The high school class photos that often accompany obituaries these days are very telling of the times they represent. Graduates from my era, the 1950s, appear stiff and formal.
The boys haircuts’ were either the basic, clean-cut style, with extra-short sideburns, or a “Heinie” (buzz cut), which were worn so often then. De rigueur attire was a suit and tie.
Girls almost uniformly favored a jaw-length do, side part and bangs. Their (our) pin-curled efforts resulted in swirls on each side of the face. And as for clothing, the most popular outfit was either a prim, white Ship ‘N Shore blouse, its Peter Pan collar peeking out from under a dark sweater, or a high-neck dress and pearls.
Now, for a boy to omit a necktie or a girl wear something low-cut for these photos would have been scandalous. The 1950s being the much-touted and very conservative Age of Conformity, people simply did not strike out on their own.
And following the tumultuous WWII years of the 1940s, this status quo was a relief. The country needed to get back to normal — we kids as well, for even though we were very young children during the war, we knew something frightening was going on.
I recall blackouts in my small town in rural southwestern Minnesota, where a plant manufacturing micro-meters for the war effort was located.
My parents and I would spend nights sitting in the dark, our window shades tightly drawn, fearing bombs would be dropped on us. We religiously listened to the nightly war news on the radio. Walter Winchell’s greeting preceding the broadcast, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea,” still resonates in my mind.
I also had an older brother in the Navy who served in the Pacific, so my knowledge of the war was reinforced by his letters from the battlefront.
But once in high school, the scare behind us, things were good — actually exceptionally good — for Minnesota schoolkids like us. The public schools provided an excellent education. Discipline wasn’t an issue in those days. Our future looked reasonably secure
As graduation drew near, the Cold War was underway, but no actual war was in progress that would immediately gobble up our boys. Graduates could move ahead with career plans for education or work, without fear of disruption.
Indeed, the June 1954 Life magazine declared the 1950s as having the “Luckiest Generation” of teenagers ever in that we came along “at the most prosperous time in U.S. history.”
The 97 members of my high school class reaped the benefits. Taking our education seriously, we turned out an amazing number of future leaders. Most prominent among them are two ministers and dentists, one lawyer, a doctor, an airline pilot, an aeronautical engineer and a Marine Corps major general. (Sadly telling of the era, all are men.)
Unlike generations to come, which brought rebellion and change, mine stood solid.
I’m proud to have been a part of it. Grateful, too.
Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.