Albany’s Cosmopolitan High School

We will admit, before working on this story, we’d never before heard of the term “cosmopolitan high school.” But in Albany in the ‘30s, it was a term everyone would have been familiar with, as the future of schools was being debated and the city tried to deal with an ever-growing young population. A cosmopolitan high school brought academic students together with industrial, vocational, and technical students into a single school.

As we’ve noted before, Albany’s first high school from 1876 (sadly, lost now) was deemed woefully inadequate by 1909, which led to plans to develop a new high school, which was built on Lake Avenue and deemed woefully inadequate just nine years later. That led to the development of junior high schools. Another ten years later, the high school was too crowded again.

So, how to solve overcrowding, and deal with the need to “provide adequate training for industrial, commercial and technical students”?  In 1931, Clarence W. Post of the Board of Education came up with a plan to construct a “Cosmopolitan High school” which could be “put up wing by wing as the city’s purse permits.”

“A comprehensive plan for the whole structure could be drawn, and the first wing built for technical and industrial students who should be given a four-year course of training instead of the two-year course now offered. Another wing should be devoted to commercial work, and still another might house the part time school.” With the construction of the “cosmopolitan” school, only academic and college prep students would remain at Albany High School. “If we had a four-year course for industrial, vocational or technical students, we would meet the congestion problem all along the line.”

But that didn’t happen, at least not then. Crowding continued, and there were calls for a third junior high school, on the west end. Mayor Thacher did take up the plan, though. In 1933, he advocated for reorganization of the senior and junior high schools. “Fulfilling the mayor’s plan, which provides for no new construction for at least two years, would mean the erection of two wings in front of the present Albany Senior High School and its conversion into a senior cosmopolitan high school. The plan for a new senior cosmopolitan high school on the site of the old penitentiary is shifted from an immediate to a future problem.” Still, they weren’t quite in a rush – a study showed that not all rooms were being used at all times, and Thacher thought rooms could be better utilized, and that “the teacher load, it is believed, can be increased without burden to the teachers … The enlargement of classes would prove a savings to taxpayers, he declared.” The study said that the need for a new building wouldn’t occur until registration in the high school and an annex exceeded 2400, but it was then 2100. “The desirability of eliminating the annex is not denied.” It was thought reorganizing room use would buy the system a few years.

A year later, it was thought that it wouldn’t. The proposal for a Cosmopolitan High school was back in 1934, with the backing of Austin R. Coulson, superintendent of schools:

“The purpose and necessity of such a new structure is to relieve the overcrowded conditions that prevail at the Senior High school. According to both the Mayor and Mr. Coulson, if the Board of Education definitely decides on the project, it is believed that the site of the old penitentiary will be used … However, it is known that the public school system is in need of a Cosmopolitan High school soon, and that there will be no time lost in putting plans forward for such a structure.”

But the penitentiary site was foregone, for reasons we haven’t found. Instead, the beautiful Public School 14, designed by Walter Van Guysling and built in 1915, was designated as the cosmopolitan high school and renamed as Philip Schuyler High School. A 1937 article said “The day school at Philip Schuyler, at present occupying the premises that formerly constituted the old school 14 at Ashgrove and Trinity places, is the city’s first cosmopolitan high school, and stands equipped to offer work in all four fields, and especially in vocational arts. Charles Jones, the principal, reports an unusually high enrollment in such courses as machine shop, printing shop, auto mechanics, and wood shop, although his school offers courses in commercial and academic sequences as well.”

A Knickerbocker News article on Schuyler High’s 30th anniversary in 1964 said:

“Philip Schuyler High School began live in 1934 with 40 teachers and a student body numbering 450. Today 30 years later, there are 60 teachers and 800 students. Of today’s 60 teachers, 10 were members of the original faculty. They represent 300 years of teaching Philip Schuyler High School . . .

When Philip Schuyler High School, described as Albany’s first ‘Cosmopolitan high school,’ was established, Charles H. Jones was named principal and teachers were selected from the faculties of Albany schools – chiefly Albany High School and the vocational and part-time schools. Schuyler was the first school in the Capital District to offer college entrance, academic, commercial and trade unit courses, a wide range of subjects to fit a wide range of students.”



  1. Ray O'Neill

    I really enjoyed this article on Cosmopolitan Schools. As a graduate of Cathedral Academy in 1949, I remember all these schools and times very well. Great schools, great times. Keep up the work you’re doing on Albany’s history.

    1. Post
      Carl Johnson

      Much appreciated! I think I have a few more things on the schools coming up. If you’re not already on the email notification list, there’s a place on the front page of where you can sign up for email whenever there’s a new post.

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