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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Snapshots of an era

Jerry Bowen

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Lessons learned from class of 1909

Among the collections at the Vacaville Heritage Council and the Solano County Genealogy Society at the Old Town Hall on East Main Street are yearbooks from Solano County Schools dating back as far as the late 1890s.  These publications are a treasure that help historians gain some insight into past attitudes, styles of dress, and pride in school and community and to perhaps learn something valuable from the “good old days.”

As for myself I remember my high school days in the Bay Area in the early and mid 1950s.  In those days we hung our levis low on the hips much as today, but, ours wouldn’t fall to our ankles because one of the requirements was to allow them to get so dirty and stiff they would stand up by themselves if left in a corner.

Another style of the day was to comb your hair into a DA.  Now for those of you who don’t know what a DA was, in polite terms the back of your head looked like the south end of a duck flying north.  In the front, you had two cutesy curls that hung down on the center of your forehead.

At the time, I just couldn’t understand why my parents thought we looked so strange in this “follow the leader like sheep” that included rolling a pack of cigarettes up into the sleeve of your t-shirt just so we could look “cool.”  Today, nearing the age of 70, I guess I have to admit my parents were right; many of us were in fact followers and imitators more interested in being cool instead of learning.  I took a look at my old yearbook remembering how grown-up I thought I was, only to see a very young kid who didn’t know his DA from a fissure in the ground.

So what has all this got to do with Solano history?

Well, I started perusing through some of the old Ulatis yearbooks (Vacaville Union High School) that date from 1909 to 1920.

My first impression from looking at photos of the students was that they look so much more mature than my generation did as a high school senior!  Could it be that they actually were?

In those days many youngsters had to help the family by working ad there were no laws preventing you from having a job before a certain age.  Perhaps some of them started high school at a later age.

And those clothes; how in blazes did they survive the Vacaville heat then?  They probably didn’t have the choices we have today.  The clothes were probably more practical and in limited supply than some of the apparel we have today that range from downright weird, to skimpy to practical alternatives.

What was it like going to school in 1909?

First of all, there was no problem with overcrowding.  At Vacaville Union High School that was located in today’s Andrews Park, the entire senior class consisted of four males and five females.  Many of the names are familiar with local history buffs and old-timers today.

Roland E. Hartley Jr. was Class President; Leonard D. Buck, Secretary, and Erma Montgomery, Treasurer.  The other classmates were Mae Farrell, Laurens Killingsworth, Charles Rogers, Esther Sharpe and Loraine Watson.

On one page of the yearbook Esther Sharpe wrote a short history about the class’s four years at Ulatis.  She opened up with, “On August 7th, in the year 1905, we entered the stately portals of the Vacaville Union High School, a mighty throng.  No one will dispute the theory of the “Survival of the Fittest.”  We were many!  We are nine.  You may draw your own conclusions.”  Apparently the class had more students when they were freshmen.

So what kind of education was provided in those days?  To get an idea I went to the Solano County Schools, “Course of Study; Rules for Promotion and Graduation” published by the Solano County Board of Education in 1911.  This book listed the requirements for grammar school.

I think you might find it quite interesting how much of an education you had to have just to enter High School.

I’ll delve into that subject in my next column.