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Article updated: 5/31/2012 2:55 PM

How Elgin High School nearly lost its name


What's in a name? Apparently everything when it comes to a high school.

At least that was the case 50 years ago this spring when the U-46 Board of Education, then commonly known as the Elgin Public Schools, announced it was going to change the name of Elgin High School.

The action, which was done in conjunction with the opening of Larkin High School, prompted a rally among students and alumni, which the trustees probably never contemplated.

"Elgin High School will now be officially known as Central High School," said the Elgin Superintendent of Schools in February 1962, according to papers of the time.

Board members said they had also considered naming the school Herbert Hoover High School in honor of the former president and Roscoe S. Cartwright High School in recognition of the school's previous principal.

Naming the institution after a former educator was too problematic, explained the trustee. There were too many worthy candidates to consider.

Choosing "Elgin East" and "Elgin West" was even discussed, but the board said the names had proved divisive in the communities in which they are used.

The trustees said they also wanted to reserve the name "East" for a new high school that would likely be built later in the undeveloped eastern portion of district. Elgin Area School District U-46, which then was served only by Elgin High School, would later see five high schools among its buildings.

The renaming of Elgin High School to Central High School was justifiable because it was based on historical precedence, explained the board president. The name "Central" appeared in the 1938 Elgin High School Maroon yearbook and was used to differentiate the eastern site from Abbott School, which then served ninth and 10th grade pupils on the west side.

The principal of Abbott School offered a bit of a contrary view in explaining that Elgin High School was never known as "Central." The city directory at the time simply revered to the east side campus as "High School," added a newspaper story.

Although justifiable in the minds of the board, the decision prompted an outcry among the students and the community. Petitions and sign-making got under way, but the board remained undaunted by the actions.

"For the present, we do not revoke or rescind the decision which was made," said the board president, following a 7-0 vote reaffirming the decision.

Some, including a former Elgin High School student who expressed his feelings in a letter to the editor, were supportive of the change.

"Can anyone remember when they last saw a member of the class of the '30s, '40s or '50s going about in public wearing a class ring or a class sweater? And how many of us can remember the words of the class song?"

The supporter said school traditions would remain in spite of the name change.

But, such views were in the minority. Christine Foster -- then Christine Schultz -- a member of the class of 1963, wrote in a letter to the editor, "I don't know how to describe the attitude of the act. They are very disgusted by the whole situation and many have petitions out to be signed by parents, graduates, and people of this city to see if we can't get the school returned to its original name."

"I think it is disgusting taking the name Elgin High School from this town," added another supporter in a letter to the editor. "The name Central High School would also cause confusion with Central High School near Plato Center," the student explained.

"Why did the board abandon their policy of naming schools in honor of any pioneers or teachers worthy of such honor?" wrote a class of 1925 alum.

"As a taxpayer, I think we should all be given a voice in this matter. It seems rather highhanded to have a handful of people decide on an issue of such interest to our young folk as well as many oldsters," said a member of the class of 1931.

The pressure continued to build and by early April the board announced that, "in response to the general expression of public opinion" it would not change the name of Elgin High School. Curiously, school officials added, "We never had any intension of changing the name of the diplomas or the spirit letters to 'C' or revision of any other supplies."

"It was a victory for everyone," said Christine Schultz, now of South Elgin, in looking back upon the time. "Many of us had parents who were Elgin High graduates, too, and their support helped."

For a school that boasts many proud victories, this was one of the sweetest, Foster noted.

"The signs we made, the petitions we circulated, and the letters we wrote helped save the great name of Elgin High School."

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