Monthly Archives: February 2014

School Days, Redwood City, California, circa 1907 – 1910

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade Class, circa 1907

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade Class, circa 1907 1909

Redwood City Grammar School, First Grade, probably 1907 1909

CORRECTION: I have since found a report card dated June 7, 1910, certifying that Dorothy had passed first grade and would be entitled to admission to the second grade. First graders must have been older than six, or the writing on the back of the card misidentified a kindergarten class as a first grade class….

The back of this photograph says that it is the first grade class of my Aunt Dorothy. I have a different picture of the first grade, 1908, so this is 1906 or 1907. CORRECTION: this is 1909 – 10. Dorothy is the small girl holding the banner, wearing a square neckline.RCGS first grade about 1907 dorothy

Dorothy said she liked school, but when she was in first grade, several months into the semester, a new girl joined her class. The new girl shyly came up to the teacher’s desk, and when asked her name, she said, “Dorothy.”

My aunt was outraged.

She managed to contain herself until the new girl was seated at a desk; then she ran up to the teacher, burst into tears, and flung out an accusing finger.

“That little girl stole my name!” she cried.

Seventy years later, when she told me this story, she was still embarrassed. “I was so little,” she said, “I didn’t know more than one person could have the same name.”

A Closer Look at the Students

Because of the limitations of the blog format, the only way I can give you a good view of all the faces in that class picture is by breaking the image into smaller close-ups. (One big 600 dpi image would take a long time to load!) To me the clothes are fascinating, but the faces are really worth looking at. It’s nice to see that not all the children in this rather large class have northern European ancestry. California has always benefitted from a multi-cultural population. But what’s really arresting, to me, is how old and how grave many of these children are. Many look well-cared for. But some are very tiny, some have been ill, some look angry….  (I wish I knew more about that boy in the center of the top row.)

Incidentally, notice how dusty their boots are. There were no paved streets or sidewalks, although there was a boardwalk downtown. I don’t know if the boys were wearing a uniform sweater, or there were just very few styles for sale at the drygoods store.

I have a whole series of class photos from this grammar school to share in the future. It will be interesting to see how many of these children I can recognize as they grow up.

From the top (first, a larger image in each category, then two smaller, detailed ones:)

The Boys, Top Left:RCGS first grade about 1907 boys at top left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907boys at top ctr left of photo

The Boys, Top RightRCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far right ofphoto

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top ctr right of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 boys at top far right of photo

The Girls, Bottom LeftRCGS first grade 1907 girls at left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at far left of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at ctr left of photo

The Girls, Bottom CenterRCGS first grade about 1907 dorothy

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at center left of photo

The Girls, Bottom Right

RCGS first grade 1907 girls at far right of photo

RCGS first grade 1907 faces of girls at far right of photoEDITED: This site was edited on 2/26/14 based on new information about the date.


Filed under 1900 to 1919, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

A Secret Visit to A Vaudeville Show, 1910s

My mother with her parents, dated 1920

My mother with her parents, dated 1920

I never knew my grandfather; he died in 1923. My mother loved him dearly, and, since she was the baby of the family, he may have indulged her a little more than her brothers and older sister.  However, the father of four is not supposed to play favorites, so, when he took her with him to a vaudeville show one afternoon before WW I, he made her promise to keep it a secret, just between the two of them.

In fact, since he had been planning to take the afternoon off and attend a matinee all by himself, keeping it a secret from Grandma was part of the deal.

Harrigan, That’s Me

A popular song of the day, (the 1910s) written and performed on Broadway by George M. Cohan, was:

“H, A, double-R, I, – G, A, N spells Harrigan

Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me

Divvil a man can say a word agin me

H, A, double-R, I, – G, A, N you see

Is a name that a shame never has been connected with

Harrigan, that’s me!” – Lyrics by George M. Cohan, 1907

But the version that delighted my mother at that vaudeville matinee was a parody – not “Harrigan” but “Hooligan.” A hooligan was a bad boy, a ruffian, a gang member; in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that the breaking of the first statuette “seemed to be one of those senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from time to time, and it was reported to the constable on the beat as such.” [1900]

The song parody that caught my mother’s  fancy was:

“H, O, oho, L, I, – G, A, N spells Hooligan!” and continued along the lines of “that’s the name that people call me….” Every chorus ended with the triumphant shout, “HOOLIGAN! That’s Me!”

