*** school uniform schoolwear : United States -- activities and events

U.S. School Clothes: Activities and Events

schcool's out
Figure 1.--Here we see what most kid look forward all year long--the last day of school and the beginning of summer vacation. This looks like a suburban school in the 1950s. We are not sure just where the photograph was taken.

We note a wide range of activities and events at American school. The classroom of course is the hear of the school. This is where most of the learning takes places and is therefore the most important section when we address school activities. Many are similar to other schools around the world. Other activities are quite destinctive to the United States. American children until recently for the most part did not wear school uniforms. Images of children goung and coming to school and in classes for the most part reflect popular styles and fashion conventions of the era. There were, however, some destinctive clothing for certain activities, especially gym in secondary schools.

Preparing for New Year

Preparing for a new year was rather much up to parents and the children. It imvolved purchasing an asortment of school supplies and of course warm school clothes. Thevgirls in particukar are interested in trebdy new styles. This all occirred during the summer month of August. July is the hottest month, but Aigust os not much cooler. School usually began after Labor Day at the beginning of September. School did not do much to preoare the children for the New Year, not even the new First Graders. That may have changed somewaht at modern schools, but as far as I know was the case until recently. The schools did prepare the buildings and class rooms for the New Year. And the reachers began setting up their classrooms. But there were no real efforts to prepare the students. I think schools in irger countrues make more of an effirt to prepare the children. Of course the American educarion system is duverse, actually 50 epatate state school systems, so there may have been some effots in some schools.

Coming and Going to School

A wide range of images show American boys coming to school in the morning and going home after school. Children both walked and took the bus. Many older children, especially after World War II had cars. The various images offer a view as to how children dressed at school over the years. Boys in the ealy 20th century wore suits to go to school. By the 1920s and 30s corduroy knickers wetre common. Boys in rural areas might wear overalls. In the image here we see primary boys and girls celebrating the last day of school and headed home (figure 1). Notice the boys wearing striped "T"-shirts and jeans. This was common school clothes at the times. Most high schools in the 1950s did not allow boys to dress in colarless shirts and jeans.

Pledge of Allegience

American elementary (primary) school children start their day with the The Pledge of Allegiance. This is the afirmation of allegiance to the flag of the United States and the United States Government. It was originally composed by Captain George Thatcher Balch, a Union Army Officer during the Civil War and later taught patriotism in New York City schools, at the time involved in educating large numbers of immigrant children. The pledge used in American schools today was largely devised by Francis Bellamy (1892). The popular Youth's Companion magazine launched a national cmpaign to introduce the Pledge to schools. Many schools did so nd several states required it. The Pledge was d formally adopted by the U.S. Congress during World War II (1942). The wording has changed little, but the salute has changed. Many schools adopted a NAZI-like salute--before the NAZIs existed. There was also a Roman salute. The outstreached hand salute came to a screeching halt during World War II. chools dopted a hand over the heart salute. Congressional doption aroused a controversy which was finally settled by the Supreme Court. The schools can not complel child to recite the pledge or punish them for not doing so (1943). The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted 3 years later (1945). The only change was adding "under God" during the post-World War II Red Scare (1945). This rrosed nother court challenge which was also settled by the Supreme Court. The Pledge continues to draw controversey as left-wing activists and academic increasingly push the disturbing idea that not only patriotism is evil, but the United States has not been a force for good in the world.

Class Rooms

American classrooms both the children's clothing and the classrooms themselves have changed significantly over time. The classroom of course is the hear of the school. This is where most of the klearning takes places and is therefore the most important section when we address school activities. We have begun to collect a range of classroom images. Unfortunately most school images in the 19th century are just outdoor portraits. We learn little about classroom activities. Through much of the 19th cerntury, the children seent in benches rather than individual desks. And we note how important the blackboard was in the 19th century, especially at primary schools. Because of the lack of photographs we are unable to follow the change in classroom organization and furniture. This is importasnt because it was virtually impossible to move benches. Individual desks were another matter, although in some cases the desks were affixed to the floor are difficult to move because of their design. We begin to see indoor classroom portraits at the turn of the 20th century, but again they tend to be very formal with the children sitting stiffly at their desks. A rare exception is a photograph from a Washington, D.C. school in the 1890s. But even with the more common stiff formal portraits of the children sitting at their desks, we at least see the classroom arrangements and furniture. And at least in city schools we see indivifual desls. By the 1910s and especually after World War I in the 1920s we begin to see photographs showing actual class room activities. Through the 1950s we continue to see very formal classroom arrangements, but by the 1960s we begin to see more innovation in the classrrrom, at least in primary schools.


Access to books both for reading and research is a critical part of the educational process. Early schools had very limited libraries. The large urban schools gradually acquired better book collections. This was very difficult for small rural schools to do. One way of addressing this problem was book mobiles. Here rural students could get some access to books. By the 1920s, urban schools were beginning to develop reasonable libraries. The differences between rural and city schools began to disappear after World War II. Schools systems provided buses so that larger rural schools could be built. Most small one-room or two-room schools were closed. Today the library is a key pat of the school program. Often they are called media centers to relect the many other media besides books that are important in the modern school progeam.

Physical Exercise Breaks

We note teachers conducting physical exervises in the classroom. We are not sure how common this was. I don't recall it when I was in elementary school. We think it might have been fairly common in the early-19th century. We are not sure just what form it may have taken. Some may have bordered on gym or dance. We note one example in the early-20th century at the LHS, we think in New York. Here girls seem to be dance oriented exercises. We note that in modern schools many teachers use exercises with young students. Educators believe that teachers can imprive noth learning and student behavior by incorporating physical activity breaks into their daily classroom routines. Rregular activity breaks during the school day apparently can help sharpen students' abilities to focus and stay on task. These breaks can be short and there are exercises that the children can do at their desks.


Gym classes were held mostly in secondary schools. Primary schools had recess for the younger children, but gym was less common. Few primary schools had gymnasiums, locker rooms, and gym uniforms. They often did have multi-purpose rooms where a variety of activities were possible, but formal gym programs were not common. These programs were common in secondary schools. Most secondary schools had gym programs with required uniforms. Gym was given a greater emphasis in American than was common in most European countries, perhaps with the exception of Britain. These uniforms varied significantly over time. They were also varied by gender, although in recent years, perhaps since the 1980s, boys and girls uniforms have become more alike.


There was some provision for play at school at the elementary(primary) school level. This was primarily at recess, the most popular time of the day for most children. Ideas about both play and recess have changed over time. Many schools at first had exercise and drill rather than free play, we suspect city schools (19th century). The children played all sorts of games including ring games and free form gameslike tags. Sport at the time was just beginning to capture the imagination of children, mostly boys even by the end of the century. Gradually the children even in city schools were allowed to play on their own outdoors. Sports by the 20th century had become important for school age children. Baseball was the 'Mational Passtime'. Baseball skills for younger boys are beyond their capabilities, so instead kickball beame a playground favorite as did dodgeball. Her the girls did not generally paticipate. Girls did commonly participate in games, but were lss likely to participate in sports. Favotite activities varied over time and depending on the school facilities. Urban schools had play grounds, often paved areas which made for hard falls. Normally the boys and girls divided up as they had very different ideas about recreation. In recent years idead about political correctness have restriced school favorites like dodge ball and tag. On rainy days the children had to make do in their classrooms. Here the teachers had to use a little imagination to provide interesting activities. We note the Johnston School in 1919.


Perhaps the single greatest difference in American and European schools is the attention given to sports. A rare exception here are the British public (elite private boarding) schools. This infatuation with sports did not begin until the turn-of-th 20th century as the popularity of sports began to increase in america. It began at the university levl, orobably a British influence and gradually filtered down to the secondary level. The first schools to have sports programs were private schools, again showing the British influence. Gradually public secondary schools adopted sports programs like grammar (selective secondary) schools did in Britain.


The arts have played a part in American education. This role has varied over time. Genrally speaking, American schools offered more programs like sports and the arts than the more strictly academic school programs prevalent throughout Europe. Thiswa the case throughout the 19th century and did not begin to significantly chanage until after World War II. The attention given to the various disciplines has also differed. Art and crafts has to be the most commonly pursued of all the arts, at least from a practical perspective. This is especially the case in elementary (primary) school. Most primary schools organize some kinds of theatrical work such as class plays. Music programd have varied. A problem here is the cost of instuments for any effort beyond the early primary level. Dance is given less attention. The general convention is that parents intereted in these activities need to pursue private programs. This is especially the case for dance programs. Money more than educational value is commonly the deciding factor in school arts programs. This continues to be case today. A U.S. Department of Education study depicted a rather painted a rather bleak picture of the state of arts education in America. A government tracking the availability of arts in American schools show a declne in emphasis, primarily for financial reasons. Fewer elementary schools were found to be offering visual arts, dance and drama classes than during the 2000s. More than 1.3 million elementary students fail to get any music instruction. And the same is the case for about 0.8 million secondary students. Some 4.0 million elementary school students do not get any visual arts instruction. Depite these trends, however, not only are there visual arts programs at most schools, but dance and drama programs are still widely offered at the middle and secondary schools.

Public Speaking

American schools used to promote public spealinf activities like oraations and debate. A good example is Leon Berman giving an oration on Arbor Day in New York City in 1908.


A whole new area of education began to reach the chools in the late-1970s with the advent of the personal computer which which redated the internet by about two decades. At first the computer had only a limited impact in the schools, in part so few teachers were computer literate. Often many students knew nore about computers than the students. And families were just beginning to purchase computers for home use and for which the childten would have access. As computers became more widespread, the schools negan offering computer courses, focusing on word processing which the students could use for their school work. Many schools were slow to adjust to the computer age. Appel Computer paid an important role in getting compters into the schools. At first computer course appeared innsecondary schools, but now they are common in primary schools as well. There were also paid tuition set up offering computer instruction. Eventually they were also computer oriented summer camps. Many schools offer computer courses as part of their summer school offerings. And with the advent of the lap top, it is common for students to bring their computers with them to school.

Health Services

One important aspect of school life is health services. The crowed conditions and poor sanitation in American cities during the late 19th and early 20 century created a situation that was consusive for the spread of endemic disease. For many children the health services provided at scholol were some of the only medical attention they received. We have little information at this time about school health services. Such programs would have varied from state to state. Public health issues were addressed in the 20th century. The schools are used to ensure that children have received needed vacinations. The schools also detect instances of child abuse. The school health role continues to be an ongoing problem in the United States. America in the 21st century has no national health system, the only modern industrial country without one.


Not all children of course made it to school. Some children decided to play hookey. While away from school boys, and mosdt truants were boys, got up to all kinds of activitities. This was not a problem in the 19th century when school attendance until late in the 19th century was not manditory. With the 20th century, compulsory attendance law became increasingly strict. There were even truant officers to track down the micreants.

Saftey Drills

Fire is an ever present danger in croded buildings and of course children are a special concern. Thus care has to be taken so that the saff and the children know how to react in case of a fire. Schools regularly stage fire drills. Schools are required to conduct them. We have begun to collect some images here, but so far have very few actual images. After World War II, the Soviets developed an atomic bomb. Schools began conducting Civil Defence bomb drills.

Special Events

There are a variety of special events at American shoolds. Unlike some European countries and Japan, I don't recall anything special for the first day or beggining of school. There are a variety of holiday celebrations. I recall Haloween and Christmas in particular. Noth have become controversial in our modern politically correct world. The end of the school year was a popular time of course, but I dont recall any celebrations. Graduation in cotrast was a major event. Some schools now turn finishing pre-school/kindergarden into a major event. Until after World War Ii, finishing primary (elementary) school was a big event. This meant graduating 8th grade. Until World War II, most children did not go beyond the 8th grade. Gradually elementary school begame the first 6 years and junior high schools were opened in the cities. Graudating from high school was sa major very formal event conducted with academic gowns.

Holiday Celebrations

Schools often celebrate major holidays. There are a variety of holiday celebrations. I recall Haloween and Christmas in particular. Both have become controversial in our modern politically correct world. This has become a little complicated as America becomes more diverse and secular, but until recently all the major holidays were celebrated at school, both Christian holidays and secular holidays. One popular event in the early-20th century was May Day. A good example of a May Day celebration comes from an Indianapolis school in 1929.

Unknown Group

Schools and education are constantly chaging as society inevitably changes over time. We have found some images that we are not sure how to interpret based on our school experiences. This is primarily activities in schools before World War II. Perhaos readers will have some idea about what is going on at these schools.


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Created: 7:32 PM 11/14/2004
Last updated: 5:23 PM 8/24/2022