Friday, December 6, 2013

1938 High School Year Book: the Senior's Story

1938 School Yearbook for Long Beach, CA
Poly High Schhol's new campus built following the great Long Beach earthquake a few years earlier

This summer I came across an old yearbook in the stacks at a thrift store. Yearbooks have value for dating apparel, hairstyles and noting trends for a certain time. In this case, I was more than interested because it was from the Long Beach, CA school district, published for the Class of 1938, a time when the entire city published one annual for all schools, including junior high with high school. I am guessing this was an economic measure, in part because 1938 was still the "Great Depression" and this book needed to be affordable to all.

In 1938, seniors were probably born about 1920, a few years following the First World War. They would have been the fore-runners of the big baby boom that surged the US population during the 1920's, following the return of soldiers from the war. Unfortunately for this group, life wouldn't be easy for them. When they were nine, the economy crashed, leaving many homeless and often without money for food, let alone clothing.

This annual dates from nine years into that era of hard living. These kids knew nothing else. Long Beach had been a mecca for hope during the 1920's, when during the mid-decade new house starts were historically high, as palm lined avenues were paved and the sunny beach city grew out into the fields behind the bay with Mediterranean style bungalows and apartment buildings.

Only a few years after the big crash, something worse happened: the largest earthquake since San Francisco fell at the turn of the century rocked this seaport city, tumbling homes, businesses and setting the surrounding hillside oil derricks aflame. The population fled inland and up into Los Angeles for safety. Many left town while others stayed to rebuild it.

The high schoolers we see here probably owned only the shoes that you see them wearing. Many of the girls wear dark skirts, which may have been hand-me-downs from a sister or cousin. These basics could be worn with several blouses to make up their school wardrobe. Yet there is a diversity in style and personality that shows how creative they could be on a very limited budget.

Sports programs for young women were in full swing, with modern uniforms often 'checked out' to each girls by the PE department. It's also easy to see that these students are enjoying themselves, and seem to be happy. In our own time, when shopping is recreational and having more than we can use is so common, it's a reminder how unimportant owning things can be.

In looking at this yearbook, I also had another treasure to dig for within its pages. I knew someone who would have been there, and I was hoping to find her. In the roster of senior photos, there she was, known as "Midge", Mary Ellen Hill lived a block from the great new high school, leaving for UCLA after graduation. There she enjoyed a degree in music and the company of her sorority sisters before joining the military and serving on the east coast.

Like everyone else in these photos, within a few years the second great war would encompass their lives, changing their directions and re-orienting their viewpoints from the secure world of high school as we see it depicted here. (Doing a bit of quick math, these students are about 93 years old now, and it's amazing how many are still here to tell us their stories, if we want to hear them.)


Lynn said...

What an interesting post! I loved everything about it, starting with the design of the cover. And you have given me an inspiration for a new place to look for photos of older women. Those teachers also displayed variations in their styles.

Deborah said...

I love vintage yearbooks, they are such a fun window into the past. I especially like the sports teams and cheerleader photos you can find. Thanks so much for sharing.

Hellcat Vintage

Lizzie said...

That's some short shorts on some of those girls! I also love how a few of the girls are wearing skirts a little bit shorter (and more fashionable) than the majority. So interesting!