Horace Mann High School’s location in Gary and behemoth size have made it a well-established tourist destination and canvas for street art.
Remember Superintendent William Wirt, the ambitious founder of Emerson High School? After its new program’s success, he decided to open four additional schools to match its red brick and classical white trim. Froebel, Roosevelt, Wallace, and Mann were established within the next few decades.
Horace Mann’s namesake revolutionized the public school system by declaring that education should be publicly funded regardless of a student’s sex or race. Wirt himself appears to have had some motivation toward racial integration of the schools, but his execution was rather lacking. History seems to show Wirt’s heart was in the right place with regards to racial integration, trying and failing to operate the schools under the “separate-but-equal” ideal. Eventually, civil rights organizations began working toward full integration, leading to an incredibly tense situation among the students and faculty but ultimately sending Gary’s schools in the proper direction.
His plan for education, called Platoon or Work-Study-Play, cycled the students in “platoons” throughout the schools’ various classes and amenities, because he believed in ultimate efficiency: no part of the school should ever go unused, even during the summers. The Gary Plan also focused on moving working class students through vocational programs, but this seemed to result in increased enrollment with decreased graduation. [x]
As we know, things started to turn sour in Gary when the steel plants started to shut down and people moved away throughout the 1960’s-1980’s. Wirt’s elaborate, illustrious school buildings, each three story behemoths of classical architecture, no longer served the huge numbers of student enrollment of the first half of the 20th century. Of the five Wirt schools in Gary (Mann, Emerson, Wallace, Roosevelt, and Froebel), only Roosevelt remains open today.