In 1873, the Stamford Town Committee was forced to deal with the many problems facing a growing community. One dilemma was the lack of sufficient secondary education. The remedy was the opening in 1874 of the first Stamford High School in one room of Center Elementary School on Broad Street. Prospective students had to pass an entrance examination in arithmetic, geography, grammar, reading, spelling and penmanship, which excluded at least half of the applicants.
Students attending SHS in 1874 had one teacher who taught them reading, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, history and philosophy. Two years later, Latin, Greek, physical geography and geometry were added to the curriculum. Enrollment reached 62 students, including those from neighboring towns that paid tuition. In 1881, four highly educated young women comprised the first graduating class.
By 1888, a steadily increasing enrollment spurred a move of the high school students to four newly constructed rooms at Franklin Elementary School on Franklin Street. But this location too would prove to be only temporary. In the fall of 1895, after much town debate over cost and centralization of secondary education, a brand new Stamford High School opened on Forest Street at a cost of $75,000 for the land and the building. The school had 10 teachers and an enrollment of 173. In the 1890s, athletic teams and classes in “physical culture” were added. In 1895, SHS had only a baseball team, but a year later; football and basketball teams were added. That very winter, SHS won the state basketball championship, beating New Britain High School 11 to 10! By 1905, all entrance exams for SHS were abolished, making the school available to all age-appropriate youth from the area.
Stamford High’s rich background is documented in the school’s quarterly magazine, named coincidentally, The Quarterly,” which began publishing in November 1903. The Quarterly featured poetry and literary essays by students; school notes; articles on dances, plays and sporting events; alumni information; advertisements from local businesses, and club news. Besides the magazine itself, SHS’ extracurricular activities included boys and girls glee clubs, a debating club, a literary and dramatic club, a camera club and a physics club. The cost for an issue of The Quarterly was 15 cents or 50 cents for a year’s subscription. As the years went on, more illustrations and photographs were added. The annual June issue included a listing of the graduates and a class history, which, in the early years, sometimes included mention of mischievous pranks, like putting snow on outdoor thermometers and “perilous excursions” up the school cupola. By 1913, photos and individual biographies of the graduates began appearing in a yearbook format. In later years, the honor roll appeared.
Once again, the multiplying number of students at SHS made another move necessary. In 1928, Stamford High School relocated from Forest Street to the present site on Strawberry Hill Avenue, which was described in The Quarterly as the largest high school in the state at a cost of more than a million dollars.
The Forest Street building later would become Burdick Junior High School. In 1931, Stamford High’s newspaper, The Siren, was born. (By 1947, it was selling 1,600 copies a month in a school of 2,000 students. It also had won six First Prizes at the prestigious Columbia Scholastic Association convention in New York.)
In 1934, an artist from Weston, James Daugherty, was commissioned by the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to paint seven murals for the octagonal music auditorium at Stamford High. The PWAP was created to help keep artists off the relief roles during the Depression. Daugherty’s murals ran more than 1,000 feet around the room and depicted 200 historical figures from the fields of music, industry, film and science since the time of the Puritans, many with the faces of Stamford High staff and students who served as models. The murals took four months to complete. The paintings were removed from SHS during a 1970 renovation and discarded. Thankfully, the City of Stamford was able to recover and purchase back four murals. Two others are in the hands of private collectors. Two of the city’s murals have been restored and now are on display at the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus and the Ferguson Library. The other two murals require expensive restoration. Replicas of the murals have been installed on Stamford High’s hallway walls and in the renovated auditorium, mementos of that important period in U.S. history.
Beginning in 1935, federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds helped support the construction behind Stamford High of the premium high school stadium in Connecticut. The stadium was completed over several years and, like today, was the site of athletic competitions and graduation ceremonies. It was named the Michael A. Boyle Stadium in 1942, after SHS’ famous athletic director and football coach. In the 1940s, Boyle Stadium was the training field for students preparing for military service in World War II. Calisthenics and physical training were emphasized, with gym teachers sometimes dividing the boys into “orange” and “black” teams for competitions. Students in track classes crawled through wooden tunnels, scaled an eight-foot wall, jumped from ramps and carried classmates on their backs. In the winter, they continued the grueling exercises in the gymnasium. Said the 1943 yearbook, “Mr. Booker and Mr. Lockery have done a great job turning out a crop of soldiers that will give the proper answer to Hitler’s ‘super race’ ideas.” By 1944, this workout was called the “commando course” and those who passed received commando certificates. SHS boys also built model planes to help meet the U.S. Navy’s request to schools nationally for 500,000 to be used for the training of Navy airmen. Many male students joined the military and did not graduate from Stamford High. This was partially remedied in 2001 when former Principal Anthony Pavia invited 26 surviving members of those 1940s classes to a special graduation ceremony in the Stamford High auditorium to be honored and to receive their long-awaited diplomas. There was not a dry eye in the audience. Some of the veterans also participated in the Class of 2001’s graduation ceremony in Boyle Stadium.
