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Julia McHugh: Santa Barbara City College and university — early days
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Julia McHugh: Santa Barbara City College and university — early days

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The roots of higher education in Santa Barbara stem from the “hands on” learning of the innovative Sloyd School for children, founded by Anna Sophia Blake in 1891 and later named in her honor following her death in 1899. Her protégé Ednah Rich shifted the focus to teaching home economics to young ladies, and moved from the Blake Memorial Building in 1909, leaving it available for the school district to hold junior college classes there — the beginnings of Santa Barbara City College.

Also in 1909, the Blake School was absorbed by the California State Normal School of the Manual Arts and Home Economics, a two-year school to train teachers, with Ednah its first president. It opened in the Blake Building on West Victoria Street with 24 women students and two teachers, Ednah and Miss Mary Tracy.

In 1914, the Normal School campus on the Riviera opened to great fanfare. The then-quiet neighborhood above the Old Mission was jammed with students. The building contained administration offices, lecture rooms, laboratories, a library, and later, a cafeteria. There were no dormitories, but a new streetcar spur connected the school with the rest of Santa Barbara.

Normal schools trained teachers. Santa Barbara’s curriculum included household arts, sewing, millinery, tailoring (students were required to design and sew both an everyday shirtwaist and a wool “afternoon” dress), basketry, weaving, decorative needlework, and more. The men studied manual arts like metalworking, carpentry (including identification and uses of various Pacific Slope trees), electric wiring, plumbing, use of cement and other materials — basically, the skills needed to build a school and its contents.

Fine arts education was also offered, along with vocational home economics (cafeteria management), and a correspondence course for ladies to “meet the everyday needs of housewives.”

Physical education was added (bloomer suit required for ladies), as was music. “Rural Education” was offered for those who would teach in one-room schoolhouses, and “Americanization” for instruction of foreign students wishing to become citizens.

In 1921, the Normal School became a four-year college and was renamed Santa Barbara Teachers’ College and allowed to grant A.B. degrees. Ednah married and left the area. For the next 20 years, the school trained budding teachers.

In 1944, it was named a college in the University of California system. Ednah returned for the celebrations, passing away the following year. Classes continued on the Riviera campus for 10 years when it was moved to the current Goleta site, a former Marine Air Station base. In 1958, it became a University of California.

Over at the Blake Building, the junior college was discontinued following World War I, and its work taken over by the Normal School. But the influx of World War II veterans and the GI Bill created a demand and in 1946 Santa Barbara Junior College reopened at the Alhecama Center on Santa Barbara Street. It was renamed Santa Barbara City College in 1959, the same year it relocated to its current site on the Mesa.

Julia McHugh can be reached at


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