It’s May and that means one thing—the end of the traditional school year is upon us. Approximately nine months of lectures, homework, science projects and tests culminate into the dreaded grade card that some will recall reluctantly taking home for parental scrutiny. It’s an educational rite of passage that’s been around for generations. In line with the season, it seems fitting to post the eight grade report card for my maternal grandmother, Louise (Fisher) Slack (b. 24 Apr 1913 d. 9 Mar 1998). Louise was a student at North Star school in Greene County Missouri for the 1926 fall and 1927 spring semesters. It’s one of my favorite family documents.
The photo at the top of this post shows the front page of the four-page grade card along with a photo of Louise that was probably taken a year or two prior to her eighth grade year. The image below illustrates the inside pages (2 and 3) of the report card.
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I enjoy studying this grade card and usually see something new every time I look at it. It’s fun to compare and contrast it with report cards I remember from my youth, along with standard grade reports of today. Even a cursory examination of the document is fascinating. Wow—times have changed!
The card starts off with general guidance “To the Pupil” on the front page that’s worth mentioning. I’m particularly drawn to the fifth paragraph, which states: “Cultivate promptness, energy and patient industry. They are worth more to you than money or influence in securing success in life.” It’s interesting to note that the United States of the 1920’s is a period many historians consider to be a “gilded age” characterized by conspicuous consumption and excess, and in some ways, is not too unlike socio-economic conditions of today. In my opinion, that paragraph echoes words of wisdom from 86 years ago worth printing on current day report cards. However, I suspect the youth of today might struggle a bit to understand the “patient industry” concept, but hope springs eternal!
My grandmother frequently told me she liked going to school and studied hard. Her grades for the academic school year 1926-1927 certainly reflect that. As one can see, her marks were almost perfect, along with her attendance throughout the school year. The only thing she seems to have had any trouble with, and only slightly at that, was in the category of “deportment” (behavior) in the third reporting period. Now there’s a word that doesn’t get much use any more! I wonder what the “deportment” problem was all about? Otherwise, these are grades any parent would be proud of, and I’m sure her parents Frank and Pearl were very satisfied.
Another entry on the report card I find interesting is found near the bottom of the second page under the section titled: “Notes to Parents or Guardians”. The fourth paragraph reads: “You should encourage your children to remain in school until the eight grades are completed and longer if possible.” We might find this to be an unusual item to place on a report card today, but nearly a century ago it was not uncommon for children in rural Southwest Missouri to only complete eight years of education, if that, and then get down to the business of farming. It’s plain to see that even then, school officials were concerned about attendance and were sending a message to parents about the value of twelve full years of formal education.
My favorite part of Louise Fisher’s grade card is the “Industrial Work” section found on the last page (below).
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This is apparently a parental assessment section that Louise’s mother completed for each reporting period and is intriguing to me for two reasons.
First, my grandmother must not have been “into” sewing at that time. The “M” grade (medium level assessment) her mother gave her wasn’t that good and seems to be out of character for Louise. Ironically, when I knew my grandmother in later years, she loved to sew and was very good at it. I’m also fascinated with how honest Pearl was in assessing the mediocre grade. It tells me something about her. I guess Louise’s seamstress interests and talents blossomed following her middle school years.
Incidentally, my grandmother was a wonderful baker, and would routinely make phenomenal pies, cakes, various breads and even doughnuts from scratch. Her interest and talent in the baking arts probably developed at some point after her eight-grade year as well.
The second reason for my interest in this page of the report card has to do with the obvious gender attitudes and biases of the time. In her younger years, as she was fond of recalling, my grandmother was required to complete some of the same chores that her brothers were responsible for. Knowing her, she probably did a better job! The expectations from the educational system of that time were clearly different, however, and this grade card helps to highlight the significant social change that has occurred in the decades since.
Of additional interest, my grandmother’s marks for ironing were excellent as her mother also reported. Even to this day, I do my own ironing and am told I’m pretty good at it. I must have inherited that gene from my Grandmother Louise! Unfortunately, I don't have quite the same domestic skills demonstrated by my grandmother which leads me to wonder what family member I inherited that shortcoming from!
With consideration to the “Boys” side of the “Industrial Work” ledger (shown on page four), at least I can say I have milked a cow! Thankfully, no one provided an official evaluation for the one time I performed the chore, as I recall somehow managing to greatly upset the cow. As a result of that experience, I’ve stuck to purchasing diary products from the supermarket. It’s safer that way.