“Coming of Age In Delridge”  
  1950’s and the Cold War  

During the 1950’s, Cold War tensions prolonged the military presence and awareness of danger around the school.  Civil defense shelter signs appeared in downtown Seattle.  At Cooper, schoolchildren practiced duck and roll, in response to a possible nuclear attack.  Karin Freeman remembers going out in the hall on “that very hard, cold floor and you’d lay down and face the lockers and you’d cover your head. And you could hear the sirens.  They had large blaring sirens.”   She recalls a “genuine fear,” to the extent that her family put in a bomb shelter.  When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, “that was very big news!” and a lot of children’s toys began to parallel the space race.     

Children of refugees from communist takeovers in Poland, Estonia, and Latvia added to the ethnic mix.  The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Teachers taught students to pause both before and after the phrase.     

School continued to care for the well-being of the whole child.  Grace Ahrens was the school nurse for many years.  “She gave me an eye exam and then sent a note home with me that told my parents I needed glasses,” said Iris Nichols. 

“She knew every child in school.  She knew the students much better than the principal or all the teachers,” the good things as well as the bad, recalls Vivian McLean. 

“She was a fantastic person….  I realize now…that she recognized our poverty.  She must have done something because a couple of times we would receive clothes,” recalled Delma Carpenter.   She made house calls when children were sick, “and I remember one time….she told my mother that my sister should be seen by a doctor because she hadn’t gained any weight or height in a year….  And if you were too sick she would take you home.  And she was the one who recognized that a kid or a family was ill or had a communicable disease, and she’d quarantine them.”

The 1950’s were also the decade when polio and smallpox vaccinations were administered wholesale.  Karin Freeman remembers “the long lines stretching from the auditorium way back past the principal’s office when it was time for shots!  It was terrifying.” 

Children who had contracted polio or who had a physical handicap such as dwarfism also attended Cooper in the “adjustment” classes.   “We had some children that wore the shoe, the big shoe with the straps,” used when polio had stunted growth (Ackerlund).  Students with disabilities or delays were also in the classes; “maybe that’s why they called you from the dummy school when you went to [Cooper]” (Ackerlund). Click for audio  The adjustment classes remained separate both physically and from the consciousness of other students.  “It seemed to us the door was always closed and [the room] was a ‘mysterious’ place” (McKenzie).  “Those kids never seemed to be in…the other classrooms…, but they were still on the playground.  We all interacted” (Freeman).    

The defense housing was torn down in 1952, but the neighborhood never returned to its self-contained feel.  A Safeway store opened at Delridge and Spokane, and neighborhood stores like Skalabrin’s could not compete.  By the 1950’s, most of the neighborhood stores had gone out of business.   

Bethlehem Steel expanded.  To build an office building, the company forced people out of their homes in the rectangle between Andover and Dakota streets and between Delridge and 25th.  Janice Newell remembers a lawyer for the company standing in the kitchen of her family’s home and telling her parents they had to move.  “The steel plant bought all of that property and moved the houses or tore them down and that was quite a catastrophe to many people who left their homes” (Schwartz). 

By 1951, an estimated 1,000 students had completed eighth grade at Cooper, but after the war, Cooper experienced an enrollment drop.  In 1952, Seattle adopted the junior high concept, and the seventh and eighth grades from Cooper were sent to Denny Junior High in West Seattle.  There they found a much tougher experience, with clashes between African-American students and whites and being bullied to give up their lunch money (Miles).

By 1958, enrollment at Cooper had rebounded, and two portable classrooms were added.  One principal in the 50’s, Clarence Panzica, organized basketball games followed by sports movies for Father and Son night.  The Girls’ Club hosted receptions and teas for mothers.  To celebrate the centennial of Seattle’s founding, Cooper students wrote a school history and developed a production in 1951. 

More students took the bus to school and more bought the hot lunch, depending, sometimes, on what was served.  “Tuesday was hamburger day,” remembers Freeman, and Fridays were fish.  “We would eat in the cafeteria which is where the stage is, and there were long tables set up, and we’d go to our table, eat our meal, and we’d have to raise our hands.  And then the teacher would come over to see if we had eaten well enough.”  Often Freeman hadn’t eaten the carrots in her stew, and the lunchroom teacher would say, ‘Karin, I know you don’t like it but eat some of the carrots and I’ll let you go.’ So I’d eat those carrots… so you had to be dismissed.” Click for audio (Freeman)

Practical instruction continued with sewing aprons, canning tomatoes and fruit cocktail, embroidering pillow cases, and making cookie dough that some wag threw on the ceiling.  Physical education included playing baseball in the park and walking on balance bars. 

Incorporating art into the curriculum was not an isolated event but part of learning.  When the class was studying South America, each student took a part “and we illustrated—we painted it” (Nichols).  Marsha Munson remembers a substitute teacher who made large chalk pastel murals of Mexican scenes all over the chalkboard, taught the children the Mexican Hat Dance and had them make serapes out of grocery bags. Click for audio There were also drawing and poetry contests, a competition designing terrariums, and competitions on math facts.  Science, however, is a vague memory to most.      

The traditions of the Seattle Way--moral instruction, assimilation, and patriotism—changed in the 1950’s, but Christmas celebrations had a long life.  Students recall that there was always a Christmas pageant, with students playing the roles of the nativity.  There was a living Christmas tree, with a child in an angel costume.  Songs included “Silent Night.”  Click for audio (Tharp)  Click for audio (Freeman)  Click for audio ( Fox)

“We sang real Christmas songs,” remembers Pat Schille.  “We even sang ‘Jesus Is Lord.’  We didn’t even think about any other denomination.  If it existed, we knew nothing about it.”  

“Well it seemed like everybody was a Christian.  Everybody went to the same church” (Allen).  There was an Easter parade, too, with bonnets made out of paper plates and flowers.   

“It was always Christian holidays,” according to Paula Tortorice, even into the 1960’s, “and it was weird if a kid went to celebrate a Jewish holiday.”

May Day celebrations ended at school but continued in the community.  “You always made things and hung them on your neighbors’ doors” (Allen).  In music class, students sang patriotic songs from World War I and World War II.     

The observance of both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays still dotted the February calendar.  In the 1940’s, Clifford Harrington brought a .22 rifle to school, on the bus down Delridge Way.  Harrington played Abraham Lincoln and his friend carried the rifle, playing the part of a sentry who fell asleep at his post but was pardoned by Lincoln.  His teacher, Margaret Dieringer, “let us do our own dialogue; we never had a script.”     

Theatrical presentations included Macbeth and its witches stirring the cauldron.  There were field trips to the steel mill and to the Music Hall downtown.    

Leadership training continued.  Children elected class officers and learned public speaking and Robert’s Rules of Order. Click for audio(Munson)  In addition to being a Rainy Day Girl or serving on safety patrol, some children were picked to help out in the kitchen, like putting trays out, which was considered a privilege. 

A competitor for children’s attention also appeared in the 1950’s.  A lawyer invited the kids of Youngstown to come watch television one night in his home, the daily two hours of broadcasting.  “So they started out with the Star Spangled Banner.  So he had us all stand at attention during the Star Spangled Banner.  And then we sat down and got to watch television…, probably ‘Howdy Doody’ or something…. It was a big deal” (Skalabrin). Click for audio

Debra Miles remembers walking home to Pigeon Hill for peanut-butter sandwich lunches just so she could watch “Wanda, Wanda” on television.

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