History

John G. Whittier School was founded in 1929, and is listed on the National Historic Register. It was designed by local architects Lescher & Mahoney and was constructed in the Second Renaissance Revival architectural style.

Whittier School is associated with the first large increase in enrollment that corresponded with the boom in school construction in Phoenix Elementary School District #1 in the 1920’s. Between 1920 and 1930 Phoenix’s population expanded from 29,053 to 48,118. Enrollment in the district increased 22% from 1920-1921 and 13% from 1924 to 1925. In response to the increase in population and school age children, voters passed four separate bond issues between 1920-1930 totaling more than 1.4 million dollars. The money was used to expand existing schools and construct new ones.

Whittier School is proud to be named in honor of John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts on December 17, 1807. He grew up on a farm where there was barely enough to get by, and John was frail and not cut out for farm labor. He was an avid reader and self-made man heavily influenced by religion, humanitarianism, compassion and social responsibility. He became a shoemaker and later taught in a one-room schoolhouse. He completed high school in just two terms in spite of very little formal education in his early years.

Whittier became a passionate abolitionist and published the anti-slavery pamphlet Justice and Expediency in 1833. He dedicated the next twenty years of his life to abolitionism and also began writing antislavery poetry. His writing flourished and his poems often used slavery to symbolize all kinds of oppression. The times were exhausting and his physical and mental health suffered. In 1860 and 1864, he was an elector in the presidential elections and voted for Abraham Lincoln in both.

With the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865 that ended slavery, he turned to other forms of poetry and writing for the remainder of this life. He was one of the founding contributors of the magazine Atlantic Monthly.

Upon his death in 1892, Whittier was buried in Amesbury, Massachusetts. His birthplace and later residence are open to the public, and numerous schools have been named in his honor.