On September 19, 1874, the first school board was elected and a week later, the school began classes with 16 students. The school was held in the home of William T. Clapp, on South Orange Grove Avenue, near California Street.
In 1878, four years after the formation of the first school district, subjects resembling current high school studies were introduced by the first teachers of Pasadena High School, Mr. Newell Mathews and Miss I. Convence Royce. Mr. Mathews received the magnificent sum of $80 a month on condition that he pay $50 towards building the school house.
The high school moved in 1887 from the original building to the southeast corner of Marengo and Walnut. Wilson High School was named for Mr. Benjamin “Don Benito” Wilson who donated the five acres of land for the school building. In 1891, the people of Pasadena passed the High School Provision Bill. This was the beginning of the real Pasadena High School, since it had previously only been a district school. Mr. Will S. Monroe was the superintendent, and he also taught the science classes. There were seven other teachers. There were 12 graduates that first year, including Annie L. Brush, Carleton E. Durrell, William H. Linny, LeRoy D. Ely, Alva D. McCoy, Leonora Schopbach and Carl C. Thomas.
By 1893, there were 123 students with a graduating class of 16. In addition, the first school paper published in Pasadena made its appearance. It was called the “Bee” and was written entirely by hand. The class of 1899, the first to complete the new four-year course, numbered 33. It was a matter of pride to those first Pasadena High School graduates that Pasadena stood forth on the State University list among 91 similar schools in the state and was accredited in every class it offered.
School life differed widely in comparison with today. The daily life was similar to that of a grammar school. There were two daily recesses and a lunch period, with students marching in and out in two separate lines: one for boys and one for girls.
A great many protests came at the time the Wilson building was built because people thought it would be years before a building of its size would be necessary. These doubters were soon proved wrong as the school grew rapidly and was soon crowded. In succeeding years many “firsts” were established. The first school annual, called the “Item Annual”, was printed in 1899. The President of the United States, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, established another first when he spoke to the students on campus in 1903. For this occasion, the high school was decorated more lavishly than any buildings had been previous to this day. Extending for 300 feet, rose petals, several inches in depth, made up the carpet upon which the President walked.
In 1903, the first debating club was organized. Also in 1903, the Trustees began looking for a new site for the high school. Land on Walnut between Euclid and Los Robles was bought. A building was erected which would be ample “for years to come”. The building contained about thirty rooms and was ready for the opening of school in the fall of 1904. In 1905, the first athletic association was organized and in 1908, the first orchestra came to fruition. The Pasadena High School football team scored a first by beating USC with a score of 17 – 0. During the same year, the first girls’ tennis team was established.
The 1911 football team was a team of stars with such men as ‘Tiny” Jones, Herman Siefert, “Chuck” Biedebach, “Bill” Tavenor, “Hod” Chambers and “Puss” McDowell. Members of the Debating Club gave Los Angeles High School a close race for the debating championship, losing by only one-third of a point. A change in location came in 1912 when a new campus was built at Hill and Colorado. Pasadena residents complained about the new facilities because they were too far out in the country, but the students soon settled down in their new rural environment. The student body created a constitution, student body commissioner, and an associated student body. Even the band had a new look – red and white uniforms. The baseball team, after tying with Glendale, finally won the championship. The track team won the County Meet. In addition, the tennis and debating teams had successful seasons. By 1914, the school population reached 1529 students.
The first weekly paper published at Pasadena High School was printed on February 4, 1915. Although there were initial financial problems, the paper was approved by the student body and became a permanent publication. In the field of sports, Pasadena High School was outstanding. Between 1916 and 1918, Pasadena High School held four state championships. Our football team was the state champion in 1916 with the opposing teams scoring only three points against them. In 1917 & 1918, the swimming team was the state champion. In 1918, the track team won the state championship.
By 1919, enrollment had risen to 2000 students with 80 faculty members and 350 graduates. From October 1919 through February 1920, there was no school held due to a severe influenza epidemic. Because Pasadena is not an industrial city, its high school students were generally on a collegiate track. Definite provisions were in place for those students who wished to devote their time to agricultural, mechanical or commercial courses. The departments increased from one in 1886 to eleven departments – Agriculture, Commercial, English, History, Household and Fine Arts, Classical Languages, Modern Languages, Manual Arts, Mathematics, Music, Physical Education and Science.
In 1922, the Pasadena Honor Society was given the state chapter number one of the California Scholarship Federation (CSF). In 1923, the first Rose Bowl Commencement was held and continued for many years. After holding the Commencement Ceremonies at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for many years, Pasadena High School resumed holding Commencement ceremonies in the Rose Bowl in 2005.
In 1928, Pasadena High School merged with Pasadena Junior College; later the name was changed to Pasadena City College. In 1946, the enrollment had increased to the point that there was a need for a second junior college. The army returned PJC West Campus to the Pasadena City School System. The name was then changed from West Campus to John Muir Junior College.
The two junior colleges existed until 1953, when the Pasadena 6-4-4 plan was abandoned and was replaced by the 6-3-3-2 system. This led to Pasadena High School’s re-establishment. The school was located on the City College campus from September 1954 to June 1960.
In June of 1960, Pasadena High School separated from Pasadena City College and opened its own site. Pasadena High School broke ground on its new campus at 2925 E. Sierra Madre Blvd. Completion of the campus came in 1962 with the dedication of the new auditorium. The 1962 – 1963 school year was a year of honors for Pasadena High School. The Victory Bell returned home after eight years, following the defeat of John Muir at the Annual Turkey Tussle Homecoming football game. In January 1963, Pasadena High School was honored by a visit from the Honorable Tazio Hasgawa, mayor of Pasadena’s sister city in Mishima, Japan.
On February 4, 1965, the Chronicle celebrated its Golden Anniversary and received an all-American honor rating from the National Scholastic Press Association.
Mrs. Gladiss Edwards was the first PHS Principal. She served as principal from the time Pasadena High School was re-established in 1954 until 1965. She led the school through two accreditations, one in 1959 and the second in 1965. In June 1965, the Board of Education named the auditorium in her honor.
Desegregation of Pasadena High School and other schools in Pasadena California. In 1968, respondents, Pasadena, CA, high school students and their parents, brought a purported class action against various school officials seeking injunctive relief from allegedly unconstitutional segregation of the public schools in Pasadena. The United States intervened as a party plaintiff pursuant to § 902 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides that upon intervention “the United States shall be entitled to the same relief as if it had instituted the action.” Ultimately in 1970 the District Court, holding that the defendants’ educational policies and procedures violated the Fourteenth Amendment, enjoined the defendants from failing to adopt a desegregation plan, ordered them to submit a plan for desegregating the Pasadena schools which would provide that beginning with the 1970-1971 school year there would be no school “with a majority of any minority students,” and retained jurisdiction so as to see that such a plan was carried out. The defendants did not appeal from this decree, and subsequently submitted the “Pasadena Plan,” which was approved by the District Court.