What's in a name, Mr. McClure? The people and history behind the names of our neighborhood schools

Who was Frantz H. Coe, anyway? How about John Hay? Anyone know who Mr. or Ms. McClure was? Here's the scoop.


Opened 1907, Named for Frantz H. Coe (1856-1904)

Dr. Coe began his career as a public school principal in Michigan at the age of 23. In 1884 he entered medical school, and four years later he began his medical practice in Seattle.

Though he became a prominent physician, he never forgot his early days as an educator. Dr. Coe served on the Seattle school board from 1901 until his death in 1904.

A progressive thinker, he was one of the first school administrators to hire women as principals. "I am absolutely satisfied women make better principals than men and wish to open up a new era in Seattle schools," he wrote in his journal.

Coe School was named after him to honor the memory of his progressive spirit.


Opened 1905, Named for John Milton Hay (1838-1905)

Born in Indiana and raised in Illinois, John Hay attended Brown University in Rhode Island. He graduated - as class poet - in 1858.

In 1859 Hay joined his uncle's law firm in Illinois, next door to that of Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was elected president the next year, Hay and a friend, John Nicolay, accompanied him to Washington as private secretaries.

In 1865 Hay was appointed secretary to the American legation in Paris, the first of several diplomatic posts in Europe that he would hold. In 1870 he returned to the United States and published three collections of poetry. In 1875 he and Nicolay began writing a 10-volume biography of Lincoln; it took them 15 years to complete.

Hay became secretary of state under President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878, ambassador to Great Britain under President William McKinley in 1897 and secretary of state again under presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt from 1898 to 1905.

As a statesman, Hay is credited with preventing the break-up of the Chinese empire during the Boxer Rebellion, settling the Alaska boundary dispute with Canada and participating in the creation of the Panama Canal.

On the debit side, he once wrote that the Spanish-American War was a "splendid little war."

Hay's name was on a list of prominent Americans from which the Seattle school board chose school names - for buildings, not programs (like TOPS), or schools within larger buildings (like Center). No one knows why his name was chosen for this particular school.


Opened 1965, Named for Worth McClure (?-1965)

When plans were made for a new junior high school on Queen Anne, it was named after Elisha P. Ferry, Washington's first governor. When the school opened it was renamed after Worth McClure, who had just died. McClure served as Seattle's superintendent of schools for five terms, from 1930 to 1945.

Raised and educated in Iowa, he came to Seattle in 1915 to take a job as an elementary school principal. He rose rapidly in the administrative hierarchy and became assistant superintendent in 1923. After serving two three-year terms, McClure took a job at State Teachers College in Buffalo, N.Y. Just a year later, in 1930, he was elected superintendent here and returned to Seattle.

McClure was not regarded as a very good superintendent, so why he was elected to that post five times is a matter of some mystification. According to Dominic W. Moreo, author of "Schools in the Great Depression," McClure ignored conditions in this country during the Depression and remained unrealistically optimistic about the state of education. His stance on education during World War II is not as clear.

Moreo says McClure "knew no other role than oratory" and describes McClure's speeches as rife with "platitudes, bombast, full of contradictions and turgid prose."

But Worth McClure has a place in the history of Seattle's public schools, and McClure Junior High was deemed a better name than Ferry Junior High.

Thanks to Eleanor Toews, archivist for the Seattle Public Schools. And congratulations to Hay School on its 100th anniversary, to McClure Middle School on its 40th and to Coe School on its 98th.[[In-content Ad]]