Progressive Era 1915-1930

Pine Bluffs High School (1929), Laramie Co.
Pine Bluffs High School (1929), Laramie Co.
Photo: Clayton Fraser Collection
During the Progressive Era, the State of Wyoming began several initiatives to improve the quality of education and keep up with national trends, starting with the appointment of a School Code Committee, charged with studying the educational needs of the state and making specific recommendations for a complete revision of the existing code. This committee requested the assistance of the federal Bureau of Education, which conducted a survey and made recommendations, organizing the results into a report entitled “Educational Survey of Wyoming,” published in 1916.

Daniel School (1920), Sublette Co.
Daniel School (1920), Sublette Co.
Photo: State Historic Preservation Office
As a result of the bureau’s findings, there was a complete revision of the existing school code. The legislature created a new State Department of Education run by a non-partisan Board of Education, which was empowered to hire a professional executive secretary with the title of Commissioner of Education. The new law also created several new boards and departments, and revised standards for curriculum, teacher certification, school attendance and school buildings.

After World War I, Wyoming’s population soared as new settlers poured into the state. Wyoming saw a 12% increase in school enrollment between 1918 and 1920, and 183 new school buildings were built during that period. By 1919 there were 400 school districts in Wyoming, and a reported shortage of teachers, especially in rural schools. During the period 1915 – 1930, school enrollment increased by about 50%, from 37,718 pupils in 1915 to 54,505 in 1930. Wyoming's population increased from 145,965 in 1910 to 225,565 in 1930. There were only 27 towns with a population of over 1,000 in 1920. [See Historical Decennial Population for Wyoming Counties, Cities and Towns] Those towns and communities with less than 1,000 in population were categorized as "rural communities" for this historic context.

Transportation for Wyoming Schools
Transportation for Wyoming Schools
Photo: Supt. of Public Instruction Biennial Report, 1926
Wyoming made great strides in improving educational opportunities for its children by accrediting high schools and junior highs, improving transportation and rural schools, and extending education to all who could benefit from it. The state began a system of transporting pupils to school which laid the groundwork for consolidation of school districts and schools which continued over the next 75 years. The Standard School program provided an incentive for rural districts to upgrade their buildings and provide an environment more conducive to learning. The incorporation of features such as natural lighting and higher ceilings created the type of one- or two-room school building still found in rural areas throughout the state.
Gebo Standard School, Gebo Mining Camp, Washakie Co.
Gebo Standard School, Gebo Mining Camp,
Washakie Co.

Photo: Supt. of Public Instruction Biennial Report,
1922
Education in the schools was also broadened by increasing the duties of the State Department of Education. The Department of Vocational Education was added in 1917, a “Director of Special Classes” (later State Director of Special Education) was added in 1919, and in 1921 the Division of Civilian Rehabilitation was added for the retraining of children and adults who had become disabled.
Roosevelt Elementary School (1922), Rock Springs
Roosevelt Elementary School (1922), Rock Springs
Photo: Photographer: Mary Humstone, 2007
During this era, architects and educators in Wyoming and throughout the country began to apply a more scientific approach to the design of school buildings; school districts from the smallest rural district to those in the major cities benefited from bulletins, pattern books and architect designs which gave them more attractive and efficient school facilities. Although Wyoming laws did not govern the construction of school buildings, the State Board of Education became increasingly concerned about the quality of the school facilities being built in the state, and it encouraged a more formal approach to design through circulars and bulletins distributed to school districts. Some of the state’s most impressive high schools, such as Natrona County High School in Casper, Pine Bluffs High School, Central High School in Cheyenne and Sheridan High School were built during this period, as were elementary schools such as Yellowstone, Lowell and Roosevelt in Rock Springs, South Side (now Nellie Iles) in Laramie and Churchill, Gibson-Clark and Johnson schools in Cheyenne. City and town schools built during the Progressive era represent a range of popular early 20th century styles such as Classical Revival, Renaissance Revival and Collegiate Gothic. Their plans reflect changes in curriculum and the role of schools in the community, especially the development of special facilities for science, music and art classes and the introduction of new classes in vocational education, home economics, physical education and special education.
Casper High School Mechanical Shop, Natrona Co.
Casper High School Mechanical Shop, Natrona Co.
Photo: Supt. of Public Instruction Biennial Report, 1926

The role of the school expanded considerably during the Progressive Era. Vocational education and special education were added to the core curriculum. Students played an active role in the war effort during World War I, and schools offered Americanization classes to help immigrants learn English and earn citizenship. Thus schools dating from this period represent significant social, cultural and community development themes in addition to their significance in education and architecture.
Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources