Educating Ann Arbor

1825: Education was so important to the early settlers that they set up a village school in 1825, only a year after the first houses were built. The most important of the early schools was begun in 1839 by Miss Mary Clark with her sisters Chloe and Roby, who had all been educated at the Willard School in Troy, New York. Young ladies from throughout southeast Michigan, New York, and Ohio were attracted to the school by Miss Clark’s promise of a “thorough and polite” education where students were encouraged to think independently. The school closed in 1875 after Mary’s death.

Full public education through high school was not available until the opening of the Union School in 1856. It was acclaimed as the finest in the state, perfect to prepare students—at least the boys—to enter the nearby university. As the city expanded during the Civil War, primary schools were built in each of the city’s five wards. The high school was expanded in 1871 and 1888, extending all the way from Washington to Huron on State Street.

Following World War I, Ann Arbor’s population boomed. A $750,000 bond issue approved by the voters in 1922 made possible the building of two new middle schools, Mack (now Mack Open) and Tappan (now Burns Park), as well as three elementary schools: Angell, Jones (now Community High), and a large addition to Bach Elementary. All remain active schools today.

In 1956, when what is now Pioneer High School opened, UM purchased the old high school and renamed it for Professor Henry Simmons Frieze.

Caption 1: Walter S. Perry. The city's first career superintendent of schools, he served from 1871 to 1897.

Caption 2: Like the Clark School, the Union School attracted many students from outside Ann Arbor.

Caption 3: Mary Clark. A recognized authority on botany, Miss Clark took her students on weekly excursions to collect and catalog native wildflowers.

Caption 4: On December 31, 1904, a terrible fire completely destroyed the high school. Only two years later a large new building, including an attached Carnegie Library facing Huron Street, opened on the same site.

Caption 5: Levi "Daddy" Wines. Beloved mathematics professor at the high school, he was also a local builder, a founder of the University Musical Society, and of the Ann Arbor Parks Commission.

Back to full panel