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A Brief History of Morton East

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There are so many things you can talk about with regards to Morton East High School; it would be easy to go on a very long tangent. I supposed that could be said for any school that dates back to the late 1800’s. Luckily, we have an entire column devoted to Schools and Parishes, so we’ll have room to write many articles devoted to the different eras, people, and aspects that make this campus so unique in American history and important to the memories of those who’ve called Cicero “home”. Largely, people paging in here don’t want to hear what year the high school was built or who the first principal was – they want to smell the scent of the hallways on the first day of class and hear the banging of lockers with raucous laughter from a bunch of kids they might be hanging out with later in the smoker’s lounge (yeah, for those of you under 40, there used to be a smoker’s lounge for students. Ha, ha, you missed all the fun).

But, for the history inclined, we’ll give you a brief overview of when what happened and why it happened that way. The why’s are sometimes elusive… lots of reasoning gets lost to the history books, mostly because they’re too fixated on dates rather than motives.

The original school for the area wasn’t called Morton, it was called Clyde School and was located on Ogden and 59th Avenue. One of the sources I found when researching says that there’s no known reason for that name of the High School – it was likely named after the section of town called, “Clyde” – we covered that neighborhood in a different article, The neighborhoods of Cicero. If you look at the map of the neighborhoods there, you’ll see that the original location of the school wasn’t actually in Clyde, it was on the other side of Austin, but that area wasn’t technically part of any neighborhood because there were no homes there. For those of you trying to visualize the place, it would be about a block East of Mr. Taco on Ogden. Of course, Mr. Taco wasn’t there in 1894 – could you imagine pulling into the lot drunk in a horse and buggy for a number 11?

So, the original school was built on 59th and Ogden and opened its doors in 1894 to serve all grades at the time – grammar and high. By 1899, they severed the grammar school and the building housed The Clyde Township High School. The population was still very small and the entire enrollment in 1899 was only 44 students but from 1899 on, the school body started growing at a rapid pace. Soon they needed a larger facility to handle the growing enrollment.

The building we all know today as J. Sterling Morton East High School on Austin Blvd, opened its doors in 1903. The school was named after Julius Sterling Morton who had been the Secretary of Agriculture and was best known for founding Arbor Day. Ironically, Morton never resided in Cicero or even visited the area. The school was likely named after him because he passed away the year before the doors were opened.

In 1903, Morton East High School was simply known as Morton High School. The West campus in Berwyn wouldn’t open until 1958. Though there was a need for a second campus for many years before one was built. From 1910 – 1920 the population of Cicero exploded, with workers from Western Electric settling in the homes. In 1924, Morton College was also founded and the classes were held largely on the high school campus (the college holds the distinction of being the second oldest community college in the country, but its own campus didn’t open until the mid 1970’s). By the 1930’s there were so many students that the school needed to develop a split schedule so that some students would attend morning classes and others would attend afternoon. We can only assume there was no way to afford another campus during the Great Depression, so they made the situation work for quite a long while.

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Morton School District 201 Motto

Skipping to Today

There’s a lot of history to Morton East between the 1930’s and today, but I’m trying really hard not to meander around in super-long articles that I wouldn’t want to bother reading. Today Morton East High School still stands on Austin Blvd, though the campus is far bigger than it was when they opened the doors in 1903. The East Campus houses sophomore, junior, and senior classes today – the district has a separate Freshman Center specifically for the incoming freshman class. That building opened its doors in 2004. Morton East district encompasses everything in Cicero. Morton West High School is a 4 year high school, located in Berwyn. The two campuses share combined sports (since the 1980’s).

 

Photo of Morton East High School from classreport.org

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