Tulsa History

Education (1880-1941)

The first schools in Tulsa were tribal schools for children of the Creek Indians, the original settlers of Tulsa. Later, mission day schools were established to teach children of the Creek Indians and non-Indian settlers. In 1884, the Presbyterian Board of New York, under the supervision of the Reverend W. P. Haworth, established the Presbyterian Mission Day School on the grounds now occupied by the Cosden Building and the Municipal Building at Fourth Street and Boston Avenue. This school, which has been called “the mother of public education in Tulsa,” included one large room equipped with double desks that could be occupied by two children. Because of the rapid growth of the community, it soon became necessary to add a second story. This school house, with its flat roof and outside stairway, was one of the tallest buildings in Tulsa at the time. It was maintained until 1889. In that year, Jay Forsythe, J. M. Hall, R. M. Bynum and Joe Price bought the land from the Presbyterian Board for $1,050. They held the property until Tulsa was incorporated and then deeded the property to the community for school purposes. The first school board included Don Hagler, J. M. Morrow, J. M. Hall, P. L. Price, T. E. Smiley and B. F. Colley. The first city administration allocated $1,700 to maintain the school for the first year. This sum was obtained by levying a tax on personal property, which was the only way of raising funds for the public school because there was no private ownership of real estate at the time. The Presbyterian Mission Day School was razed in 1906. Its location became the site of Tulsa’s first high school, named Tulsa High School.

Another early church-operated school was built by the First Methodist Episcopal Church in 1888 at the corner of North Main and Brady Streets. It closed eleven years later in 1899. A third mission school operated under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from 1895 through 1898.

Schools in early day Tulsa, including the Methodist and Presbyterian Day Schools, were based on the neighborhood or tribal school system of the Creeks. Under this system, each neighborhood was required to provide a school building. In turn, each neighborhood elected three local trustees for each school. This Creek system was the forerunner of today’s school districts and boards of education.

In 1905, Ward School (now demolished) was constructed in Tulsa. It was located between Fourth and Fifth Streets and between Cincinnati and Boston Avenues. Northside School (also demolished) was the second public school built in the city in the same year. It was located at 519 North Boston Avenue.

The period from 1906 through 1929 was a time of rapid growth and expansion of Tulsa’s school system. In May of 1906, 1,792 students were enrolled. By the fall of the same year, enrollment had grown by 544 students. Sequoyah School (an earlier school than the one which remains today), was built in 1906 at 516 North Boston Avenue. Lindsay Public School at 512 West Twelfth was built in 1907. It was renamed Riverview Elementary School in 1917. In December of 1907, control of the Tulsa schools passed from the city to boards of education, which were organized by districts.

In 1908, the Lynch-Forsythe School at East First Street and Rockford Avenue, and the Owen School at 8 North Maybell Avenue were built. The names of both schools were changed in later years. Lynch-Forsythe was renamed Washington in 1914 and abandoned as a school in 1937. Owen School was renamed Irving in 1918. By 1909, there were eight public schools. In 1909, Lincoln School was built on the corner of 15th Street and Peoria Avenue in the Bellview Addition.

Legally segregated schools for African-American students began shortly after Oklahoma became a state in 1907. In 1908, a two-room frame school building was constructed on Hartford Avenue between East Cameron and East Easton Streets. The small school served grades 1 through 8. In the fall of 1913, Dunbar Grade School began operation in an eighteen-room brick building and a two-room frame building located at 326 N. Hartford Avenue. That first year’s enrollment included 241 lower grade students and 7 high school students. That same year the original Booker T. Washington High School was constructed. Its four-room frame building, designed by Leon B. Senter, was located at 507 E. Easton Street (actually listed on Haskell Street and the northwest corner of Exeter Place in early city directories). Its first principal was E. W. Woods. The current Booker T. Washington High School at 1631 East Woodrow Place began serving students in 1958. Other schools constructed during the period of segregated education included Bunche School at 2703 North Yorktown Place, and Carver Junior High School at 624 East Oklahoma Place.

