J. Sterling Morton High School East (also known as Morton East) is a Cicero, Illinois public secondary school. J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 has three schools, including Morton East. Morton East is a building for sophomores through seniors, with prospective students spending a year at the J. Sterling Morton Freshman Center. J. Sterling Morton High School West, Morton East’s sister school, is a four-year secondary school.
Morton High School was the school’s name from 1920 to 1959, until Morton West opened. Because he was friends with Cicero native and fur dealer Portus Baxter Weare, the district and its schools were named for him. Students living east of Ridgeland Avenue in the high school district are zoned to Morton East; locations east of Ridgeland Avenue include Cicero and a tiny piece of Berwyn. Stickney and Forest View are separated by a tiny area, however no Stickney people live there. There were allegations in 1892 that the town of Cicero was working to merge a school system that included the current Morton Park and Hawthorne area with one that included the towns of Clyde and LaVergne in order to add a “High School Department.”
Despite being approximately seven miles from downtown Chicago, the institution was founded on prairie and farmland. Professor H.V. Church, then the principal of J. S. Morton was compelled to walk his cow nine miles from Berwyn to the docks at Rush Street in 1915, according to the Chicago Tribune, so that he and his family could eat at their summer farm in Michigan, where they remained the summer. The principal was “following the mayor’s lead,” according to the story.
In June 1916, more than 20 students were expelled after a lemon throwing incident that began during the evening of a school performance and developed into fighting the next day in the school cafeteria. According to reports, 29 pupils graduated from “academic courses,” 24 from “shorthand,” and 8 from “bookkeeping” in 1916. By 1917, the school had been affected by the events of World War I. In the autumn, students started growing vegetables on a six-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school to supply produce for the school lunchroom. The six-acre garden was so time-consuming that the school’s baseball team dropped out of their league to “dedicate (their) energy to the garden.”
The school switched to a split schedule in the 1920s, with freshmen attending in the morning and upperclassmen attending in the afternoon. Until the opening of Morton West in 1958, this practice would continue. A big fire broke out in the school’s gym during a basketball game in 1924, causing US$900,000 in damage. The theater, girls’ gymnasium, library, as well as a number of classrooms and offices, were all destroyed. Due to the fire, the school had to temporarily switch to a split timetable, with the 1,200 freshmen attending classes from 8–12:30 and the upperclassmen from 12:30–5.
Cicero’s most renowned claim to fame is its connection to Al Capone, a former resident. Capone was reported to attend a football game at the school “still flanked by his escort of six” at least once in 1930.
Rather than getting traditional diplomas, the 1,045 graduates of the 1938 class were handed pocket-sized diplomas to “conveniently exhibit to prospective employers.” The school had a major renovation in 1950. The five ancient frame structures, which included two gymnasiums, an auto shop, a greenhouse, two libraries, a band room, a typesetting room, and over 100 other rooms, were removed to make space for brick constructions. The extension was spurred not just by an increase in student population, which had already inspired plans for a second school, but also by the fact that the older structures were deemed a safety danger. In April 1952, the expansion was completed.
Construction of what would become Morton West High School began in the spring of 1956. The school would open in 1958, alleviating the school’s overcrowding. Harold Roe Bartle, the visiting mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, delivered the commencement address to the class of 1956. The main library had a $400,000 update in 1963, which included new data processing technology, including punch card creation and reading equipment. The Chad Mitchell Trio, which included a relatively unknown John Denver at the time, performed for Morton East’s student government in 1966.