On November 2, 1852, the City Union High School on Fourth and Court streets in Reading,Pennsylvania, opened its doors to boys only. Thirty-five students were enrolled under the direction of Principal William H. Batt, who was paid a salary of $800 a year. The first high school commencement was not held until July 3, 1856, in the high school hall and graduated only four boys.
In September 1857, thirty-eight girls began attending classes in an upper room of the boys’ Academy building. The boys and girls were kept separate for two years until coeducation began in August of 1859. Although the radical idea of coeducation was accepted early in the city of Reading, racial segregation continued until 1876, when the academy building opened its doors to students of all races.
When the high school enrollment had reached the figure of 325 in 1881, board members decided to abolish coeducation in the high schools. In the fall of 1881, the boys were transferred to temporary quarters at Eighth and Penn streets, while a new Boys’ High School was being built. The young ladies formed an all-girls high school in the old Academy building. For the next four years, high school boys and girls were to be kept blocks away and taught entirely by instructors of their own sex. Both groups eventually moved into their own buildings on either side of Eighth and Washington streets.
The Girl’s High School building stands today as the Reading School District Administration Building, and the Boys’ High School is now Reading City Hall.
The Reading Senior High School in its present form was not completed until 1927. On September 7, 1927, the coeducational high school at Thirteenth and Douglass streets, with accommodations for 1,800 pupils, received the combined populations of the overcrowded Boy’s and Girls’ High Schools. The original enrollment was 1.577 students, and 166 boys and 165 girls
graduated in the first year.
The original faculty of eighty-one members consisted largely of former teachers in the old Boys’ and Girls’ high schools. The campus covered 19 ½ acres of ground and was built to resemble a medieval castle. This profound architecture soon inspired the nickname “The Castle on the Hill.” The initial cost of this single building was $1,650,000.
In February 1929, a combined gymnasium for girls and boys was opened, northeast of the main building. In 1930-1931, an auto shop was constructed behind the main building. In 1939, a practice field and cinder track, with a field house, was constructed on the terrace behind and to the south of the main building. As the high school started to take shape, it adopted the school motto “Dic cur hic” (tell me why you are here).