The first official Newhall schoolhouse was built in 1879 at the northeast corner of
Walnut and Ninth Streets, two blocks back from Newhall's "Main Street," aka Railroad Avenue (not to be confused with today's Main Street, which used to be called Spruce Street).
The school housed first-through-eighth graders and saw an average daily attendance of
just seven children. No more than 13 ever attended on a single day, even though 53 school-age
children were living in the vicinity when the school was erected.
Pictured in the middle of this (ca. 1890) photograph is the newly hired teacher and principal, John Ellsworth Wright.
According to Brunner's history, he served in that capacity from 1890-1899.
Newhall had just one teacher at a time until 1892 when a second teaching position was added.
Wright was born August 21, 1863, in Ohio, the second of four children of Martin Van Buren Wright and Margaret Delia Davis. He started his teaching career in the Los Angeles area
in 1887 and served in three school districts (source: Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1933). On August 8, 1895, he married Newhall's "second second"
teacher, Minnie Nancy Campbell (source: FamilySearch.com). Minnie had started at Newhall in 1894 and continued working there until 1898 (according to Brunner). The couple's first of three
known children — daughter Ethel Gladys Wright — came along in 1897.
Census data show the Wrights living in Whittier in 1900. In 1908, when son Glenn Ellsworth Wright was born, John was hired as principal at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles.
The third child, daughter Grace Margaret Wright, was born in 1909.
In 1934, during the depths of the Great Depression, the Los Angeles School District cut the school year from 200 days to 193 and slashed salaries by 6.5 percent.
Wright's annual salary after the pay cut was $3,522.25 (source: Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1934). He was one of 2.9 percent of full-time employees (404 of 13,955) earning more than $3,000 a year.
In August 1935, Wright was one of approximately 200 signers of a paid advertisement in the Los Angeles Times praising the Los Angeles School Board for "its concerted
drive to keep Communism out of our school system." (Another signer was Atholl McBean's company, Gladding-McBean; at the time, Atholl was also president of The Newhall Land
and Farming Company.) Senator Joe McCarthy brought it to a new level in the 1950s, but many Americans perceived communism as a threat ever since the Soviet revolution of 1917 and the
subsequent founding of the Communist Party of USA in 1919. In the latter year, California adopted its first "criminal syndicalism" law and arrested agitators such as those who
admitted membership in the IWW, which had been active in Newhall and Saugus.
By 1933, when some were promoting communism as a way out of the Depression, a syndicalism law was added to the
California Education Code. It authorized school districts to fire teachers who admitted to Communist Party membership (source: American Civil Liberties Union News in California Historical Society Digital Library).
After a legislative battle, the law was renewed for another two years in July 1935 with an amendment allowing teachers to argue their case in court before being fired
(source: Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1935). In 1937, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a Georgia case that mere membership in the Communist Party (and by extension the IWW) was protected free speech;
a defendant would actually have to commit a subversive act to warrant punishment.
John E. Wright remained principal at Miramonte until his retirement in 1936
(source: great-grandson Sven E. Svenson of Oregon, pers. comm. July 2001). He died at age 93 on July 29, 1956, and was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier
(source of birth and death dates: Rose Hills Memorial Park).
The school building shown here burned to the ground in 1890 — soon after this photograph was made — and was rebuilt nearby. For more information read
History of Newhall School.