U.S. School Clothes: St. James School (Connecticut)

Figure 1.--Boys at several exclusive northeastern boarding schools wore short pants suits with knee socks and peaked caps. Many based their uniforms on British styles.

The Saint James School for Boys was located on the main street of the small town of Berlin, Connecticut (some 10 miles south of Hartford). It operated from 1954-78, although its best years were past by the early 1960s. It founder and only headmaster, the late Leonard Francis (1918-1992) who also founded Camp Leo, near Laconia, New Hampshire, from 1946-87, had distinctive ideas on student attire. A HBC reader had provided some information about the school.


As far back at the late '50s I can recall St. James boys in cold Connecticut weather during December and seeing the white electric candles in the office building on Worthing Ridge, just across from the Town Hall, and in the dining hall, around the corner on Hudson Street. There was a large fir tree next to this building which was decorated with multi-colored lights. St. James students themselves strung these lights from a fairly high scaffolding, putting strings of lights on the tree. Most looked a bit conspicuous, in their heavy brown jackets or red hooded sweatshirts, as contrasted with brown or khaki short pants, what with the time of year and snow often on the ground.

Shopping Trips

Mr. Francis would sometimes take a group of his students shopping in the town. He would, for exasmple, take boys shopping for Christmas. It was not unusual to see him with a half-dozen grade-school-age boys shopping. Apparently, this was especially common just before the school let out for the holidays, and the kids were probably buying small gifts for fellow students or even family, before going home. (This was for the school's Grab Bag party.) Mr. Francis was dressed all in black, lacking only a black bowler hat to complete the transformation into a classic British head-master. The boys all wore brown leather "bomber" jackets. A few older boys had khaki slacks, others wore brown cordury knee-breeches, resembling the long vanished knickers of Mr. Francis' own boyhood. These were the rule for winter wear at St. James up until the mid-1960s. Other boys had brown corduroy short pants with matching brown knee-socks.


Nearly everyone, except for possibly a few foreign students or other poor souls, apparently managed to go home for the holidays, especially when Mr. Francis still lived at his mother's home in Southington. Following her death in 1971, he resided at the school until its closing in May, 1978, when he went to live at at Camp Leo in New Hampshire. It was reported that in the late '60s-early '70s it was a tradition to have a "big turkey lunch" on the Friday which commenced the Christmas Vacation. Mass would also said by a priest from St Paul's in nearby Kensington, the day before departure. On at least two occasions, the Christmas Vacation was given over to a big Class Trip. In 1954, the school's opening year, some 30 St. James boys, plus another 60 who attended Camp Leo, departed for a 5-day holiday on Bermuda 3 days after Christmas. The December 29, 1954 issue of the New Britain Herald ran an article on the departure from La Guardia Airport, and a photo with the following caption: "VACATIONING IN BERMUDA--This group of youngsters from St. James School in Berlin posed by the Colonial Airlines plane that carried them to Bermuda. It was the first of two planes that carried the boys to their 5-day vacation." The photo shows about 50 boys standing both on the ground and on the plane's boarding ladder. All dressed in dark (blue) zipper-front jackets, open enough to reveal white shirts and dark neckties. All are in shorts and knee- socks. A few wear caps. This uniform was also used for the school marching band, as well. Another photo in a Camp Leo catalog shows about 50 boys lined up with their bicycles outside a Bermuda guest house. They are wearing open-collared white shirts with rolled-up sleeves, and the same dark short pants and knee-socks. In this uniform, they could well pass for locals, or perhaps visiting British schoolboys. At any event, they probably looked and felt less conspicuous, than at, say Miami, or especially going back home to cold Connecticut weather. Christmas, 1963, was a big occasion for not both St. James boarders, but the day students, as well, according to a former student, then about 12 years old..."The Xmas trip to Florida was for kids with no home to go to. After Christmas at home, I joined 75 kids in 2 or 3 cars on the Silver Bullet Train. We went to a former girls' camp. Activities included Go-carts, (my first experience) Sea World, and many activities and with very good eats. On one occasion we kids sneaked into an adjoining sugar cane field, but the farmer later invited us over, and showed machete techniques on cane cutting. (as a warning, perhaps...?) All in all..."We had a blast!" (He did not say as to whether they wore their St James or Camp Leo uniforms on the trip, or while in Florida...)

Figure 2.--Private school boys on an outing to the Gettyburg, Pennsylvania battlefield site during the 1950s. The boys wear their school uniform of shorts pants and kneesocks, but with an informal jacket rather than their best suit jackets.

Traveling Outfit

On Christmas and Easter Vacation, many St. James students traveled by public transportation, most using the former New Haven Railroad's New Britain- Berlin Station, located in nearby Kensington. (In addition, on certain Fridays,boys who had earned weekend passes were also allowed to go home, chiefly to the New York City area.) The usual traveling outfit consisted a white shirt and brown or blue tie with dark sports jackets, with brown or navy blue "bomber"jackets in cold weather. With the exception of athletic jackets, there did not seem to be an official school blazer with definitive monogram or crest. Perhaps the short pants were considered sufficient notice. By the mid-1960s, high school-age boys were accorded navy or grey slacks for travel, but their under-classmates wore the usual brown or navy shorts with matching knee-socks. In winter, some wore brown knicker-like riding breeches, laced tight just below the knee over long brown stockings. The combination was warmer than shorts, but nearly as attention getting. Some of the boys were less than amenable to travel in such conspicuous attire, and indulged in various dodges to appear in mufti.


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Created: May 15, 2004
Last updated: May 17, 2004