History of Radnor High School

  • ThenandNow
    By Diane Dodds, RHS Archivist

    Public schools educated Radnor students as early as the 1830s, but it was not until the fall of 1893 that a high school was established not as a separate building but as a distinct educational unit. The eight freshmen shared a domed structure of wood and stone on South Wayne Avenue with all the younger grades. There was a principal and only one teacher, but those first Radnorites organized a football team and chose the school colors of red and white; they started a chorus and created the Alumni Association. In June of 1897, the first seniors graduated from Radnor High School two girls and two boys.

    Early in the new century (1909), the growing high school (130 students and 9 teachers) moved to a new building on Windermere Avenue; it boasted a gym and a library. The Radnor-L.M. game was already a tradition, and there was a championship cricket team and ice hockey; Manual Training was taught and Domestic Science added; a school newspaper made its appearance. Eventually there were drinking fountains in the school and a cinder track around the football field. All classes marched into the assembly hall to music, and everyone walked to school until 1918 when the School Board began its busing program with a converted Ford runabout. A Student Council was founded (one of the oldest in the U. S.) and a school lunch program initiated.

    The next home of the high school was again on South Wayne Avenue. The building (later to become the Middle School) was erected in 1923 as a grammar school, then enlarged in 1926 to accommodate 23 teachers (none of them married women) and 450 students. A full-time librarian was hired, and yearbooks became a regular publication; a National Honor Society chapter was established as well as a Scholarship Fund. The Charleston was popular at school dances. A new football field was constructed and new uniforms donated, the school seal was re-designed from the 1905 version.

    A mid-year commencement was instituted in 1929 and discontinued after 1938. Those seniors graduating in June(28 of them in 1931) took an annual spring trip to Washington, D.C. (some years later, New York City and the United Nations became the destination). A school orchestra was created; science, fencing, aviation, and lapidary clubs were formed. A school store opened, and the third-floor addition was completed. Field hockey was offered for boys and shortly thereafter for girls. The Rifle Club opened its membership to girls. Students tried out for the Swing Band in the 30s, boys were air raid wardens or auxiliary firemen in the 40s. Everyone danced the Jitterbug.

    In the late 40s, World War II veterans returned to Radnor to finish high school; total enrollment was just over 1000. Lacrosse was introduced, girls replaced boys as cheerleaders, and the school newspaper (the Radnorite) became a weekly publication. The 50s began with foreign students at Radnor and a new locker room for the girls; dances were the favorite school function. By the close of the decade, students and faculty had put their signatures in the cornerstone of the new building situated on rolling green acres off King of Prussia Road, and the first class graduated after spending senior year there.

    T-shirts and jeans were still banned as the 60s got under way, dresses or coats and ties were required for the teachers. The Twist was not permitted at school dances. New sports were golf, cross country, and soccer; new classroom wings were completed. There were Radnor students who left for Vietnam, and the graduating seniors numbered almost 300. The 70s brought speed bumps to the campus and mini skirts and torn jeans to the classrooms. The 9th graders moved to the high school, having been part of the Junior High School since 1917. Boys could take a course in Bachelor Living. A student lounge was created (and discontinued a few years later); there was a new swimming pool. SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) and Open Campus were introduced. 1979 graduates numbered 411, a record which still stands.

    The last two decades of the 1900s brought many honors and championships: two Blue Ribbon School of Excellence awards, many National Merit semifinalists, the regions highest SAT scores, first place for Hi-Q. Girls tennis, field hockey, lacrosse, and volleyball were Central League winners as were boys swimming, soccer, and wrestling. Some upperclassmen left to serve in Desert Storm. Computers appeared in the library and classrooms, and student parking became an issue. The June 97 graduation marked a century of high school in Radnor. Leaking roofs hinted at the need for renovation, and the move from one classroom to another became an obstacle course of cables, wiring, lumber, and planking. After months of inconvenience and disruption, students, faculty, and staff celebrated the spring of 99 with the move into a fully renovated building.

    Radnor students charged into the new millennium, bringing the traditions of pep rallies and exams with them, adding Community Period, Senior Project, and lockdown to the school vocabulary. Library TVs shocked silent, disbelieving viewers on 9/11. A privileged school community expressed its concern for those less fortunate with collections, drives, walks, vigils. The Hall of Fame saluted outstanding graduates in the fields of athletics, performing arts, literature and entertainment. More assignments, tests and projects became computer- and mobile-oriented. Juice or water bottles and apples replaced soda machines and cafeteria cookies. A Hollywood producer and a presidential candidate came to talk. Ranks of beloved, experienced teachers retired and squads of young, enthusiastic newcomers arrived. Things changed, things stayed the same.

    The tally, after more than 120 years: Buildings a half dozen; Principals a bakers dozen; Teachers hundreds; Students thousands; Radnor High School one.