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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: August 5, 2020

1972

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

Recently I was on one of my frequent "de-cluttering" swoops and found my high school yearbooks. I took a few minutes to flip through the annual for 1972, the year I was a Peshtigo High School sophomore.

I noticed a lot of surprising things I hadn't thought about in years.

The first was a picture of the board of education - 11 men; and the principal and superintendent also men. That prompted my curiosity and I looked at the next two yearbooks and found that Mrs. Shirley Pearce was added to the board after 1972 - possibly the first woman to serve for Peshtigo. Of the 17 high school teachers, ten were men " and the women represented mostly traditional subjects " librarian, home economics, women's physical education, art and typing. (Typing class. Isn't that a hoot?) The numbers were reversed in the elementary school " 20 female teachers and only four men.

There were group pictures for various clubs or groups. Some were intended for specific career paths - "health careers" had about 30 members, all female. There was a home economics club, and "GAA" - which I think stood for "girl's athletic association." This was a gesture intended to compensate for the fact there were NO girl's sports whatsoever - no volleyball, basketball, track or softball. Zero. Other mostly or all girl groups included the annual staff, library club, drama and forensics. (There were a few token boys sprinkled in but very few.)

The boys had all the normal sports, with a lot of pages devoted to their games and matches, along with an all-male "rocket club." More pictures follow of the cheerleaders, majorettes, and the choirs and bands. There were integrated groups in the musical endeavors. Apparently these activities were considered more gender neutral. Many of the "action" pictures, including candids of parade float building, homecoming activities and class programs were poorly focused and composed - and all were black and white. (The sports photos were much better overall, most likely because the Peshtigo Times covered the boys sports avidly and professional type photographs were readily available as a result.) Such a different situation now, when so many have decent cameras as part of their cell phone. Student created photos and videos made now are of a quality that couldn't be imagined back then.

The underclassmen had small photos and names, filling a couple of pages per class; but the seniors got large photos, usually taken by professional photographers. The photos are invariably very formal, with boys often in coats and ties and girls with their heads tilted in a strange manner insisted on by the portrait studios. All were rigidly similar " head/shoulders with a plain, stark background. Looking at them now reminds me of slightly nicer mug shots. And each senior's picture had a little saying or quip next to it, some referring to romantic entanglements or drinking which seems bizarre now. The sayings were not chosen by the students themselves, apparently the annual staff chose them, possibly from a lame book. Some examples included "Silence is golden, and I'm no millionaire," "My heart's like the moon, there's a man in it," and "I'd like to study but those boys are so interesting." Also "The greatest underdeveloped terrain in the world lies under his hat." Ouch. These didn't age well. I was deeply grateful wiser heads prevailed, and this custom was gone by the time I graduated in 1974.

Nearly all the girls had long hair parted in the middle, many with small barrettes. The barrettes were not holding back the hair, they were like ornaments on a Christmas tree, just kind of hanging around. A lot of the boys had long bangs, swooped way over to one side. The hair hung just over the eyes, and frequently needed to be brushed away or flipped back with a toss of the head so that the young man could see where he was going. I am thinking the boys could have put some of those "ornamental" barrettes to very good use. One lone under classmate rebel had nearly shoulder-length hair, a trend setter before the big wave of longer-haired boy's hairstyles. He was the object of many crushes for his daring.

Looking at the full-length group photos I noticed nearly every girl was wearing dresses, not slacks. I can't remember when the rule requiring skirts or dresses changed but I know it was while I was in high school, and was my favorite rule change during my PHS career. It would be hard to beat the ridiculousness of forcing girls to wear dresses through Wisconsin winters, including walks to school or lengthy chilly bus rides. One could speculate a few more women on the school board would have sped this change along sooner.

Finally I flipped through the ads at the back, where sponsors got space for donating to defray the cost of the annual production. What a trip down memory lane that was " full page ads by Lauerman's; Badger Paper Mills and Thompson Boats. Small ads " all long gone businesses - included Reif's Rupp Sales, Swatek's Ben Franklin, Hart's Inc., Swede's Standard Station, Hebbring Hardware, Skowlund Motors, Hammes, Inc., Dr. Barrett and the White Front Garage.

The only "survivors" I noted were the Peshtigo Feed Mill and the Peshtigo Times.

It is the way of the world, since time immortal, for older people to constructively express concern, or less helpfully, crab about the ways of those younger. Some think public schools were much better when they themselves were students. As my son occasionally says to me, "Mom, take off your rose-colored glasses." Taking a measured and reflective look back at 1972 convinced me that many things are much better about school practices now than they were back then.

Book I am currently reading: "Why Did I Get a "B"?" by Shannon Reed. This non-fiction book was recommended in the New York Times book review list. It's the reflections of a woman who taught first in a preschool; then a Catholic, all-girls high school; followed by an inner city neighborhood high school; and finally at a well-known college. It reminds me of the old classic, both hysterically funny and sad, "Up the Down Staircase." She is witty, wise, and makes you laugh and cry; it also makes you admire her, and give thanks for people like her. I admire all of our teachers, administrators, school nurses and the rest of the people who watch over our amazing school-age young people, the treasury of our future leaders. They all are in my thoughts and my prayers as we struggle with the concept of trying to have traditional school in a time of a pandemic of a brand-new virus we still don't fully understand.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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