*** school uniform schoolwear : United States -- individual schools chronology 1940s

U.S. School Clothes: Individual Schools--The 1940s

1940s schools
Figure 1.--Here we have an elementary (primary school). We know the name was the Havelock School, but we do not yet know where it was located. This is a unique enough name that hopefully we will be able to locate the school. The way the children are dressed, we suspect it was a small town in a rural area because several of the boys are wearing bib-overalls. We believe this would be the most common in the South.

We notice some major changes at American schools during the 1940s. Some older styles like knickers and long stockings disappeared during the 1940s. We still see them at the beginning of the decade, but not by the end of the decade. Some younger boys wore short pants to school in the early 40s, but by the end of the decade short pants were much less common. Most boys wore long pants to school. Bib-front overalls are another style that declined sharply during the decade. While we do not commonly see them at the end of the decade, many boys in elementary school did wear jeans which were not very common at the beginning of the decade. The decline in bib-front overalls reflects both increasing prosperity, but also the disaapearance of sometimes sharp difference in the clothing worn in rural areas. We alsp see fewer and fewer children coming to school barefoot. This seems to be an indicator of growing affluence. Most children wore ankle socks. Sneakers might be worn in elementary school, but not in high school.

Lincoln School (1940)

We notice the Lincoln Elementasry School in Ohio. We have a portrait of some of the older children in front of the school. The photograph is undated, but we would guess about 1940 or 1941. The primary reason we believe that this was the probable date is that only one of the boys wears knickers. Early in the 1930s we believe more of the boys would have woirn knickers.

Skinner Junior High School (1940)

We note the Skinner Junior High School in Denver, Colorado. A junior high school was a 3 year program (7th-9th grade) after elementary (primary) school preparing children for senior high schools. Most states had junior high schools until after World War II. Afer the War many school districts began expeimenting with varied approached, opening middle schools which often included 6th graders. High schools transitioned to a 4 year program (9th-12th grade). We have little information about the school at this time, but know t was operating in the 1940s-80s. It seems to have been converted into a middle school, we think in the 1980s.

Western Reserve Accademy (1940s)

Some boys still wore knickers in the early 1940s. This was especially common for boys from conservative families. The archivist at WRA has provided showing boys wearing knickers in the early 40s. The archivist points out that during World War II knickers rather quickly went out of style. A HBC reader tells us, "When I arrived there in 1940-41 about half the boys wore knickers, but long pants gradually became the usual dress by about 1943 as I recall. But a few boys still wore knickers up until the time I graduated in 1945. You will note that in the image here (I'm not sure of the precise date--I guessed about 1944 but it could well have been earlier)--three of the boys are wearing knickers).

Liberty School (1940)

The Liberty School was located in Rusk County, Texas. It was a small one-room school. Quite a few of the boys wear bib-front overalls. Many of the children came to school barefoot in this 1940 photograph. This photograph was taken right before America entered World War II. America was just recovering from the Great Depression. After the War children coming to school barefoot was became much less common as did wearing overalls to school. After the War differences between rural and urban schools also began to disappear.

Southern school (early-1940s)

Boys in the South, because of the climate, were more likely to wear short pants than boys going to northern school. This varied widely as boys even in Southern schools mostly wore long pants. Usually it was the younger boys wearing shorts. All the boys in this class at a southern school wore short pants--except for one boy wearing knickers. None of the boys wear kneesocks, so common in the 1930s.

St. James (1940s)

On this page is a picture of St. James School in the 1940s--presumably a parochial school. The person standing at the left is probably a pupil and not the teacher. It is likely that a nun would have been teaching a parochial school in the 1940s. Nuns are much less common today and there is many more lay staff in modern parochial schools. The class room shows the standard arrangement, with the desks in straight rows facing the front. Of course there is a flag for the compulsory morning pledge of allegiance. (In British, New Zealand, Australian, and many other countries, a flag in the classroom is rare.) The children are separated with boys and girls on different sides. The girls do not wear a uniform, but all wear very proper dresses--no pants or shorts for girls in the 1940s. The boys all wear white or solid color shirts, ties, and dark pants. You can not tell if they wear knickers or slacks. Presumably they are not wearing dungarees. This looks very much like the basic uniform now commonly worn at pariochial schools, white or solid color shirts, ties, and dark pants. A public school classroom would have looked very similarly, except the boys would have been less likely to wear white shirts and ties--unless they got dressed up for a photograph. Also flannel shirts and dungarees would have been standard boys' wear. Even the Scouts acknowledged changing fashion trends in the 1940s, first the Scouts and then even the Cubs.

