Zephyrhills Schools – 1920s


The Decade of 1920s at ZHS

1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923 | 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929

Right after the Great War, the Roaring 20’s was a time of healing but also a time of prosperity and optimism. ZHS seems to be in a very upbeat and progressive timeframe as well. At the beginning of the decade, ZHS principal, P.W. Corr, advertised in the local newspaper, the Zephyrhills Colonist, for families to board local students, and this was a need with many students still walking long distances to school. By the end of the decade transportation was more available and more children were able to attend school.

The ZHS newsletter, known as the “Zephyrhills High Weekly Spitwad,” reflected this optimism in 1926 with giddy rhyming poems and satire about events at the school. Publications in the local newspaper also included reports on the whereabouts and activities of the students. An annual drama production by ZHS continued to reflect humor and community fun, for example, note 1928’s ZHS play, Crooks for a Month, 1927 play, For the Love of Money, and Blundering Billy in 1921, presented at the GAR Hall in Zephyrhills. When the new school was constructed in 1926, there was a sense of real status as the plays were now hosted for the community in the ZHS auditorium. The 1927 Miss Zephyrhills was selected by repetitive votes by community members which involved campaigns; the winner, Lucile Ryals received over 6,000 votes.

The first ZHS PTA was formed by the ZHS Principal M.P. Geiger in September 1926 with Lucious Sibley as the first president. The PTA was very prominent throughout the decade in hosting events at the school, coordinating homeroom mothers and influencing decision-making at the school and building a sense of cooperation between school and community. Regular inserts in school informational articles in the local newspapers mentioned the need for cooperation between teachers and parents.

In the USA, the first transatlantic flight and the movie were celebrated. There must have been a similar sense of pride in innovation in Zephyrhills with the unveiling of their new ZHS building which was dedicated on September 10, 1926. A bond issue in June 1925, helped to raise funding for the new school. The News reflected on August 27, 1926 the level of pride in the community:

“The new $50,000 school building is a real educational factory for efficiency and thoroughness. Nothing that would be of benefit to the pupils or faculty has been left undone. Yet no superfluous appendages have been added. It contains all the modern facilities and advanced knowledge of school architecture … it is a very pleasant appearing structure of hollow tile, concrete, and stucco construction, practically fire proof, the only wood used being the stairways, surfacing of the class and recitation rooms, study hall and the doors and door facings….”

Even at the time of ZHS’s new school opening however, funding however, was a problem, The News reports in March 1927,

” failure of property owners to pay their taxes has caused the Board of Public Instruction at their meeting Monday to pass a resolution cutting the school term…”

The opening of the new school brought several dedications and opening ceremonies. From a historian’s point-of-view the opening day of the 1926-27 school year although a time of great pride for the community with their brand-spanking new school building, was not a particularly proud time looking back.  At the opening ceremony, a Bible was presented to the school by the ladies auxiliary of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The writer would urge readers to put this event in the context of the country at the time. In the US, immigration rose after World War I and so did nationalism. During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan revived itself nationally by promoting “100 percent Americanism,” gaining more than 4 million members and wielding significant influence in many states politically. Although the writer does not agree with the teachings of this notorious organization that brought so much brutality to American history, it would be inappropriate to sanitize the school’s history. In this collection, the writer has included an overview of what historical documentation exists of the African American School in Zephyrhills. The news article reporting the Bible gift at the opening is excerpted below:

School Started Monday Morning

Zephyrhills News, September 3, 1926

Impressive Ceremonies Marked The Opening of the City’s New School

School opened Monday morning at 9:00 o’clock with impressive ceremonies.

More than 400 pupils and parents were in attendance. The exercises were held in the new auditorium. Mr. Zeb Smithson acted as chairman.

America was sung as the opening song. The chairman introduced Reverend Peirce who presented the school with a large Bible, the gift of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Zephyrhills. In the presentation, Reverend Pierce called attention to the fact that it was upon the foundation of the Bible that freedom and liberty were based. Also, that the State of Florida, through its law making body, said the Bible should be read daily in the free schools of the state. The 19th Psalm was read, no comments being made. But the words floated over the audience the meaning and feeling of the Psalmist seemed to become more clear. And where, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to Thy sight, O, Lord, my strength and Redeemer,” were given, it seemed no more fitting dedication verse could have been read. The reading of the opening Bible verse followed by prayer of Reverend Bell.—The Zephyrhills News

There was a great deal of contradictions and cultural conflict. At the conclusion of the decade, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 changed lifestyles and accentuated needs. Health continued to be a concern and the school provided a pivotal institution for disseminating information. A health conference was hosted at ZHS on February 10, 1928 for all of the area mothers and young babies for the purpose of weighing, measuring and providing some preventative information. An account in 1927 reported that Dr. McGregor visited ZHS to talk about health and diphtheria prevention to the students.

