Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content
Denton Record-Chronicle

Bridging generations: Denton High principal unearths 1914 yearbook

There was a lot going on in 1914.

Henry Ford had just introduced the assembly line. The first commercial airline started flying people across Tampa Bay in Florida. Oh, and a little thing called World War I broke out in Europe.

But in Denton, Texas, 90 high schoolers were writing poems, trash-talking their football rivals and musing about what their future held.

The thoughts and dreams of teenagers growing up, compiled two years after the Titanic sank, are tucked away in yellowed pages loosely bound by a tattered leather cover. Embossed on the front of the book is a phrase recognized by any Denton High School graduate as the title of their own yearbook: The Bronco.

The 1914 yearbook was uncovered in a garage sale by Jan Jones, a Denton High graduate who attended the school in the 1980s. She gave it to her former classmate and current Denton High Principal Joel Hays.

"At first, I thought I would just give it to our yearbook adviser," Hays said. "Then we really started digging through it and getting everything out of it."

Denton High School principal Joel Hays, a 1984 DHS graduate, shows off a 1914 Denton High yearbook. The book was given to him by a former classmate who bought it in a garage sale.Denton Record-Chronicle
Denton High School principal Joel Hays, a 1984 DHS graduate, shows off a 1914 Denton High yearbook. The book was given to him by a former classmate who bought it in a garage sale.
Denton Record-Chronicle

Though it has had several locations, Denton High School remains the city's oldest public school. It opened in 1884 — 12 years before the Courthouse on the Square was built — as a three-story brick building on South Locust Street between Mulberry and Sycamore streets.

The students in the 1914 yearbook had moved two years earlier to their new school near what is now Calhoun Middle School. A staff of nine taught them reading, writing and arithmetic. There were three sports teams: a boys football team and girls basketball and tennis. Boys wore knee-length trousers and ties to school while girls opted for long skirts and high-necked blouses.

While Broncos today might not wear petticoats or spend all day writing poetry (there are a lot of poems in that yearbook), there are some common threads that connect the Denton High students of 1914 to those in 2017.

Seniors put their favorite quotes next to their yearbook photos and several well-known family names that now adorn street signs and parks pop from the pages, like Mounts, Egan and Evers.

Of course, the endearing tradition of Texas high school football was prevalent even in 1914. Denton High student Opal Jones wrote a poem commemorating a win against Mineral Wells, complete with early 20th-century digs.

"Such was the fate of Mineral Wells, left to the mercy of our boys," the poem read. "For all the good it did for 'em, they might have saved their noise."

A poem written by student Opal Jones commemorates a Bronco win over their rivals, Mineral Wells. The verses describe a loud-mouthed Mineral Wells team, along with their 230-pound quarterback, scoring only six points and retreating back home in defeat.Denton Record-Chronicle
A poem written by student Opal Jones commemorates a Bronco win over their rivals, Mineral Wells. The verses describe a loud-mouthed Mineral Wells team, along with their 230-pound quarterback, scoring only six points and retreating back home in defeat.
Denton Record-Chronicle

The invincible attitudes of the students may have also remained throughout the years. Hays noticed a section in the yearbook dedicated to the John B. Denton Literary Society. The black-and-white photo of a group of boys looks like a film still from Dead Poets Society.

"There is no difference between this group of boys and a group of boys from 2017," Hays said. "Their faces are the same one that I had when I was 17. We were ready to take on the world, and we had already learned everything you could possibly need to succeed."

Hays grew up in Denton and graduated from Denton High's current campus on Fulton Street in 1984. He was the editor of the school paper, The Horseshoe, before he headed off to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He returned to Denton a few years later and began teaching chemistry at Ryan High School.

He was named the head administrator of Denton High in March after Principal Dan Ford took a job in Denton ISD's central administration.

"March isn't really a good time to take over a high school," Hays said. "But the support of all the people in the community who are alumni and parents was really nice. It's neat being a principal of the building you went to school in, even with all the changes."

The Denton High School girls basketball team was established in 1914 as part of the school's first female athletics program. The team didn't have any outside rivals, so the players split into a red team and blue team to play each other.DRC
The Denton High School girls basketball team was established in 1914 as part of the school's first female athletics program. The team didn't have any outside rivals, so the players split into a red team and blue team to play each other.
DRC

As the Broncos primp for the homecoming dance in the gym Saturday night, Hays recalls his own homecoming experience when the dance was held at the Denton Civic Center on McKinney Street.

"Back then, the dance was the night of the game," he said. "Everyone was cheering, the Fillies were dancing, the players were playing. Then everyone had to rush to shower and change into their big, huge mums and go to the dance."

"The mums were nothing like they are now," he added.

Because of his past with the Fulton Street campus, Hays notices things in the buildings that others don't. Sure, everyone can see the purple handprints lining the tops of the hallways. Hays looks down instead and feels the indentations on the stairs where thousands of feet have climbed to get to class on time.

For now, Hays is keeping the 1914 yearbook in his office, but said he's contacted the Denton County Historical Commission for advice on getting the pages digitized. He hopes to include the original in a display at the front of the school.

"I want to do something that connects the 21st-century education here to the history of the community," he said. "This book won't just sit on a shelf in the yearbook room."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.