Photos from the Vault

WWI pins and their finest overalls: Back to school circa 1918 in SLO was a lot different

Mrs. Nicholson’s class at Emerson School in San Luis Obispo. About 35 students pose for a photo in an early 20th century classroom, in a room full of blackboards and folding desks.
Mrs. Nicholson’s class at Emerson School in San Luis Obispo. About 35 students pose for a photo in an early 20th century classroom, in a room full of blackboards and folding desks.

It is the end of August, and the days are getting longer — if you are a student.

I remember the shock when endless summer was over and bicycling to the pool was replaced with bicycling to school.

Teachers usually find a way to get a room full of random energy all working in the same direction. In the undated photo above, the only information provided on the teacher bringing this room together is Miss or Mrs. Nicholson, Emerson school teacher.

It was picture day, for what appears to be about a fifth-grade class of 35 students. Many of the boys are wearing ties, two in their best clean overalls.

All of the students sit with hands folded. Many of the girls have giant ribbons in their hair. Boys have their hair brushed back out of their eyes.

At least one boy couldn’t hold still for the long exposure, his face blurred.

Several of the children are wearing buttons with a cross on them; perhaps it was a fundraiser for the Red Cross during World War I which makes me guess the photo is circa 1918.

Leaves and butterflies decorate the walls, along with what appear to be student papers; Nicholson was a fan of hanging plants.

The blackboard is lined with erasers allocated so students can show work on individual problems, and a wood stove sits in the corner.

SLO_Emersonschool005594
A Telegram-Tribune Centurama clipping showing Emerson School circa 1900. This is the second of three schools on the site. The first was built in 1869 and burned down Nov. 10, 1884. This second building was demolished shortly after World War II and replaced by a third building. Telegram-Tribune

Former state Sen. Chris Jespersen wrote a history of the county that was quoted in the May 7, 1956, Telegram-Tribune and is the basis for the following.

Then as now, local school boards were responsible for funding and standards.

In 1866, the Mission District of San Luis Obispo was looking for a site to build a school; classes were held in private homes and apparently segregated by sex.

A report said, “The female school kept by Mrs. Roco is illy provided; that the school house is without benches, seats, blackboard, teacher’s desk, bookcase, etc.”

The board decided to pay her $10 more per month for the use of her room.

It took three years for the board find a site for a school, paying Nathan Goldtree $60 for a lot at the corner of Monterey and Toro, but the board could not find the money to build that school and sold the lot.

Then they found property bounded by Nipomo, Pismo and Pacific from Romauldo Pacheco for $250.

If logic prevailed, this school would have been named Pacheco, but was first called Nipomo Street School and later Emerson School.

The first building burned down Nov. 10, 1884 and was replaced. That building was demolished shortly after World War II and a third Emerson School was built.

The replacement served kindergarten through third grade and was closed in 1983 as a cost-cutting move; the school was demolished and property is now site of Emerson Park, across the street from St. Stepen’s Episcopal Church.

If anyone has more information to share on the photo, please post a comment.

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