At ZHS, the mottoes of the graduation classes provided some insight into the philosophical thinking which was rooted in a strong work ethic. For example the class of 1928 had the motto, “Onward Ever,” and 1926: “Labor has a sure reward.” The newspaper accounts reported that the students hauled clay for their baseball court in 1927. Sports during the decade were primarily local events of contests between informal groups.  The weekly school events included a Chapel at the school.  Pageants and recitations were events at Thanksgiving and other holidays at the school.

It is noteworthy that the eighth grade graduations were more involved and elegantly celebrated than the high school graduation…simply because many students were still forced to drop out of school to assume jobs in order to survive. A class of 25 in grade 8 would sometimes dwindle to only 4 or 5 for high school graduation. Note the 1928 graduation ceremony for grade 8 with numerous parting songs and even a speech from a Professor of Philosophy at University of Florida as the keynote speaker while in 1926, the graduation featured Dr. H.S. Filmer of Brown University as keynote. The smallest graduation class is seen during this decade for the class of 1925 with only one student, Julius Piller. Dropping out of school was not seen as a shameful event in this time era, but one of necessity and the school notes in the Zephyrhills News often list the students who had left stating for example, in November 23, 1927, “we are sorry to lose Rollin Plank and Raymond Kiddo from high school.”

For those who did complete high school, the Junior-Senior Banquet at the Hotel Zephyr continued to be the event of the year. The April 8, 1927 account states,

“At nine o’clock the guests were ushered into the dining room where the tables were decorated with flowers and with the senior class colors, pink and green. Place cards of white with names written in green ink marked the place for each guest. There were favors of small pink baskets, filled with candy for all those present….”

The high school graduation was an occasion in rural Zephyrhills. This is before graduation robes and as the April 22, 1927 account details…

”The auditorium was a gay scene of color and light—a veritable collection of young and old gathered in their beautiful spring gowns and suits to pay their respects to those boys and girls as they passed one of the hardest milestones of their life. Each young face beamed with joy and eyes sparkled with merriment as the realization of their many years of anticipation was realized….”

In sports, although there are numerous accounts of teams and competitions including Mr. Roberts’s team photo, Cecil McGavern—one that could compete officially in the state. The team composed of: John Loomis, Vernon Gall, Fred Gill, Julian Craig, Coach Major Reed, Charles Slater, Captain Louis Evans, Arthur Austin, John Pennington, Cecil McGavern and Owen Gall won every game that year (including a 32-2 victory over Dade City), losing that last State Tournament battle to St. Petersburg.

In education the 1920’s were labeled the Progressive Movement with emphasis for the first time on the student point-of-view instead of solely from a dissemination of facts/authoritarian model. Leading the movement in the country was a former teacher, John Dewey. This philosophy was also reflected at ZHS. During the decade, the US was consumed by the Scopes Trail and Sacco-Vanzetti, and this is reflected in school archives and newspaper accounts and sometimes even parties that included debates between key students on a wide array of topics.

It must have been challenging time for teachers in the midst of a philosophical shift as well. Pasco Superintendent O’Berry posted a notice in the local paper, warning teachers that they must be certified and should not apply for teaching jobs if they didn’t have a certificate. School board minutes post strict rules for teacher’s duties/responsibilities that included roles beyond the classroom. Minutes from September 5, 1921 say,

Every teacher is hereby directed and authorized: to labor faithfully and earnestly for the advancement of pupils in their studies, deportment and morals, and to embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the principles of truth, honesty, patriotism, and the practice of every Christian virtue…

There’s no doubt, times were changing. Enjoy the newspaper accounts and other archives from the decade of the 1920’s….posted in order from most recent to earliest….1929-1920!

Student group, 1920s

Student group, 1920s

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