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September 1, 2015 > The Class of 1950

The Class of 1950

By Jim Griffin

Teachers at Washington Union High School called them ÒThe Golden YearsÓ, the time a few years before World War II and lasting until 1959. The opening of Union CityÕs Logan High School that year was a sign of change. Five additional high schools were built before 1966 and great swaths of agriculture land became housing tracts. A school official stated: ÒWeÕre going to build a new high school every year until the end of the centuryÓ. The freeway had arrived, cities had incorporated, and the boom was on.

Washington Township, now Fremont, Newark and Union City, developed quickly in the 1850Õs. Statehood and the gold rush brought on a land rush. Fertile soil and close proximity to the markets of San Francisco attracted the earliest settlers, and nine small communities soon emerged each surrounded by fields, orchards, dairies and ranches. A large photograph at the Museum of Local History on Anza Street clearly tells the story of the times. Before long, each community had an elementary school, first through eighth grades, no kindergartens.

By 1946 the population of the Township had reached nearly 22,000. Students about to enter Washington Union High School had been born in 1932, the depth of the depression, and were children during the war. They came from the elementary school districts of Centerville, Niles, Irvington, Mission San Jose, Warm Springs, Newark, Alvarado, Decoto and Alviso, a small district at MachadoÕs Corners where Decoto Road and Fremont Boulevard meet. The enrollment of the high school was about 750 students, just right for the number of seats in the auditorium.

On ÒHigh School DayÓ, the much anticipated day when eighth graders from each school were bused to the high school for orientation, Students had the chance to peek at lines of kids from other schools and speculate who might soon become their friends. Teachers beamed at the new arrivals as they welcomed them. It was thrilling: A human scale gymnasium with wooden walls, a large cafeteria that smelled like corn soup and hot dogs, a music room with cared for instruments, a wood shop and a metal shop and even a separate art building.

Times were still hard after the war. Many students were needed at home, on farms, dairies and small businesses. One example: Joe PerryÕs father had died when he was 13 and Joe had become the head of the house. A Future Farmer in school, he graduated early to keep the farm, as he has done ever since. He now keeps the farms at Ardenwood Historic Farm, teaching the principles of organic farming to school children.

The football team was so-so in 1949, winning just half its games, but in 1948 the team had won the championship. The athletic league, the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL), was composed of Washington, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Campbell, Los Gatos, Gilroy, San Jose Tech, and Santa Clara. Except for San Jose, each community had just one high school.

Students arrived to school in buses from around the township. Few students drove or were driven by their parents. Some hitchhiked, which had been made an acceptable way to travel by servicemen during the war. Clouds of cigarette smoke emerged from the bus garage office where teachers gathered to smoke, a habit at the height of popularity. Students who smoked went next door to the Black and White Cafˇ.

Boys wore block sweaters or flight jackets; LeviÕs pegged high above the ankle revealing bright argyle socks and highly polished cordovan brown shoes. Girls wore long skirts, bobby socks, sweaters with ÒdickieÓ collars and bobbed or Òpermed Òhair; pompadours were popular for both girls and boys.

Farming was central to the economy of the community. Students of many ethnic backgrounds were represented within the student body and relations were always harmonious. Japanese students were welcomed back in 1946 from internment camps. Seeing them go in 1942 had been a perplexing and painful experience for the community. The teachers had been particularly helpful, visiting the families in temporary staging areas and seeing that the students had books and lesson plans and whatever they needed to make the journey to the camps.

ÒPopÓ Goold, the principal, always standing in the hall as classes changed, greeting students by name and getting their ÒHi PopÓ in exchange, was a symbol of benevolent authority. Regarding boy and girl relationships, the Dean of Boys admonished that Òfamiliarity bred contemptÓ. The Dean of Girls took special care to monitor girls she felt may be on the edge. Most teachers lived locally and many were personal friends with students and their families. Teachers and students alike shared a feeling of balance. Coaches became the first principals of new high schools, (making room for Bill Walsh on his way to football history).

Graduation came in June. Ready or not, the Class of Õ50 had arrived, and the future was bright. Good jobs were plentiful. Houses were being sold for $10,000, with $50.00 down; television was new, snowy, but promised to get better. Also in June, the first shots were fired between North and South KoreaÉ

The Class will hold its 65th reunion on September 25th. 220 students started as freshmen in September, 1946 and 150 graduated. Of the 59 students known to be living, 38 will be in attendance at the reunion along with spouses, friends, classmates from other classes and guests. For more information on the reunion you may call 510-792-6515.


The citizens of Washington Township drafted the state law authorizing the union of grammar school districts. It was passed by the Legislature in 1891, and became a model for the other states in the country. Washington, then called Union High School No. 2, opened that fall, one of the first in the state.

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