Ruth Acty History
- The first Jefferson School was constructed in 1906. The architect was A.H. Broad. The first principal was Miss Mary O’Bannon.
- In 1920 a new building was added to the site. This building was designed by William C. Hayes. It is the building which is commonly known as Old Jefferson. This building was never retrofitted for the Field Act, and the building and the site were sold in 1988.
- By 1926 there were four buildings and 15 classrooms. At this time, there were 458 students enrolled at Jefferson School.
- In 1952 several of the older buildings were demolished and a new building built. Kump and Falk were the architects hired for both this building and the Franklin School. In 1970 there were 660 students enrolled at Jefferson.
- In 1994 the school was modernized and an elevator tower and lobby were added. The architect firm of David Wade Byrens Architects did the design work.
- On December 9, 2020, the School Board voted unanimously to approve the name “Ruth Acty Elementary School”. This inspiring educator, the first teacher of color in Berkeley Unified School District, dedicated nearly 50 years of her life to teaching students from Kindergarten through Adult School, and has been described as “a tenacious, committed, dedicated, caring and loving educator, trailblazer and history maker.”
In 1918 Superintendent Waterman wrote a history of the Berkeley Schools. This is the portion about Jefferson School:
HISTORY OF THE BERKELEY SCHOOLS – CHAPTER XXIll – JEFFERSON SCHOOL
Architect: A. H. Broad
Size of Lot. 305 by 270 feet.
April 11th, 1918.
Dear Mr. Waterman:
You wish to know something of the history of the Jefferson School from one who has been connected with it from the day of its opening. I hardly feel that I am the one to write, for I am so conscious that such an account may be entirely too full of “I’s” and “we’s.”
You remember the beginning of the work with four teachers, with the youngest and the greenest one of the four at the head; but my heart was then, and still is, in the work. This has always been a very interesting district. We are far enough from the center of the town to be quite the center of our own community in fact, almost like a country school. The people of the district are always ready to assist in every way.
When I think how I ordered a piano for the school during that first year and had it charged to myself, I marvel at my rashness and I marvel still more at the cheerful way in which the people took over my indebtedness. In a very short time they had spent several hundred dollars for the benefit of the school. They did not spend it as they wished, but as we, The Faculty, thought best. In the second year Miss McKee had left and Miss Steams had taken her place. The main difference in the work was an increased interest in athletics. People began to realize that the Jefferson School was really in existence, for our baseball and basketball teams were in evidence in every contest.
At the beginning of the third year, Miss Tucker came in, and she and Miss McMurchy (now Mrs. Shields) established a standard for our primary work that we are still holding, and of which we are very proud-good solid foundation work full of interest for the small people. The fourth year brought Miss Clements (now Mrs. Stoll) and for two years our work was somewhat different. We had more music and folk-dancing and the mothers swelled with pride when viewing the accomplishments of their little folks.
By 1912 another room was needed, and we surely began to feel very important. The people of the district took a renewed interest in the school. Our Improvement Club became more active and for several years we had lecturers from the University. The attendance at these lectures averaged above ninety. Among other things the Board of Education gave us a stereopticon. By January, 1914, the school had increased so rapidly that a second room was added and in the fall of 1916 still another room was needed.
As the Assembly Hall had been converted into a class room, we could no longer accommodate the people who wished to attend the lectures. For this reason we were obliged to discontinue the evening meetings and to wait until an Assembly hall could be built. We are still waiting. In the fall of 1914 the kindergarten was organized. It has had a full attendance from the start.
In the fall of 1916 a small frame building, which we are still using, was moved from the Washington to the Jefferson School lot. I do not know of much else to tell about our schooL We think it is quite wonderful, of course. The same ten teachers have been here for the last two years. If you could be with us some noontime you would realize how unusually congenial we really are. The school office has to serve as dining room, for we long ago outgrew the teachers’ room, and at noon this is the jolliest of places.
Nor does our friendship atop with our jolly times. All the teachers are so proud of one another’s work. They are sure that no one but our primary teachers could so thoroughly start a child, and that no one but Miss Parker so well trim off the rough edges and polish him for the next higher school.
We try to do our share of Red Cross work [during the First World War]. Every child in the school is a member of the Junior Red Cross. For two years we have supported an Armenian orphan. Of course, we have added the sale of Thrift Stamps to the usual banking. We have had our share in all the parades and the shows, and have usually had our own May Day festival here.· At present the building quakes many times a day with the tread of May pole dances.
I am afraid that I have not told exactly what you wanted, there are so many things that one can write about the general routine of school life. Come to see us some day.
MARY B. O’BANNON