Thursday, March 3, 2011

Elementary School, San Francisco in the 1950s

I am in the front with the dark plaid dress, white collar, and ringlets
They told us that our teeth should show when we smiled, which accounts for our rather ferocious-looking expressions

After my family moved out West from Maine when I was an infant, I lived in San Francisco until I was 11 years old and about to go into the 6th grade. All of these photos were taken at my two schools in San Francisco's Sunset District, the Francis Scott Key School and its Annex. Information about the Annex can be found on this page under "Other Improvements and Neighborhood Amenities" on the extensive historical site, Western Neighborhoods Project; Preserving the History of San Francisco's West Side.

It was pretty surprising to look up my old school and find that my experience is considered historical! I can gaze at these photos for a very long time, looking at the rooms and the kids, and picking out details. Look at the formality of our school clothes--all the girls are wearing dresses, and everyone's "school shoes" were kept for "good." 

I also like to see that the teachers in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades set up hands-on experiences, like the play grocery stores. When you look at the third grade photo, you can see that we have pretty much put all that nonsense behind us in favor of sit-at-the-desk type learning. Nowadays, much of the school day is spent doing hand-on learning at all levels.

However, I really loved the structure and quietness of the structured school room. Those little desks in a straight row, with the books and papers lined up just so were very satisfying to me. When I was older, in 6th grade I believe, I visited the third grade class where my mother taught, using the new methods. I found the noise and apparent chaos quite disconcerting, with children moving all around the room from learning station to learning station.

First grade
I am on the left in the first row with the short kids
That Scottish-looking outfit was designed and sewn by my mother

Second grade
I am in the first row, just above "Scott" on the classroom sign, trying to keep Ronald's boy cooties off me

Third grade
Real structure has set in. I am in the back, in front of the boy (Danny) with the dark vest
I am amazed at how many names I can remember; in fact there are just a few that I can't recall
The short term memory, of course, is pretty far gone, as befits a historical figure


  1. This is so cool !!! really enjoyed it-- Brings back so many of my memories of my early school years. I had a lot of fun and many lessons learned. Also many good friends along the way. It's wonderful that I can remember those years, I really appreciate that --we must have good genes --hope they keep up in the latter years.


  2. I love this; what a cutie you were. Yes, I spent a lot of time trying to steer clear of boy cooties, too. I truly loved school as a child...order, structure, rules, fresh #2 pencils with new erasers, and the smell of the lined paper the teacher passed out from fresh ream on her desk. Your photos bring back lots of memories of something that made me very happy.

  3. This brings tears to my eyes, having grown up
    in the outer richmond dist of sf. such a great city it was...I think about it every day.

  4. I love these pictures, too. I started first grade in the spring of 1955 at Sunnyside School near CCSF. A friend who started in the fall and I recall there being high and low grades at that time. Do you know anything about that?
    - Eugene


    1. I started at Sunnyside in 1957. Went through until graduated in64. Little known fact. There was busing at that time. St Finn Barr church next door started new school in 60 or 61. About half the school left for there. To fill the void kids from Bret Harte school in Hunters Point were bused to Sunnyside. Never heard anything abvout this when busing discussed. Don't think anybody even knows about thyis besides those involved.


  5. Eugene, I don't know anything about Sunnyside School. However, I do remember the high and low grades; you can see that I was in high 2nd and high 3rd (H-2 and H-3). I'm wondering, though, does that refer to the semester or the grouping?

    Be sure to check out the links below, especially the one to the Western Neighborhoods Project. There are lots of discussions there.

  6. Marty, I believe my mother taught at Bret Harte school. We lived in Hunters Point when we first moved from Maine. I was too young to remember any of it, but Bret Harte school definitely sounds familiar.

    1. clairz

      The school is on Gilman St. I think. It is right next to the park across from Candlestick park. The kids all lived in the Double Rock projects up on the hill not far away.


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