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Finding Aid to the San Francisco Unified School District Records 1854-2005 (bulk 1874-1978)
SFH 3  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Materials Transferred
  • Related Materials
  • Processing Information note
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: San Francisco Unified School District Records
    Date (inclusive): 1854-2005
    Date (bulk): 1874-1978
    Collection Identifier: SFH 3
    Creator: San Francisco Unified School District.
    Physical Description: 143 boxes, 2 file cabinet drawers, 88 scrapbooks (118.2 cubic feet)
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: This collection documents the San Francisco Unified School District's history through materials collected by the Teachers Professional Library beginning in 1854, the fourth year of the Department of Common Schools, as it was then known. While there are materials from the early years of the district, the bulk of the collection is from 1874 to 1978. Major areas include administrative documents, curriculum titles, reports produced by the school district, and newspaper clippings. Materials include administrative circulars, photographs, scrapbooks, books, pamphlets, newsletters, district directories, handbooks, budget documents, salary surveys and schedules, maps, and newspaper articles.
    Physical Location: The collection is stored offsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.


    The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Collections that are stored offsite should be requested 48 hours in advance.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], San Francisco Unified School District Records (SFH 3), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


    The San Francisco Unified School District Records were transferred to the San Francisco Public Library from the school district in 1999.

    Materials Transferred

    Yearbooks and some other publications have been transferred to the book collection of the San Francisco Public Library, where they have been integrated with other bound volumes. These include: Annual and Biennial Reports of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1852-1926 (broken, titles vary); San Francisco Public Schools Annual Reports, 1862 to 1937 (broken; title varies) and 1956 to 1967; San Francisco Public Schools Bulletin, 1930 to 1967, and San Francisco Unified School District Newsletter, 1967 to 1977; and Rules and Regulations of the Board of Education, 1863 to 1927 (broken; title varies). See Appendix B for a complete list of titles moved.
    Photographs and negatives have been transferred to the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

    Related Materials

    Researchers are encouraged to see also the San Francisco History Center's vertical files, reference cards, and small manuscripts collections on schools; as well as biographical files and cards for individuals. Researchers should also check the catalog holdings of the San Francisco Public Library for related materials. A list of related materials is found in Appendix A.
    Researchers are encouraged to see also the following related archival collections: Luther Burbank Middle School Records (SFH 20); the Mrs. Joseph (Elizabeth) Morcombe San Francisco, Second District, California Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA) Records (SFH 12); and the Second District of the California PTA (San Francisco PTA) Records (SFH 21), all available at the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

    Processing Information note

    During processing, the entire collection was re-foldered and re-housed in acid-free folders and boxes. Some metal staples remain. Some documents on acidic or thermal paper were photocopied onto acid-free paper. Other documents on acidic paper were kept in their original state and separated with acid-free paper. Scrapbooks were housed in either acid-free boxes or polyester bags. A few damaged negatives and unfixed proofs were digitally copied and then removed.

