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HomeEducationBack-to-School Memories

Back-to-School Memories

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Has it really been over 50 years since I stepped off that school bus? Yes, time flies, and I no longer have to get up in time for anything anymore! But I’ve been thinking about my school days!

In the 1960s, it was a bit different. The first day of school started around August 30th. You weren’t robbed of the summer! We had three months of freedom. Some years, it worked out that we even had class the Tuesday after Labor Day. Advertisements for “Back to School” were plentiful in August. The larger stores took out full-page ads in the newspaper! They promoted everything—clothes, cars, typewriters, record players and haircuts! But don’t mess with July; that month was still for summer! Don’t even mention “back to school” or put out school supplies right after Independence Day!

Hernando County was growing in the 1960s, but there still weren’t that many places to shop. Spring Hill didn’t exist. Even Brooksville retail plazas didn’t appear until the end of the decade. We had Roger’s Department Store downtown for a good selection of clothes and housewares. We had the Quality Shop for men’s and women’s clothing, too. But I wanted more and was anxiously awaiting our school shopping trip to the big city.

Tampa had all the “big stores” for clothes and accessories. One day in early August, we’d plan a drive to go school shopping. Mom and I would check out the latest trends at Maas Brothers and stop in at Sears Roebuck. Dad would wander elsewhere in the stores, probably checking on appliances, tools, or fishing rods. Maas Brothers had six floors of merchandise. Did you know their Tampa store (circa 1921) had the first escalator installed in Florida? I looked forward to lunch at Madison (Rexall) Drugs. Maybe a burger and a shake! There’s nothing like a full day of school shopping!

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What made my school list? Well, I had my eye on two or three new dresses, plus some skirts and blouses. Villager was a popular line of clothing back then. I saved up for one of their pricey dresses. That would start the school year off right! A new pair of penny loafers would be nice. A new purse, too.

My parents paid for all their retail purchases back then in cash or by check. Credit cards were still “new” to us. However, we noticed some retail outlets offering credit cards for store purchases. I don’t remember my family using them until the late 1960s. Cards like Visa and Mastercard were special and saved for occasional big purchases. If my parents used credit, they immediately paid their bill in full. They knew all about saving a dollar or two. They didn’t want to live beyond their means.

It’s hard to imagine the marketing strategies allowed back then, which provided a deluge of early credit cards. Between 1966 and 1970, companies mass-produced and mailed out over 100 million credit cards! They came right to your mailbox. They were unsolicited and sent to customers that the banks felt had good credit. The mail-out practice was later banned after 1970.

So, why did I need more dresses for school? Weren’t we in a more casual climate? Well, dresses and skirts were all I could wear at Hernando High School in the 1960s. Long pants, capris, or shorts weren’t allowed for the girls. In fact, our dresses or skirts came with restrictions on them. Hemlines could be no shorter than about three inches above the knee.

Administrators might pop in at any moment and spot-check a classroom. They always brought with them a trusted ruler. Yes, you had to accurately measure those illegal hemlines! Offenders were sent home or to the office to change. Sure enough, though, some dress codes eventually go away! Pants were allowed for girls in the Class of 1971—the very year after my graduation!

By 10th grade, I liked to make most of my own clothes. I learned how to sew in Home Economics. I recall spending many hours using those durable Singer sewing machines in crowded classrooms. I liked to shop for materials. Lingle’s 5 and 10 in downtown Brooksville had all my sewing needs. They carried a good selection of fabrics, McCalls and Simplicity patterns, and notions. A variety store on Broad Street also carried good fabric. Cotton material costs about $1 per yard, yielding a whole dress for $5! I liked to shop on Thursday or Friday, sew all weekend, and wear my new creation on Monday!

I don’t remember having an open house before school began. We were pretty much left to figure things out on our own. However, we did get lists of homeroom teachers posted by the office door on the weekend before school started.

What was the homeroom like? It was a 15-minute classroom at the start of your school day. You went there at the first bell. In homeroom, you said “hi” to friends or caught up on a bit of gossip. Announcements were given—if anyone paid attention! Then you headed off to your first subject of the day. We had a full schedule of 6-7 classes, each lasting about 45 minutes. There was no early dismissal based on too many credit hours. There were no shorter schedules back then!

I think of my school grounds—a truly open campus. There were no fences, gates, or restrictions. So different from the secure compounds we see today! After checking your homeroom list in the 1960s, you might walk around between buildings to get your bearings. It was the weekend, and no one bothered you. You certainly didn’t want to appear lost on your first day!

One friend reminded me that we did have a “parent’s night” in the lower grades. It was scheduled after school had started. Parents could visit your room, see your desk, and talk to your teacher. Our best samples of writing and drawings were on display. We had worked on them for weeks!

It seemed like every class required a thick textbook. Backpacks for carrying them weren’t popular yet. They were used by hikers! It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that backpacks became a “must-have” item for back-to-school. We did have hallway lockers, though, for our many books. They were optional. Sometimes it was worth having them between classes, and sometimes not. We rented a combination lock from the office and returned it at the end of the year. That kept everything safe and secure. Now if I could just remember those three numbers!

I grew up without attending a separate middle school. There simply wasn’t one yet. I went straight from 6th grade to a high school setting. Quite a shock to the system as a little 7th grader among the older kids! I attended Hernando High School for grades 7–12. A county middle school was finished in the mid-1960s. It stands on land adjacent to the current Hernando High School. Today, these buildings are repurposed and are known as Brooksville Elementary School.

I remember how much information I learned from just reading the newspaper. School bus schedules were published at great length before class started. There were pages and pages of bus runs. They didn’t miss a single one. We had all the detailed bus stop locations and estimated arrival times at our fingertips.

We had a single school bus for all of Masaryktown. Its daily run could be quite long. I recall a 30-minute ride to school in the mornings. A reverse path in the afternoon left me waiting an hour or more to get back home. Our bus picked up every grade from one through 12. Seniors always get to sit in the back! Overcrowding was a problem. There were no additional buses, so we managed as best we could. Little kids sat on the laps of older kids to make more space for the next riders. That would never be allowed today!

It certainly was a different “back to school” world. One fun fact I learned is that we have one of the oldest continuously operating public schools in the entire United States! Hernando High School first opened its doors on February 4, 1889. Go Leopards!

Shoppers at a Tallahassee Sears and Roebuck in 1965. [CREDIT: State Archives of Florida]

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