salary was increased to fifty dollars per week, the orchestra was increased to twenty members, and all school expenses totaled $160,393.23.
In 1924, the high school was seriously overcrowded, and in spite of the fact that high school sessions were held in the morning and junior high sessions in the afternoon, the balcony and the floor of the assembly hall were used for classes.
In the 1925 Annual Report, Principal Webber lauded the new front cement walk to SHS as ‘a convenience’ and a thing of beauty. He praised the new library books and equipment and also the manual training room.
In 1926, a granolithic walk from the side door to Central Street was completed. Another much larger project was completed. This was the Sweetser School, built on the site of the old Lincoln School, near Cliftondale Square. This building made the continuance of the two platoon system unnecessary. Language courses in French and Latin were offered to eighth grade students. Classes began at 8 a.m. and ended at 1:10 pm, including two lunch periods and a physical education period. The school was allowed to certify pupils to all colleges.
In 1927, when enrollment reached 513, two new teachers, Mr. Warren and Miss Towle were added. A debate club was organized, and the first debate was held with Revere on: “Resolved: that the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution should be abolished.” The debate was won by Revere due to their greater experience along this line, reported Principal Webber.
In 1929, the two-platoon system was again renewed under pressure of enrollment. In the same year the senior play bore an interesting title of “Adam and Eve.”
In 1930, Mr. Webber resigned as principal and was replaced by Mr. Vernon Evans who immediately advocated a new high school to accommodate 1,000 pupils. School faculty included Mr. Evans, Messrs. Blossom, Haley, Pinciss, Rice, Warren, Watson, Davis, and Hayes and the Misses Hayward, Marison, Stanhope, Towle and Willy. The following years, Mr. Potts, Mr. Taylor and Mr. McCullough, the last having resigned from the school board to become a teacher, were added. Because the financial depression made a drastic economy necessary, the courses in manual training, sewing and penmanship were eliminated. The football team won four games, lost four, and tied two.
Mr. Jesse Lambert, Superintendent of Saugus Schools for fifteen years, died on February 10, 1933, and was replaced by Mr. Evans. Mr. Earle McLeod was appointed to replace Mr. Evans as high school principal. In this year, the junior high annex was completed, and the following year a parking lot was completed, and a new cafeteria opened in the basement. Mr. John Leahy was added to the faculty and Mr. Leon Young was appointed submaster.
In 1935, Mr. MacLeod resigned, and Mr. John A. W. Pearce was appointed to replace him.
In 1935, Superintendent Evans recommended woodworking classes for interested high school boys. Mr. Charles “Buzz” Harvey was hired to coach the now famous Saugus Sachems and in September of 1936, the first Girls’ Club meeting was held. The Saugus High School Band was officially formed in 1937. Mr. Evans suggested a vocational trade school and a new senior high school but neither, as yet, has been adopted. There were two more ‘firsts:’ Student Council and the first Girl’s Club dance. (Needless to say, it was a great success) …
In 1938, Robert Hill won third prize in a national essay contest, conducted by the Veterans’ of Foreign Wars Auxiliary on “The Constitution of the United States.” Stackpole Field was the scene of many gridiron battles and a Ski Club started at the behest of some rugged members of the student body.
In 1939, Saugus was the second highest scoring football team in the entire Commonwealth. (In case anyone is interested, Brockton was first) … The Sachems won the North Shore Championship and were called the best defensive team, and went on to win second place in Class C championship out of fifty-one teams. In that year they won eight games, lost one, and tied one. As a reward, the team was presented with a five-day trip to New York City during the Christmas vacation. Also, at this time, Mr. Hammond announced that membership in the Band passed the 50 mark and the first edition of the well-known handbook was printed.
In 1940, an Industrial Arts course for boys for those intending to enter factory work, the Band increased to 60, and Mr. Stephen Lovett, and Mr. Belden Gerald Bly, Jr. was added to the staff.
In 1941, the Sachems won the Class C title under coaches Henry Toczlowski and Galligan. In the last year of 1941, an event occurred which affected the entire school. Basement windows were stripped with tape and covered with wooden shutters to minimize flying glass. Air raid stations were assigned to each room and drills were conducted. Rumors about enemy invasions and air raid attacks made their rounds. Many students heard President Roosevelt tell the Congress of the United States that “our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger…we will gain the inevitable triumph.”
In 1942, physical education classes started for all boys, along with aeronautics, review math and review science. Several Bond rallies were held. The goal was $1,000 dollars but the thermometer didn’t stop until it reached $2,700. Out of 84 schools selling war stamps in Massachusetts, Saugus ranked fourth in sales. Six teachers entered various branches of the armed forces. Messrs., Galligan, Burns, Hochmuth, Hammond, Gibbs, and Lovett. Mrs. Bisbee, and Miss Solomita, were appointed, and the guidance program was put on a full-time basis.
In 1943, many shops were closed, and physical education classes were abolished. David J. Lucey was appointed football coach, Mr. Taylor became Director of Guidance, Mr. Gordon George was hired to teach chemistry and Mr. Germaine took over Mr. Hammond’s place as band director.
In 1944, teacher shortage was a pressing problem and a ten percent increase in salary was proposed to help them meet the cost of living. The Saugus Sachems won the Class B Football Championship.
In 1945, Mr. Philip Bradbury and Mr. Arthur Strout were appointed to teach physics and drawing respectively. Mr. Gibbs, Galligan and Lovett returned from the armed forces. Mr. Raymond Boyce replaced Mr. Harry Potts, as he passed away suddenly, and Mr. Ralph Earle was selected as a shop teacher.
Thus we have the history of Saugus High School, an institution that has served Saugus for 72 years. Its thousands of graduates in every walk of life are gratefully indebted to its many principals and teachers. Last, but not least, they are also indebted to Saugus High School for many friends made and for the many good times which have been a part of the unofficial S.H.S. curriculum.