As It Was: The crowded schools of Medford

    School friends gather in the 1890s at H.C. Mackey's studio in Medford for this very balanced photograph. The curved handled umbrellas are on the extreme right and left. Behind them are the hats with turned up brims and curling feathers. The two ladies with open umbrellas have matching strap cloak closures. The friends from left to right are Miss Mary Davidson (Mrs. Brownlee), Miss Emma Coleman (Mrs. G.N. Anderson), Mrs. Mary Peters (Gus Newberry's sister), Miss Elva Galloway, Miss Robin Warner (Mrs. John G. Gore), unidentified, Miss Emma Read, Miss Fannie Hoskins (Mrs. J.H. Cochran), and Miss Della Pickel. Standing in center back is Professor Gregory. (Southern Oregon Historical Society photo, image No. 05275)

    One school issue that remains constant is overcrowding in the classrooms.

    In Medford, overcrowding has been a problem since the first schoolhouse opened in 1884.

    The very first classes in Medford were taught by W.F. Williamson in his house at 9th and Central. Fees for an entire school year were $8 per student.

    Within a year, overcrowding was an issue, as up to 30 children were clamoring for a spot in the classroom. Plans for a publicly-funded education system were underway, and in 1885 a new schoolhouse was built with two classrooms.

    The new schoolhouse could accommodate 80 students. But within weeks of opening, overcrowding was an issue yet again

    It was decided that the best thing to do was to build a second-story addition to the new schoolhouse, which would bring the total to four classrooms. This alleviated the problem for a while, but soon additional space was needed to accommodate all of the students, and so nearby churches became temporary classrooms.

    Eventually, more schools were built, including a separate high school, and yet there was never enough room to accommodate all the eager students.

    Source: Miller, Bill, “Schoolhouse Memories,” Southern Oregon Heritage Today. Vol. 3, No. 9, Sept. 2001. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at

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