HISTORY OF ZEPHYRHILLS HIGH SCHOOL
The Decade of the 1930s
In the USA and at ZHS
The 1930s represented a multifaceted time for ZHS and reflected what was occurring in the country. The most newsworthy event in regard to education at ZHS was a local calamity.
The ZHS school building, of which the community was immensely proud at its dedication and opening in 1926, was damaged by fire in 1935 and forced to close. For two years after its demise, students attended classes in community buildings (grades 9-12 in the bakery; grades 7-8 in the New England Hotel; grade 6 in the grocery store; grades 3, 4, and 5 in the city hall and grades 1 and 2 in the Schoolhouse Annex). The community rallied around the students. The renovated building opened again in 1937—the two story brick structure which was housed on what is now the location of R.B. Stewart Middle School, with the assistance of the WPA was dedicated once again 1937.
The Great Depression had transformed the American dream to somewhat of a nightmare and many Americans felt real desperation in this decade. Between 1929 and 1932 the average American annual income was $1,500. Poverty was an issue and income in Zephyrhills was significantly less than the national average and their precious school building was gone as well. One of FDR’s social programs, the WPA, helped to resurrect the valued ZHS physical plant in 1937. The era was wrought with concern for polio and other health outbreaks. Prevention and informational events included for example in 1939, ZHS parade to promote awareness and campaign for a cure to infantile paralysis (polio). As reported on January 27, 1939, “The ZHS students marched with Irene Hohenthaner as drum major who led the parade…the students assembled at the east entrance of the school to march in a parade to advance the infantile paralysis campaign.” Infantile paralysis (polio) was a constant fear in this era as were other diseases. ZHS was closed for two weeks around Thanksgiving vacation in 1931 due to a diphtheria outbreak in which a Richland child died and his family was quarantined. The State Board of Health is mentioned several times in news articles in this time frame in prevention and intervention efforts. The depression had impacted people significantly and money was scarce.
Throughout the country, the 1930s represented a very desperate time in public education. In the midst of the depression, cash money was very limited and families could not provide school clothes, supplies or books (which were not furnished). School terms were shortened and teachers’ salaries were cut. Several sets of Pasco County School Board minutes during the 1930s show that the school board purchased books for certain families in Zephyrhills, presumably to facilitate their attendance at school. Photos of students at ZHS during this time frame show many children barefooted. Newspaper accounts discuss school timeframes and announce shortened sessions.
Movies were hot and this is reflected in the publications at ZHS. Often there are reports in the newspaper of a family “motoring” to Tampa to see a movie and the names of the movies are mentioned with great pride. A sense of the Hollywood drama and enthusiasm is seen in the writings by students. The graduation photos of the class in 1935 have an air of the Great Gatsby (published in 1925 but widely read in this time frame) in their format as the students are clad in white trousers and sport jackets or lovely summer dresses, reminiscent of an afternoon tea. Noteworthy in this decade is the “Orange and Black,” the ZHS School Newspaper, which was printed in the Zephyrhills Newspaper then named, The Pasco Free Press. It featured editorials and very open communication. The Orange and Black lobbied for a football team which was not to come to fruition until the 1940’s and also wrote editorials in support of a home economics program and vocational class training. In 1936, another school newspaper issued at the school was called “The Zephyrette.”
In one issue of the “Orange and Black” a lengthy article details the dress fads and says,
In regard to recreation, many accounts detail beach parties at Sunset Beach at Lake Pasadena and reported of wiener roasts. Parties often involved parlor games and board games. Often the parties and social events discussed in the newspaper stated that the group had refreshments, socialized and then played checkers, dominoes, or put together a puzzle. Big bands were significant. Music was a treat in all types and local musicians were popular. The school had a Glee Club and often presented not only at school events but in the community.
Franklin Roosevelt influenced popular culture through his Fireside Chats and this is the timeframe of Will Rogers’ homespun philosophy which is reflected in plays and writings at ZHS. Class Night was a culmination of the year’s activities for seniors and occurred at the Zephyr Hotel as the “event of the year,” and included clever recitations, toasts and musical duets and solos as well as place cards, decorations and hometown elegance as an important rite of passage for high school seniors who are said almost every year to have voted the event “the most worthwhile of their high school career.” Class Plays were also an enormous social event for the Zephyrhills community and reflected the folksy warmth of Rogers and the era. Typically the Junior and Senior class presented the play and they were often comedies and definitely reflected the Will Rogers type of humor. Examples included Harvest Queen in 1939, The Indian Princess in 1938, Black Eyed Susan in 1935; Fickle Fortune Comedy in three acts in 1932.
Graduations featured the granting of the “Steven’s Cup” to the most “worthwhile student.” This cup was donated by the tourist club of Zephyrhills and was presented annually as one of the star community awards; a few winners in the 30’s were Pearl Snider in 1939 and Sarah Parsons in 1935. In 1938, the News said, “the highest award is the Steven’s Cup, given to the most worthwhile” senior. This cup is awarded by the vote of the faculty on the basis of character, service and leadership in the school and community, participating in worthwhile activities and achievements, scholarships in the school and community…”
Principals and teachers during this period were selected somewhat informally by the local trustees of the school in a nomination process. The discussion of the appointment of Burch Cornelius in 1939 goes through the process. Community input is very significant and the principal is expected to be a community leader and get-along with all factions. The principal also taught classes. One news article discusses Principal C. D. Johnson teaching a business class and taking the students on a field trip to the then Tampa Times where they saw the Associated Press Tickers and watched the printing of the newspaper. Principals changed frequently during this decade with six principals in the ten year span.
In sports, Pre-Title IX, the boys and girls basketball teams traveled and games were played at the location by the girls and then the boys. For example, an article in the Free Press from 1938 says, “Zephyr boys and Pasco Hi of Dade City started the game, the work of both teams was slow until the last quarter, when the Zephyrs got going and won 15 to 10 with good team work….Evening games started by Zephyr girls against Brandon and it was a good game and close most of the way with Coach Mounts worried until the cowbell was rung at close, when Zephyr girls had 21 to Brandon’s 16.” Note that the team was called the Zephyrs, not the Bulldogs in this decade. The games which were played were not only with a few local schools but also games were played with college groups and sometimes the town team verses the school team around 1930
Commencement was a very important event. Speakers at commencement tended to be state-wide leaders including religious and political leaders as well as college presidents and deans. For example in 1938: Dr. W. T. Watson, President of Florida Bible College; 1939: Dr. John Sherman, President of the University of Tampa, 1937: Professor Barnett of Southern College; and the entire community was invited to attend these speaking engagements which often addressed social or cultural issues of timely importance.
Technology was changing during the 1930’s and the depression was a time of struggle. Review the newspaper accounts and other archives from the decade of the 1930s….posted in order from most recent to earliest….1939-1930!