By Julie Muhlstein
Higher grades, less work, softer treatment – doesn’t that sound like every schoolboy’s dream?
It’s not a wish list from one of today’s slacker kids. Nope, it’s a long-ago school superintendent’s description of what he believed students wanted at East Stanwood High School.
And 69 years ago this week, the school was the scene of a student revolt.
At noon on Jan. 27, 1944, a Thursday, nearly the entire East Stanwood High student body of 96 kids simply walked out of school. World War II was raging in the European and Pacific theaters. Yet the student protest, according to news accounts, had nothing to do with Americans at war. The cause was apparently student dissatisfaction with the superintendent, Alfred Tunem.
A Norwegian immigrant, Tunem was quoted in a front-page Everett Daily Herald article the day after the student strike began.
Students “want higher grades, less work, and softer treatment,” said Tunem, who added that “discipline must be maintained.” He was quoted in the article as saying three boys “were sore” after being asked to stay after class as a punishment for being tardy.
There was more to it than that. And The Herald wasn’t the only newspaper to take notice of the strike that dragged on for days. The uprising is also the subject of an essay on HistoryLink, an online resource for Washington history. The Seattle Times reported that just two students showed up for school the day after the walkout, and that “the echoes of dissension rang hollowly in the corridors of East Stanwood High School.”
Times reporter Robert Mahaffay wrote that the superintendent was accused of lowering grades on report cards that had been turned in to him by teachers. Another complaint was the lack of school-sponsored dances, known as “mixers.”
Tunem told the Times that since the start of the war, students had been interested “only in mixers, mixers, mixers – entertainment.” He addressed the accusation of grade-changing by explaining that some students hadn’t done their work, but still expected to pass classes.
J.A. Wallace, identified in The Herald as a car dealer and in the Times as a spokesman for parents, said in The Herald that the grievances “go way back, four or five years. It’s poor management. Too many boys are leaving school.” It seems some things never change.
“We don’t want our children to seem like a bunch of reds and radicals, but this matter must be straightened out,” Wallace told the Times.
Only 29 students went back to class the Monday after the walkout, the Times reported. Townspeople were split over whether to support Tunem or keep up the protests. By Feb. 2, 1944, after parents met with the school board, most students were back at school. News reports were thin on details about what had changed to bring them back.
Today, both the town of East Stanwood and the high school exist only in history and memory. Stanwood and East Stanwood consolidated in 1960. East Stanwood High School, built in 1925, became Lincoln High School, but today the building at 7430 276th St. NW is the Stanwood Community &Senior Center. Just think, some of those class of ‘44 rebels may even be spending time in their old school building.
And Superintendent Tunem? The man who in 1944 said “the school board has told me to stick to my guns” went on serve as Mukilteo’s mayor from 1947 to 1956. He died in 1972.