Post World War II and Cold War Era 1945-1960

Dean Morgan Junior High School (1951), Casper, Natrona Co
Dean Morgan Junior High School (1951),
Casper, Natrona Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
Once it recovered from the war, Wyoming, like the rest of the country, set out to rebuild and modernize its schools and prepare its students for the “atomic age.” In the 1950s, the State Department of Education, in cooperation with the University of Wyoming, junior colleges, school boards, teachers, students, and the general public, completed evaluations of all schools in the state. One thousand educators were involved in this ambitious project, which included site visits to 568 of the state’s public schools. Their reports provided an analysis of the community, its economy, current and projected population, school district organization, administration, finance, curriculum, and school facilities, and included recommendations in each of these areas. The reports are valuable documents for analyzing specific school buildings, as well as learning about Wyoming communities and their schools in the 1950s. Below is an excerpt from the 1957 report on the Worland School District:
The New Eastside and Southside Schools are quite a contrast to the three older buildings. They have all the features of a modern, well equipped elementary school. Their sites of eight and six acres respectively are in line with present day thinking. The locations of these buildings present a pleasing and inviting picture. The classrooms in these buildings are large, well lighted, and attractive. The corridors are wide and quite well lighted. The auxiliary rooms are sufficient, well-planned and conveniently located. The location of a lunchroom in each building is most commendable. The only feature that may be criticized is the fact that the Southside School has only two toilets for 345 pupils. Worland may well be proud of these two school houses and should work towards the day when all of its grade pupils will be housed in comparable buildings.
East Side Elementary School (1953), Worland, Washakie Co.
East Side Elementary School (1953), Worland,
Washakie Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
These schools, built in 1953 and 1952 respectively, still stand relatively unchanged in Worland and are two of the state’s best remaining examples of post-war elementary school architecture.

These reports are an indication of the increasingly active role in public education played by the University of Wyoming’s College of Education, which had a mission of not only educating the state’s future teachers but also providing assistance to schools through its extension program, and conducting research designed to improve curriculum and teaching methods. The “School Service Bureau” of the College of Education conducted studies, evaluated schools, developed curriculum materials and published a series of “School Service Bulletins” on topics such as aviation education, the impact of World War II on the teaching of social studies, how to conduct secondary school assemblies and recommendations for school buildings.

Arvada Elementary School and Gym (1948), Laramie Co.
Arvada Elementary School and Gym (1948),
Laramie Co.

Photo: Misty Moore, 2007

Starting in the Progressive era, the curriculum of Wyoming schools had begun to expand to encompass such areas as vocational education, home making, vocational agriculture, physical education and health and safety. These new programs started in the high schools, but by the 1940s even elementary school students were provided with workshop as well as classroom space, with moveable tables and benches and cupboards for the supplies needed for a variety of activities including cooking and building projects as well as the more traditional art work, music, and physical education. Gone were the immovable chair-desk combinations in favor of more

Starting in the Progressive era, the curriculum of Wyoming schools had begun to expand to encompass such areas as vocational education, home making, vocational agriculture, physical education and health and safety. These new programs started in the high schools, but by the 1940s even elementary school students were provided with workshop as well as classroom space, with moveable tables and benches and cupboards for the supplies needed for a variety of activities including cooking and building projects as well as the more traditional art work, music, and physical education. Gone were the immovable chair-desk combinations in favor of more flexible classrooms. The new moveable furniture also allowed more flexibility for smaller schools, so that classrooms could double as places for community gatherings.

Laura Irwin Elementary School (1958), Basin, Big Horn Co.
Laura Irwin Elementary School (1958), Basin,
Big Horn Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
By 1960, school architecture had changed from outward looking to inward looking. Instead of elaborate exterior ornamentation, many schools were designed with a modern aesthetic that emphasized simplicity, lack of ornamentation and massiveness. The school began to resemble a fortress rather than a cathedral for learning. The grand entrance of the late 19th and early 20th century school was replaced by a simple door that might lead to an interior atrium or courtyard. The school districts focused on interior changes that kept pace with rapidly changing theories in pedagogy.

The federal School Lunch Program, which encouraged schools to provide a nutritious, warm, noonday meal for students, resulted in the construction and/or enlargement of school cafeterias and lunchrooms, adding to the large amount of space already allocated for non-classroom activities such as physical education, school assemblies and theater productions. The school site also expanded during this period, to incorporate ever more elaborate sports facilities such as stadiums, tracks and grandstands.

Storey Gymnasium (1950), Cheyenne
Storey Gymnasium (1950), Cheyenne
Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
The vast majority of schools in Wyoming dating from the historic period covered by this context were built in the period 1946-1960. While many of these were remodeled in the 1970s in an attempt to make them more energy efficient, there are also a significant number of school buildings from the late 1940s and 1950s that retain their integrity and are excellent examples of Modernist school architecture. In addition to the two elementary schools in Worland (Southside Elementary and Eastside Elementary) discussed above, examples include Dean Morgan Junior High School (1951) in Casper, Storey Gymnasium in Cheyenne (1950), Sheridan Junior High School Gymnasium (1949), and Slade (1955) and Beitel (1952) elementary schools in Laramie.
Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources