Today I stumbled upon these photos from a 1946 yearbook uploaded to Imgur. The captions speak for themselves, with descriptions like:
- Vera Brumfield: Our pretty little “fat” girl–nice as they come. Doesn’t really need reducing.
- Mildred Howerton: Here comes the Navy. She’s got the ring but Mildred, remember, a sailor’s got a gal in every port.
- Catherine Cobb: Plump, nice, good all around. Always a smile, never a frown–Her pet game is basketball.
- Romaine Childress: Big little woman, pleasant ways, wants to be a doctor–Happy butchering.
The men’s photos, of course, have captions like:
- Jesse Hawkins: Nice personality and O.K. in every way–if you hear someone chewing gum–it’s Jesse.
- Frank Hudgins: Nice and quiet, he’ll surely succeed someday.
Atrocious use of em dashes aside, seeing this reminded me of the time I heard Noam Chomsky speak at the University of Chicago (similar sentiments appear in his interview with Truth-Out last October). A member of the audience asked Chomsky whether the civil rights, feminist, and anti-war movements were ultimately failures, given that the resulting legislation and political successes of these movements have been chipped away to the point that we are nearly back to where we were in the 50s. Chomsky replied that Americans who did not live through the 30s, 40s, and 50s cannot possibly appreciate the civilizing effect that these social movements had on our society, effects that have not been curtailed, and which we take for granted today. Seeing these yearbook photos took me back in time to a place I have absolutely no desire to be. I just hope our children will one day say the same thing about our contributions to the world.
Who was on the Yearbook Committee? Not the alpha boys and girls, surely. Probably the same nerds who wrote for the school paper, the would-be Dorothy Parkers of their day, whetting their knives on these sacrificial lambs. “Oh, it was all in good fun!”–everyone knew that. But look how these little lines live on, dogging their subjects to the grave and beyond.
What’s also preserved here are the fashions and, frankly, the ’40s have just about every other decade beat. Half the young men had been in uniform and many of the young women as well. It gave them military bearing and pride in their appearance, which didn’t hurt. In ’47 Christian Dior brought out the New Look. And no one wore it better than Audrey Hepburn.
Also preserved are conventions in photographic portraiture. Why does that cute boy Max Littlejohn have his head turned at an angle? Because the photographer told him to do that. Because a row of full frontal mug shots would not be very appealing. And we get to see how neatly Max parted his hair, which was a very big deal.
The graduating class of ’46 had a bright future. The war was over and America had won! About the time these pictures were taken, Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Mo., but these kids are blissfully unaware of the Cold War that is taking shape and will kill some of them in Korea and shape their children. They are young. If they are not in love, they will be soon. They are full of dreams and hope. I love that about young people.