It’s that time of year again. Time for anxious parents to cautiously peer into the mailbox looking for the long awaited admissions letter from Punahou. Did their son or daughter get in? It’s a time of trepidation and one that was no easier for parents of the Punahou class of 1974 in the spring of 1961.
For the 1960-1961 admissions season, 1,200 applicants competed for a scant 362 openings from kindergarten to grade 12. The situation led to more than 900 families facing disappointment. Admissions Director Edith Wurdeman, as quoted in the May 1961 Punahou Bulletin, said that she regretted “that we cannot offer placement to all the well-qualified candidates who apply for admission.”
It’s no small wonder that there were so many thin envelopes. In grades 2 and 3 there were no openings despite the applications of 34 grade 2 and 46 grade 3 aspirants. The pressure continued in the higher grades. For grade 7, 200 applicants vied for 76 openings; 119 vied for 21 grade 9 openings; 75 vied for 10 grade 11 openings. There was just no room for many applicants at the Punahou inn.
Preference for alumni and faculty children further complicated the picture. Such children were admitted in preference to non-alumni applicants with superior qualifications. This preference was explained by the school’s dependence to a large extent on alumni for “support, spirit and stability” (Punahou Bulletin, May 1960). For the class of 1974, 66 of the 75 available kindergarten spaces went to high-priority alumni and faculty children. Approximately 125 other children from non-alumni parents were turned away.
Growing admission pressure was a phenomenon born of the baby boom. This pressure would eventually result in a school expansion that would grow the student body to an average of 3,135 students. Announced school President Dr. John Fox in January 1962: “Next September (1962), our primary division will be increased by 130 pupils below grade 6. … The increase in the lower grades will not make it possible for any more students to graduate than is now the case, but it will provide a longer, and, we think, better period of instruction for these 130 students at Punahou.”
Thirty spaces would be added in kindergarten with twenty-five added in grades 1, 2, 3, and 5. The growth would accommodate more applicants from the non-alumni community, many of whom were well qualified from the point of view of academic promise. Said Dr. Fox of the change: “It will only minutely relieve the tremendous community demand. … Since most of the primary applicants who are presently being denied admission because of the shortage of space are those who would most likely gain admission in our upper grades, where greater numbers are accepted, we feel the earlier these pupils come to Punahou the better.”