Manhattan P.S. 87 (1941)

This school portrait shows a very well dressed class 8B3 at P.S. 87 in Manhattan. This would be an 8th grade home room class. The B3 suggests that there were several 8th grade classes. As it was in New York City you would expect to find largeschools with several classes. The portrait was taken in June 1941 at the end of the year. The children would have been 12 years old when they began 8th grade in September 1940, but when this photograph was taken some would have turned 13 years of age. This would probably have been a junior highschool. The boys all wear schools and ties. The knicker suits common ijn the 1930s were going out of style in the early-40s, but two boys here wears knickers and knee socks--a least in front. By mid-decade, knickers had vrtually disappeared. New York City children, especially in Manhttan were probably dressed with the latest fashions. The girls seem less formally dressed. Some wears dresses, others wear blouses and skirts. We think the children dressed up for the portrait. We do not think the boys wore suits every day, but of course Manhattan was a ritzy neigborhood, so the children probably dressed better than most most American school children. There were 35 children.

Bronx P.S. 90 (1942)

New York Bronx P.S. 90 was another city elementary (primary) school. We know very little about the school, but a press phtograph provides a view. It lookslike afairly modern school. The photograph was taken at the end of the 1941-42 school year with the children rushing out the school doors. We see both boys and girls, usually these 'Yipee!' photographs are mostly boys. The girls wear dresses. The boys wear dress shirts and ties. The boys wear short pants, knickers, and long pants. The boys are wearing knickers without knee socks which had formerly been standard. All of the children wear ankle socks. This was the first year of American participation in World War II. No sign of the War in New York. In fact New York and other cities kept the lights on creating siloutte targets for German U-boats opertating along the American East coast (January-June1942). We still see knickers in the early-1940s, but by the end of the War, they were becoming rare. Footwear included leather shoes, saddle shoes, and sneakers.

Farm Security Administation School--Weslaco, Texas (1942)

Schools in the United States are the responsibility of state and local government. There are a few exceptions such as on Native American reservations and military posts, especially posts overseas for dependants. The Farm Security Administration was a New Deal Agency and during the Depression seems to have set up schools at some of its community projects. We have some information on the FSA, but not much on its schools yet. Here we have a photograph from the FSA school in Weslaco, Texas during 1942. Weslaco is in the far south of Texas. It seems that the weather is udually warm even during the winter. Here we see these children going to school barefoot even in February.

Unidentified Catholic School (1942)

This is a Catholic school in Lille, Maine, photographed in 1942. We don't know the name. I suspect the influence of French Canada here, especially in the manner of the children's dress. The boys wear mostly short trousers with suspenders over white shirts. One boy is wearing short pants and knee socks. It is likely that many of the boys in Maine would also wear long stockings in 1942. This was lso the common practice in Catholic schools in Quebec during the 1940s. Some of the boys may wear knickers, but I think short trousers would be more likely. Lille, Maine, is very close to the New Brunswick border in Canada, and Catholic schools in New Brunswick were culturally similar to those in French Canada (Quebec). There is a fairly large French-speaking population in New Brusnwick, a culturally conservative province.

Southington Elementary School (1942)

Here we have a wonderful early color photograph at the Southington Elementary School, or so we are guessing. There was probably more than one elementary (primary) school in Southington. Yhe children look to be about 10-years old. The photograph was taken in 1942. The occassion was was kind of school festival. It may be assiciated with America's entry into World War II. The feastival apparently dealt with nutrition, an important issue on the Home Front. We see a poster. 'Eat Fruit'. It was not easy gettingbhold of color film in 1942. The photograph here was part of a defense project. Months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. War Department selected Southington to illustrate a defense booklet titled 'Southington, CT�Microcosm of America' (May 1942). Photographers roamed the city taking photos of residents at work, at play and in their homes, schools, and churches. The resulting publication was intended to show friends and foes alike in Europe the typical American citizens and families, their traditions, and values. Thousands of copies were dropped from military aircraft all over NAZI occupied Europe. The girls all wear prim dresses, most wil baloon sleeves. Some girls wear girlish-style strap shoes while others wear sturdy oxfords mor like the boys' styles. One girl wears the saddle shoes. As the weather is wrm they all wear anklets. The boys are in the back wering dress shirts with supenders and holding American flags. This with the entry into World War II was a time for patriotic show

Jackson School (1942)

American including school children watched terrible scenes of the War in Europe and China in movie newsreels. After Pearl Harbor, no olne really knew what to expect. Neither the Japanese or Germans had planes thst could reach America, but the Germans did launch U-boat attacks all along the Eastern seaboard. Some school principals took civil defense preparations very seriously. Foreogn armies entering America wwere unthinkable, but also was the stunning Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Here we see a 1942 scene at Jackson School in Allentown, Pennsylvamia a few months after Pearl Harbor. The children are praticing an air raid drill. Three childern (of course justv the boys) have metal army helmets. One boy is wearing his a Boy Scout uniform. Another boy is a safety patrol. One girl wears a Red Cross nurses outfit. Two boys also are wearing Red Cross arm bands.