    Biographical/Historical note

    The first American school in the state was a private institution, established in San Francisco in April, 1847. Later the same year, the first public schoolhouse was built in 1847 on the southwest corner of the town plaza, now Portsmouth Square. On Feb. 21, 1848, the first school board was elected, and the school opened on April 3, 1848, led by Thomas Douglas. The Douglas school charged tuition but was under public auspices with partial public support. Word of gold soon drew citizens away from San Francisco, and the school was closed; the building was demolished in 1850. In late 1849, Mr. and Mrs. John C. Pelton opened a school in the First Baptist Church. By a resolution adopted by the Common Council, the Peltons' school became a free public school in April, 1850. Meanwhile, the Happy Valley School opened in July, 1850, near the corner of Second and Minna streets. Happy Valley was a private enterprise but free to those who couldn't afford it. The following spring, the Spring Valley School opened, also private but free to those who couldn't pay.
    In 1851, the Common Council passed the first Free School Ordinance, which allowed for the levying of taxes, divided the city into seven school districts, and established a free public school in each district and the annual election of a school board. The first school board under this organization hired Thomas J. Nevins as Superintendent of the Free Common Schools of the city. Happy Valley (later named Denman Grammar) was the first public school to open under this organization, immediately followed by the Powell Street School and Washington Grammar School. The following schools were organized in 1852: Rincon School, Spring Valley Grammar School, Union Grammar School, Mission Grammar School, and Clark's Point Grammar School (later named Garfield Primary). A number of private schools also continued to operate. An 1852 census indicated there were 2,050 school-age children in San Francisco.
    Known first as the Department of Common Schools, the department later became known as San Francisco Public Schools, the Department of Education, and the San Francisco Unified School District, its current name. The district is run by a superintendent hired by the Board of Education, an elected body of policy makers.
    In 1853, the State Legislature passed an act making Catholic or "ward" schools part of the public school system. The act was subsequently repealed in 1855, in an effort to separate church and state schools. However, ward schools were merged into the city's public schools.
    The first high school began in 1856 as Union Grammar School with 80 advanced pupils, both boys and girls. It was declared a permanent high school in January, 1858, and named San Francisco High School; the first class of 11 students graduated in December, 1859. The sexes were separated in 1864, with the girls transferring to Girls High School at the corner of Bush and Stockton streets, and the boys remaining at the newly-renamed Boys High School on Powell Street. Girls were allowed "to take a Classical course of study" at Boys High in 1888. The name was changed to Lowell High School in 1894, a coeducational school.
    Evening school was established in 1856 to accommodate youth who worked during the day. In 1864, the student population included those over 18 years of age. Other special classes and schools established over the years included the Oral School for the Deaf (in 1901), conservation of vision classes, Sunshine School (for physically disabled students), Health School and open air classes, hospital classes, speech correction classes, and adult English classes. "Part-time school" became known as continuation school in 1929.
    A form of foreign language instruction began as early as 1864, with classical study in Latin and German offered at Boys High School. In 1878, Superintendent A.L. Mann said that Spanish-language instruction was more valuable than French or German. Spanish instruction began in evening classes two years later, and the board passed a resolution in 1908 allowing for Spanish to be taught in high schools, alongside French and German.
    In addition to foreign language instruction, the U.S. Supreme court ruled (in Lau v. Nichols, 1974) that the school district must provide bilingual education to non-English-speaking or limited-English proficient students. However, in 1998, California voters abolished bilingual education with passage of Proposition 227.
    In 1852, the male teachers established the Teachers Institute to improve knowledge and the art of teaching. The school department ran a Normal School for teachers, initially consisting of weekly meetings, with the first class graduating in 1861. Other early professional organizations included the Teachers' Mutual Aid Society, organized in 1873, the Principals' Association of San Francisco (formed in 1888), and the San Francisco Teachers Club, organized in 1893. As the city grew, the number of teachers increased, and a number of teachers' councils were formed. In 1911, the Kate Kennedy School Women's Club was organized to further female teachers' rights including salary equity. The club was merged with other teachers' organizations into the Teachers' Association of San Francisco in 1917. This organization immediately became active in municipal and state movements affecting schools, children, and teachers. The same year, the Classroom Teachers' Association was also formed. The San Francisco Federation of Teachers, No. 61, was chartered by the American Federation of Teachers in 1919. In 1989, the SF Federation of Teachers merged with the SF Classroom Teachers Association, a chapter of the National Education Association, to form the United Educators of San Francisco.
    In 1878, the first free kindergarten west of the Rocky Mountains was established at 64 Silver Street in San Francisco. Pioneered by Kate Douglas Wiggin, kindergartens were adopted by the school board in 1880.
    The fire following the 1906 earthquake destroyed 31 school buildings. Public school children and citizens from around the country raised $30,157.15 towards the construction of a school building. Yerba Buena School was dedicated on May 23, 1909 utilizing these funds. The contents of the cornerstone were revealed during construction in 1922 and are included in this collection.
    Vocational education classes were first offered at Humboldt Evening High School in 1896. In 1936, the Samuel Gompers Trade School opened its doors, providing vocational and academic courses, pre-employment courses, and apprenticeship training. The adult and vocational division was organized in 1945; it transferred to the newly created Junior College district in 1969.
    The school district established San Francisco Junior College (also known as City College) in 1935, providing both academic and vocational instruction. The main campus on Phelan Avenue was dedicated in 1940. In 1969, the San Francisco Community College District was formed, thus separating the college from SFUSD.
