Origins of Skinner Junior High/Middle School Part 1: Choosing a Name

Posted September 30, 2022

By: Historic Berkeley Regis

Skinner Junior High/Middle School is now celebrating its 100th year. We’ve been researching the school’s beginnings because our schools represent the “largest and most important of neighborhood civic structures.”

Denver Public Schools (DPS) understood this significance when it began a new era of school design and construction following World War I. Population increases led to expanding student enrollment and the need to relieve overcrowding at existing schools. Accordingly, the school board made plans for acquisition of new sites and buildings that would represent the latest and best architectural and educational standards. Citizens supported these improvements by passing bond issues ensuring the projects could happen.

During early planning for a school serving Berkeley Regis students in grades 7, 8, and 9, the proposed building was referred to generically as “North Side Junior High.” By February 1920 DPS decided the school’s name would pay tribute to Roger Woodbury, a distinguished early Denver resident who rose from humble beginnings to own Denver newspapers, serve as a bank president, help found Denver Public Library, and promote Colorado as a healthful destination. Woodbury built a magnificent estate (demolished) in North Denver. His unexpected death in 1903 brought accolades for his leadership and service to the city, and the 1913 branch library on Federal Blvd. received his name.

However, many residents of Berkeley Regis wanted the new junior high to honor the outstanding contributions of another person influential in the area’s history: Elizabeth Hope Skinner. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she graduated from its state university and moved to Denver in 1889 to begin a lifelong career in teaching. She taught at Bryant Elementary School (demolished) before in 1894 becoming the first principal of 800-pupil Louisa M. Alcott Elementary (demolished, now the location of César Chávez Park).

Elizabeth Skinner was a highly gifted principal, open to new ideas and focused on provision of excellent, child-centered education. She served a term as Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction before returning to Ann Arbor for a year to study new methods of teaching. Skinner often spoke to the community on educational topics and encouraged new innovations. A member of several professional groups, she led the important Denver Teacher’s Club.

In 1910 Alcott School received attention for its outstanding library and a “gradeless classroom,” which allowed students to progress at their own rates. Miss Skinner also encouraged students to give back their community, such as the time in December 1913 when the older schoolboys cleared snowy paths so that coal wagons could reach the Old Ladies Home (Argyle). Elizabeth Skinner’s sudden death in February 1917 came as a significant blow to the neighborhood. Plans for a new school motivated North Denver residents to gather hundreds of signatures on petitions and convince DPS that Skinner Junior High should be its name.

Elizabeth Hope Skinner
courtesy “Representative Women of Colorado”
Roger W. Woodbury
courtesy Find a Grave
Skinner Junior High, courtesy “Progressive Architecture,1924
Alcott School
courtesy Denver Public Library
Denver Post, 1 January 1921