Joseph Pomeroy Nourse

Posted: May 21, 2008, 11:05:29 am by jim

My Great-Grandfather...


Born November 15, 1873 in Academia, Juniata Co., PA
Died February 17, 1954 in San Francisco, CA

From the San Francisco Public Schools Bulletin
Vol. XXV No. 22
February 23, 1954

Joseph Pomeroy Nourse, superintendent of San Francisco's Public Schools from 1936 to 1943, died last Wednesday at his home, 345 Arguello Boulevard, after a lengthy illness. He was 80 years old and his health had been failing for some time.

He was appointed superintendent of schools in 1936, succeeding Dr. Edwin Lee, who resigned.

Mr. Nourse served the school department for 42 years, retiring 11 years ago in 1943.

A mild-mannered, soft-spoken scholar, Mr. Nourse has commanded the respect and admiration of both parents and pupils in San Francisco since he entered the schools here as a regular teacher. Mr. Nourse was first invited to join San Francisco's School System in 1901 to teach Latin and Greek at Lowell High School. Eight years later he was appointed head of the classical languages department there.

His interest in military training have been strong from the time he chose Stanford instead of an appointment to West Point, Mr. Nourse organized the Lowell unit of the High School Cadets in 1915, and two years later was invited to command the entire San Francisco organization of cadets.

With his return to school duty after the Armistice ended his service with the Officers' Training Camp at the Presidio here, Mr. Nourse believed the time had come to organize an R.O.T.C. unit in San Francisco high schools. In 1919 his request, sanctioned by the Board of Education, to the War Department was granted, as well as a further request for a regular army officer as director. Major Winfield S. Overton was detailed to the command, and together, Mr. Nourse and Major Overton organized San Francisco's R.O.T.C. with the High School Cadets as a nucleus.

At this time Mr. Nourse wished to return to his chosen field as a teacher, and asked – his only personal request for appointment – to be sent to Humboldt Evening High School where he gained valuable experience with evening high schools and the field of adult education.

Mr. Nourse's fourth proffered appointment was to the High School of Commerce as vice-principal, where he remained until September, 1920, when he was named principal of Poly-technic High School during James E. Addicott's absence.

With Mr. Addicott's return, Mr. Nourse was immediately asked by the Board of Education to become principal and organizer of the proposed Galileo High School, which opened in 1921 in the old Red Cross Buildings in the Civic Center.

Mr. Nourse was born and received his early education in Academia, Pennsylvania. Coming to Santa Ana, California, with his family as a boy, he was graduated from Santa Ana High School, and then attended Stanford University, where he received his degree in 1897.

He returned to Santa Ana to teach three years, and then went to the University of California to study Greek preparatory to joining the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. It was while at the University of California that Mr. Nourse was given his first appointment by the San Francisco Public Schools and made his first decision in favor of teaching young people rather than studying ancient customs.

He served as president of both the San Francisco Teacher's Association and of the San Francisco Principals' Association. He was a member of the Affiliations Committee of the California Secondary School Principals' Association.

In addition to his wife Minnie, Mr. Nourse is survived by three children: Colonel Robert S. Nourse, now with the Army in Panama; Mrs. Frank Goodell of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Joan Nourse of San Francisco; two brothers: Bayard Nourse of Oakland, and Justice John T. Nourse of the State District Court of Appeal; and four grandchildren.

Funeral services were held last Thursday at N. Gray & Co., Divisadero and Post Streets.


The First Principal of Galileo


Joseph P. Nourse was appointed Principal of Galileo High School on December 10, 1920. He was asked by the Board of Education to become Principal and organizer of the proposed Galileo High School. Galileo High School opened in 1921 and was housed in the temporary Red Cross Building in the Civic Center.

Prior to being appointed Principal of Galileo High School, Major Nourse taught Latin and Greek at Lowell High School. Next he was appointed Vice Principal at Commerce High School, followed by being appointed Principal of Polytechnic High School. Major Nourse was the main organizer of the JROTC program for the San Francisco School District.

Students moved into Galileo on January 2, 1924. Major Nourse's most important instructions regarding the new school were: "Do not mar our school. Do not remain in the building after school hours; and don't pull up the surveyor's stakes in the adjoining lots or “You'll have a baseball diamond that looks like a pretzel!” Soon after students and faculty moved into Galileo High School, Nourse was very active in working with the architect to plan the layout of the addition to Galileo, namely the Polk Street Building.

