(This brief chronology was compiled in part by Bob Ainsworth, WWHS Class of '55, from a booklet on the history of WWHS by a former teacher Lelia Deans: "A few Facts Concerning the Early History of the Portsmouth School System," compiled from School Board records and Superintendents' reports; and information supplied by Jane Garrett based on research in July, 1993 of old School Board minutes available in the Superintendent's office, and information gathered from assorted yearbooks by John Lee, WWHS Class of '68 and information from Matthew F. Thompson, Supervisor of Library Media Services,Portsmouth Public Schools, William Head and Portsmouth Public Library)
In September, 1993, The Portsmouth School Board decided to move Woodrow Wilson High School and close Cradock High School. Woodrow Wilson was moved to the Elmhurst Lane site formerly known as Manor High School. The School became the "New Generation" of Cradock Admirals, Manor Mustangs, and Wilson Presidents.
In September, 1955, WWHS moved again to a new facility on Willett Drive, and the vacated building on High Street became Hunt-Mapp Junior High School.
In September, 1919, Portsmouth High School was renamed Woodrow Wilson High School and moved to a new building on High Street.
This school was built in 1908 on the east side of Washington Street between King and High streets. It was later renamed Briggs School in honor of Frank Briggs, a longtime member of the School Board. The photo seen here was taken in 1920. The building was being used as offices for the School Board when it was burned in 1960.
Known as the Green Street School. High school, grammar, and elementary students moved there from the Glasgow Street location in September 1886.
In 1888, Portsmouth High School was formally established but continued to be housed in the Green Street building. It became an elementary school some time after 1918. This photograph was taken in June of 1958 while the school was still in use.
On May 5, 1946 there was a fire that gutted the Woodrow Wilson High building on High Street. All the equipment and books that could be salvaged were moved to the Navy Yard. After a few days studies resumed at Barracks A as usual.
Classes did not resume in the rebuilt WWHS until a one and a half years later (Fall of 1948). The classes of 1946, 1946½, 1947, 1947½, and 1948 called Barracks A - Woodrow Wilson High.
To honor the 21 year history of Manor High School, the gymnasium still carries its original name, Manor Field House. Manor's school motto was carried over to the new Wilson. Also remaining after the change is the mighty Manor mascot, the proud Mustang. The Library became the Admiral Library.
The new Wilson still carries the nickname Presidents, but its colors changed from the original blue and orange to blue, silver, and white.
The vacated building on Willet Drive became -
Hunt - Mapp Junior High School.
In 1998, the First Woodrow Wilson High School (aka/ Harry Hunt Jr. High School) was torn down. And the old Portsmouth Stadium was razed. This site is now the home of the new:
I. C. Norcum High School.
In 1886 the Glasgow Street building was no longer suitable, so the city erected a new building on Green Street,
Woodrow Wilson High School's ancestry has been traced back to 1885, when a high school was organized at The Academy on Glasgow Street, which had housed only grammar and elementary students from 1850 through 1884. The first high school class graduated that same year.
Matthew F. Thompson
Supervisor of Library Media Services, Portsmouth Public Schools
In 2005 the building on Willet Drive was turned over to the city (No longer School Property).
2009 The Building on Willet Drive was torn down, leaving the Willet Auditorium to be used by the city for as a self supporting venue. Some of the property was sold to Maryview Hospital.
( TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . . until 2021 when Portsmouth School Board changed the High School in use BACK to Manor High School and Woodrow Wilson no longer exists. )
Matthew F. Thompson
Supervisor of Library Media Services, Portsmouth Public Schools
The present public school system of Portsmouth came into being as the result of an act of the General Assembly, 1869-1870. Prior to this time, however, a system of primary schools had been established in the City as a result of an act of the General Assembly in 1846. This act established a system of “free education for all classes”, but required the assent of two-thirds of the electorate of a county or city before it could be put into effect. In 1848, Portsmouth took advantage of this act by organizing a system of public education and electing a Board, which was given entire control of its affairs. The members of this first School Board were Captain Samuel Watts, William Cocke, Stephen Cowley, George Chambers, Henry Phillips, Joseph Porter and Robert Scott. Most of these men who comprised this board were prominent in the business, social and civic life of the City. The Reverend Dr. Thomas Hume, Pastor of Court Street Baptist Church was elected superintendent for both Norfolk County and Portsmouth Schools. These schools, like suffrage, were open to all whites under certain conditions. A small tuition was required of all who were able to pay, the poorer children being cared for by funds received from the sale of the Glebe lands.
