All Schools Day was started in 1914 as a way to celebrate the graduation of McPherson County eighth graders. Prior to that year, the superintendent had to travel to each schoolhouse to deliver the graduation certificates. With over 100 school houses in McPherson County, it took quite some time.
Eighth grade graduation had always been an important event in McPherson County, but a special day was set aside annually to honor graduates from eighth grade, high school, and college. The celebration was a way for all of the graduates to meet the superintendent in one location to receive their certificates.
The first special day went something like this: 10:30 am, May Day Parade; 1:40 pm, Commencement exercises; 2:30 pm, May Fete with tennis tournaments following; 6:00 pm, Graduates’ dinner; and 7:30 pm, dedication of Central Park in the County Square.
The parade was eight blocks long and consisted of students from first grade through college seniors, marching down dirt streets along with horse-drawn floats. The floats were wagons decorated with flags and bunting. Following the parade, families gathered in parks for picnic lunches. Commencement exercises were held in the park behind the courthouse. The May Fete with maypole winding, dancing, and singing followed the commencement.
No royalty was chosen in 1914. The first May Day Queen was selected in 1915 from the eighth grade class. In 1923, the May Queen and her attendants were chosen from other high schools in the county, and in 1949, the custom of crowning a queen during the May Fete from each high school in the county was started. With only one exception during World War I, the All Schools Day combination of May Fete and parade has been an annual event.
Over the years, the celebration has dramatically increased in size and length. Contemporary All Schools Day celebrations are centered around chosen themes and begin with a May Fete, which is held at the band shell in Lakeside Park and at the high school auditorium. Performances are given on Wednesday and Thursday evenings prior to the parade on Friday. Hundreds of families gather in the park, some sitting on park benches, but most bring lawn chairs and blankets to scatter on the lawn.
Each high school in the county selects senior class members to be May Queen and King. Sixth and seven grade girls wind the maypoles. High school ensembles, junior high music classes and non-school groups from throughout the county perform skits and music onstage.
One of the most dramatic increases in the parade is the attendance. In 1914, over three thousand guests coming from miles around attended the activities. Today, over ten thousand people view the parade, with fifteen to twenty thousand visitors sharing in the activities throughout the week-long event. In 1976, over thirty thousand visitors were on hand for the All Schools Day celebration held in conjunction with the United States bicentennial celebration.
All Schools Day continues to be a Celebration of Education. We strive to make it a week of family activities at little or no cost. The All Schools Day button is the admission to most of the events.
Special thanks to Brenda Uhrig Wilson for this history.