The Sherman Institute of Riverside, California: A History in Photos

Christina Rice, Senior Librarian, Photo Collection,
The Sherman Institute class of 1919. Shades of L.A. Collection.
Group photo of 1919 Sherman Institute graduating seniors with class banners. Shades of L.A. Collection

When the Perris Indian School was established in 1892 by the United States government, it became the first non-reservation boarding school for Native American children in California. The objective of the school, along with others like it around the country, was to assimilate students into “civilized” society, which could then be rubbed off on adult family members living on reservations.

While the government sought to diminish the importance of Native American culture for its students, local hotel owner Frank Miller sought to capitalize on it when he campaigned to have the school moved to Riverside. Arguing that Perris did not have an adequate water supply for the school, Miller actually hoped his nearby Mission Inn would benefit from curious tourists who he predicted would journey to the area to interact with real-life Indians.

The school was relocated and in 1903 dedicated as the Sherman Institute, named after James S. Sherman, a member of Congress (and later Vice President) who assisted in the funding of the campus. Just as Miller hoped, the relocation of the school helped the tourist trade in Riverside boom, and the recently expanded Mission Inn thrived as Miller was able to utilize students as a source of cheap labor and entertainment.

The early focus of the school was vocational, and students as young as four and as old as twenty traveled from around the country to study basic subjects, with a later emphasis on areas such as carpentry, blacksmithing, home economics, and nursing. The curriculum shifted more towards college prep after the school was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 1971. At that time, it began serving grades 9-12 and became known as the Sherman Indian High School which continues to serve as a boarding school and is operated by the Bureau of Indian Education/Bureau of Indian Affairs and the United States Government Department of the Interior.

The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection contains over 250 images relating to the Sherman Institute which can be viewed here.

Want to learn more about the Sherman Institute? Empty beds: Indian student health at Sherman Institute, 1902-1922 and Education beyond the mesas: Hopi students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 are available for checkout at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Sherman Indian High School Academic Class of 1908
Portrait of the Sherman Institue Academic Class of 1908. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Paint shop students at Sherman Institute
For decades, the Sherman Institue emphasized trades. Here, students are shown in from of the Paint Shop in 1915. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Domestic Science class at Sherman Institute
Female students at the Sherman Institue are pictured in the Domestic Science class in 1915. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Institute seniors in 1919
The Sherman Institute class of 1919. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Indian High School Chapel Quartet
The Sherman Institute Chapel Quartet, circa 1926. L to R Thomas Humphrey (Hopi), Inez Healy (Shoshone), Amy Washoe (Washoe), Pedro Elmore (Mohave). Charles W. Cell, Director of Christian Educational Work is seated front, center. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Institute class of 1935
The Sherman Instiute class of 1935 is pictured in front of a 1925 building. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Institute students in classroom
Students engaged in a course on rodent control, circa 1930. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Student at her desk
During its long history, the Riverside campus has served as a boarding school for Native American students around the country. Here, a student is pictured in her bedroom, circa 1940s. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Classroom with display
By the 1950s, the students at the Sherman Institute were given more freedom to explore the traditions of their own tribes. Here, students are pictured with classroom displays of Navajo and Papago dwellings. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
American Indian girl in Sherman Institute school sweater
A Sherman Institute student is pictured wearing her letter sweater circa 1940s. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Indian High School Marching Band
From the school's earliest dates in Riverside, their marching band proved extremely popular. Here is the band in 1959. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Robert F. Kennedy touring Sherman Indian High School
Senators Robert Kennedy and Paul Fannin are shown with students and reporters in January 1968. The pair toured the school as key members of the Senate Special Subcommittee on Indian Education. (Shades of L.A. Collection)
Sherman Indian High School Indian Day Parade
Navajo students are pictured duting the annual Indian Day Parade, circa 1970. (Shades of L.A. Collection)