There were two broad divisions in these schools corresponding somewhat to our present primary and grammar grade departments, with each further divided into male and female sections. The primary section was taught in the basement of the old Court Street Baptist Church on the same site upon which the present church stands. The second or grammar grade section was taught in the Masonic Temple, which occupied the site upon which the present Masonic Temple stands.
Superintendent Hume evidently was a progressive educator, as we have a record of his attending the National Teachers’ Meeting in Philadelphia in 1850 in an effort to learn new ideas and to become informed concerning the best practices of the time.
The schools of Norfolk County and Portsmouth were without doubt operated along the most progressive lines of the times, as William Maddox in his book “The Free School Idea in Virginia Before the Civil War”, tells us.
“The Free School Systems established in Norfolk, Elizabeth City, Princess Anne, Northampton, King George, Albemarle, Accomac, Washington, Ohio, Kanawha and Jefferson Counties and in the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Fredericksburg and Wheeling were typical of the best American education development of the times.”
At the beginning of the 2005- 2006, the Wilson High School colors were changed back to the original royal blue and orange.
The cheerleader and sports uniforms reflect the
1920 - 1993
1994 - 1998
1999 - 2005
2006 - 2021
Auditorium now torn down.
The names of Wilson High School along with James Hurst and John Tyler elementary schools will begin to be changed on July 1, 2021
Wilson High School alums began publicly calling for new names in a Change.org petition after widespread protests this summer against police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The School Board formed a committee in August to review the names and make a recommendation to the board. At Thursday’s meeting, the motion passed 8-1 with board member Ted Lamb voting no.
The new names are Manor High School for Wilson High, Waterview Elementary for John Tyler Elementary and Cradock Elementary for James Hurst Elementary. Board member Costella Williams, who led the committee, said the idea was to name the schools after their communities in order to unify the students.
“It’s inclusive of everyone, and then no one has any reason to feel any kind of way except just taking pride in the community,” Williams said.
Some board members were worried about the cost. A report presented by superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy estimated that it will cost $423,670 to change Wilson High School’s name and about $10,000 each to change the elementary schools’ names. Williams said some who opposed the name change originally claimed it would cost $3 million.
Sarah Hinds, who voted yes, said she was worried they were “going into it blindly” and that there wouldn’t be room in the budget. Lakeesha Atkinson responded that price shouldn’t stop them from voting yes.
“If we focused on cost and finances, we still would be in slavery. The schools never would have been integrated,” Atkinson said.
Claude Parent added that he had the “utmost confidence” that Bracy and his staff could execute the plan. The changes won’t happen all at once, instead taking place in stages. The phases of the rollout haven’t been determined.
For Wilson High, this is the second time the school has gone through this process. Until the early 1990s, it was called Manor High School. Many alums from that time have been vocal supporters of the current initiative to change the names.
In an alumni petition, they wrote, “Woodrow Wilson was a demonstrated bigot. … His name should not grace any building that educates African Americans — or any other group of children.”
President Woodrow Wilson, a Virginia native who was in office from 1913-21, was responsible for the re-segregation of federal departments and spoke out against voting rights for Black people. He also praised the Ku Klux Klan and screened D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House despite protests.
The two elementary schools also have problematic namesakes. President John Tyler described slavery as “evil” but was a slaveholder his entire life and supported the westward expansion of slavery.
James Hurst Elementary was named after a Norfolk County superintendent. The school system Hurst ran from 1920-41 was segregated and offered a lesser education to Black students. According to a Pilot article from 1941, Black residents protested when Hurst fired three Black principals and replaced them with white principals.
Although it will be a long process to change the names, many residents feel it’s long overdue.
“Remove the stain,” Williams said. “Let’s move forward in a progressive manner, and do what’s best for all of our citizens of Portsmouth.”