Frogtown: School Days

Frogtown has been home to more than a dozen public, parochial, and charter schools over the years. In the early days Frogtown children went to school close to home years ago and almost always walked to school.

Most of the first schools were too small for each grade to have its own classroom. Two or more classes shared a room, with one teacher to help the pupils.

In early schools desks were bolted to the floor, with inkwells for the older children to dip their pens into. (Sometimes a girl’s pigtail or ponytail might get dipped in the ink by a naughty child sitting behind her.)

Subjects taught were the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Students might memorize and recite “pieces” in front of the classroom, or work on a blackboard. Schools offered rudimentary vocal music and art. Recess was outside on modest equipment or in an open space.

What about lunch? Students typically walked home and ate with their families. Some students would bring lunch, usually in a metal pail that had been originally a container for syrup or lard. Most schools didn’t offer hot lunch programs until the mid-20th century.

Schools were a centerpiece for neighborhoods, Schools hosted Christmas and end-of-year programs, concerts and plays. Carnivals were held to raise money for projects or to mark the end of the year.

At one point Frogtown had four grade schools – Jackson, Scheffer, Franklin and Drew; three Catholic grade schools – Saint Agnes, Saint Adalbert and Saint Vincent, and Lutheran schools affiliated with Saint Stephanus/Trinity and the Deutschen Evangelische Lutherischen St. Matthaeus Gemeind, or St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Children whose families were part of a congregation typically attended their church or parish school. Schools initially offered grades 1-6 or 1-8, although for much of its history Scheffer was a 1-7 school. Lack of space meant the eighth graders were sent to Jackson.

Throughout Frogtown’s history St. Agnes has been the only parochial high school.

Frogtown’s parochial schools had a strong ethnic flavor in their early days. Children at Saint Agnes spoke German, children at Saint Adalbert’s spoke Polish, and the Irish children at Saint Vincent spoke English. Many of the students at Saint Stephanus spoke German.

The neighborhood’s Catholic schools typically had nuns as teachers, although Saint Adalbert had lay teachers in its earliest years.

As time went on extra-curricular activities were added, including sports. The neighborhood’s three Catholic schools had lively sports rivalries, especially on the baseball diamond.

Frogtown: An Introduction

St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood has always been one of the city’s succession neighborhoods, welcoming generation after generation of newcomers to the capital city and the United States. Frogtown also has been home to several generations of the…

Jackson Elementary

Jackson Preparatory Magnet School, 437 Edmund Avenue, is the only Saint Paul Public School left in the neighborhood. The oldest section of the current building dates from 1924. The building was expanded over the years. Its building and play area…

Scheffer Elementary

Scheffer Elementary’s old school bell is in front of Scheffer Recreation Center, 237 Thomas Avenue. The recreation center’s ball fields include the site of the city’s first playground, Como Playground, established in 1903. A plaque can be found…

Benjamin Drew Elementary

Ryan Park, at Thomas Avenue and Avon Street, was until 1974 the site of Benjamin Drew Elementary School. Benjamin Drew Elementary School was designed by prolific and prominent Saint Paul architect Clarence Johnston. It was known as one of…

Saint Agnes School

Frogtown had parochial schools including Saint Agnes (530 W. Lafond Av.), Saint Adalbert (260 W. Edmund Av.) and Saint Vincent (645 Virginia St.) Catholic schools and Trinity/Saint Stephanus and Saint Matthew’s (501 N. Dale St.) Lutheran schools.…

Saint Adalbert School

Saint Adalbert School, 260 W. Edmund Avenue. The school first opened its doors in 1882, using spaces including the priest’s residence and the sacristy as classroom space. A wooden school was built and initially staffed by a lay teacher until 1885.…

Saint Vincent de Paul School

Saint Vincent de Paul School, 643 Virginia St. The school’s groundbreaking was in November 1900. The school opened in July 1901, with 190 children. Four Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, who lived at St. Joseph’s Academy, made up the first…

Saint Stephanus

Trinity/Saint Stephanus Lutheran School got its start downtown in 1861 as Trinity Lutheran School. In 1888, the church congregation bought property at Lafond and Grotto and built a new two-story wooden building. The first floor was used for primary…

Saint Matthew's Lutheran School

Less is known about Saint Matthew’s Lutheran School at 501 N. Dale St. Some histories indicate that the congregation did briefly operate a school. But other histories indicate the building, which dates from 1932, was mainly used for Christian…