Back to School – 1906

By Theresa Mann

September arrives with mornings a little cooler and air a little crisper, all signs that it is back to school time, a time when students look forward to learning new things, meeting a new teacher and making new friends. Historically, in the city of Mount Clemens, back to school has had different looks.

Formal education in the 202-year-old city of Mount Clemens has a long and rich history that has changed and adapted through the years. In 1819 a log courthouse was built on the site of the current Macomb County Building. It served as court, jail, church, and the first known school. In 1857 the districts of Mount Clemens and Clinton and Harrison Townships were consolidated to organize Union School District No. 1, Fractional.

By 1859 the district had built the Union School, a seven-room, three-story building located at the corner of Union and South Gratiot, the current home of St. Mary Catholic School. The building housed all grades. Later in 1902 it was converted to the single use of the high school as other elementary schools were built in the area. In 1962 the original building was torn down and the current structure was built.

Through the late 1800s and into the 1900s Mount Clemens was growing and so was school enrollment. The Second Ward School opened in 1876 and was built next to the old Union School. In 1903 the school was renamed A. T. Donaldson School in honor of Mount Clemens businessman, mayor, and school board member Andrew T. Donaldson. Donaldson School was closed and the building razed in 1954. Pictured above is a classroom of students with their teacher from 1906.

Eventually to meet the growing population a new high school was built and opened in 1924, which is the current Mount Clemens High School on Cass Avenue. It originally had 99 rooms with a swimming pool, auditorium, two gymnasiums and other modern features for the time. The school was built to accommodate 1,200 students and had an original enrollment of 815 in grades 7 through 12. There was a staff of 45 teachers.

The health of the students and the teachers was always a matter of concern. In 1912 an epidemic of diphtheria and scarlet fever broke out, but no deaths were reported. The school medical inspector also reported 30 cases of enlarged tonsils and that the tonsils were all removed. In February, 1930, there were reports of 22 skin diseases, 10 cases of chicken pox, 9 of whooping cough, 1 of diphtheria, and 2 of scarlet fever. The health of the teachers was also a concern. The school nurse made health visits to any teacher who was off for illness.

The school year of 2020 is beginning in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We are living out a new chapter in history. Whatever the experience, the education profession will do what it historically do best, perform the balance of educating children and keeping the health and safety of the students and teachers a priority.

Photo courtesy of the Mount Clemens Library.

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