Tower Country Day School (1942-43)

We have found some images from the Tower Country Day School Wilmington. We assume that would be Deleware. We have heard the term 'country day school' used before. This would have been a private school. The day school means that it was not a boarding schoiol. We are not positive, but we believe that the country mean that it was located outside of the city center and meant to convey that it had spacious grounds. Many exclsuive boarding schools were located in the country. The name "country day school" seems toi have been designed to have captured the image of a private school in bucolic settings, but without boarding. We do not know when the school was founded. Available images show it was functioning in the 1940s. Rhe image here shows an art class. We also notice a dance class. The photographs were taken in 1942-43. We do not know if the school still exists. There does not appear to have been a school uniform. The available images from the 1940s show the boys wearing short pants and the girls dresses.

Titusville Elementary Schools (1945)

Here we see particularly happy 2nd grade primary class in Titusville, Florida. For some reason, more than half of the class was girls. Tutusville was about half way down the Florida Peninsula, east of Orlando along the coast. So we are taklking about a clmate approaching semi-tropical. The children would be about 7 years old. The portrait was taken in 1945. The class is notable for a variety of reasons. First of all, despite being in Florida, a southern state with a warm climate, almost all the boys are wearing long pants. Only one boy is wearing short pants. Shorts were not all that uncommon in the 1930s and even the early-40s, esoecilly in the early-40s, especially for this age group. But for some reason this began to change after World War II. Second, We see a lot of jeans and one boy wearing overalls. Something that was disappearing with more boys wearing jeans which would become standard in American primary schools. Third, most boys wear collared shirts. Two boys wear striped T-shirts, something that was alsom becoming increasingly popular. Fourth, As was standard at the time, most of the girls wear dresses. One girl wears shorts, something that was not common schoolwear at the time.

Osceola Farm Labor Supply Center School (1945)

Here we see a classroom scene taken in Osceola County, Florida (March 1945). The school was set up in the local Farm Labor Supply Center operated by the Office of Labor, War Food Administration. The War Food Administration (WFA) was established from a range of previous programs New Deal programs to address the needs of migrant farm families. The War created new needs that had to be addressed. Previously the New Deal farm policies dealt with a problem of over supply of farm products and the resulting low prices. The Government also set up migrant labor camps to proivide safe, sanitary living conditions for migrant farm workers. World War II created the opposite problem, the need to increase farm harvests. And to do this farmers needed access to labor. During the War, however, unempoloyment disappeared and labor shortages developed. The Bracero Program brought in farm workers from Mexico, but there were also America farm workers needed. THe WFA coordinated these and other programs to maximize American farm output. Increased production was needed to feed the 16 million American service men and women as well as to meet the food needs of America's allies and liberated countries. In addition, full emplpoyment meant that many Americans now had the income to purchase more food than they were able to do during the Deoression of the !930s. The school here was a school for the children of migrant farm workers. At the time, school in Florida were segregated. This was a class for white chikdren. Presumablybthere was a separate class for black children. This is the second grade, taught by Mrs. Emma Greenwood. Many of the children are barefoot, but this was also common in the regular Florida public schools at the time.

Abbeville School (1946-48)

We have found portraits from an elementary (primary) school in Abbeville, South Carolina. We don't have the name of the school yet. Abbeville is not a large city, but there were probably more than one school. The portraits we have found so far are from the 1940s. Many of the younger boys wear short pants and are barefoot. Notice only the boys are barefoot. There are a range of shirts, including t-shirts. One boys wears a suit. I don't know why he is so dressed up. Almost all of the girls wear dresses, but one of the third grade girls is a bit ahead of her times wears pants. Going to school in the 1940s and 50s, I don't recall girls wearing pants. In the photo of 3rd grade class there are some older pupils mixed in wuth the younger children. I am not sure why.

