In the autumn of 1957, a new chapter in Wichita’s educational history began with the opening of Mary Benton Elementary School. With just nine teachers, this school served students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The architects, Mobley and Safely, crafted a building that would soon become a cornerstone of the community.
A preview of the school ran in the Wichita Eagle on March 17th, 1957. “The building contains nine classrooms and auditorium with stage and dressing rooms.”
A ceremony in November 1957 celebrated the opening of the new school, which the Eagle said was, “Constructed of brick and cement, it has all cement ceilings and walls, with no wood.” The principal, Mrs. Thomason said the building was “as fireproof as any building can be.”
The article also talked about, “The new type of venetian blind that, when closed, completely darkens the room making other window coverings unnecessary.”
According to “A History of Wichita Public School Buildings,” Mary Benton Elementary had its roots in Peterson School, District 69, Sedgwick County. It was named in honor of Miss Mary Benton, the very first teacher at Peterson way back in 1875.
Mary Benton was a pioneer in education and a role model for many young women.
Benton was born in 1850 in Ohio. She moved to Kansas with her family in 1871. She was one of the first women to teach in the state, and she taught at Peterson School for 20 years. She was known for her dedication to her students and her commitment to providing them with a quality education.
In addition to her teaching, Benton was also active in the community. She was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Wichita Teachers Association. She was also a founding member of the Wichita Kindergarten Association.
Benton died in 1926 at the age of 76.
An article in the Wichita Beacon on May 2, 1958 ran a story about the students and teachers pitching in to plant grass at the school. “Each student brought a small section of sod grass which was planted after the older kids raked and the teachers hoed.”
By the fall of 1959, the school was already growing. Three classrooms, a storage room, and a special services room were added to accommodate the expanding student body.
In the spring of 1960, the patrons of District 69 made a significant decision—they requested annexation by the Wichita Public Schools. Thus, Benton transformed into a Wichita public school, serving kindergarten through sixth grade.
Fast forward to 1976, when bond funds brought about a major expansion. Six new rooms, a library, and restrooms were added, and air conditioning was installed both in the original building and the addition.
As the 1970s progressed, special education programs saw rapid expansion throughout the school system. This necessitated even more classroom space, leading to the planning of a three-room addition at Benton for educable mentally handicapped students.
In 1978, this project became a reality, and Benton continued to evolve. Over the years, its infrastructure was modernized, five classrooms and a kitchen were added, and the student support area received renovations. The school also became more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
On November 16, 2004, a dedication ceremony marked the completion of the latest remodel. Mary Benton Elementary School stood as a testament to the enduring spirit of education in Wichita, Kansas.