A History: Going to School in Santa Cruz County

Article by Brunella Deeds
Executive Assistant to Superintendent Michael Watkins

Mission Hill School
Mission Hill School, Santa Cruz District 1, built in 1879 to replace the original 1857 one-room Mission Hill School—the first public school structure in Santa Cruz County. The building shown above had a basement used for classes, two floors above that, and a top story in which the county’s first high school was conducted.

In the bicentennial year of 1976, with everyone focused on the history of our country, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education led by County Superintendent of Schools Richard R. Fickel decided to research and publish a book of the history of Santa Cruz County schools. Researching and compiling all the pictures and information took two years and the concerted effort of many in the community and at the County Office of Education. Margaret Koch, author of a number of history books on Santa Cruz, was commissioned to write the manuscript.

Only five of these books exist in our office. In an effort to preserve this document and to provide it as a reference to teachers, students, and others, the County Office of Education has scanned the book (see box below). The book not only contains information on many of the early schools but has an array of old photos. Research for the book included using other books about Santa Cruz County, searching the archives of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Register Pajaronian, yearbooks, and using personal interviews.

Going to School in Santa Cruz County

Cover and Preface

Table of Contents and List of Illustrations

Ch I: Intro

Ch II: Two Hundred Years Ago, p. 5

Ch III: The New School System Takes Root, p. 17

Ch IV: When the School Bell Rang a Hundred Years Ago, p. 33

Ch V: Some Early Schools, p. 45

Ch VI: A fight for Equality in Education, p. 71

Ch VII: The County Superintendent of Schools, p. 83

Ch VIII: Other Prominent Educators, p. 99

Ch IX: Christmas in a Mountain School, p. 113

Ch X: World War I and the Twenties—Two Students Remembered, p. 121

Ch XI: What We Learned—Classrooms of the Twenties and the Thirties, p. 133

Ch XII: An Interview with Superintendent Richard Fickel, p. 153

Appendix A: Present Schools of Santa Cruz County, p. 167

Appendix B: Chronological List of County’s First Schools, p. 171

Appendix C: Haslam’s Report of 1861, p. 189

Appendix D: State School Census of 1873, p. 191

Bibliography, p. 199

Download complete book 20 MB


Manual for the Public Schools of the County of Santa Cruz, 1933

Aerial view of Santa Cruz
A very early view of Mission Hill which is unique because it shows both the First Methodist church where school was held before the first schoolhouse was built—and the first schoolhouse. It is at the left, the building with wings sprouting on either side, plus a small bell tower. Note orchards in the background – downtown today.

Chapter II begins the tale with the Ohlone Indians and the lessons they taught to their children. Then late in the 1700’s came the arrival of the white man and the Santa Cruz Mission. It was the intention of the missionaries to educate the Indians but only a few did actually learn to read and write. By 1847, the first families started to arrive in the county and children were gathered in homes to be taught, but only during the summer months.

Santa Cruz County was officially created on February 18, 1850, seven months before California became a part of the United States. In 1854, the tax rate for schools was set at five cents for every $100 of taxable property. Schools, both public and Christian continued to grow housed in private homes and churches. Finally in 1857 the first public one-room schoolhouse was built near Mission Hill at a cost of $2,233. It was named Santa Cruz District 1. Over the next four years, five more schools were built. As time went on, the first schoolhouse was expanded to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of students. It was replaced in 1879 with a more modern multi-leveled building. Appendix B gives a chronological listing of the formation of schools throughout the County.

Ranch School
Rare photograph of a “ranch school.”

A number of today’s schools were named after early educators. Two such schools are Mintie White Elementary and MacQuiddy Elementary. Arminta Allison White, better known as Mintie White, was only four years old when her parents traveled from Iowa to Vacaville, California. When her daughter developed tuberculosis, the family moved to Watsonville for the climate. After the death of her daughter and then her husband shortly thereafter, Ms. White went back to school to obtain her teaching credential. At age 45 she became a first grade teacher at Watsonville Primary School. Although offered the position of principal, she devoted her entire teaching career to first graders. Her favorite saying was, “I never knew a child I couldn’t love.”

During his 43 years as an educator, Thomas MacQuiddy served as teacher, principal, and superintendent of Watsonville High School. He began his career teaching science and mathematics in 1905. Two years later he was appointed to the post of principal and superintendent. He carried out these duties while remaining in the classroom. To read more about these outstanding educators see Chapter VIII.

We have also scanned a School Manual for the County of Santa Cruz for the year 1933. Check out the Childrens’ Code of Morals on page 23 and the Suggestions to Teachers on page 65.