Al Raby High School
3545 West Fulton Boulevard
Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach
In 2004, the year after the Board of Education officially closed Lucy Flower Career Academy, the building was reopened as the Al Raby High School for Community and Environment. One of several small, local college-preparatory high schools to receive significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Al Raby High School emphasizes science and computer technology. (1) The new school is also committed to engaging students in environmental causes and other issues that are relevant to the surrounding Garfield Park community.
The nearby Center for Neighborhood Technology helped to develop the school’s concept and program. Stephen Perkins, senior vice president for the Center, suggested naming the school in honor of Al Raby. (2) Born and raised in Chicago, Albert Raby (1933–1988) was a teacher and social activist who fought to integrate the Chicago Public Schools in the 1960s. He went on to serve as the Director of the Peace Corps in Ghana and served as the head of the Chicago Council on Human Relations in the 1980s.
The Board of Education constructed the Al Raby building as Lucy Flower Technical School in 1927 to provide a new facility for the girls’ high school which already existed. In fact, this was the third location for the school named for social reformer Lucy Louisa Flower (1837–1921). A former Madison, Wisconsin, high school teacher, Flower settled in Chicago in 1873 with her husband and children. She soon became immersed in various efforts to improve the lives of women and children. Serving on Chicago’s Board of Education between 1891 and 1894, “Flower worked to make school more relevant to poor children.” (3) Among the progressive initiatives she spearheaded were the earliest kindergartens, manual training programs, compulsory school attendance, and bathing facilities for children who lived in the tenement districts.
The original Lucy Flower Technical School opened in the old South Division High School in 1911. Considered one of the Chicago Public Schools’ most innovative programs at the time, the high school provided vocational courses to enable young women “to gain a livelihood.” (4) The board intended for Lucy Flower Technical School “…to offer instruction parallel with that given boys in the Lane and Crane Technical High Schools.” (5) According to a 1911 pamphlet, girls could choose from two programs offered by the school:
…Four-year courses in household studies (cooking, sewing, millinery, household management, sanitation, art, music, etc.), and two-year courses in similar subjects shaped to fit the student for industrial work. (6)
Courses in “salesmanship, typesetting, photography, box-making, and other industries” were also offered. (7)
The creation of Lucy Flower Technical School had been championed by Ella Flagg Young, a progressive school administrator who served as Chicago’s Superintendent of Schools, and thus became the first female head of a large urban school system in America. Touted as a great success, the girls’ high school was considered the best expression of “Mrs. Young’s educational ideals,” in the city. (8) The original school was located at 26th and South Wabash, an area that had become well-known as a vice district. Only a few years after its opening, families worried that the school was “unable to overcome the evils of its neighborhood.” (9) As a result of the neighborhood’s high crime rate, the board moved Lucy Flower School into an older building called Carter School at 61st Street and South Wabash in 1916.
By the mid 1920s, administrators recognized that overcrowding at Lucy Flower Technical School had become a major problem. At that time, there were three vocational high schools in Chicago for boys, but Flower remained the only equivalent school for girls. In 1926, the Chicago Board of Education’s head architect John C. Christensen began preparing plans for a new building for Lucy Flower Technical School at West Fulton Boulevard, just east of the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Christensen, who started as a clerk in the architect’s department in 1906, had become head architect in 1921. Three years later, as the Board of Education embarked upon an ambitious program to construct dozens of new schools, architect Edgar D. Martin was appointed to a new supervisory position to oversee this effort. The department was re-organized into three bureaus headed by Martin, with Christensen in charge of the architecture bureau. When Martin resigned in January 1926, Christensen resumed his role as department head. This was a challenging time because major construction flaws had recently been discovered in a large number of the newly-built school buildings. Christensen supervised the repairs for those schools while also preparing plans for new school buildings such as Lucy Flower Technical School.
Despite the seemingly large city-wide school construction budget of more than $17 million, Christensen had to closely scrutinize the many individual projects to ensure that they did not exceed the allocated funds. In the fall of 1926, the Chicago Tribune reported:
Mr. Christensen stated that the Lucy Flower School had been delayed because he had gone over the specifications carefully to eliminate any superfluous equipment in accordance to the board’s retrenchment policy. After all the trimmings have been made, the cost stands at $1,000,000 and the building will accommodate 1500 pupils, the report says. (10)
Christensen produced a handsome L-shaped building of dark tan brick and terra cotta. The building has three engaged towers and a series of vertical projections that convey the Gothic Revival style. The AIA Guide to Chicago asserts that building’s “structurally expressive façade has light touches of Gothic detailing.” (11)
In 1940, WPA artist Edward Millman (1907–1964) painted a series of frescoes in the foyer of the school. The large and bold murals portray great American women including Lucy Flower, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. As art historian Mary Lackritz Gray put it, “Although the mural celebrates the bravery and vision of these women, it also depicts the suffering and deprivation they sought to alleviate.” (12) The principal of the school was so pleased with the new murals that she asked the Board of Education to provide extra lighting in the foyer. Instead, administrators deemed the murals “depressing,” “misery-laden” and inappropriate for a public school.” (13) As a result, the Board of Education had them whitewashed over— a process that was difficult since they were produced as true frescoes “in which paint is applied to dry with the plaster.” (14)
Over the years, the school took advantage of its close proximity to Garfield Park and its conservatory. Botany classes were often held at the Garfield Park Conservatory and students participated in extra-curricular programs there. From time to time, girls from Lucy Flower posed for the Chicago Tribune’s on-going Flower of the Month photograph. The tradition of using the park and conservatory as resources for learning continued even after Lucy Flower became a co-educational school in 1978.
Renewed interest in and enthusiasm for the significant art collection within the Chicago Public Schools brought attention to the fact that Lucy Flower Vocational High School’s WPA frescoes had been painted over less than a year after they were created. In 1995, the school was selected as a “pilot preservation site,” and the Chicago Conservation Center fully restored Edward Millman’s original artworks. (15) Since that time, the murals have been featured in many books, tours, and web-sites. They continue to be appreciated by the students, teachers, and administrators of Al Raby High School for Community and Environment today.
- Ana Beatriz Cholo, “New Small School to Be Issue Oriented,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 15, 2004, p. 2C-2.
- Jean C. Tello, “Lucy, Louisa Coues Flower,” Women Building Chicago 1790- 1990: A Biographical Dictionary, Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 275.
- “Plans Girl’s Tech School: Education Board Favors Project; Offers Girls Training,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 29, 1911, p. 11.
- Council for Library and Museum Extension, Educational Opportunities in Chicago, Chicago, IL: 1911, p.8.
- “Vice Forces Lucy Flower Girls’ School to Move,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 7, 1915, p. 1.
- “Board is Ready for Lucy Flower High School Bids: $17,250,000 Program in Underway,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 26, 1926, p. 4.
- Alice Sinkevitch, ed. AIA Guide to Chicago. 2nd Edition. (Orlando: A Harvest Original, Harcourt, Inc., 2004), p. 308.
- Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Murals, p. 121.
- Marcia Winn, “‘Dismal’ So High School Murals Were Painted Out.” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 5. 1941.
- “Chicago Mural Conservation Project,” WPA Works Progress Administration: New Deal Art Web-site, http://www.wpamurals.com/