    The junior high school plan began in California in 1909. In 1913, three grammar schools, Crocker, Hamilton, and Horace Mann, were designated as intermediate schools, offering modified schedules and curriculum designed for adolescent children. In 1922, the same three schools were designated as junior high schools. These usually served seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Middle schools emerged in 1978, serving sixth through eighth grades.
    Separate schools for "colored" children, established in 1854, were abolished in 1875. The first school for Chinese children was started in 1859. An act of the State Legislature in 1860 excluded Negroes, Mongolians, and American Indians from public schools; however, the penalty for admitting them was eliminated in 1864. By 1871, the Chinese school was closed and Chinese students were excluded from public schools. African American and Chinese American parents fought for inclusion in their neighborhood schools, bringing matters to the Supreme Court of California. In the case of Mary Frances Ward, the court pronounced in 1874 that separate was equal; however, if separate schools didn't exist, colored children could enter white schools. In the 1885 case of Mamie Tape, a Chinese American student, the court ruled that the school district must provide an education. In response, the district immediately established the segregated Chinese Primary School, preventing Tape from attending Spring Valley School. Chinese students were allowed to attend neighborhood schools by the late 1920s, although racial segregation would not be repealed from the state's Education Code until 1947, and geographic segregation would continue.
    By the end of the nineteenth century, larger numbers of Japanese children were attending the city's public schools, presenting the "Japanese question." Following the earthquake and fire of 1906, the school department renamed the Chinese Primary School as the Oriental Public School, and directed all Chinese, Japanese, and Korean children to the school. This set an international crisis in motion, with President Theodore Roosevelt intervening. The segregation order against Japanese students only was lifted in 1907, and the federal government promised to restrict Japanese immigration, leading to the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1908 with Japan.
    In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS lawsuit outlawed separate-but-equal schools. Efforts to end de facto segregation in San Francisco included the start of busing in 1971. In 1978, African Americans sought to desegregate the district and improve the quality of education in San Francisco NAACP v. SFUSD. The resulting consent decree, approved in 1983, mandated the desegregation of all schools, programs, and classrooms, and stated that no school could have more than 40 percent of one ethnicity. Reconstitution, or the practice of bringing in new staff at low-performing schools, was promoted to improve academic achievement. In 1987, the racial cap was raised to 45%. In1999, a group of Chinese parents successfully challenged the school district in a lawsuit over the racial cap (in Ho v. SFUSD), ending the use of race in assigning students. As a result, in 2002, the district instituted a "diversity index" which assigned students based on socio-economic factors. After two years under the diversity index, parents continued to be dissatisfied with having their children placed in cross-town schools.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection documents the San Francisco Unified School District's history through materials collected by the Teachers Professional Library beginning in 1854, the fourth year of the Department of Common Schools, as it was then known. While there are materials from the early years of the district, the bulk of the collection is from 1874 to 1978. Major areas include administrative documents, curriculum titles, reports produced by the school district, and newspaper clippings. Materials include administrative circulars, photographs, scrapbooks, books, pamphlets, newsletters, district directories, handbooks, budget documents, salary surveys and schedules, maps, and newspaper articles. Yearbooks have been transferred to the library's book collection and can be located through the online catalog. Some of the oldest materials are circulars from the superintendent to staff (1874-1929), an 1867 diploma for a member of the first class of Union Grammar School, an 1879 diploma for a member of the first class of Rincon Grammar School, pamphlets on education (known as "Scraps," 1854-1924, in Reports and Publications), courses of study (1876-1915, in Curriculum Titles), and an 1884-1885 class register. The most recent items are a graduation program, yearbook, and class photograph from the last graduating class of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in 2005.
    The circulars, annual reports, weekly and monthly bulletins, board rules and administrative regulations, and reports and publications provide a variety of information documenting the school district's history, issues, and policies from 1862 to 1980. Annual reports, weekly bulletins, and board rules and regulations were transferred to the library's book collection; see Appendix B. There are extensive newspaper clippings from 1906-1986, as well as a good number of curriculum titles from 1876-1979 (bulk 1927-1978). The earliest budget documents are from 1907. The collection includes the contents of cornerstones for Bay View School, laid March 8, 1908, and Yerba Buena School, laid May 23, 1909. Also included is Emmy Lou Packard's artwork for a third grade social studies series (in Curriculum Titles). Photographs mainly cover the years 1930 to 1977.
    Major subjects include integration, buildings and grounds, counseling and guidance, disadvantaged groups, finances, rules and regulations, salaries, and vocational education. A few audio/visual materials are included (in the Curriculum Titles sub-series). A list of superintendents with years of employment is in Appendix C.
    Board meeting minutes are not included, other than items from minutes from 1927 to 1928. (The school district maintains board meeting minutes from 1908 to present.) The collection does not include building blueprints, personnel records, or student records.


    The material has been arranged into nine series: Series 1: Board of Education; Series 2: Administration; Series 3: Staff; Series 4: Schools; Series 5: Instructional Materials; Series 6: Reports and Publications; Series 7: Press Clippings; Series 8: Photographs; and Series 9: Parent-Teacher Association. Within some series are a number of subseries. Most series are arranged chronologically.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    San Francisco (Calif.). Board of Education -- Archives
    Schools--California--San Francisco