Depression Era: 1930-1945

Parco Elementary School (1936), Sinclair, Carbon Co.
Parco Elementary School (1936), Sinclair,
Carbon Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
Two major national events greatly influenced the development of Wyoming schools in the period 1930 – 1945: the Depression and World War II. Wyoming's economy felt the impact of the Depression through decreases in oil and agricultural production, retail business, and tourism. For the first time in the state’s history school enrollment dropped. Wyoming saw a significant drop of $1 million in school expenditures for the 1932-33 school years (from $5.9 million to $4.8 million), as taxes for the support of schools fell by 12% and the income from the Permanent Land Fund dropped by 14%. The Wyoming Educational Bulletin noted in December 1933 that educational programs had been “alarmingly curtailed” in communities throughout the state.

Hawk Springs School (1939), Goshen Co.
Hawk Springs School (1939), Goshen Co.
Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
WPA Mural, Torrington High School, Goshen Co.
WPA Mural, Torrington High School, Goshen Co.
Photo: Clayton Fraser Collection

Wyoming was just recovering from the effects of World War I when the Depression put a halt to most school building. By late 1931, the University of Wyoming's building program was put on hold. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs eventually eased this distress, despite Wyoming’s initial reluctance to take advantage of the federal government’s largesse. By the mid-1930s, schools were being built and improved with the help of New Deal programs such as the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The University of Wyoming received loans from the Public Works Administration that covered up to 45% of the total proposed cost of construction projects and they resumed building. Public schools built under these programs had the advantage not only of funding, but also of expertise from nationally recognized architects. As Wyoming examples of a nationally significant theme in American history, the state’s New Deal school buildings have significance beyond their role in education and community development. Extant examples of New Deal schools in Wyoming include the Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary School (1934), South Elementary School in Lander (1935), Sinclair Elementary School (formerly Parco Grade School; 1936), Evanston [Third] High School (1937), Hawk Springs School (1939) and Boulder School (1939). Schools with significant additions funded through the New Deal include Nellie Iles School (formerly South Side School), Laramie High School (now Laramie Plains Civic Center), and Lincoln School in Laramie; Fort Laramie School; and Bighorn Academy in Cowley. WPA murals can still be seen in the auditorium of the Laramie Plains Civic Center and in the (new) Torrington High School.

Albin High School (1942), Laramie Co.
Albin High School (1942), Laramie Co.
Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007

In 1940, as the economy was beginning to improve, Wyoming celebrated its 50th anniversary. To show how far the state had come, 1940 biennial report of the State Board of Education featured photographs of typical pioneer (log) schools, and compared them with “A Modern Wyoming High School” (Laramie High School, the former East Side School). The celebration did not last long, however. Soon Wyoming, like the rest of the country, was preparing for war, and the war effort once again dominated education.

Only a few schools were actually constructed in Wyoming during World War II; however, many Wyoming high schools played an important role in preparing students for military service and work in the defense industry. Schools dating from this and earlier periods may have facilities such as shops, laboratories and farm buildings that reflect the changes in curriculum due to the war. These schools also shed the traditional architectural styles for the Art Deco and Moderne styles that were popular from the 1920s through the 1940s and more representative of the forward looking school in the industrial age. A modern exterior implied a school that was up-to-date and incorporated the latest trends in education. Features include vertical piers with stepped caps picked out in a contrasting material (often terra cotta), stylized, angular patterns in terra cotta, especially around the main entrance and as friezes below the cornice, and a generally flat surface.

On the interior, schools were responding to increasingly diverse curricula, with the addition of science laboratories, art and music studios, auditoriums for concerts and theater productions and gymnasiums to accommodate the focus on health and physical fitness. These new facilities were used by the community-at-large as well as students, making the school building central to community life.

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources