Howalton Day School Archives, 1946-1999
Organizational History: Howalton Day School
Scope and Content: Howalton Day School Archives, 1946-1999
Howalton Day School History and Administration
Materials from and about Howalton Day School Teachers
Correspondence | Programs and Scrapbook | Students’ Files
Clippings | Photographs | Memorabilia
|Provenance:||Donation of Mildred D. Johnson, December 27, 1996, and Ethel B. Darden, March 31, 1998. Additional donation made by Susan Cayton Woodson, 2000.|
|Size:||9 linear feet (11 archival boxes)|
|Repository:||Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (Chicago Public Library), 9525 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60628|
|Citation:||When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Howalton Day School Archives [Box #, Folder #], Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library|
|Processed by:||Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
Howalton Day School, the first African American private school in Chicago, was founded in summer 1946 by three Chicago Public Schools teachers: June Howe, Doris Allen and Charlotte Stratton. On a bus, the three held their initial discussion of the deplorable educational facilities and instruction for children in the black community on Chicago’s South Side. Doris Allen Anderson later recalled that, “the schools were overcrowded and inadequate; many of them were too old and no longer functional. Teaching skills were overborne by discipline problems in rooms with 48 desks that had to accommodate 50 or more children.” In 1946 Allen had written to Mayor Edward Kelly complaining about the terrible conditions at Englewood High School, but Kelly did not respond.
The three teachers loaned the school the money to open, hoping to be repaid from tuition fees. Allen came to Chicago from Texas in 1925 and began teaching in the Chicago Public Schools in 1929. She earned a master’s in education from Northwestern University and had been an assistant principal. Howe was an art teacher who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Stratton agreed to become the school’s first principal.
Howalton began as a “vacation school,” a summer experiment for first- and second-graders needing additional work in reading and arithmetic. The three founders drew their students from the surrounding Forestville neighborhood and the Rosenwald Garden Apartments. With the support of Rosenwald Nursery School director Oneida Cockrell, the vacation school opened in the nursery school space at the Rosenwald and was an immediate success. The following year the summer school opened again, and parents urged the founders to keep the school going as a year-round school. Howalton then remained in operation for the full school year of 1947-1948. In Howalton’s first full year, the founders restricted it to a one-grade school, but in subsequent years grades were added, with Howalton eventually serving kindergarten through eighth-grade students. In September 1947 the school was chartered by the Illinois State Office of Public Instruction.
Howe took a position at Englewood High School, but continued to act as Howalton’s registrar until 1953. Ethel Darden was one of the original teachers at Howalton, and she later served as its assistant principal. Howalton’s earliest publicity stressed its “small classes and the ability of the teachers to work on a one-to-one basis with each child.” By 1949, the school had 40 students and a long waiting list seeking admission.
During the first 10 years of its operation, Howalton Day School sharply expanded its enrollment and gained a reputation as a school where African American children could gain top-quality education, leading to successful work in high school and college. Howalton’s Board of Directors included newspaper publisher John H. Sengstacke, University of Chicago sociologist Allison Davis and insurance executive Arthur B. Knight.
The staff at Howalton Day School worked closely with Charlemae Hill Rollins, pioneering children’s librarian at nearby Chicago Public Library Hall Branch library, and with Samuel Stratton, teacher at DuSable High School and a leader in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The school’s activities and commendations were reported in Chicago newspapers and in Jet magazine. Finances were often a problem, and Howalton’s Board of Directors held fundraising benefits every year. One of these benefit events filled Orchestra Hall, as Howalton presented famed opera singer Grace Bumbry.
Beginning in the 1960s, teacher and later Howalton principal Mildred Johnson was feted for her work as a poet, children’s book author and director of Say! Children’s Theater. She became the most widely known member of the Howalton faculty. Her troupe of elementary school players appeared all over Chicago and occasionally performed in other states.
At its zenith, in the 1960s, Howalton Day School’s enrollment neared 200 students, and many of its graduates had become respected young leaders in their professions, government and business. Its success stood out in contrast to the increasingly dire conditions of predominantly African American schools during the tenure of Chicago Public Schools superintendent Benjamin Willis. During the 1980s, however, enrollment at Howalton began to decline, along with other community institutions in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. By 1983, Howalton moved to a new location on the far South Side of Chicago, hoping to attract new students from that neighborhood. The effort did not succeed, however, and Howalton, beset by partial loss of funding and a deteriorating neighborhood, was forced to close its doors in June 1986.