Major Nourse believed in the value of shop training and it paid off well for him. One summer he journeyed down into the Central Valley. While there he called upon a certain young lady whom he thought was a little bit nicer than any other young lady he had met. During his visit the young lady's father was having trouble with an old fashioned clock. The father asked Joseph if he could fix the clock. Joseph fixed the clock, but went back home without the young lady. The following summer he visited the young lady and her father was most enthusiastic that the clock had kept perfect time all year. This time Joseph returned home with the young lady, who became his life long wife. Major Nourse encouraged all male students to take advantage of the shop classes.

Major Nourse resided in San Francisco on Arquello Boulevard. While he was Principal of Galileo High School, he lost both of his parents. His mother passed away at the age of 73 on November 4, 1928. His father lived until February 14, 1933 and was 88 when he died. Major Nourse's father frequently came to Galileo High School to share his Civil War escapades with the students. He met President Lincoln shortly after the Civil War began in 1861.

On March 22, 1933, Major Nourse joined the "Royal Order of Grandparents," with the birth of his first grandchild, Robert Hugh Nourse. In October 1924, Principal Nourse had the honor of hosting a group of visiting school superintendents who were in San Francisco for a conference.

On November 13, 1924, the Galileo Faculty hosted the 4th annual Birthday Party for Major Nourse. The faculty planned the party and the highlight was "sentencing" the principal to spend the rest of his life at Galileo High School. Major Nourse sat at the head of the table behind a large cake with the candles burning brightly. In front of 60 faculty members, just after he was sentenced to eternal life at Galileo, he replied, "I hope that when you become, in the words of a newspaper article recently, a 'little grayed-haired man with a one-sided smile' you will have such friends about you as I have now." Toasts during the evening praised Nourse's great qualities of leadership, great abilities, will and generosity.

Major Nourse was said to know all of the students after the first several months of school. He admired the brilliant students and befriended the boy or girl who may not be doing so well. He knew the accomplishments and failures of each of his 1100 students. He understood young people and their problems and gained the admiration and respect of the students. He was said to remember the best in everyone and forget all else.

Darrell Dounell, a noted radio commentator in San Francisco described Nourse as "the man who reaches for the stars but keeps his feet on the ground. Students were heard to say, "What will we do without Major Nourse?" One of his chief characteristics was that of modesty.

On May 12, 1936, Major Nourse was appointed Superintendent of Schools in San Francisco after 16 years as Principal of Galileo High School.

Ed. Note: I am indebted to Bettie Grinnell at Galileo Academy for providing us with this history of Major Nourse. Her tireless efforts to research and prepare this biography are greatly appreciated. Bettie will be writing the histories of all the Principals, and we will publish them in each issue of The Observer. The story of Major Nourse is an inspiration to all high school Principals. It is a gift for all Galileo students, faculty and alumni. Nourse Auditorium on Van Ness Avenue was named after Major Nourse. It is now the home of the San Francisco Unified School District offices.


Social Asset

Monday, Sep. 23, 1940
Time Magazine

In San Francisco high schools, one of the most popular extracurricular activities is contract bridge. Last year parents of students at Marina Junior High School got up a petition and persuaded School Superintendent Joseph P. Nourse, against his better judgment, to give bridge official standing: as an "experiment," Marina pupils were permitted to form a bridge club, spend one school period a week in practical study of their subject. The bridge club shortly became the biggest in the school.

Last week Superintendent Nourse, decreeing that "the common playing card" was not an educational material, unceremoniously ended the experiment. His decree threw San Francisco's school system into a furor. Indignant parents formed a committee, circulated petitions, marched to Mr. Nourse's office and demanded that contract bridge be made a part of the curriculum. Besides teaching youngsters 1) citizenship, 2) mathematics, 3) how to think, they declared that contract bridge was necessary to their children's vocational training. Explained Mrs. D. R. Minton: "I feel contract bridge is a social asset for my daughter's later life."


Minnie Sylvester, born June 3, 1878 Married on April 6, 1901

Robert Sylvester, born October 9, 1902 in Palo Alto, CA
Barbara Elizabeth, born January 1, 1905 in Berkley, CA
Joan, born November 9, 1909 in Palo Alto, CA

John Thomas Nourse, born February 24, 1845 in PA
Eleanor Maclay Pomeroy, born February 15, 1848 in Concord, Franklin Co., PA

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