Somerville Free High School, which opened in 1852, soon became too small to accommodate the many students seeking a high school education, so in 1872 a new high school was opened nearby on Central Hill where the East Wing, or C Building, now stands. The old high school was converted into the city hall and is still in use today.
Again because of overcrowding, but also because of the need for both a classical education for those seeking college entrance and a more general education for those seeking to enter the work force, it was determined that another high school was needed. However, all city leaders were not in agreement. Some wanted to save the expense of a new building causing the temporary adoption of the Woburn Plan, which had the high school on double sessions and was a dismal failure. Finally, enough support was forthcoming to approve the building of the Somerville English High School. It opened in 1895 and still stands as the Central Wing, or B Building, of our present high school.
The Somerville Free High School became the Somerville Latin School, so Somerville had twin high schools next to each other on Central Hill. These changes turned Somerville into a regional and national leader in the expansion of secondary schooling. In 1900 at the Paris World's Fair, and in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair, Somerville's twin high schools were presented in educational exhibits.
In 1911, mainly due to overcrowding but also because of the nationwide movement to broaden college admissions standards by making acceptable English, modern languages, and scientific courses, the Somerville English and Latin Schools merged to become Somerville High School.
Somerville opened a Boys' Vocational High School in 1910, offering a two-year program in metalwork and woodwork, and a Girls' Vocational High School in 1911, offering programs in millinery and dressmaking. In 1913, they enrolled 103 students, and in 1920 they had 112 students.
The main safety valve for overcrowding was the junior high school. Somerville set the stage for the junior high school by replacing the old primary and grammar schools with a single elementary school. Beginning in 1914, the seventh and eighth grades at the Forster Elementary School were separated from the school and given "high school type" courses. In its first year, 115 students were enrolled in the Preparatory track, 104 in the Commercial, 23 in the Household Arts, and 19 in the Manual Arts. The junior high school would keep children in school longer and give them useful skills earlier. It was another steppingstone to higher social status. The Forster Intermediate School was a very successful two year experiment. In 1916, the School Committee voted unanimously to establish four junior high schools: the Northern, the Eastern, the Southern, and the Western. Eventually, due to overcrowding, two new junior high schools were built which would accommodate three of the four and a third was enlarged. They are respectively: the Northeastern, the Western, and the Southern. All three were in operation by 1924. Somerville's junior high schools were acclaimed as prototypes of progressive secondary schooling.
Since ninth graders were now in the junior high schools, some of the overcrowding was relieved. More growth was experienced, however, which necessitated more and more building, so that by 1929 the Somerville Latin School had been torn down to build the East Wing, the West Wing was built, the Central Wing, which was the old English High, was remodeled, and the Gym Building was erected.
By 1983, we had come full circle with the closings of all three junior high schools. S.J.H.S. remained open as the S.H.S. Annex to house grade nine until the school year 1987/88 when all ninth grade students were once again housed in the high school. We had moved from a 6-3-3 to an 8-4 configuration, mainly due to a drop in enrollment. During this same period it was also decided to merge Somerville Technical Trade High School with S.H.S.
In 1988, a construction project saw the renovation of the West, Central, East, and Gym buildings and the addition of a Trade School Wing with a new Gymnasium. It was now a comprehensive high school.
Somerville High started to prepare for its 1990 evaluation by the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. Back in 1980, all but the physical plant had been commended. Somerville High was one of the first high schools to be accredited back in 1927. It has never failed to get accreditation. The NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) presented an oral report to Somerville High School staff on March 14,1990. The Chairperson of the Accreditation Committee, Dr. Joseph Arangio, left the staff applauding. We are reminded of his closing remark, "Somerville High School is the best kept secret in Massachusetts." Somerville does, indeed, lead the way!
In 1993 Headmaster Fedele contracted with Bernard C. Harris Publishing Company, Inc. to produce the Somerville High School Alumni Directory. It was published in May of 1994. It is a single, at nearly 500 pages, resource of all the graduating classes from 1915 through 1993. Most of the addresses were provided by class reunion chairpersons contacted by Harris through information provided by S.H.S. In addition to the graduation lists and the address lists, there is a long history of S.H.S. with photographs. The book can be viewed at the S.H.S library and at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library.