Archive for April, 2012

1950s Character

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

In researching the 1960s, I got really interested in Mary Washington’s study-abroad program. Having studied abroad, I’m sort of in awe of students who had that experience in a time before instant communication, who traveled to another country on ships and could only communicate with home through letters.

By the 1950s, Mary Washington had a number of students who came from other countries, and, in 1951, a student from Germany. Since I’m a German major, as well as American Studies, I’m really interested in how she ended up studying in the US. She would certainly have been living in Germany during World War 2, and in West Germany.

Since I could find little information about her besides the fact that she was a student at Mary Washington in the early 1950s, I have chosen to make up a creditable background.


If we assume it’s 1952, that means that I was born in 1930 in Western Germany. I am from a town in northern Bavaria, where I studied at a Gymnasium until about four years ago, when I was ready to go to University. I live with my mother and father, and I have two older brothers who live on their own.

Since I was born in the 30s, I lived most of my life in Nazi Germany. Like most Germans, my family was probably complicit in Nazi activities, but now that the war is over we don’t talk much about the ideologies our country held during the war years. In the decades to come, I will be largely silent on the experience, and so I don’t talk much about it now, either. This doesn’t affect my life on campus a whole lot, but it can be a little uncomfortable knowing that my home country and my host country were recently at war. I have brothers who fought in World War 2, and I know my classmates do, as well. I wonder if that bothers them.

I decided to come to study in the United States because I want to work to promote peace. I know that there is an organization called AFS which is sending American and German students to study in each other’s countries, but I am too old to participate in that, so I came here to University instead. I am studying History and education, because with these degrees I can live and work either in Germany or in the United States.  I live in Madison Hall, and I feel lucky that there is another International student, a girl from South America, who lives on my hall.

1950s School Supplies

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012


As it turns out, Googling “school supplies in the 1950s” turns up a whole lot of nothing. Instead, I searched for the history of some of the individual items we might need in class, starting with pens. I found that most of the sites are fairly informal ones, and so my information comes from sites like Wikipedia or; if this is a problem I will be happy to go to the library and try to do more concrete research, but so far here’s what I’ve got.


The Pen[1]: includes a brief history of the ballpoint pen, with a timeline. I have read about the history of the ballpoint elsewhere, and knew it had been invented by the 1950s, but I was trying to figure out how popular it was. As it turns out, not very. The link I’ve included here details the ballpoint’s invention, with American patents in 1945, but explains that the early models had a number of problems and so, after an initial fad in the late 40s, were not terribly popular. In the 1950s, fountain pens were the way to go.


This leaves us with a couple of choices when we’re picking writing implements for our class recreation. Ballpoints were certainly being manufactured, so if we’re portraying the early 50s, we might be on the tail end of a ballpoint-pen craze. I own a fountain pen, but I doubt anyone else does (although if somebody has a calligraphy pen, that might be fun and unique to use.) Our other option is to simply use pencils. Those had been around for well over a century by this point, so you really can’t go wrong. Incidentally, while number 1 and number 3 pencils exist, number 2s are the only lead considered good enough quality to write with, so those will definitely be accurate to the 50s.



Google Answers has one anonymous user linking back to several more reliable sites (University websites, for example) aobut the history of lined paper. Knowing that the paper-making process is fairly standard, I was most curious about when and where the ruled lines came from. Turns out, the lines on paper date back to the Middle Ages. They were originally done by hand, but by the 1700s there was a patent on file for a “ruling machine”. By the 1950s, the lines were being made by machine in dark blue ink.

What this means for our class is that we’re pretty much going to have to stick with ordinary lined paper. I don’t see us finding anything to fit these specifics. I also doubt we’ll find too many 1950s style notebooks, although if people want to use notebooks they could probably use ones with plain covers, or cover up any intricate designs and still be in the ballpark.



The group was thinking that, in order to add to the atmosphere, we would give everybody a book or two which was published in the 1940s or 50s. We’ll check them out from the library, and we can just kind of have them with us to add to the ambiance.

What I would like to know from the class is this: How does everyone want to get the books? Would it be simpler if our group checked out a bunch of them, to be handed back to us and returned after class? Would the class like us to make up a list of books they can go borrow themselves? Finding the books won’t be hard, I think, but I’m not sure what direction to take in getting the books to students.



The modern backpack doesn’t look much like what students were using in the 1950s. In fact, in flipping through some pictures published by the Baltimore Sun, I’m seeing mostly students carrying their books by hand. To be fair, these pictures are mostly of younger students, some only in 1st grade, but I’m looking at the pictures of High-Schoolers. My logic is that if these kids aren’t carrying bags, college students probably are going by the same social norms. Think of today- we carry backpacks just like High School students do, because we carried backpacks when we were in High School and got used to it.

So, while there are some purses, students are carrying their books by hand, no large backpacks.