Fall is here and mothers everywhere are rushing to get their children off to school. It is very complicated these days with schools sending out long expensive lists of what is required by the first day. Life during the postcard era was much simpler. It required a pencil and a pair of shoes.
The real photo postcards shown here attest to this. They show a couple of children during the summer barefooted and quite dirty; it was not uncommon for children in the summer to wear clothes several days in a row and bathe only on Saturday night in a tin tub. The after picture features two children all clean and dressed for school with high button shoes and long stockings.
Advertisers took advantage of the postcard format to promote shoes as the school staple. The Weatherbird of Saint Louis promoted Peter’s Shoe Company’s Diamond Brand School shoes made of solid leather and strongly put together. The boy Weatherbird says, “I am happy not because I go to school but because I wear Peter’s Weatherbird Shoes.”
Getting boys to go to school seemed to be a constant reoccurring theme of the postcard era. A guinea pig mother has her son in hand to present to the school master and the title is, “Then the schoolboy creeping like a snail unwilling to school.”
But the best part of school for these unwilling students was recess or gym class where they were allowed to once again turn off their brains and engage their young bodies in physical activities like being on the swings, or taking gymnastic classes. The postcards indicate this was true of the animal kingdom as well since cards feature many animals partaking in gym classes and outdoor school sports like soccer.
On the serious side of school are the real photo postcards that help us see the differences between then and now. One classroom features a Christmas tree in the corner which would never be allowed today; and classes were always started with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Girls took typing classes and boys participated at the high school level in Hutchinson, Minn., in agriculture laboratory. Schools at the turn of the last century were geared to teach students a job and how to support themselves.
Classes beyond high school were not common. Girls were encouraged to marry, teach school or work in an office. If a girl chose teaching, she would be forced to sign a contract stating she would not marry. Boys were encouraged to do woodworking, repairs, labor, or farming.
Those may have been the “good old days” but children today are much smarter. I can attest to that just watching my 2-year-old granddaughter show me how to run the DVD device to play an Elmo movie. Children start school not only knowing a wide set of numbers, the alphabet, colors and in some cases even reading, but computer skills as well.
We have come a long way but I bet they still like gym and recess best.
See more back to school postcards below.