School Names History

School Names History

Blog post by Rusty
Thursday, March 1, 2018

Public education has a long history in Austin. During that time the methods by which it has been delivered, and the locations of its delivery have evolved. Students have found themselves attempting to learn their lessons in simple one room school houses, temporary Capitol buildings, courthouses, and finally on the campuses of today’s high schools. Those structures that have been set aside for this education often bear names that may be unrecognizable to the modern individual. A recent debate has brought into question five names in particular. Names that many may not be familiar with. Names such as Zachary Taylor Fulmore, John T. Allan, Sidney Lanier, John H. Reagan, and Albert Sidney Johnston. Outside of Johnston what do you know about these names, about why they were chosen, or about the context and criteria for their choosing? Amidst the rush toward judgement that our society finds itself in the midst of today it is still important to take a moment to collect all of the information. You may find your conclusions reaffirmed, or challenged, but in either case you can rest assured you came to those conclusions after having considered all of the facts.

Austin Independent School District was born on April 30, 1955, with a vote of 2,722 for to 663 against the separation of the schools from city government. By this time Austin’s school system had grown to include more than thirty schools and was adding 2,000 students annually. This was more students in one year than were initially enrolled in the public school when the City of Austin assumed control in 1881. Operating out of the Austin Graded School (now Pease), that had opened in 1876 as part of the state school organization, the school opened as the first Austin Public School with only 500 students in attendance. By the close of the school year enrollment had increased to 1,328 (although average attendance was only 806).

Under the leadership of the City’s school board, established after state law changes in 1879 that allowed the public to elect these officials rather than be chosen by city council, Austin’s schools steadily grew. In 1892 a local school known as the 11th Ward school was incorporated into the Austin school system thanks to the efforts of Judge Zachary Taylor Fulmore who had advocated and worked toward establishing better education in South Austin. In honor of his efforts the school was renamed Fulmore. A native of North Carolina, Fulmore had enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1864 when he was eighteen. His service proved short lived as he was wounded and taken captive in his second engagement. He would later move to Austin in 1870 where he would reside for the remainder of his life serving in a number of public capacities, including as County Judge of Travis County, as a member of the Board of Regents of the Texas State School for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, a charter member and President of the Texas State Historical Association, and Chairman of the City Schools Trustees.

[Fulmore School], PICA 07649.

A gift to the City for the use of the schools by John T. Allen in 1888 served to further improve Austin’s ability to deliver education to its youth. Born in Scotland, Allan had resided in Austin since 1850 and would remain a citizen of the city until his death in 1888. He practiced law during much of this time, outside of his service as an officer of the Confederacy during the Teche campaign in Louisiana in 1863.  During the occupation of Texas, Allan was appointed as the State Treasurer serving during the administration of Governor Pease 1867-1869.  A prominent citizen of the city of Austin, Mr. Allan became known as the “father of industrial education” after his death when in his will he stated:  

I give all the rest of property, real, personal, and mixed to the City of Austin and Travis County, State of Texas, in trust for the following purpose to wit: To establish in the City of Austin aforesaid an Industrial School in which shall be taught practical use of tools as well as scientific principles as applied to labor.

This gift laid the foundation for the establishment of a manual training Department at Austin High School in 1896. It was the first department of its kind in the South and second in the nation and inspired a revolution in public education. By 1900 the schools had dedicated a whole facility to the idea and named it John T. Allan High, later John T. Allan Junior High in his honor.

[Allan Jr. High School Field Day Athletics], May 11, 1934, PICA 07593. 

John T. Allan’s contributions to city education were remembered in 1961 when a newspaper story reflected upon his “…proposed course of training which has benefitted local young people” and recalled how he “left his entire estate to his adopted city for the establishment of an industrial school.” The author was writing of John T. Allan’s positive contributions to demonstrate his worth and merit in earning the honor of having a school bear his name. He contrasted this historic example to what was taking place at the time as the school board moved to name a school after Sidney Lanier. Unlike Fulmore or Allan, Lanier had no local significance. Best known as an American poet, he served in the Confederate Army and was included as a potential name for the school among other notables such as Andrew Jackson, Ben Milam, and Coronado. Little exists to provide insight into the Board’s decision-making process. The context of the time suggests the choice along with others from the 1960’s was a vestige of Jim Crow south and response to the Civil Rights Movement threatening the status quo.

[Exterior of Lanier High School], circa 1970s, PICA 07573. 

Lanier is just one example among a trend in the 1960s when school names were picked with less care for the individual’s local significance. Other prominent examples include John H. Reagan and Albert Sidney Johnston. Dedicated on October 1, 1965 Reagan High was “named for the Texas statesman who served in the Texas Legislature and both houses of the U.S. Congress in the late 1880s. Reagan was also first chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission.” The statesman’s terms were interrupted by Texas’s secession from the Union during which he served in the cabinet of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Another school dedicated on May 29, 1960, was given the name of Albert Sydney Johnston. The school today is known as Eastside Memorial at Johnston Campus, a change made in August 2008. As with Lanier no local significance can be found.

[A.S. Johnston High School], PICA 25416, Arthur Fehr Architectural Archives Collection.  

The School Board has chosen to move forward with changing the names of all five schools. It will now proceed to establish naming committees that will be engaging the local school communities to collect suggestions for new names. These suggestions will be presented as options to the board who will make the final decision. It may be the case that at some point in the future their decisions today will face the scrutiny now being cast upon the decisions of their predecessors.



AR.2011.042 Pat Toth Austin Schools Collection

P 8795 Public Schools – High Schools – John T. Allan

AF Biography – Allan, John T.

P 8300(85) Public Schools – Elementary – Fulmore

P8830 Public Schools – Junior High – Fulmore

AF Biography – Fulmore, Zachary Taylor

P 8720 Public Schools – High Schools – Lanier

P 8760 Public Schools – High Schools – Reagan

P 8670 Public Schools – High Schools – Eastside Memorial

P 8680 Public Schools – High Schools – Johnston