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Celebrating 100 Years

Presidio Hill School celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2018

Presidio Hill School is proud of our place in the history of Progressive Education in the United States, as well as in the history of San Francisco. The video below provides an insight of how our current students are looking forward to our next 100 years, and the timeline under the video provides benchmarks to our history. 


The Next 100: watch the video


Presidio Hill School Historical Timeline

Poet and musician Flora Arnstein, and her sister-in-law, painter Helen Salz, founded Presidio Hill School in 1918. The women are inspired by the teachings of John Dewey and of the progressive movement. The movement motivates similar school founders of the time, such as those of Park School in Baltimore and the Lab School in Chicago, to teach students in a new way- to inspire a lifelong love of learning by treating students as individuals who can shape their own learning, by focusing on the arts and the outdoors, and by fostering empathy and caring connections throughout the fabric of the school. Thus begins a tradition that Presidio Hill has carried on for 100 years, and will continue to carry on throughout the next 100. 

Starting a New School








With only a few students, including their own, Helen and Flora open the Presidio Open Air School in a house on a property donated by the Salz family. As with other parents at the time looking for alternate private schools, the choices for Jewish families are few. Open Air Schools in Europe and on the East Coast, such as Shady Hill Open Air School in Cambridge, have adopted the concept originally associated with providing healthy, airy conditions for city children. 

  • Following Dewey's "faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgment and action if proper conditions are furnished," and his valuing of "equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he [or she] has," progressive schools espoused what Francis Parker called "embryonic democracy." 
  • Curricula follows the progressive commitment to developing the head, heart, and hand: working in the garden, wooden block-building to develop math concepts, and making paper and books to hold student poetry printed on the school off-set printing press.

Historical context: End of World War One; migration accompanying industrialization moves families from farms to cities, and the Suffrage movement is on. 

Presidio Open Air School Grows








  • Presidio Hill enrolls 15 students.
  • A second floor to the building is added, designed by Bernard Maybeck-inspired architect George Applegarth.
  • Columbia-trained educator Marion Turner becomes Presidio Hill Head of School.

Historical context: Women get the right to vote. 

A New School Matures








  • 1936 Josephine Duveneck is beckoned from Palo Alto and Peninsula School to become Presidio Hill Head of School. The Board asks her to integrate more non-Jewish students.
  • Mrs. Arnstein ("Forgie") teaches Pierre Salinger  (then a young piano virtuoso, later press secretary to JFK) to read, utilizing the organic reading and writing method associated with Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Mrs. Arnstein asks him for words he wants to learn; she writes them on cards that become the basis of his reading vocabulary.
  • Presidio Hill helps German Jewish refugees transition to the U.S. and find jobs, some at Presidio Hill.

Historical context: Great Depression hits in 1929; Golden Gate bridge is completed in 1937. 

Racial, Ethnic, and Social Justice Emphasized







  • Presidio Hill enrollment reaches 65.

Paul Robeson performs at school. Board members take him to Vanessi’s restaurant where they are denied service.
A scandal ensues and the Board sues the restaurant for discrimination.


  • Rosalind and Stephanie Williams are first African American students to enroll.
  • In coordination with the American Friends Service, school families help Japanese residents being sent to internment camps, packing their belongings and providing food for the bus journey.

  • Racial, ethnic, and social justice values are central. 

  • School is termed “Red Diaper Baby School” as HUAC era begins.

Historical context: The Salz family sells the school property to the parents of Presidio Hill School for $1.


Post-War Social and Political Activism








  • Katherine Fromer becomes Educational Director.
  • Students go to camp at the Duveneck’s Hidden Villa Ranch in Los Altos.
  • Presidio Hill helps German Jewish refugees transition to the U.S. and find jobs, some at Presidio Hill.

Historical context: Great Depression hits in 1929; Golden Gate bridge is completed in 1937. 


Valuing Creativity, Poetry, and the Arts








  • Presidio Hill enrolls 150 students.
  • Blacklisted elsewhere, Pete Seeger performs at Presidio Hill Saturday concerts for the community, bringing along Malvina Reynolds.
  • Presidio Hill middle school opens and is housed for a time in an off-site house.
  • Civil Rights movement values and issues are actively taught.
  • 1968 Bob Muller becomes Head of School.
  • School becomes a membership co-operative including parents, staff and board.
  • Presidio Hill closes for Moratorium Against the War, 1969. Teacher Sandy Segal keads a group of students and parents to the San Francisco March where he is arrested in front of his students and taken to jail. Parents help the group get back to school. The Board is divided in its response. 

Historical context: Summer of Love; Vietnam War