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Defining a History High

Indianapolis High School
Indianapolis High School was located on Pennsylvania the years that Mary Rann attended. The school moved to the Pennsylvania building in 1872, the year that Rann started her freshman year. (Bass Photo Co. Collection, IHS)

One of the things that I enjoy about my work at the Indiana Historical Society is the interrelatedness of our collections and, through those collections, my introduction to ordinary people – the common men and women of history, many who have done extraordinary things. 

Though we have much material at the William H. Smith Library dating from the Old Northwest Territory period and earlier until the present time that focuses on the famous and infamous, most of our more than 50,000 printed cataloged items (including books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, sheet music and maps), 1.7 million photographs, 5,400 manuscript collections, 3,400 artifacts and paintings, and 57,000 online digital images give evidence to the lives of little- or lesser-known individuals. 

Grade book
Records from Indianapolis High School in 1876 reflect that its first African-American student, Mary Rann (see line 25), graduated with an 84 average. Her highest grades were in chemistry and literature. (Click to see larger image.)

Several years ago when Laura Sheerin Gaus wrote Shortridge High School, 1864-1981, in retrospect, she included a reference to Mary Rann, the first African-American student to gain entrance to Indianapolis High School (later Shortridge). Prior to Gaus’ 1985 book, Pastor Moses Broyles (History of Second Baptist Church) detailed the advocacy work of he and others to get Rann enrolled in the high school in 1872.   

The school was located on the northwest corner of the Circle and Market Street, later moving to Pennsylvania Street, before opening at 3401 N. Meridian St., its current location. With help from Abram C. Shortridge, then superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools, Rann enrolled and graduated in 1876. 

One day when I was in the vault researching an unrelated reference inquiry, I looked at the Record of Examinations, 1868–1883 (M0482, Shortridge High School Collection). As my eyes scrolled down a page, I came across some 1876 student grades. Before I thought to look for it, Mary Rann’s name stood out on the page. I was ecstatic. 

It was a history high moment.