Though no one denied Stevens High’s beauty when it opened its doors to students in 1905, the all-girls school’s lavish handiwork was called into question. It was the most extravagant and expensive – and therefore controversial – high school built between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The question, at the turn of the century, seemed to be: Do women deserve an education on-par, if not more excellent, than that of men?
Built by notable Lancaster, PA architect C. Emien Urban, and named after Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Stevens High employed elements of Beaux Arts, French and Italian Renaissance, as well as Greek Classical. Stevens High is a true embodiment of the architectural amalgam that is Second Renaissance Revival style. The three-story, golden brick and purple brownstone building sports a slate-covered, copper-bordered mansard roof plus a terracotta cornice and ornamentation to boot.
Urban’s designs included a 600-seat auditorium with chandeliers and innovative equipment such as typewriters and wireless telegraph, which were deemed “excessive” for a girl’s education.
Urban’s rebuttal? “Time will prove the wisdom of building well!”
Time has proved Urban wise, indeed. The luxe intentionality deemed “extravagance” enabled Stevens High to deliver a quality education to an equally deserving population that, at the time, was immensely neglected. In 1983, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Stevens may not officially be part of America’s women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th-century, but the high school stands as a small but symbolic stepping stone on the long road to equality, at least for this small Pennsylvanian community. Despite no longer operating as a school, Stevens High stands proudly, not only as a monument to quality architecture but to equality in design and education, a testament to doing it right – and for the right reasons – the first time around.