For many Northeasters, the ones that call themselves Tommies, the 90th Anniversary of the opening of Edison High School evokes memories at classmates, football games, pranks, teachers, a collapsed roof and countless legends that will be rehashed at the Alumni Reunion set for early October.
For Northeast newbies, a term that embraces several decades, Edison is a handsome building, a site for great theater and music, home of outstanding athletes, and the alma mater of friends and neighbors.
Celebration of Edison’s 90 years offers Northeasters of every era and every age a chance to reflect on the role that Edison has and continues to play in history and daily life of every Northeaster.
Ninety years ago the people of Minneapolis, many of them newcomers to this country, were eager to demonstrate their patriotism. The names of public buildings and streets in Northeast reflect that national pride and the community’s rich heritage of new Americans in search of a better life for themselves and their families. 1922 saw a Post-WWI mood that buried the horror the War and ushered in the Roaring 20’s – as well as the first students at Edison High School.
Inventor, marketer and pioneer Thomas Alva Edison epitomized the American way. His genius reflected a unique blend of the finest American traits – creativity, persistence, market development that involved creating, then meeting, customer demand for his products. Edison, who held that he found his great pleasure “in the work that precedes what the world calls success” set a tone that blended hard work with a spirit of hope that would inspire the young learners attending the high school set on the site of Long John’s Pond between Jackson and Monroe.
In a 1927 article reviewing the first years of Edison High School, two juniors in Mrs. Edith Gillies’ magazine class (Mildred Anderson and Tyrus Hillway) reflected on their experiences. They boast of Edison’s athletic prowess, including the 1923 cross-country championship as well as success in “all fields of competition: typing, athletics, music, literature, many more.”
They also praised students’ involvement in shaping the new school by landscaping, decorating the building and establishing an extensive library “one more monument of student creation. It has steadily grown larger, until now it has on its shelves 5,400 volumes with the greatest school fiction library in the city.” In five years, the young journalists report, “some twenty active clubs have sprung up and prospered since the school’s first year.
Writing in May 1933 issue of The Parent-Teacher Broadcaster, Calman Kish, President of the Edison Student Council, measured the early success of Edison with a critical eye: “To teach students to live, how to co-operate, how to prepare themselves to take their places in the world are an essential part of the program of Edison High School.” Kish went on to note that “a few months after the school opened its doors, the system of student government was firmly established at Edison High School by Louis C. Cook, first and only principal of the school.”
Cooperation, civic engagement and preparation for life are the hallmarks of Edison’s heritage, essential in a learning environment that has embraced waves of immigrant learners. It is nearly eighty years since young Calman Kish wrote “the emotional, passionate blood of Italy, the sensitive refinement of France, the practical genius of England, the scientific mind of Germany, the steadying and sturdy influence of Scandinavia, the musical talent of Russia and Austria, the gayety and jollity of Spain – all blended and molded in the melting pot of Edison High School into characteristics truly individual, truly American. From Turkey, Roumania, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Portugal, Finland – from thirty three nations have come the parents of the students of our school, the most cosmopolitan group to be found in all of the high schools of Minneapolis.” (1933)
Though Kish’s characterization is no doubt political passé, his observations are prescient. In the more recent past Edison has opened its doors and shaped the lives of new waves of new Americans – from Serbia, Laos, Mexico, Ecuador, Somalia and dozens of other nations.
One lasting tribute to the power of “unity with diversity” is the mural that surrounds Edison’s auditorium. For two years Edison art students worked to paint 32-in-square “stamps” that represent many of the cultures in Edison’s student population. Edison students and visitors stop today to admire and interpret the meaning of those murals.
Another lasting tribute to the spirit of Edison is the accomplishments of Edison graduates. Inspired by learning in an environment rich in diversity, the arts, and a “can do” spirit. Tommies are innovators. Practiced in participatory decision-making, they are leaders in the neighborhood, the city and the state political arenas. Proud of their American heritage, they have served their country in war and peace. Introduced at an impressionable age to the arts, literature, music and lifelong learning habits, they are informed, engaged, contributing members of their communities – for many that community remains Northeast Minneapolis.