I started school in January before my sixth birthday in 1929. This was the year of the stock market crash and the Great Depression. I suppose we had "poverty" but not in the sense of poverty today. Most people were in the same boat and helped one another. We were fortunate not to have 24 hour news, so we did not learn until later that people were jumping out of skyscraper windows to kill themselves.
The first five grades in our school were divided into 10 grades. We had low first grade and high first, low second, high second. etc. I contracted measles and missed the last two weeks of school in the Low Fifth.
When my teacher came by to visit a few days after school was out for the summer she brought my report card. (Yes teachers, doctors and pastors were expected to make house calls.) Mama asked my teacher if I was to go back in the fifth grade or skip to the sixth grade. My teacher, Miss Bohannan gave me a test and skipped me to the sixth grade. That is how I happened to be the youngest in my class for the rest of my elementary and high school. Elementary School was called "Grammar School" when I was in school.
School dress: In Grammar School in those days, girls always wore dresses to school with knee stockings and oxford-type shoes or high top shoes. I remember a few of the girls wore high-top stockings. These were dark, thick, stockings, often black, that came above the knee and were held secure by elastic circles. In fact these garters were called "elastics." I remember being thankful that my mother did not make me wear those "old fashioned stockings." We had only one pair of shoes that were sometimes worn until they fell apart. I have worn shoes that had cardboard put in to cover holes in the soles of the shoe.
Incidentally, a little later when we did wear sheer hose (with a seam down the center of the back that had to be kept straight), we made our own elastics to keep our hosiery up. We just took a piece of elastic and measured around the leg just above the knee and sewed the ends of the elastic together. This was before garter belts were in use. By the time I got to high school, girls were beginning to wear anklet socks that turned down at the ankle so were more comfortable than the kmee socks.
Discipline: As I was writing this, a long time friend called. When he learned I was writing about school in the 1930's, he asked if I had written about "whippings." I told him that "whippings were a "boy thing". After we joked around a bit, we both agreed that in his school in South Carolina and mine in Georgia, the teachers had 12 inch rulers that were used for something besides measuring distance. The disobedient child held his/her hand out with palm up to be smacked with a ruler. For major misbehavior, a razor strop or a hickory switch was used on the child's bottom. Parents typically told children that if they "got a whipping" at school, they would "get another one" at home. Litigation against teachers and/or schools was not considered.
School Room: The student desks were attached to one another in rows. They were also attached to the floor. All student desks faced the large teacher's desk. The wall behind the teacher desk was covered with black boards for writing. The blackbords had narrow little shelves at the bottom to hold chalk and erasers. Each of the student desk tops had a small round hole that our ink wells fit into. We had to fill our pens with ink from the ink wells for writing before fountain pens came on the market. We also used pencils and lined tablets for Math, spelling and much of our writing. Every week, two students were selected to take the erasers outside to "dust the erasers" to get all the chalk dust out so they would be clean enough to keep the blackboard clean for clear writing.
Social Class: The word egalitarian had never been spoken! I remember clearly sitting in class while the teacher told us there were three classes of people: the upper, the middle and the lower class. We did not, for the most part, question this custom. Socially, people associated with their own class as well as their own race.
Transportation: How did we get to school? Two words. We walked! In our school, most of the teachers also walked. Many were single women who lived in town. In our town we have a large house called the "teacher's cottage." The teacher's house was "across the river" from the school building. There were no parking lots at the schoolhouse.
Report Cards: In our small-town Georgia school, we were graded A, B, C, D or F. I do not remember anything about the grading system or how I scored in First and Second grades. I do know that I never received a D or an F and do not remember many A's. I was generally a B student. I usually sat quietly and went unnoticed in class, speaking only when spoken to.
Miscellaneous Thoughts: We were then taught that the atom was the smallest particle. It was not until 1945 that we learned that that microscopic atom could be split and inside was power beyond comprehension.
One of my readers asked about “school dinners.” There was not a cafeteria in the Elementary school I attended, nor the High Schools I attended. But there was a Home Economics Class where all the girls took lessons in homemaking; basically in cooking and sewing.
In our “Grammar School”, we could “take milk” for three cents a day. It consisted of a small bottle of milk and peanut butter spread on two very thin slices of white bread. Most of the children brought a lunch from home (a biscuit with sausage or fried meat or jelly
The group picture above is the Ninth Grade graduation class. The Ninth Grade was the last grade offered in our community in the 1930's. It was in the 40's that Porterdale High School was established. Yours truly (Ruth Baird) was fourth girl on the left, front row.
