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The Central High School of Philadelphia records


Held at: Archives of the Associated Alumni of the Central High School of Philadelphia [Contact Us]1700 W Olney Ave, Philadelphia, PA, 19141

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Archives of the Associated Alumni of the Central High School of Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Central High School of Philadelphia is the second oldest continuously public high school in the United States. Chartered in 1836, its first building, located at Juniper and Market streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, opened its doors in 1838. The school changed buildings three times since then - in 1854, 1900, and 1939. From 1939 to the present Central has been located in its fourth building at the corner of Ogontz and Olney avenues.

Central is known for its high academic standards. This tradition of academic excellence continues in the 21st century; when applying for admission to the school, students must meet various admissions requirements, which include maintaining a certain grade point average and achieving a high score on a city-wide standardized test. Since 1849, as per an Act of Assembly of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, Central has been allowed to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees to its graduates who have met the degree requirements. As of 2015, Central is the only high school in the country with this ability, although it has been decades since any students have pursued a BA at Central. A high school diploma is standard.

Central High School was originally a boys-only school, from 1838 until the summer of 1983. After a federal court ruling, six girls were admitted in September of 1983. As of 2015, more than half of the student body is female. Students and graduates of Central refer to their graduating class not by the year in which they graduated, but instead by class number. The first graduating class in 1842 is known as class number 1. With a few exceptions, graduations were held twice annually at Central until 1965. Since then, graduations have occurred only once each year.

Central counts among its graduates several notable alumni including noted art collector and founder of the Barnes Foundation, Albert C. Barnes; artists Thomas Eakins and William Glackens; linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky; comedian and member of The Three Stooges troupe, Larry Fine; writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts Alain Locke; and several others who went on to become noted politicians, entertainers, authors, musicians, athletes, scientists, business executives, and philanthropists.

In addition to its noted alumni, Central has received many famous visitors throughout its history, including United States presidents James K. Polk and Theodore Roosevelt, United States senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth (a Central graduate), and numerous other prominent individuals.


Central High School. "About CHS." Accessed January 23, 2015.

The Central High School of Philadelphia records, 1838-2014, consist primarily of student records and publications, with a large number of 19th and 20th century photographs and some other materials including audiovisual materials, faculty papers, ephemera, and blueprints.

The student records comprise the largest portion of this collection, including enrollment books, "blue cards," grade cards, student rolls, and more. There are two enrollment books, 1838-1911, organized chronologically, that list student name and age, the name and sometimes the occupation of the parent(s), residence, date of enrollment, previous school, and date and cause of departure (degree received upon graduation or notation on why the student left prior to graduation). Similar information for a later time period is inscribed on "blue cards," which date from 1911 to 1958, and are organized in alphabetical order. All blue cards include address, birth date, and the name of the parent(s), and some also include parents' occupations and/or country of origin, student grades, teacher and school names, results of student health exams, and/or absences. There are also grade cards from the early 1900s, in rough alphabetical order, most of which include student name, residence, class and school, and father's name and occupation, as well as grades for each class; and from a similar period, student rolls, circa 1897-1917, with name, address, and other information. Additionally, the collection includes files of student notes from the 19th century to early 20th century, containing notes from various classes as well as one box of clippings, event programs, and photograph of students athletics. Other student materials in the collection include: an Athlete Council minute book; Committee on Discipline suspension book, 1904-1915; House of Representatives of The Central High School (student government) minutes, 1911-1929; student qualifying examinations (just the questions), 1884-1885; and several dozen student diplomas, circa 1860s-1920s.

The next largest segment of materials in this collection is publications, including both student publications and school publications. There is a large amount of duplication among these materials. Student publications include: "The Centralizer" (student newspaper), 1923-2014; "The Mirror" (student literary and art magazine), the oldest high school publication in America, 1885-2012; and various other student publications such as "Red and Black," 1910-1912; "Crimson and Gold," 1894-1895; "The Centerial," 1892-1893; "High School Journal," 1873; "Central Evening High School's Ten O'clock Scholar," 1927-1930; and other publications. Bound issues of "The Mirror" are available in the collection, but were not included as part of this survey due to duplication. School publications include: student handbooks, 1924-2006; The Pathfinder: High School Manual of Central High School, 1925-1949; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of The Central High School of Philadelphia, circa 1850s-circa 1910; yearbooks, 1893-2014; and various additional school publications including The Barnwell Addresses volumes 1-3, 1931-1943; songbooks, circa 1896-1925; a history of the school; school dedication proceedings; and other publications.

A large number of photographs and audiovisual materials are also present in the collection. The photographs date from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, and depict graduating classes, sports teams, clubs, events, and other school related topics. There are also film negatives from the 1970s, several CDs and DVDs with video recordings, VHS tapes, and film reels showing student trips and other student activities.

Other documents in the collection include: commencement programs, tickets, and other ephemera; faculty minute books, 1840-1955 and teachers' lecture notes, circa 1850s-1920s; and some blueprints of the fourth Central High School building (circa 1937) and other subjects. Of special interest is a visitors' book, 1840-2014, with signatures of routine as well as prominent visitors to Central High School, such as United States presidents James K. Polk and Theodore Roosevelt, United States Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth, and many others.

Materials that are added to the Archives become the property of the Associated Alumni of the Central High School of Philadelphia.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Archives of the Associated Alumni of the Central High School of Philadelphia directly for more information.

Archives of the Associated Alumni of the Central High School of Philadelphia
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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