East High Through the Years

Through the Years

OLD to New East

One hundred years ago the citizens of Des Moines were worried about taxes, annexation, politics in Washington, D.C., a new form of city government, building a new city hall, and consolidating the school districts around the city into one large system.  While Des Moines has had schools since the fall of 1846 and the winter of 1847, the first of many school districts in Des Moines was formed in 1849; this was four years prior to the incorporation of the town of Fort Des Moines.  Over the years there would be more than 20 independent school districts in what now includes the city limits of Des Moines.


In the 1908 Iowa Supreme Court decision that ratified the consolidation of the district it states, “Prior to May 21, 1907, there were 5 independent school districts wholly within the corporate limits of the city of Des Moines, and 12 such districts partly within and partly without said limits.” By 1907, the year voters in Des Moines approved the merger of the East Des Moines School District and the West Des Moines School District, other suburban school districts had either merged with the East District or the West District, the Des Moines River serving as the general boundary dividing the two, or were affiliated with them, using the high schools in these two districts for their students.  It needs to be noted that the name West Des Moines in 1907 referred to the area of the city that lay west of the Des Moines River to 63rd Street. The West Des Moines of today was originally called by its railroad name, Valley Junction.  In 1937 the suburb voted to become West Des Moines.

 The school merger was a major topic of discussion on both sides of the river in 1907.  For a time, both school boards of the East and West school districts wavered in their support of the merger.  Numerous articles in the Des Moines Register & Leader during the last part of April and through the vote in May describe the change in attitudes.


The East school board was the first to come out in favor of the merger, while the West board originally came out against it.  A May 12, 1907, article printed an open letter to the West school board from Drake University President Hill M. Bell, who stated, “It is the good school, not the poor one, that justifies the levy of taxes.  A successful business man will always pay a little more for a good article, knowing that in the end it is the cheapest, as well as the best.”  The citizens in the West District were worried that their taxes would go up with the merger, as they felt the East District buildings were in need of great repair.  President Hill went on to state that, “It is certainly futile to think of a great city here if one portion of it selfishly ignores another portion; and I submit to you that selfishness is the only consideration that would permit the people of any district to use their influence against consolidation and a Greater Des Moines school system.”


“It is certainly futile to think of a great city here if one portion of it selfishly ignores another portion; and I submit to you that selfishness is the only consideration that would permit the people of any district to use their influence against consolidation and a Greater Des Moines school system.”

-Hill M. Bill

As the days drew nearer to the vote, the newspaper reported upbeat articles that predicted a victory for one district.  A May 14 headline for an article stated that and ex-board member of the West District “says he is willing to wager all kinds of hats and cigars that the vote will be heavy.”  He would lose that bet. As in recent school-related elections the voter turnout was quite low, with only 4,000 or so citizens voting.  This compared with 11,236 votes cast in the 1906 gubernatorial election.   According to the newspaper, the merger of the districts fell out as follows: East – 2,146 for and 196 against; West – 932 for and 747 against.  Documents obtained from the archives of the Iowa Supreme Court state the final “for” vote tally was 3,081 and the final “against” tally was 952, or a total of 4,033 votes cast. The day after the election, Wednesday, May 22, 1907, marked the beginning of the district known today officially as the Des Moines Independent Community School District, or Des Moines Public Schools/DMPS.  Dissatisfied parties challenged the vote, and in 1908 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the new district as official.

As the city grew to the east, west, and south, it became apparent that new high schools would be needed.  East High moved from its first high school-only building at E.12th and Court Avenue in 1911 to the present building on E 13th Street in a procession led by Principal May Goodrell.  The students carried their books, loaded all school furniture onto trucks or horse-drawn wagons and fell in behind Miss Goodrell and the GAR color guard.  They marched up E. 12th Street from their old building to cheering crowds lining the streets, turning onto E.13th and placing all the furniture, books, and records into their new building, the present EHS.  School continued on for the rest of the day, and that became the origin of East’s long-standing tradition of Class Day, where alumni gather to celebrate their high school days, have a banquet, and give out scholarships to graduating seniors.


East High School: 1861, located on the top floor of Bryant School, East 9th Street and East Grand Avenue; 1891 first building just for EHS, East 12th Street and Court Avenue; 1911, second building, present site, 815 East 13th Street; additions in 1955, 1966, 2005.

North High School: 1889, located in the Forest Home School, Forest Avenue between 13th and 14th streets; 1895 first building just for NHS, 8th Street and College Avenue, additions in 1915, 1929; 1957, second building, present site, 501 Holcomb Avenue, addition in 1967.

A Brief History  of the  Des Moines Independent Community School District upon its One Hundredth Anniversary by Dale A. Vande Haar, Ph.D., MLS District Library Coordinator Des Moines Public School

Excerpts recovered from: http://www.dmschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/centennialhistorydale.pdf



We have the right to fight for East High

Our gallant team will always try


To be the best team in the nation

Although the odds are sometimes high

Fight! Fight!

We have the Black and Red tradition

We’re fighting fair and square tonight

We’re gonna fight, fight, fight for victory

A cheer for East

Fight! Fight!



Dear East High you are the school for me


You will always win the victory

Red and Black to you we’ll be true

And we will bring great honors to you

Hip Hurray here’s to the Black and Red

O’er the world your fame is widely spread

Onward we will do or die

For dear East High



The following is a chronology of the development of East High School:

  • Bryant School (top floor) – East 9th and Grand Avenue
  • Webster School (top floor) – East 12th and Lyon

1891-1911       East High School – the first senior high school on the Eastside

1911-2003       Current East High School – East 12th and Walker

Additions were completed in 1955 (Gym Wing)

1968 (South Wing – Media Center), 1973 (North Wing)

  • $18 million building renovation began
  • Completion of the new Connector Building; renovation of 1912 building
  • Moved in new Connector Building

Groundbreaking for new Community Center

  • Completion of 1912 renovations
  • Completion of Community Center
  • Stadium renovations started

2013                Completion of Stadium renovations