History World War II
1911—World War II
The cornerstone of the school was laid on 21 January 1911 in a ceremony
presided over by a local lodge of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons
(part of the newspaper story reported the group to be the Knights
Templar). The 22 member class of 1911 graduated from the building,
even though the school would not be completed until July.
From even its early days, students were no stranger to protest. In May
1913, in retaliation for what students claimed were "harsh methods", an
effigy of the principal, J.E. Witmer, was hung from the telegraph wires
in front of the school. After the principal removed the effigy in the
early evening, another was hung from the flagpole on top of the school.
When signs were found painted on the sidewalk in front of the school the
next day, the local marshal took every male in the senior class into
custody, ordering them to remove the signs under threat of arrest. The
next year, 110 students walked out on strike when the principal refused
to grant a holiday for Columbus Day.
In October, 1915, the school district began the process of selling
US$50,000 in bonds for the purpose of expanding the school.
In 1929, work began on a new school building. A bond issue was approved
by voters in June, though a lawsuit filed by some local taxpayers led to
an injunction blocking the bond issue after construction had begun.
The new school construction was eventually completed.
In November 1936, voters in the district approved a bond issue, in
conjunction with funding from the Public Works Administration, for the
construction of a fieldhouse. The fieldhouse, including a swimming
pool, was completed in 1938.
World War II—1950s
The outbreak of World War II brought almost immediately bad news to the
school. Several of their alumni had been a part of anIllinois National
Guard unit (Baker Company, 192nd Tank Battalion). The unit had been
activated by the U.S. Army in 1940, and was caught in heavy fighting in
the Philippines. Of the 137 members of the company that were killed or
captured while defending the islands against the Japanese invasion, 52 of
them were alumni. Those not killed were forced to participate in the
Bataan Death March. Starting in September 1942, and for every
September since, the loss to the community has been commemorated. In
the end, 191 alumni were killed in the war.
There were several changes to the school as a result of the war. A pre-
flight aeronautics class that was open to both young men and women.
Ostensibly, the course was designed to reduce training time for future
military pilots. Despite being a suburban school, coursework was
offered to students who were interested in filling needed jobs in the
agriculture sector.The National Youth Administration (NYA) built a
workshop on the property to advance vocational education. When the NYA
ceased operation in 1943, the school negotiated for the workshop to be
turned over to the school, greatly increasing its work space for
vocational education. During the summer months, Proviso became a
center for training industrial workers necessary for the war effort,
offering classes in three shifts, 24 hours a day.
In April 1951, the Illinois Education Association meeting held at Proviso
East saw a keynote address by Edith S. Sampson, the United States'
alternate delegate to the United Nations, and the first African-American
woman to represent the U.S. at the United Nations.
In 1953, researchers from the University of Chicago recommended that the
school begin planning to expand, and school district officials began
examining the purchase of land for a new school. By 1955, the school
population had grown to over 3,400 students, with an estimated increase
to over 6,500 students by 1956. In June 1955, the board accepted a
recommendation to purchase a 60 acre site in the town of Hillside, and
planned a bond issue for the autumn. Even with the plans for a new
school moving forward, the district also approved an expansion of
Proviso: a new gymnasium for young women, new music rooms, and new
facilities for woodworking classes. In November, the bond issue was
approved by a 5900-626 vote. 1957, the last year Proviso would be the
only school in the district, the student population topped out at over
4,800 students. With the new school determined to be Proviso West,
the board of education voted to officially change the school's name to
Proviso East, effective 1 July 1958.
In 1963, with a combined student population of over 7,000 between the two
schools, further room was needed. East added a total of nine new
classrooms by (literally) carving them from a hallway, and the passageway
which connected the new and old additions of the school. Proviso East
was caught up in a great deal of the racial turmoil that was prevalent in
the country in the late 1960s. The 1967-68 school year saw local tensions
In September 1967, a large fight, started in the school cafeteria when
five caucasian girls were selected by school officials as finalists for
the school's Homecoming Queen, escalated as students were dismissed.
Property damage, some caused by the use of gasoline bombs, and fighting
caused more than 100 state troopers to be called in, and a strict curfew
to be enforced. Principal Hubert Pitt announced that he would appoint a
racially balanced group of students to select a new slate of
Three days later, the situation had not improved, and officials were
forced to ask parents to come in and patrol the halls in an attempt to
quell the violence. Another fight broke out in the cafeteria. One of the
suspected perpetrators was later found out not to be a student at the
school leading some to suspect the fight was planned. 31 students were
arrested after they later attempted to run from the school. Later,
nineteen students were arrested on the street for carrying tire irons.
This all came 24 hours after approximately one-half of the school refused
to attend classes.
The local chapter of the NAACP by this time had urged a boycott of the
schools, and drew up a list of 28 demands for school officials. Some
students, both African-American and Caucasian, defied the boycott, but
only about one-third of students showed up for classes. The
boycott was lifted on 1 October, after officials of the school district
and the local NAACP reached a compromise.
Later that month, another series of fights at the school required the
help of state and county police in addition to police from the City of
Chicago and surrounding suburbs. The fights stemmed from the suspension
of an African-American student who was fighting with a Caucasian
student. The next day, over 300 police officers were called in to
handle new disturbances that caused classes to be cancelled. Several
students in the street were arrested for criminal damage and theft.
Teachers threatened to strike if discipline was not restored. Later that
day, an arson threat was called in against the school, forcing police to
ring the school, and begin keeping outsiders away from the area. The
superintendent threatened to assign uniformed officers to each classroom,
if necessary. Two days later, classes resumed with 55 off duty police
officers inside the school, and expulsion notices were sent out to
students seen as "persistent trouble makers". This led to the
expulsion of 35 students.
There was another incident in March involving 300 students. The
following day, school officials closed Proviso East for two days.
While the school was closed, school officials met to review discipline
procedures and plan enforcement, which they said would include the use of
chemical mace to quell disturbances. The 300 students involved in the
most recent fighting were permitted to return, provided they signed a
nonviolence pledge, a move that was challenged by the NAACP. The
school board then voted to defer the requirement or students to sign the
The 1968—69 school year saw more racial problems.
In mid-September, after a day that saw 15 students hurt during fights in
the school, a group of 200 students began throwing rocks and other
projectiles at passing cars. Seven were arrested. The incidents
resulted in six expulsions and three more students withdrawing.
1970s and 1980s
While the 1970s did see a calmer start than the 1960s ended for Proviso
East, there were new issues that had to be faced.
Despite the school's large population (still about 4000), the school was
forced to adopt austerity measures, which in 1973 involved laying off 52
of the districts' 422 teachers. About 150 students responded by walking
out of school, each of which resulted in a suspension.
As the 1980s arrived, Proviso East became a school with a population that
was now predominantly African-American. This was not the case with its
sister school. In 1976, the Illinois State Board of Education had passed
rules that required the percentage of minority students within a school
be within 15% of the district's minority enrollment. The school
district had redrawn the attendance boundaries for the district to
comply, however did not successfully desegregate when local housing
patterns did not change as anticipated. In 1982, the Illinois Supreme
Court invalidated the State Boards orders, claiming they had over stepped
their authority in demanding desegregation.