Back to School, Back in the Day

Emotional health, workforce training and college affordability are not unique challenges for contemporary educators.

School officials grappled with the same issues 75 years ago when Glens Falls was the model community for Look magazine’s “Hometown U.S.A.” series.

“Today, youth in Glens Falls – and throughout our nation – has strong hopes for the future,” Look wrote in a profile on local education in its Nov. 28, 1944 issue. “If these hopes are denied, the future itself will be in jeopardy.”

The headline on the article was, “Youth Demands Its Own New Deal.”

 
From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. Collection, courtesy   The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. Collection, courtesy The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

 

Look photographers and writers spent about six months in Glens Falls in 1943 and 1944, shooting more than 5,000 photographs and exploring the city’s social and economic fabric for the series of six cover stories and numerous other articles in the 1944 “Hometown U.S.A.” series that gave Glens Falls its nickname still commonly used today.

The photographs and magazine issues are preserved in the archives of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

Look selected Glens Falls as “a typical U.S. Hometown” representative of the nation in World War II times.

“Far from the bombs, fire and fury of battle, America’s villages, towns and cities seem safe from the ravages of war,” Look explained in the opening issue of the series. “Yet the Hometowns of U.S. fighting men and women are undergoing deep change – in some places difficult and almost violent, in others subtle and imperceptible – but in all cases, permeating our entire social life.”

 
From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. collection, courtesy   The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. collection, courtesy The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

 
 

As part of its research, Look conducted an education forum with local students, the content of which was summarized in the Nov. 28 article.

“If Glens Falls is a fair sample, our American young people are ambitious,” Look concluded.

“I know one thing; the man I marry will need to make about $100 a week,” the equivalent of about $1,400 in 2019 dollars, one girl said.

Today, that female student would be more focused on her own income potential.

Technology has drastically changed the way we communicate and work.

But the basic aspirations of teens 75 years ago seem not to have changed.

“Most of them dream, as youth always does, of professions or white-collar jobs. And most of them intend to live well. They want to own their own homes and cars. They look forward to travel and recreation.”

Teens that attended the forum debated whether college should be free, and many suggested that teachers were not paid enough.

“They believe that their teachers should be younger and better trained. They realize that this means teachers must be better paid – and this they favor.”

 
From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. collection, courtesy   The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

From the Look magazine Hometown U.S.A. collection, courtesy The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

 
 

Glens Falls students had a strong work ethic, many having worked at evening and weekend jobs that were plentiful during the war-time labor shortage.

Nationally, five million boys and girls had been employed part-time or full-time while attending school.

“Money jingles in their pockets now, and they have more freedom than they ever had before.”

But the availability of those low-skill jobs was set to evaporate in the post-war economy.

“They agree that veterans should have their jobs back. And then they ask: ‘What about us – the five million boys and girls who held down jobs during the war?’”

In Glens Falls, 3,000 of its 19,000 residents were serving in the military, leaving jobs for teens to fill.

“War jobs have taught these youngsters much. They know how important vocational guidelines can be, and they want this service expanded to schools.”

Emotional health also was a concern.

“Most boys and girls agree they do not know enough about their own emotions,” Look suggested. “They admit they are insufficiently instructed about sex and the meaning of marriage.”

Teens differed about whether sex education was the responsibility of parents, the school or churches.

Look, in its opening issue of the series, said Glens Falls had an exceptional education system.

“The public school system is rated among the top half dozen in New York State. Its St. Mary’s Academy is one of the largest and best equipped parochial schools in the United States. … Glens Falls’ youth, like most of America’s youth, has more to be proud of than to be ashamed of, more to hope for than to despair of.”

 
Glens Falls NY
 
 
Maury Thompson
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.

Maury Thompson

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history.