Sunday, September 16, 2012

Going To School in the 1930's

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.


Carol said...

I'd like to read more about your school days in the 1930's! More! More! More!

Gil said...

This was the environment that produced the "greatest generation."

beth said...

I agree - more! more! more!

BTW - we got 'whippings' at school!!! It might have just been me :)

Gil's right too - the 'greatest generation' came out of hardship and being expected to take responsibility for one's own behavior. Unlike today, when there is entitlement and apparently only a few are expected to be responsible for the rest.

We are none the better for it.

Jane said...

I loved this. Times were different weren't they?

Lyn said...

These stories are absolutely priceless to us! What a rich heritage we have! Thank you, Grandmother for taking the time to write these stories for us to read!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this, it was fascinating!

Amanda said...

Thank you
you have given me a lot of information on the schools of 1930. It made my school project much easier.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this, it is fascinating. I am doing a report for school and this really helps.

Anonymous said...

I have to write a letter pretending to be from the 1930's and your comments gave me great insights into school life. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

Oddybobo said...

How wonderful. Those photos are amazing!

eryn said...

thank you so much for your detailed story! it hlps with school projects and above all it's amazing. ^_^

Anonymous said...

What were Report cards like in the 1930's?

faiz said...

can u tell me what was school life like in 1930

Anonymous said...

this is pointless.

Katherine said...

Wow, thanks a lot! I needed a good source on schools in the 1930s for a paper I'm writing in English class. This was really helpful, and it was interesting to read, as well.

creative gal said...

I love reading about your school days and working during WWII. Please share more!!

Anonymous said...

life sucks

Carol said...

I don't think I've heard why your father was disabled. Tell us about that.

Anonymous said...

I have to write a paper in English about life in the 1930's and this is a great source! Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

i really want to learn more about in 1930s

Anonymous said...

this is very nice to read but i think it needs more about teachers and about things like school dinners and personalatys of teachers back then..

Justine said...

Is it okay if I use some of the information here for my project in Child Psychology? I'll make sure that it's known that it was a personal account that wasn't my own, obviously.
Just comment back or something, I don't really know how to work this site.

Thank you-

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Anonymous said...

haha this is great. im doing the same 1930's letter as many of the other people who have commented and this really helped, and was by far the only thinkg that hasnt almost put me to sleep! very intersting! btw how many of u letter writters are from saugus high? and have Mr. Hinze as a teacher? lol

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

i know thw 1930's was when scotch tape was invented. How long did it take to be used in school? A long time?

Anonymous said...

wow, this is really interesting. thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

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janice said...

So very, very interesting. I was so gripped by your story that I couldn't stop reading. Fascinating first hand account of a time long gone -- but so important in the nation's history.

Anonymous said...

haha~ funny! thank you for your share~ ........................................

Anonymous said...

this will help me on my project

maecel said...

I'm a high school student and I'm doing a project.I would like to know if you have anymore pictures of how school looked like in the 1930s; the inside of the school.

please let me know if you can and we can get in contact with each other.

Ruth said...

Maecel...I do not have any pictures of the inside of the schoolhouse I attended. You can probably find some on the web.

Anonymous said...

I am glued to the monitor ! I love reading your posts and hope they never end. Do you have photos of your other brothers and sisters? I am sure they all must have a story behind the photo as they all shared the same growing up. Please post if you have any and give us the stories. Love the stories about all.

Ruth said...

I am the youngest of 11 and the only one still living. My siblings and I had a great relationship as adults. But my two oldest brothers, Grice and Bill and two sisters, Louise and Vera,were already married and living away in my earliest memory. The ones nearest my age were three brothers who were 5, 7 and 9 years older than I. I played (roller skates) with my brother Jack (5 years older) on ocassion. But my three brothers usually played together while I with played with neighbor girls my age,

Ruth said...

I am the youngest of 11 and the only one still living. My siblings and I had a great relationship as adults. But my two oldest brothers, Grice and Bill and two sisters, Louise and Vera,were already married and living away in my earliest memory. The ones nearest my age were three brothers who were 5, 7 and 9 years older than I. I played (roller skates) with my brother Jack (5 years older) on ocassion. But my three brothers usually played together while I with played with neighbor girls my age,

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

thanks, i need this info.

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Anonymous said...

this was very helpful for my school project!

Victoria said...

Hi. I'm working on a project for school and we are studying the Depression. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about what it was like?

Anonymous said...

this was sooo helpful for my 1930 letter please post more experiences!! it was very interesting :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you soooo muchh!!! it seems like a ton of people are doing the same project as me where you have to write a letter to someone in the future and pretend you live in the 1930s! thanks again!

littlelilly said...