Hooligan, That’s Me!

Being a quick study, my mother had learned the lyrics by the end of the performance, and she repeated them over and over in her mind, savoring the joke.

That night, at dinner, she and her father said nothing about their secret trip to the theatre.

In the 1910s, children were seen but not heard at the dinner table.  They didn’t talk, and they certainly did not sing.  Mother and her brothers and sister ate in silence, except for the clinking of silverware and an occasional, “Please pass the salt.”

But, in her head, little Helen was singing, “H, O, oho, L, I, – G, A, N spells Hooligan!” all through the meal.

Suddenly it burst from her mouth at full volume: “HOOLIGAN! That’s Me!”

What did you say?” asked her mother. “You are not a hooligan! None of my children are hooligans!”

Little Helen squirmed. “It’s a song,” she murmured, digging herself in deeper.

“A song? Where did you hear a song like that? You tell me who taught you that song.  I’m going to tell their mothers!”

Grandpa knew the jig was up.  He confessed that he took his little girl to a vaudeville show.

My mother was grateful to him, but she never did tell me what happened after that. And she didn’t teach me all the lyrics to “Hooligan, that’s me!”

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

Uncle Bert Takes a Girl to the Movies, circa 1916

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

The Carpenter

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert was a fixture of my early life. The second oldest of my father’s seven brothers, he lived in a shed behind his mother’s house when I was a baby – just across the street from us. He was a carpenter. He built my swing (and my first two-wheeled bicycle), and he gave me one of the best presents I ever got: a miniature carpenter’s chest, with a real (but child-sized) saw, a real hammer, and a real plane, with a sharp blade that let me shave off long, golden curls of wood, just like my father did. He also kept me supplied with scrap lumber, which I nailed into tugboats and other – probably unrecognizable – shapes. Both my father and Uncle Bert made the unusual assumption, for men born around 1900, that a little girl was just as likely to want to build things as a little boy was. And they were right.

World War II and After

Uncle Bert spent WW II in Hawaii doing military construction work; I don’t know if he arrived before or after Pearl Harbor. In this picture, he is flanked by his two brothers in the navy. Bob was a SeaBee (CB). Bert is smoking a cigarette, but later switched to a pipe. Bert definitely cultivated a Popeye-the-Sailor look.

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

By the time I was in high school, Uncle Bert had moved to a warm berth – with a bathroom – in our basement. He was by that time severely disabled by arthritis that turned his skillful carpenter’s hands into rigid claws with gigantic knuckles. His fingers were bent under his palms and frozen into position, but he could move his thumbs enough to use a fork or spoon and to fill and light his pipe. There was usually a bag of tobacco in his shirt pocket.

He also had something in common with Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers: Uncle Bert put on his long underwear in the fall and didn’t believe in taking it off until spring. At all. He was shy and physically modest, and he held to the old idea that taking a bath in the winter would “open the pores” and let diseases in. I suspect that he was also afraid that someone would suddenly enter the bathroom as a prank while he was in the tub. (He did grow up with seven brothers….) In addition to his bath-aversion, he was fond of Limburger cheese, liverwurst sandwiches, and raw onions – he kept a huge barrel of onions in the basement. I got to sit next to him at dinner all through high school.

I loved him when I was two, and I still loved him – but I was always grateful when my stepmother laid down the law: If he wanted to eat the food she cooked, he had to bathe occasionally.