If one desired to attend school after Ninth Grade Graduation, he/she had to pay tuition. buy their books and find transportation to Covington, our Newton County seat, to finish tenth and eleventh grade and receive a High School Diploma. Ninth Grade was the end of school for many students in the thirties. I ended up attending three different high schools.
My widowed mother somehow managed the tuition cost for me to attend Covington high School and another small transportation fee to a girl in my class who had managed to buy a car.
I rode with her (Louise Walton) to Covington every school day for a full semester. Alas, she dropped out - decided not to continue in school. ( Four girls in High School cap and Gown- LtoR: Ruth Baird Shaw, Clara Shaw Daniel, Lenora Ferrel Mills, Gladys Newman)
With no transportation to Covington after the first semester in the tenth grade, I then transferred to Livingston High School, a county High School. I walked with 2 other girls and a boy (Julia Sellers, Hilda Mitchell, Ernest Bennett) the mile or so every morning to the far end of our community to catch the school bus to ride to the country school where I finished the tenth grade with only two units left to graduate. In the 1930's, the Eleventh Grade was the last grade to finish to receive a High School diploma.
World War II: America was plunged into Would War II after Japan's attack on America at Pearl Harbor in 1941. All our young men registered for the Military draft. Charles and my two youngest brothers were in the Military Service by 1943.
When I finally managed to enroll in college classes, I learned my high school experiences had been well enough preparation. One of the things I remember about Covington High School in the semester I attended was an assignment to write a story of fiction. As far back as I remember, I have loved to write and enjoyed writing rhymes. I remember working on the story but do not remember anything about it. As I remember it was basically a lazy rearrangement of something I had read (which is probably why I do not remember anything about the story.) When we take short cuts or cheat on anything, we only cheat ourselves. Strangely, I have never taken time to try to write fiction again.
Another day while I was a student at Covington High, we went to Chapel where someone introduced a blind and deaf lady and illustrated how she communicated. This memory is too vague for me to be sure of details. I keep thinking it must have been Helen Keller and her teacher? Keller had not attained nation wide fame then? I believe that the famed Annie Sullivan, Helen's first teacher died in 1936. Polly Thomson assisted Sullivan later and became Helen's teacher after Annie Sullivan’s death.
An earlier chapel experience I told about in the first or second grade is being chosen to walk up on the large stage in the Grammar school auditorium to tell the Bible story of the sick man whose four friends took him, bed and all, to Jesus to be healed.
Teachers: I especially remember one of the teachers at Livingston High School, (the school where I transferred after my friend with a car left Covington High). One unforgettable teacher at Livingston was a widow in perpetual black dress. She was always openly counting the days until the end of the school year. I do not know how long she had been a widow, but this thin and sad looking lady in her "widow's weeds" each day would tell us how she was counting the days until the end of her days as a teacher. Then she would remind us how many days were left in the school year. She called herself the "walking calendar."
Another teacher I remember more fondly was Miss Willie Hane Hunt, my seventh grade teacher in Porterdale. She tried to encourage me by telling me I was probably the “best mathematician that ever walked in the school door." This kind of remark from a teacher made a big difference in the way I saw myself as a student. I began to find algebra and geometry problems not just easy but fun to do.
Sports: Schools in the thirties had "field days" with competition between classes and between schools. This included relay races, 100-yard dashes, high jumps, broad jumps, etc. My brothers, Charlie, Tom, and Jack, excelled in all the races. I was also a very fast runner and played basketball, but did not broad jump or high jump.My brother, Tom, was one of the fastest runners in the school. He would run in his regular pants with the shirttail flying rather than putting on the shorts and sleeveless tee shirt that was the usual attire.
Family: One of our family stories is about my brother, Tom winning the race for the school and winning a great deal of local fame running the race in his regular school clothes.
One day just a few years before he died, I asked Tom why he ran the race that Field Day in his regular clothes. He said he had to rush home to lift Papa out of bed and had hurried back to school because they expected him to run in the race. Apparently, he appeared on the school grounds just in time to run the race. Tom was stronger than Jack or Charlie, so it fell his lot to lift Papa out of bed and back into bed after Papa became disabled. Tom told me he would go to school every morning and answer the roll call. Soon after, he would leave school and go home to lift Papa out of bed and into a chair and later he could go home again to lift Papa back into bed.