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The History of Pretoria High School for Girls

The history of Pretoria High School for Girls dates back to October 1902, when 106 eager young girls from the Staats Model School walked to their new school in Visagie Street. The first Headmistress, Miss Edith Aitken, was responsible for introducing many traditions still upheld by the School today. During the 21 years she spent at PHSG, she brought with her the motto “Prosit Spes Labori” - “We Work in Hope”, and introduced the Iris as the school emblem. It was her desire to create an educational institution based on inclusiveness and diversity, a dream which was ultimately only fully realised 90 years later.


As the school grew and absorbed other schools, many changes followed. In 1910, the school merged with the Eendracht School. The colours of the two schools were merged to form the green, blue and white colours of today. The Eendracht School Song was adapted to suit the united school and is sung to this very day.


After the retirement of Ms Edith Aitken, Girls’ High came under the successive leadership of Ms Jean Findlay McWilliam, Ms Winifred Hawkins, Ms Minnie Neave, Mrs Eileen Nelson, Ms Beryl Mullins, Mrs Anne Van Zyl, Mrs Alison Kitto, Mrs Penny McNair, Mrs Karen du Toit and more recently, Mrs Phillipa Erasmus. Each headmistress brought with her a distinct style of leadership that would serve to cement Girls’ High’s position as a model of educational excellence.


In 1929, it was decided to divide the school into five “Houses” named after the Governors General of South Africa. Three more Houses were added in 1943 and in the 1990s, the addition of Aitken House and Mc William House brought the total to ten.


Two boarding houses, North Lodge and School House, were built to accommodate the steady stream of newcomers. Boarders initially had to catch a special tram to get to the school four kilometres away. In July 1915, a “crocodile” of pupils and teachers marched from Visagie Street to Park Street to join the boarders at their new school premises.


In 1917, Girls’ High was granted a piece of land adjacent to the school for their playing fields and shortly thereafter the fields were in use for hockey and cricket games. Over the years a swimming pool and “warm-up pool”, basketball courts, netball courts and squash courts have been built. A state-of-the-art Astroturf was also recently completed. These facilities have enabled learners to compete against the strongest sporting schools in South Africa.


In the cultural and academic sphere, the school has been enhanced by the building of a modern Music Centre, the modernisation of the Art Centre, the establishment of a well-equipped Library and IT Centre and the continuous upgrading of classrooms and teaching facilities to ensure that PHSG remains a top-achieving academic institution.  


In 1990, with the ending of Apartheid in sight, parents and pupils voted overwhelmingly in favour of opening the school to girls of other races, and the first black pupils were admitted in 1991 (prior to this the children of diplomats were given special Government permission to attend Girls’ High). The school rapidly expanded to become truly representative of the “rainbow nation”.


As Pretoria High School for Girls nears its 120th year, the school has grown from 106 to over 1500 learners, with a teaching staff of almost 90. Girls from all corners of the Earth study at the school, and the student body is truly representative of the cultural and racial diversity of our country. Ms Aitken’s words still ring true for Pretoria High School for Girls:  “The school was founded in the earnest hope that here girls of different races and different denominations might meet in that commonwealth of letters which gave Erasmus and Shakespeare to the World; to acquire there, in accordance with the ideals of Christian Duty, the healthy physique, the trained mind and the disciplined character which should fit each to live worthily in that state of life unto which it should please God to call her.


Acknowledgements: We Work in Hope: A history of the Pretoria High School for Girls by Laurel Becker and Sonja van Putten.

To view all the exciting events that have helped shape PHSG, view the PHSG Timeline on the Old Girls Page.

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