I am doing a bibliography on growing up in the 1930's. this helped so much. If there is any other information you could share please do :)

Anonymous said...

hi, I would like to ask you something. Do you think that the way you were brought up and how you were educated was the typical experience for many children? I am doing a project on 'To Kill a mockingbird' and part of it is do do some research. A lot of your experinecs contrast those in the book. I would really apreciate it if you would reply. Thank you. :)

Roxie Benares said...

Just came across your blog and I completely forgot what I was doing. You just don't get this kind of historical perspective in a library. Please keep posting more stories! :)

Joao said...

It is an honour for me to read your memories:) I have a question: in those days boys and girls attended the same schools? And the same classes? In my country boys and girls only started attending much later, but i don't know how it worked in the U.S.

Thanks A Lot

kristen said...

Hi Ruth!
I'm so glad I stumbled on your blog. I look forward to more!
Kristen Johnson

Sheila said...

I am working on an assignment for a college course, and your blog has just the information I need! It is so interesting to me to see how different things were "back then!" I enjoyed reading your blog, and I hope you don't mind me using some of your information. (I will be citing your website as the source, so you'll get the credit you're due.)
Thanks so much!

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Stephanie said...

Thank you very much for this, I found it really interesting as well as really helpful to me :) Please keep writing more! It seems that NON-fiction is your strong point!

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Ms. Nick said...
I am using your blog to help teach my students about education in the 1930s as we read To Kill a Mockingbird! What an excellent primary source for them to use as they begin to understand the historical context of this time period.

anieb said...

I never forget my school life. These days never die from my heart and soul.

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Spybubble said...

OMG, it must have been really difficult out there.


Stephanie said...

Fairly good post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed studying your blog posts. Anyway I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope to learn your post once more soon.

Girl from DHS said...

Apparently a lot of people have the same project (writing a letter to someone while you're living in the 1930's, or something along those lines). I just wanted to thank you, Miss Ruth and it was such an honor to read your story. I think it's so interesting to hear about our heritage and it was definitely an educational experience for me. Thank you!~

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! :) It has made my school project much easier.

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It is hard for this generation or even my generation of black and white people who finally won the battle for equal rights to put ourselves back in the time of worldwide slavery and class and racial separation.
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bree said...

this is really intersting and im only 14...

Lauren said...

I'm really glad I stumbled across your wonderful blog! I'm beginning my writing career and am working on a story of a girl in the 1930's. It's good to get an actual report of someone who experienced those times. Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

Diane Dettmann said...

Thanks Ruth for the wonderful details of school life in the 1930s. I'm working on a novel set in the 40s-50s. Looking for details about schools in the 30s and 40s. Wondering did they have lockers in high schools back then or a "cloak room" like many of the elementary schools? Your post was VERY interesting.

Greg Lloyd said...

I like hearing stories from people who lived the depression. The movie "Seabiscuit" gives some insight into the struggles of the depression. Ruth is my great Aunt, by the way!

Anonymous said...

This information is simply amazing!
We need people to tell us about
the past!!!

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable. Thank you for sharing. Would love to hear more.

Anonymous said...

My Mom is your same age born June 19, 1925. We just celebrated her 88th Birthday also. We talk about her school days all of the time. I wish she would post her memories as you have. I asked her the other day what time school began. She told me she thought it was 8:00 AM ? I am thinking it must have started later in the day than it does now. She talks about all of the chores they did on the farm before walking to a rural school. Do you remember?? I know they got up early before daybreak, but it seems that it would be really hard to walk to school in the dark and snow & ice. Seems like I remember school starting at 9 am and going til 4 pm in the 50's. Do you remember the start dates and end dates too?? Loved reading your blog!!

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Anonymous said...

This information was very useful for my project about my school,(it's called the batt school)

THANKS ALOT :) :) :p

Anonymous said...

It's miley cyres here hopr ya'll having a good time

Anonymous said...

Oh my lord thank you so much, this made my project about small town culture with schooling during the great depression a ton easier

Anonymous said...

Great! I had to do a presentation about the school days in 1930s in America. This story was very useful. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is really good. I'm twelve years old and am writing a book set in 1929 but what i really need is what you were taught at school, what subjects you learnt. Your life seems way more interesting then mine! Thanks alot, Grace C.

Anonymous said...

wow thx this really helped me with my historical fiction essay

thx a bunch, bird in the 5

Anonymous said...

I may be weird but I have always wanted to live during this time. People respected stuff so much more. By the way this helped me with my English paper. Thanks soooo much. :)

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