Over the past month I have been reviewing a scrapbook from the Yelm High School Girls’ League in the 1950’s. Technically, every girl in the high school was a member of the Girls’ League much the same as students taking agriculture classes are considered members of the FFA. Since the club was so large, most of the decisions were made by the Girl’s League Council, elected officers that did much of the work in the club. The Girls’ League organized the Mother Daughter Banquet, the predecessor of the modem Mother- Daughter Tea. They also organized ‘Tornado Week” a combination between a homecoming spirit week and an organized freshmen initiation. The Girls’ League and the Girls’ League Council met to discuss these events as well as other issues faced by high school girls such as careers, college and dating, at school and at conferences with other area Girls’ Leagues.
The Girls’ League in some ways encouraged the advancement of women through ‘encouraging careers and leadership, but it was far from a radical feminist organization. The careers it encouraged were generally limited and much of the leadership and skills promoted were within traditional women’s spheres such as the home and the church and the family. To learn more about the Girls’ League and gender roles read here. The Girls’ League and the activities it sponsored were important parts of the culture of the high school and the town. The events, such as “Tornado Week” and the Mother- Daughter Banquet consisted of many elaborate traditions and were always well attended. To learn more about the role of the Girls’ League in the culture of Yelm and the high school click here. The Girls’ League and the girls of Yelm High School were very interested in anything involving boys and dating. The adult leaders of the Girls’ League often discouraged things such as long term relationships and public displays of affection. However students were encouraged to go to dances as couples and dance with members of the opposite sex. To learn more about discussions of dating in the Girls’ League click here.
Many ways the Girls’ League encouraged traditional gender roles, but it also tried to advance the role of women.
The Girls’ League and the Home Economics classes prepared the food and decorations for the Mother- Daughter Banquet. The banquet featured a “model show” in which the Home ec. Students showed off clothes they had made. Regional conferences included discussions of traditional female roles with topics such as “Learn to Live Attractively” and “Grooming.” The Mother Daughter Banquet once included a speech on “The Art of Being a Woman.” The Girls’ League was in charge of decorating the school for Christmas.
The Girls’ League did more than just encourage women to be polite, well dressed and useful in the home. It also encouraged the women to be self-sufficient, cultured and responsible. By having the girls prepare the food it made them directly responsible for the quality of the banquet and allowed them to save money. On a side note, while the girls prepared the food, the FFA boys served the girls and their mothers. Though the model show initially sounds rather superficial, it was really an opportunity for the girls to show off their skills in dressmaking. The Girls’ League also offered women numerous opportunities to show off skills they had attained. The banquet and the conferences featured numerous skits, pantomimes, dances and musical performances. The banquet and conferences featured speeches on women in school, the community and the church.
The banquet featured speeches on educational topics such as people’s travels to other countries, ‘The Early Days of Yelm” and speech impediments in children. Through, discussions, meetings and information sessions, the girl’s they also encouraged women to have careers, go to college, and hold leadership roles.
Though the Girls’ League encouraged the traditional separate role of women, having them cook, sew and decorate, it also promoted the role of women in careers, college and the community.
High School Culture
The Girls’ League and the events it organized were an important part of the culture of the high school and the town. These events, such as the Mother- Daughter Banquet and Tornado Week consisted of many elaborate traditions and were well attended.
The Mother Daughter Banquet, now the Mother Daughter Tea was open to all the girls, not just seniors. Every year it featured a guest speaker, a number of entertainers, such as dancers and singers, a fashion show and ended with the installation of the next year’s Girls’ League Council. In the Early 1950’s about 160 mothers and daughters attended the banquet. The banquet was such an important event that the girls and their mothers bought corsages (from the school) for the evening. In the middle of the decade it was proposed to change the banquet to a tea as a change from the usual and because they were having a hard time borrowing enough dishes. However this did not happen because many girls complained that the banquet was one of the few chances their mothers had to go out to dinner.
Another important event organized by the Girls’ League was the “Tornado Week” every autumn. Tornado week began on Monday with a girls’ Spirit Week. The week included spirit days like “shoeshine day” where freshmen girls would shine shoes for a few cents that would be donated to the Girls’ League, “Blue Monday” where everyone wore blue, “Little Girl Day” when freshmen were dressed like children, and “Housewife Day.” The freshmen girls were “adopted” during the week by older girls. At the end of the week the upperclassmen dressed their “little sisters” in costumes which were displayed in a special assembly on Friday. In the assembly the freshmen and their upperclassmen were given awards for originality and humor.
There was also a football game on the Friday of Tornado Week. Unlike Homecoming Week, Tornado Week was not centered on a particular football game; it was simply about initiating the freshmen and having school spirit. In fact one year there wasn’t a football game scheduled during the week the event was to be held so the junior girls played the senior girls in a football game.
Yelm High School’s ‘Tornado Week” concluded with the Girls’ League Tolo- a large girl-ask-boy dance. In the mid. 1950’s between 88 and 120 people attended the dance (out of about a student body of about 250). Students were encouraged to go to the dance as couples with single tickets selling for 25 cents and couple tickets selling for 35 cents. The dance featured recorded music provided by the Girls’ League Record Committee and activities like one where all the girls pop balloons with boys’ names in them and dancing with the boy whose name was in the balloon.
The Yelm High School Girls’ League and the events it sponsored were important parts of the culture of the high school and the town. The events were well attended and very popular and consisted of many elaborate traditions.
The Girls’ League and the girls of Yelm High School were very interested in anything involving boys and dating. The adult leaders of the Girl’s League often discouraged things such as long term relationships and public displays of affection. However students were encouraged to go to dances as couples and dance with members of the opposite sex.
Almost every Southwest Washington Girls’ League conferences included discussion of dating. At the conference in Randal there was a discussion group called “Learn to Live Spiritually” included discussion of marriage. At the same conference “Learn to Live Socially” included talk of dating and “Learn to Live understandingly” which was supposed to discuss other cultures became a discussion of dating.
The 1954 conference featured a speech entitled, “You in Society.” The woman who gave the speech discussed appropriate dating behavior and whether blind dating was a good idea. She also discussed “going steady” and warned that it could distract girls from their studies and their other school activities.
The Yelm Girls’ League also had their own discussions of dating. At one meeting the girls discussed the fact that many girls were getting married while still in high school, and one girl remarked that “Marriage is a fad.” Another meeting included a discussion of behavior among couples in the halls, in study hall and in school activities. The girls eventually concluded that while there was a problem with couples kissing on the dance floor the behavior of couples wasn’t out of hand. An adult leader responded to the girls’ conclusion by stating that couples could show their affection for each other without “carrying on.” The meeting ended with a skit demonstrating the approved and disapproved behavior.
While the girls were often discouraged from certain activities, they were encouraged to go to dances as couples and to dance with members of the opposite sex. Tickets to dances were cheaper (per person) for a couple than for singles and dances included activities involving dancing with members of the opposite sex.