Aspen High School graduates from its inception until around 1960 would likely total around a thousand over a 71-year span. The graduating class size, when viewed in isolation, suggests the city’s demographic fluctuations, but digging deeper, it’s a story that also illustrates shifts in educational expectations.
For decades, most children growing up in Aspen ended their schooling in eighth grade. The graduation ceremony for the eight years was on a par with high school graduates. The first graduation ceremony of any kind took place in 1886 for nine girls and four boys in eighth grade. The first high school diploma was held in 1889. Nine students graduated in 1891 and there were no further high school diplomas until 1894. It was a milestone as the launch ceremonies filled the Wheeler, including islands and stairs. Aspen High School has had a graduating class every year since 1894.
Aspen had three elementary schools in town originally called the Eastern, Western, and Central Schools, but later named Garfield, Lincoln, and Washington. The three schools had a total of 1,215 students in 1898. In 1904, school enrollment fell to 791 students with 137 students in first grade, 115 in second, 101 third, 84 fourth, 69 sixth, 75 seventh, 47 eighth and high school. with 78. 1905 had an enrollment of 753 including 12 graduates.
Another interesting comparison is for 1910. In 1910, the total population of Aspen schools was 700 with 70 in eighth grade and 113 in high school. That same year, the University of Colorado had 1,200 students. My great aunt, Ethel Frost, and my uncle John Herron, graduated that year in what had been the largest class until then with 26 students. Educational expectations were rising, but elementary teachers only needed to graduate from high school and this lasted until the 1920s.
The number of graduates then faltered with senior degrees of: 29 in 1915, a record that held for 50 years, 25 in 1916, 18 in 1920, but they then increased even though the total population of aspen declined considerably between 1918 and 1922. Educational expectations changed, and the number of Grade 8 students continuing their high school education increased from about 10-20% before 1900 to about 40-50% until about 1920, then rose to 80% or more in 1925.
My parents’ classes are good illustrations. My father’s class had 20 in 1925 and high school had 95. My mother’s class in 1926 had 26. There was a steep drop to just 5 in 1928 and it remained low during the Depression due to both population decline and family economic challenges.
The Aspen School District consisted of one-classroom rural primary schools. Until 1926, there were seven (not counting those now reportedly in different school districts): Woody Creek, Upper Capitol Creek, Upper Snowmass, Brush Creek, Owl Creek, Lower Capitol Creek, and Snowmass. Most of the students in rural schools did not attend secondary school. Those who did stayed with an Aspen family, like longtime Aspen teacher Hilda Anderson who graduated with my father’s class. Later, more and more pastoralists got cars and the district started a bus service allowing children in rural areas to go to high school.
There were 11 graduates in 1930, 16 in 1935, 18 in 1941, 7, all boys, in 1948. The 1950s had similar but slightly higher numbers with 11 in 1956 and 18 in 1958 and the 1960s began. with 19 in 1961. Then the numbers started to climb rapidly with the first class having 30, the largest since my mother’s class in 1926, in 1965, and my own class broke that record with 32 in 1966. , then 33 in 1967 at a new Maroon Creek campus built to accommodate growth. He continued to climb year after year after that.
One final unrelated note: While researching these numbers, I discovered that Aspen High School had chosen its mascot name “Skiers” in 1946. The name was chosen at a student fundraising event. , ticket buyers voting among: skiers, climbers, eagles and miners. (Good choice!!)
Tim Willoughby’s family history parallels that of Aspen. He began to share folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his hometown, he considers it from a historical perspective. Contact him at [email protected].