Bridging Three Centuries

"...Establish a public school in the town of Tucson..." 1867-1879

In the beginning...
Ten public-spirited citizens of Tucson in 1867 began the partnership of community and educators which has worked for children ever since. It was November 4, 1867, one month after enabling legislation was passed by the Territorial Legislature, when John B. Allen, Charles H. Lord, Mark Aldrich, M. J. Flaminez, Philip Drachman, John G. Capron, Sidney R. DeLong, William H. Tonge, Leopoldo Carrillo, and S. B. Wine brought a petition to the Pima County Board of Supervisors requesting that a public school be established in the town of Tucson. The Pima County Board of Supervisors decided twelve days later, on November 18, 1867, that:

It is hereby ordered and decreed that all the Territory lying and being within one mile each way from the Plaza de la Mesilla in the town of Tucson be and the same is hereby declared a School District to be known and styled School District No. 1 Pima County--and it is further ordered that the Collector of Pima County proceed to collect the one-half of one per cent on all taxable property within said School District above described as assessed by him at his last assessment and as corrected by the Board of Equalization. (1)

The Supervisors then appointed a School Committee composed of John B. Allen, a retired merchant; William S. Oury, newspaperman and first mayor of Tucson; and Francisco S. Leon, a former territorial legislator. Early records are incomplete prior to 1884, as record-keeping and school committee meetings were often casually conducted, and were referred to sporadically in the territorial newspapers. A fire in the late 1800s may have consumed other records.

The School Committee hired Augustus Brichta, 47 years of age, to be the first school teacher in the new district. His qualifications for the position included such prior occupations as saloon keeper, soldier in the War with Mexico, unsuccessful gold miner, and legislative clerk. The most compelling reason to hire him was that he was a graduate of St. Louis University, as there were few educated men in the territory. His school was a rented adobe building, 25 by 40 feet in size with a dirt floor and roof, furnished with benches. Its location downtown was probably near Stone and Pennington, although records are not exact. With 55 "Mexican boys" enrolled (2), the school commenced in January, 1868, and was conducted for six months before it closed for lack of funds. Brichta was paid for only four months.

For the next several years no tax-supported public school existed. Several attempts were made by local citizens and religious groups to provide private school education for boys or girls separately, with limited success

Territorial school finance
Governor Anson P. K. Safford was an ardent supporter of public education. His early attempts to persuade the Territorial Legislature to provide public schools were met with disinterest. The Legislature was more concerned with protection from Apache raids and crime in the territory. They were skeptical of the acceptance of schools by the territorial settlers. Safford enlisted the aid of Estevan Ochoa and Sam Hughes, respected local merchants and politicians, in passing the legislation.

Finally, the last day of the 1871 legislative session saw the passage of a school finance law which set a 10-cents per $100 property ad valorem tax, to be collected by the County Boards of Supervisors for a Territorial School Fund. It also permitted a 50-cents per $100 property ad valorem tax to be set by the Boards of Supervisors in school districts. A Territorial Board of Education was established to manage the school fund, to supervise the distribution of the territorial school tax to the counties and to select a uniform series of textbooks. Under the act, each district could elect three School Trustees. Their duties were to provide for the establishment of schools and employ teachers. They could levy and collect an additional school district tax--above the 50 cents per $100 ad valorem tax--if taxpayers of the district voted for the increase. (3)

The Congress Street School
The next public school in Tucson opened in the spring of 1872, with enrollment limited to males between the ages of six and 21. Spanish was their primary language, so John A. Spring, the second teacher hired, taught by first giving instruction in Spanish, and then in English, for a salary of $125 a month. John Spring was a native of Switzerland where he had attended college. A Union Army veteran, he became a merchant, a bartender, and later a brewer before becoming a school teacher. His maximum enrollment was 138 with average daily attendance of about 98 students. Many of his textbooks had been contributed by Governor Safford. The Governor also gave Spring $20 in prize money to be distributed to students on recommendation of the teacher.

An article in the Arizona Citizen of March 16, 1872, described the opening in hopeful terms: "Here is the first hopeful attempt to truly harmonize the Mexican and American elements of this population. These elements are here and will remain. The prevailing inability of each to speak the other's tongue prevents a just understanding of the motives of each. The free public school will frame the children's minds aright in this respect."

In May, 1873, John Wasson, the editor of the Arizona Citizen, wrote, "We want more good school ma'ms and must have them. Good wages will be paid and when they get tired of teaching we will find them all good husbands." (4) At that same time, Spring proposed to the board of trustees that his salary be increased by $25 a month (to $150). The trustees instead pointed out that two female teachers, "school ma'ms," could be obtained for the amount of his salary. He resigned, and was replaced by Miss Maria Wakefield and Miss Harriet Bolton, the first female teachers in the district. The ladies traveled by railroad and stagecoach to reach Tucson. As neither lady knew Spanish they had to take language lessons from Spring in order to teach. Miss Bolton married the editor of the Arizona Citizen within a few months, and Miss Wakefield married Edward Nye Fish in March, thereby ending their teaching careers.

The school term of 1877-78 had an enrollment of 130 boys and 66 girls for ten months of schooling. A male principal, with the assistance of one female and one male teacher, did the teaching. The girls were taught in English in one room, with the primary boys receiving instruction in Spanish and English in another. The principal taught the advanced boys in English. Their curriculum included reading, arithmetic, algebra, geography, spelling, English grammar, U. S. History, and English and Spanish translations.

The Congress Street School, long since demolished, was the first publicly constructed, rather than rented, facility of School District 1. The sum of $9,782, including a $2000 loan, was spent to construct the three-room school, which was located on the northwest corner of what is now Congress and Sixth Street. No tax money was used to build the school; instead funds were raised by cake sales, socials, contributions, and the sale of a goat. The ladies of Tucson were responsible for the fund-raising efforts.


(1)James F. Cooper, The First Hundred Years The History of Tucson School District 1, Tucson, Arizona 1867-1967 p. 1.

(2)Ida Flood Dodge, Incidents and Thoughts Concerning the Origin and Early History of Safford Junior High (Unpublished manuscript May, 1943).

(3)Cooper, p. 9-10.

(4)James F. Cooper, The First Hundred Years The History of Tucson School District 1, Tucson, Arizona 1867-1967 p. 14

Bridging Three Centuries, By Georgia Cole Brousseau, 1993