Wiltwyck School for Boys (1947)

The Episcopal City Mission Society (ECMS) opened the Wiltwyck School for African American juvenile delinquents (1936). The boys were not yet involved in major criminal activity. New York state did not have segregated schools in the 1930s, but Church authorities decided it was best to have a separate facility for African-American boys. Few of the boys would have come from Episcopal families. The school was located in Esopus, New York. This was a beautiful location in the Hudson River Valley. Part of the idea was to get the boys out of a bad situation in the inner city into a beautiful country environment. The school was situated on the opposite side of the River from the Roosevelt's family home at Hyde Park. There was no connection with the President or Mrs. Roosevelt at the time. The school reportedly had some success working with often troubled boys. They had grown up in poor slim neigborhoods of New York City. The ECMS had difficulty fully funding the school and during World War II was having to consider closing the school (1942). It is at this time that the First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt got involved. Mr. Roosevelt took an intereste in a wide range of charitable activities. She was especially interested in efforts to help Afro-Americans. She helped reorganize the school and obtained needed funding. One major change was that the exclusive operation for Afro-Americans was ended.

Unidentified St. Paul School (1948)

This looks to be a 1st grade class. The photograph was taken in March, 1948. We know it was taken in Minnesota--probably in St. Paul. It is easter time. The kids are getting ready for a visit of the Easter Bunny, and have written him a nice letter and posted it up on the wall of their school room. The message reads: "Dear Easter Bunny: We are very good boys and girls. We have a good place for you to come to. Hop up on the window sill. There you will see us. We will leave the window open. Be very careful not to tear your coat. Our best love. The boys and girls." These children seem to be about 6 years old--first graders. The two girls wear suspender skirts with white blouses and knee socks. The boys have button-on clothes and suspenders.

Okeechobee School (1948)

Here we see Mrs. Row's 5th grade class in 1948. The children would be about 10 years old. Some have probably turned 11, depending on when the photograph was taken. There are no Black children as the schools in Florida were segregated. There is, however, one Indian boy. The Everglades and Okeechobee area was where the Seminoles lived. The girls almost all wear dresses, except one girl who wears jeans. We suspect this was a sign of poverty more than fashion. Most of the boys wear collared shirts without "T"-shirts underneath. A few boys wear colored "T"-shirts. All of the boys wear long pants despite the hot weather. Many of the children are barefoot, including some of the girls.

Ogden Iowa School (1948)

Here we see what looks like a 2nd Grade class in 1948. This is very representative as to how American children drssed for school at the time. The girls wear prim dresses. The boys wear shirts and what looks like jeans. This was about the time I began school and this is precisely how I recall that we dressed. We don't know the name of the school, but we know it was located in Ogden, Iowa.

Gallatian Elementary School (1948)

This photo shows 5th and 6th grades at Gallatin Elementary School, in Downey, California. Elementary was the American term for primary school. The 5th and 6th graders would be the oldest children at the school. They would have been 10-12 years old. It looks like a substantial school. We are not sure why they are being photographed together. There are two teachers suggesting two separarte classes. There are over 30 children which would seem about the size of a single class. The photo was taken in 1948. The clothing the children are wearing look like populat 1950s styles. Notice the cowboy shirt, T-shirts, and jeans. Jeans after the War became standard wear in elementary schools. The girls all wear dresses well-below the knees. Many of the children are still barefoot. This was something thatwas becoming less common in Amercan schools after World War II. Downey is located southeast of Los Angeles and was a largely rural area until after World War II as Los Angeles continued to grow. Farmers raised grain, corn, castor beans and fruit, and by 1930s orange groves were increasingly important. When this photograph was taken Downey was in the process of changing from a rural to suburban community.

Havana Schools (1948-49)

This school portrait was taken at the end of 1948-49 school year in Havana, Florida. It shows the students with 'Perfect Attendance' from both elementary (primary) and high schools in the city. The students seem to dress similarly in both the elementary and high schools. One elementary boy is barefoot. That was fairly common in Southern elementary schools, but gradually going out of fashion. Havana is located in northern Florida near the Georgia border and the junction of the panhandle and peninsula. It was a rural area. The tourist/retirement areas of Florida which were developing at the time are located to the south.

Havelock School (late-1940s)

Here we have an elementary (primary school). We know the name was the Havelock School, but we do not yet know where it was located. This is a unique enough name yhat hopefully we will be able to locate the school. The way the children are dressed, we suspect it was a small town in a rural area because several of the bpys are wearing bib-overalls. We believe this swould be the most common in the South. The school is a very substantial brick building which suggests to us that it was in a town. It looks to be a fairly modern school, perhaps built in the 1930s or 40s.