In the years after it closed, Howalton was often cited by Chicago school reform proponents as a model that Chicago Public Schools might emulate. Historians suggested that Howalton Day School was one of the leading institutions to emerge from the Chicago Black Renaissance.
- Anderson, Alan B. Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
- “An Impossible Dream Comes True.” University Woman (AAUW), December 1968.
- Hayes, Worth Kamili. “The Very Meaning of Our Lives: Howalton Day School and Black Chicago’s Changing Educational Agenda, 1946-1985.” American Educational History Journal v. 37, n. 1 (2010), p. 75-94.
- Herrick, Mary. The Chicago Schools: A Social and Political History. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1971.
- “Howalton Day School Story of Faith, Determination.” Chicago Courier, May 18, 1963.
- Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
Series 1: Howalton Day School History and Administration
These files, originally in the possession of Mildred Johnson and Ethel Darden, were compiled in the 1970s in an effort to write a history of Howalton Day School. The history was never published, but the files include much educational and administrative information about the philosophy, policies and regulations at Howalton. Also included are biographical notes on Howalton’s founders, legal materials, financial statements, principals’ reports and information on students and parents. The files were created from 1947 through 1985. They are arranged by topic and then chronologically within topics.
Series 2: Materials from and about Howalton Day School Teachers
Information from and about teachers at Howalton was kept in a variety of locations. Most of the documents included in this series were preserved by Mildred Johnson, a teacher and later a principal. Included are teachers’ notes, evaluations and applications for employment. Handbooks for teachers, compiled from the 1950s through the 1970s are especially noteworthy. The series is arranged by topic and then chronologically within topics.
Series 3: Correspondence
Much of the correspondence originally held in the Howalton Day School office was lost in the years since the school closed in 1986. The documents in this series include correspondence to and from Howalton leaders Doris Allen Anderson, Ethel Darden and Mildred Johnson. Communications sent from the Howalton office to parents from 1949 through 1984 are also included, as is general correspondence sent and received by the Howalton office from 1948 to 1984. Correspondence is arranged by the sender/recipient and then chronologically within that category.
Series 4: Programs and Scrapbook
This series documents programs held by and at Howalton Day School from 1950 through 1984. Both benefit (fundraising) programs and programs by and for students and parents are included. Howalton faculty and staff members also collected some programs from events they attended outside school. These “outside programs” illuminate Howalton’s participation in civil rights, black history and artistic activities. Photocopied pages from a scrapbook held at the Howalton office conclude this series. The programs are arranged chronologically for both Howalton programs and programs from other organizations.
Series 5: Students’ Files
This small series contains materials created by students or their parents. It includes correspondence, assignments, school records and ephemera. The files are arranged chronologically, by earliest date in the folder.
Series 6: Clippings
Howalton administrators and office staff kept clipping files featuring newspaper and magazine articles reporting on Howalton. In addition, several clippings were included among personal files donated by Mildred Johnson and Ethel Darden. The main run of clipping files begins with a 1930 article and extends through 1990. A significant number of the clippings report on Howalton’s benefit events. In addition, there is a small group of oversized clippings, separately housed, that includes articles from 1963 to 1983. Both groups of clippings are arranged chronologically.
Series 7: Photographs
Included in the Howalton donations were more than 140 photographs. Many of these are images taken by professional photographers at Howalton graduations, annual class photo days or other scheduled events. Also included are photographs from Howalton benefits and classroom scenes, as well as student plays and other programs. The photographs are arranged roughly in the order in which they were donated.
Series 8: Memorabilia
Ten memorabilia items are housed in this series. One of the most important is a 1965 notebook with contact information for each Howalton student. With this notebook, one could create a map of the area from which Howalton students were drawn. Also included are students’ thank you notes and artwork, commemorative plaques and a sample of Howalton Day School stationery.
A box of 11 additional photographs from the Howalton Day School Archives was received in 2012. They have been added to the end of this collection, after Memorabilia. Researchers should see Box 11, Photographs 150-160.
Related archival collections at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection are: Mildred Johnson Papers; Madeline Stratton Morris Papers; Chicago Public Library, George Cleveland Hall Branch Library Archives; Robert S. Abbott-John H. Sengstacke Family Papers, Susan Cayton Woodson Papers and Clementine Skinner Papers.