At the same time the boys in the 1940s were involved in military-related activities, SHS girls were learning about careers. Stamford High had a Commercial Department with a model office, featuring all types of business machines for bookkeeping and secretarial work, as well as a telephone switchboard. Girls could earn a salary while training as switchboard operators. The English department even trained girls to have a “well-developed, modulated voice, distinct, clear and pleasant, free of accent.” The girls were also offered a range of home economics, nursing, and childcare classes. Students reminisced in the yearbook about plastic stones in their graduation rings and the shortage of male teachers and escorts for the dances.
In June 1941, the first Stamford High yearbook was published. It would later carry the name Flashback. Today, the award-winning SHS yearbook carries a different name and theme each year and runs as large as 450 pages.
In 1953, students at Stamford High started an “Honesty Society,” believing that it was the responsibility of students themselves to eliminate cheating. Over the next five decades, SHS faced the same challenges as other public high schools, experiencing double sessions when the student population grew, construction, state football championships, elimination of many of the industrial arts, false fire alarms and teachers picketing over contracts. Second and third-generation students from the same families would learn and grow in its classrooms and on its various stages.
From its humble beginnings as a one-room school, Stamford High School has evolved into an expansive learning facility of approximately 150 classrooms accommodating more than 1,800 students. SHS also has a professional staff of 180. This includes 144 teachers who offer instruction in more than 200 different courses geared toward every achievement level and learning style. The curriculum includes 15 Advanced Placement classes and several school-to-career academies that augment regular studies. They focus on information technology, business and finance, arts careers, architecture and engineering, and agriscience. Students also gain marketing and business experience by operating two stores between class periods. They are located on the second floor of the main building. Profits help support student activities, including annual trips to China by the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter.
In addition, Stamford High has 25 sports teams, including the newest - lacrosse, and more than 60 student-operated clubs. The latter include the longstanding, such as the Multi-Cultural Student Union and the Building with Books community service club, and the short-term or trendy, such as the Seinfeld and the hacky-sack clubs. Any student easily can create a new club if a school-based adult agrees to serve as an advisor and the principal approves the mission and purpose of the club. SHS also has a peer mediation team - students who are trained to help resolve disputes. The school newspaper is now called the Round Table. Orange and black have been the school colors since SHS’ origin, but the Black Knights team name originated in the 1950s. The black knight astride a horse became the school logo in 1969 after its use in a successful magazine drive. However, in recent years, the knight on the horse largely has been replaced by the more modern black knighthead with the orange plume. In the fall of 2006, thanks to the Stamford High Gridiron Club, SHS now has a school mascot that would rival those of professional sports teams – a costumed Black Knight that joins the marching band in parades and leads cheers at sporting events. That can make for a busy future schedule as the Black Knights marching band often is invited to perform at such prestigious places as Disney World and college football bowl games, and the sports teams and cheerleading squads regularly advance to county and state playoffs.
From Strawberry Hill Avenue, Stamford High looks much the same as it did in 1928, but, in fact, it has changed dramatically. The school has tripled in size with the addition of a three-story math and science wing and large gymnasium with locker rooms in 1970 and a new three-story addition that opened above the locker rooms in 2006. The latter addition includes a second gymnasium and math and science classrooms with smart boards and other technology. SHS underwent many years of code compliance work, which necessitated the opening of ceilings, widening of doorways, and removal of asbestos. In 2005, the cafeteria was modernized and expanded. Then, due to damage caused by an unfortunate flooding in early 2006, the media center was renovated, benefiting the entire school community. It now has new carpeting and furnishings, 35 computers and 20,000 books, including all of Stamford High’s yearbooks. Today, SHS has more than 400 computers throughout the school building. It also features a school-based health center and a career center that offers vocational (including a work and internship program), college and scholarship resources.
As Stamford High alumni, we have so much of which to be proud. SHS continues its strong tradition in academics, athletics, the arts, community service and leadership. The student body is more diverse than ever, enriching the environment. Approximately 90 percent of Stamford High’s graduates go on to higher education, including Ivy League schools, with the remaining majority going into the military or jobs.
We hope that all alumni will stay connected with our high school on the hill and help it to maintain the high standards that have characterized Stamford High School since that first day in 1874.