Press release



Willard Middle School celebrates its 100th anniversary Sunday, October 16, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Centennial Celebration will feature live music, a bake sale and raffle, food by Growing Leaders, tours of the school, a film festival, and historical displays. At noon, we will dedicate the new Stuart Street mural constructed over the summer. Willard families, friends and alumni are encouraged to attend this free event.

Two special projects were completed for this year’s centennial:

  1. A new mosaic tile mural on Stuart Street, designed by former Willard student Zoe Yi and constructed over the summer by Willard students and families under the direction of artist Rachel Rodi.
  1. Willard Alumni: Memories of Willard Middle School,” a documentary film by videographer Kim Aronson, features interviews with Willard graduates from the 1930s to the present.


Willard was California’s first junior high school when it opened as McKinley Introductory High School in January 1910, and was often described as the first junior high school in the nation. (In fact, that distinction seems to belong to Indianola Junior High in Columbus, Ohio, which opened in September 1909.) It may have been America’s second junior high—it certainly was the first such institution west of the Mississippi. When the McKinley students moved into a new building in 1916, the school was named in honor of Frances Willard (1839 –1898), an American educator, temperance reformer, and women’s suffragist. While not well known today, in her lifetime Willard was one of the most famous women in America, and was the first woman represented with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Berkeley was a fast-growing city in 1916. The previous year had seen the building of Sather Tower and the Claremont Hotel, and San Francisco had just concluded hosting the spectacular Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Women were agitating for the right to vote, Ireland saw the Easter Uprising, and much of Europe was embroiled in a great war in which the U.S. would soon join.

The school’s history is a reflection of the past century: patriotism during the first two World Wars, political activism and protest in the 1960s, and ongoing struggles today with the big issues of justice and equality for everyone. By the 1950s Willard had grown to include a diverse student body, due to its location in south central Berkeley. Long before Berkeley became the first school district in the country to voluntarily desegregate in 1968, Willard students represented the many races, colors, and creeds of the Bay Area population. Distinguished alumni include environmentalist David Brower, writer Patricia Polacco, jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, rapper G-Eazy, and comedians Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone (The Lonely Island), among many others.

The Centennial Committee is asking students and alumni to reflect on their own family history: Where was your family a hundred years ago? When, and from where, did your family come to Berkeley?

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