Today, numerous railroads and highways of interstate, US, state, and local designations bring people
together in the city on a daily basis, as does air traffic at O'Hare and Midway Airports. Chicago is a melting pot of people
from many nationalities, making it ethnically diverse, and thus is referred to as "the financial, economic, and cultural
capital of the Midwest (according to Wikipedia)."
The people of this metropolis were also keen to education, which is no surprise when you consider
that there are numerous colleges and universities in the city, such as Illinois-Chicago, DePaul, Loyola, Northwestern,
Chicago State, Illinois Institute of Technology, North Park, St. Xavier, and Northeastern Illinois (to name
a few). Public education was just getting started as Chicago was building its name as a major city, and the first public
high school opened its doors in 1856.
Chicago Central High School (first known as Chicago High School) began
admitting students for secondary education in 1856 to counter what some of the parochial schools had started around the same
time (see Former Archdiocese of Chicago High Schools - The Early Years). The school was considered to be the first co-ed high school in the United States, beginning as a three-year
school, then expanding to four years in 1870. Located on Monroe Street near Halsted, a three-year course was offered
in general studies as well as English/Classical courses, and a two-year package of study was available for elementary school
Of the first students that were admitted, a total of 114 (57 boys, 57 girls) started course work after taking
an entrance exam with math, history, geography, and grammar questions. Nine of the 114 were native Chicagoans, while the rest
came from states from the Eastern U.S. or overseas.
Even in spite of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago High
School was bursting at the seams when it was decided to build three other schools to alleviate the overcrowding on
the north, west, and south sides of Chicago. Those buildings were ready for use in the fall of 1875, and as a result,
only juniors and seniors were attending Chicago Central High School (renamed Central in 1878) because the freshmen
and sophomores were at North Division, West Division, and South Division.
Even that did not stop the student enrollments from swelling, and in 1880, it was decided to close
Central High School. The people in charge at the time decided to have students (regardless of their year in
school) attend the school closest to their home, which meant the the city of Chicago saw a number of public high schools
open up with more people moving to the Midwest due to immigration.
Central High's building had become overgrown, due to being too small and the neighborhood changed from residential
to commercial because businesses located around it, most of which catered to the immigrants and their families. The school
was located not far from Hull-House on South Halsted, which was opened in 1889 by Jane Addams & Ellen Gates Starr as
a location for immigrants and others could learn from each other as well as adopting to a big city like
The limestone building that housed Chicago Central was later used as the home for English High & Manual Training School, then as a warehouse by the Chicago Board of Education. It was torn down in 1950 to make way for the proposed
Northwest (now Kennedy) Expressway. After its closing, Central was affiliated with alumni from West Division as
both schools met in joint reunions. West Division (and later McKinley) teacher Lucy Wilson was secretary of the Central
High School Alumni Association.