Uncle Bert at Sweet Sixteen

Bert sweet sixteen postcard 72dpi

When I showed Uncle Bert this picture, taken around 1915,  he remembered the shy and awkward boy he had been, and told me this story:

“There was a family moved in next to us from somewhere in the backwoods. The old lady used to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair and chew tobacco. She’d spit that tobacco juice right on the floor: Rock – Rock – Splat!   Rock – Rock – Splat!

“They had a daughter about my age, and they worked her awful hard; she was thin and never had a decent dress or pair of shoes. So I felt sorry for her. That’s all; I just felt sorry for her because she never had any fun.”

(Uncle Bert knew a lot about hard work and poverty. His father – what was called “a hard man” — yanked him out of school as soon as he was big enough to be useful on the construction crew and paid him 50 cents a week, year after year. “Fifty cents a week!” my uncle said bitterly, sixty years later.)

Bert -- "Sweet Sixteen" is written on the back

Bert — “Sweet Sixteen” is written on the back

Young Bert decided to spend some of his hard-earned wages on a trip to the movies (silents, of course) with a group of kids his age, boys and girls who had grown up together. And he decided to treat the hard-worked girl next door to her first movie. He went over to her house the day before to ask permission of her Maw, who was, as usual, sitting on the porch in the wooden rocking chair, chewing and spitting. Amazingly, she said her daughter could go with the group.

Picture the boy in this photograph, shy and diffident, approaching her house the next evening to collect the girl. Maw was waiting for him in the rocker: Rock – Rock – Splat!

But this time she had a shotgun across her lap.

She gave him a long, steely-eyed look, and said, “Iffen anythin’ happen to my daughter – Splat! – Ah’ll shoot you like a dawg.”

No wonder Bert was shy around women.


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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1940s, 1960s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

What I Want to Remember

Remember Their Summers

I am only one generation away from the 19th century.

My Mother's Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My Mother’s Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My mother was the youngest child in her family. She had siblings born in the 1890s. So did my father. The grandmother who took care of me when I was a child was born in the 1870s, married in the 1890s, and was still running a household in the 1950s — running it as she had in the 1930s.

I was born 20 years late — when my parents were in their forties.  I thought everyone’s parents talked about bathtub gin, roadhouses, Model T Fords, cranking the truck, and the thrill of driving on a paved road.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

The aunts and uncles who read me the comics, built me a bicycle, and took me to the movies and on vacations with them were born in the 19th century.

Two of my uncles, and my aunt, with their aunts, early 1900s

My Uncle Frank, My Uncle Mel, and my Aunt Dorothy with their aunts, early 1900s. My great-aunt Alice, in striped blouse, was a familiar and lively figure when I was a child.

A Moon Landing and the Wright Brothers

In 1966, my Uncle Bert and I watched television together as Surveyor One made a soft landing on the moon.  My uncle said, “The first newspaper article I remember reading — reading all by myself, you know, not with help — was about the Wright Brothers  flying an airplane.” Coincidentally, the first word I remember reading in a newspaper was “jet” — in a headline. (In the early 1950s, people still pointed to the sky with excitement when a jet streaked overhead, leaving a surprising white line of cloud behind it. We were used to prop [propeller] planes, which didn’t leave a vapor trail.)

Watching Sputnik from a Spinning World

I remember an evening when my father took me outside to watch a satellite crossing the night sky — a tiny moving star among all the others. It wasn’t just staring up at the sky that made us dizzy; we could feel the world changing. My father, who remembered plowing with a horse and team — and much preferred plowing with a tractor — taught me to appreciate scientific progress.

So, on a black and white TV set, in 1966, I was eager to watch the first time a man-made object made a soft landing on the moon. I watched it in the company of a man who had made his own “cat whisker” radio set, who was born before airplanes even existed.

I want to tell the stories my family told me, to pass on some of their tales  — tales that were told and retold when they and their friends sat around the kitchen table, sometimes forgetting the child playing among their feet. My parents, their siblings, and their friends lived through World War I, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the fifties, the space race, the sixties…. They went from iceboxes to refrigerators, from homemade radios to VCRs.

They are all gone now. I want to remember their summers.

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s, Vintage Photographs