JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL

A whole new world awaited us once we completed sixth grade at Robison or Deeter Elementary School. Here are Irene Caldwell O’Neil’s memories of the next step in our education in 1950s-1960s Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

[A vintage postcard depicting Sharpsville High School in the 1940s can been seen here.]


Going to seventh grade meant leaving Robison and walking seven blocks along Ridge Avenue to the high school where one side of the building was reserved for junior high students. We had our own entrance and were fairly well isolated from the upper grade students and teachers. It was an intense culture shock and difficult transition for me.

We were assigned a homeroom and from there traveled to several different classrooms for various classes, each with a different teacher. Classes included English, history, math, science, gym, and home economics for the girls, but shop or mechanical drawing for the boys.

Class of 1960, room 307 (of 5 home rooms).

Class of 1960, room 307 (of 5 home rooms). Irene Caldwell is second from left in the middle row. Source: 1958 “Devil’s Log,” Sharpsville High School Yearbook

Pants were still forbidden attire for female students and our skirts fell halfway to our ankles. Full skirts were more fashionable than straight and crinoline slips starched with sugar water made them stand out enough to please a southern belle. It was difficult to squeeze those skirts into the one-armed desk-chairs packed closely together in all the rooms, but vanity prevailed. Sweater sets, cinch belts, silk scarves around our necks or pony tails, white sox and black flat shoes were standard attire.

Tycora Yarns magazine ad, 1957. Source: Etsy.com

Tycora Yarns magazine ad, 1957. Source: Etsy.com

I remember buying those flats at Books Shoe Store in downtown Sharon and my first Tycora sweater set at the Sharon Store. Later t-strap flats and white bucks became must haves and I pleaded with Mother to add the difference in price to my baby-sitting money so I could be “in.” The requisite poodle skirt was my birthday present during eighth grade.

P.E. [physical education], or gym class as we called it, was the most difficult adjustment for me. I was dreadfully self-conscious and undressing in front of the other girls was humiliating. A mandatory one-piece gym uniform had to be ordered and worn, over great complaints by my mother at the price. It was an ugly yellow color, made of harsh cotton that always looked wrinkled even after ironing, and could only have flattered a figure like Marilyn Monroe’s.

sharpsville_image_gymsuit

Typical one-piece gymsuit of the 1950s-1960s.

Gym consisted mostly of silly exercises that ended with us all lying on the floor and stretching our legs. Occasionally we were allowed to play half-court basketball and that was the only time I enjoyed P.E. We were all supposed to shower after our workouts, but a certain ever-confident girl was the only one I remember doing so. Supposedly, points were deducted from your grade for not showering. Getting A’s was always very important to me except in gym. I hated it so much that I deliberately “forgot” my uniform enough to be failed for a whole semester and didn’t mind one bit. I could sit in the bleachers and get my homework done for the subjects I did like.

Home Economics, designed to make us into perfect housewives someday was second to P.E. in my least favorite subjects. I recall a whole class period being given to the proper peeling and sectioning of an orange! We learned to set a table perfectly and to this day I wouldn’t dare put a knife and spoon together on the left side of a dinner plate or place the water glass above a fork.

There were a few sewing machines that had to be shared, but three to four times as many students as machines made it difficult to get sewing assignments done on time unless you were lucky enough to have a machine at home. We did not and I wasn’t pushy enough to get the use of a classroom machine to ever finish a project on time. My grades in Home Economics varied, good in cooking, table setting and test taking but poor in sewing, except for a ditzy looking apron everyone was required to make and wear every day in class. Most of the students bought our fabric in downtown Sharon at less than a dollar a yard.

One project that I received the best grade in class on was a scrapbook of our dream home. My future home was a romantic Victorian, as large and with as many rooms as the former Buhl home in Sharon. I was a little unrealistic, but now wonder what the other students’ books looked like. Modern ranch houses with shiny appliances like the one Vice President Nixon showed to visiting Nikita Khrushchev?

Our graduation from Junior High was held in the school auditorium and seemed a very uneventful occasion. I believe our little blue covered diplomas were handed out when we returned to our home rooms.

The big event however, was being bused to Conneaut Lake Amusement Park for an all-day celebration that was indeed tons of fun. I got the worst sunburn of my life that day from several hours of swimming and walking through the park in a sleeveless blouse.

Greetings From Conneaut Lake Park, PA

Greetings From Conneaut Lake Park, PA

My classmates and I finally made it through those two years of anxiety, clumsiness, and self-consciousness as Junior High students. Maybe our tribulations were just part of growing up, and dealing with them helped build our character. If that was the case then our Junior High experiences benefited us after all.

— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, May 2013