As the population of Tulsa increased in the 1910s, the city could not open schools fast enough to meet the growing demand. In 1909, Tulsa passed a $230,000 school bond issue. The existing Washington, Lincoln and Irving schools received $105,000 of the bond money. The remainder of the bond money financed the construction of Celia Clinton (built in 1908 and demolished in 1952); Kendall (built in 1912) at 715 South Columbia; Horace Mann (built in 1913); and Osage (built in 1913) at 325 W. Fairview (now demolished). Riverview and Sequoyah Schools (both now demolished) were both built at 511 North Boston Avenue. Lombard School was built in 1910.

Two schools were built in 1913. They were Emerson at 311 West Fairview Street, and Conway Broun School at 1024 North Elwood Avenue at the northern entrance to The Tulsa Country Club. Lowell Elementary and Junior High was opened at 621 North Peoria Avenue. Whittier Elementary School at 68 North Lewis Avenue was built in 1916.

In 1913, a public night school, primarily for adults, was started in Tulsa. A grade school was also established in this school for children who had to work and could not attend school during the day.

In 1917, Tulsa citizens passed bonds to build eleven additional schools. In 1918, Lee School at 1920 South Cincinnati Avenue, and Pershing School at 1903 West Easton Street in the Owen Park Neighborhood were constructed. To finance further growth, Tulsa’s first $1,000,000 bond proposal for education was passed in May of 1919. Cherokee School at 6001 North Peoria Avenue opened in 1920.

Central High School, a Tudor-Gothic Revival building, was built in 1917 on the corner of Sixth Street and Cincinnati Avenue. Designed by architect George Winkler, it was built of matt-faced brick and Carthage stone, with two stone towers and stone-capped buttresses. The main entrance between the towers on the north facade was well proportioned, and the Gothic carving above and on both sides of the entrance were well placed. Fresh drinking water, pumped and filtered from deep wells, could be found at the school’s drinking fountains. Central High School was Tulsa’s primary high school until the 1930s, when Will Rogers High School at 3909 East 5th Place, and Daniel Webster High School at 1919 West 40th Street were constructed (See Appendix A, “Art Deco Buildings,” for more information on Rogers and Webster High Schools). In 1976, Central High School was closed. The school was reopened at in a new building at 3101 West Edison Street. The Public Service Company of Oklahoma, a public utility company, is now housed in the building once occupied by the old Central High School.

Some of Tulsa’s schools were built using the unit system, an innovative concept conceived by H.O. McClure, a member of Tulsa’s Board of Education. The first school built under the unit system was the Clinton Elementary School. Under this system, a block of land was purchased and a one-story building was erected along one side of a block. As more space was needed, additional building units were added to the existing building. Eventually, a school would enclose a central playground. Other schools built according to the unit system were Dunbar, Emerson, Lowell, Pershing and Whittier. (See Appendix K, “Tulsa Schools” for more information).

In 1907, Kendall College became the first college in Tulsa. Kendall College had evolved from the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls in Muskogee which itself had grown out of instruction a missionary had given Indian girls in his kitchen. The Presbyterian School for Indian Girls became a college in 1894 and was named Henry Kendall College in honor of Reverend Henry Kendall, secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. The college operated in Muskogee until 1907, when it became advisable to move to another location. The City of Tulsa was chosen as the new site after consenting to give the college a twenty acre site and $100,000 in buildings and equipment, including three brick and cement buildings and two frame buildings. The new site was located approximately two miles east of the nearest part of Tulsa. The first building erected on the campus was Kendall Hall in 1908. Like many other private schools of the time, Henry Kendall College included the primary grades as part of its curriculum. These grades were offered until the 1904-05 school year. The first presidents of the college included Miss Alice Robertson, M.A., acting president in 1894, and W. A. Caldwell, M.A., president from 1894 until 1896. The name of the college was changed in 1920 when it was renamed the University of Tulsa.