Unidentified School (late-1940s)

Here we have an unidentified school in Hawaii. All we know about it for sure is that it is an Hawaian shool. It looks like the late 1940s to us, but the early 50s is possible. Many of the children look to be Japanese Americans. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not interned like the Japanese Aericans on the Pacific coast, Apparently they were too important to the functioning os the Ialands. The children here wear striped "T" shirts and light-colored shirts with long pants. One boywears bib-fromt overalls. Curiously for a semi-tropical climate, the boys mostly wear long pants as would be common on the mainland. The boys are also barefoot.

Okeechobee School (1949)

Here we see Mrs. Burr's 5th grade class in 1949. The children would be about 17 years old. Some have probably turned 8, depending on when the photograph was taken. There are no Black children as the schools in Florida were segregated. The girls almost all wear dresses or skirts. Most of the boys wear collared shirts without "T"-shirts underneath. A few boys wear colored "T"-shirts. All of the boys wear long pants despite the hot weather. Many of the children are barefoot, especially the boys. This was about when I began school in Washington, D.C. This is about how I remember being dressed for school, except we never went barefoot to school. Note how the boys' pants are worn at the knees. I can remember how I kept tearing my jeans at the knees and my mother would iron on prepared knee patches.

St Vincent de Paul Orphanage School (1949)

This is the St. Vincent de Paul School, an orphanage/boarding school in Manchester, New Hampshire. Sisters of Providence of Montréal, Quebec founded a Hospicevfor which they are best known (1892). It was the 83rd institution founded by the Sisters, whose initials at that time were FCSP for Filles de la Charité, Soeurs de la Providence. The sisters have since shortened their name to Sisters of Providence (SP) with their motherhouse located in Montr�al. The school in Manchester was originally an orphanage. It was established at the request of the Rev. J. A. Chevalier, founding pastor of St-Augustine parish, in commemoration of his 25th anniversary as a priest. Srs Marie Hermas, superior, Marie of Jesus, Marie Christine, Legault, Barrette and Gallant took possession of the house and opened their doors to 12 orphans (7 boys and 5 girls) (1895). The original house was soon too small so Father Chevalier erected a larger building (1893). Between December 1892 and July 1895, the Sisters cared for 291 orphans.The Sisters also visited the poor and the sick in their homes and cared for some elderly boarders. The school was going strong in 1941 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The school closed (1958).

Jackson School (1949)

Here we see the Jackson School in April 1949. It was room 15. We believe this school was in Fresno, California. This seems quite pssdible by the children's light dress. The grade is not indicated, but we would guess they are 4th graders and about 9 years old. The boys are wearing a variety of shirts, including "T" shirts. Some of the boys wear white rather than striped "T" shirts. I don' remember boys doing that at my school about the same time. We can't see the pants the boys are wearing, but one boy is wearing jeans. Scoting was very popular at the time. The portrait was taken on Scout day. You can see several boys wearing their Cub Scout uniforms. One boy wears his Cub uniform with jeans, which was often done. At least the color matched. None of the girls, however, for some reason are wearing their Brownie uniforms. The girls all wear dresses. Several boys are wearing sneakers, but none of the girls. They wear strap shoes amd lace-ups including saddle shoes. Notice the pioneer mock-uip in the middle of the room.

Westwood View Elementary School (1949-50)

A HBC reader has sent us a portrait of his 4th grade class in Swanee Mission, Kansas. The portrait ptovides a good example of school clothing at the time. The boys wear a variety of shirts and sweaters. Note the long-sleeved "T"-shirt. The boys wear long pants, including jeans. The girls all wear dresses or blouses and skirts. Some girls wear cardigan sweaters. Two girls wear saddle shoes. It must have been Scout day as some of the girls wear Girl Scout uniforms. I'm not sure why none of the boys wear Scout uniforms. At my school the Boy and Girl scouts (Cubs and Brownies) wore their uniforms on the same day, always Thursday. Our reader writes, "Here is a description. Maybe more detail than you need. But WWV was a classic and typical school of Kansas, and likely much of the non-urban US, in the 1940s.

North Side School (1949-50)

The North Side School was located in Fort Worth, Texas. We have one class portrait of a 4th grade class in the 1949-50 school year. The girls mostly wear simple dresses. The boy wear "T"-shirts, colored collar shirts, and apropo of Texas--Western-styled shirts. Most wear jeans. One boy is barefoot, another boy wears sneakers, but most wear leather shoes. One girl wears cowboy boots. I rcall at about the same time getting in trouble for wearing cowboy boots to school, but I wan't from Texas.


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Created: 3:43 AM 3/26/2006
Last updated: 4:22 AM 4/9/2023