The original Farragut School opened its doors on September 4, 1894, as a new primary school. It was located on Spaulding Ave near 23rd Street in the South Lawndale neighborhood. Its 16 rooms were designed by the architecture firm of Flanders & Zimmerman to accommodate up to 900 students. The Chicago Board of Education named the school after Civil War naval hero Admiral David Glasgow Farragut and appointed George R. Plumb to be Principal. On the first day of school, Farragut enrolled about 500 students in grades 1-4. Those 500 students were among 175,000 students enrolled in Chicago's 200 schools in a year that saw a 15% increase in enrollment.
In its early years, Farragut served as a primary school for thousands of neighborhood students. Two years after opening Farragut, Principal Plumb officiated at a ceremony to dedicate an oil portrait of Admiral Farragut. This portrait was presented to the school by the Farragut Post 602 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) on June 26, 1896. The dedication ceremony included speeches by representatives of the Chicago Board of Education and the Grand Army of the Republic and the singing of “patriotic songs” by Farragut students. The portrait of Admiral Farragut still hangs proudly in Farragut's south building. Principal Plumb was dismissed from Farragut in 1901 and was replaced by Mary E. Baker.
Farragut Expands and Adds Programs
In the early years of the 20th century, the population of Chicago's southwest side continued to grow. The halls of Farragut, and many other schools, became overcrowded. To ease this overcrowding, the Chicago Board of Education approved $150,000 to build a sixteen room addition and assembly hall for Farragut. This project was part of a $2.8 million school construction plan for the city. At the forefront of the construction effort was Farragut Principal Henry C. Cox, who had taken over from Mary Baker in 1904. Principal Cox believed that the primary reason Farragut students did not complete their high school education was a lack of facilities in the area that could accommodate them. The addition opened its doors as a high school at Spaulding and 24th streets on September 7, 1909 with Frank L. Morse as Principal. The original building continued to operate as a primary school.
One of the greatest challenges to keeping high school students in school during this time was the fact that many teenagers worked in factories around Chicago to supplement family income. In 1909, Principal Morse created a plan that would allow students to continue to work and go to school and still receive their income. In cooperation with such employers as the Chicago Malleable Iron Company, the International Harvester Company, and the Kimball Piano Company, students would alternate weeks between work and school. These students would be enrolled in a special vocational curriculum designed to improve their “industrial education.” Boys between the ages of 14 and 16 would be enrolled in the program and would receive their full weekly salary while in school.
Young women were also part of the vocational education plan for Farragut, although with a different focus. Classes for girls fell under the category of “domestic sciences” and included beginning and advanced sewing, food study and cooking, sanitation and hygiene in the home, and history of industry. As the vocational programs increased in popularity, Farragut expanded quickly and in 1914, most were transferred to the new Harrison Technical High School at 24th St and Marshall Blvd. With space now available, Farragut opened its doors as a community center two nights a week. Classrooms were made available for organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. In addition, adult education classes were organized to teach sewing, millinery, cooking, and typing. In addition, English language classes were offered free of charge to neighborhood residents. Young people and adults could also participate in sports, music, and art.
Farragut Continues to Change
In 1924, Farragut underwent another restructuring. The Chicago School Board created a new program that converted several schools into junior high schools housing grades seven and eight. The move was designed to ease overcrowding by reducing some schools from grades K-8 to K-6 and moving the older students to new schools. In September, 1925, 7th and 8th grade students from the Farragut, Burns, Spry, and McCormick schools attended classes at Farragut Junior High School with Isabella Dolton as Principal. Students at Farragut in grades K-2 stayed in the original building, operating as an extension of the Burns school with the remaining students in grades 3-6 moved to the neighboring schools.
By 1928, the continuing problem of school overcrowding led to the construction of an addition to the Farragut building. The plans included a south and west section of the building that effectively doubled its size. That year, Peter B. Ritzma became Principal following Isabella Dolton's election was Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the district. Farragut operated as a junior high school until the Chicago School Board decided to scrap the program and convert the junior high schools in the city to senior high schools in 1933. Farragut's attendance boundaries extended north to 16th St and as far south as the I&M Canal.
Vocational training returned to Farragut in 1935 following the establishment of the Emergency Education Program (EEP). The EEP was created under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). In the early years of the Great Depression, thousands of teachers found themselves unemployed and seeking relief. Harry Hopkins, director of FERA, realized that there was an opportunity to not only return teachers to work but to also provide educational programs to other unemployed workers. Under the EEP, Farragut began offering adult evening classes free of charge. Unemployed adults could attend classes in typing, dictaphone, shorthand (advanced and beginning), sewing, millwork, and printing.