Remembering First and Second Grade at a Catholic School in the 1960s

First and Second Grade

My family is Roman Catholic, and my two brothers, two sisters and I went to a catholic school in the 1960s in a small town in Iowa by the name of Elma. My mother had gone to the same school years earlier, and graduated in 1947. The school was run by a catholic priest and the nuns, of whom, were the sisters of Mary. The school was an old brick building with two floors for the upper and lower grade levels. The classrooms all had blackboards in the front, and on the side there were maps of the world. The first and second grades were held in a large room on the lower level. Above the blackboard was the alphabet and numbers 0 through 9. The name of the school was: "The Immaculate Conception School."

When I started school there I went into the first grade. The room was large where the first grade was held and had tall windows. There were two classes in the room, which were taught by the same teacher. The teacher was a nun named Sister Mary Gertrude, who wore the black habit that was wore in those years, as it was in the early 1960s. Sister Mary Gertrude wore glasses. She seemed kind of scary at the time. I think that I must had been pretty scared of her when I first entered her classroom for the very first time all those years ago. The nuns were stern. They did love music and singing, though.

Catholic Nuns Singing

Roman Catholic Nuns Singing-Daughters of Mary
Roman Catholic Nuns Singing-Daughters of Mary | Source

Corporal Punishment and More...

I remember the nuns at the catholic school were strict. They would use corporal punishment on any student if the student got out of line. If any student did anything wrong the student would be punished. If the nun didn't know who did the deed, she'd punish everyone in the class. I saw Sister Mary Gertrude pull a boy in the first grade by his ear lobe up to the front of the class one day at school. The boy kept saying, "It hurts!" I think for a few times, until the nun let go.

When it was lunch time all the students had to go outside and walk to a building that was close by for the hot lunch that was served every day at the same time. In the winter it was real cold and extremely uncomfortable. I didn't like the hot lunches at all. My brothers and sisters never liked the hot lunches, either. The hot lunches didn't taste good at all to me. I would always gag when I tried to eat the food. I wouldn't eat the food, so the nuns told my mother and she said to eat the food, or she would shovel it down my throat. I still wouldn't eat the food, though. One day the nun, Sister Mary Gertrude had another teacher-a lay teacher, who stood at a place where the food that wasn't eaten was put in, etc...watch to make sure that I ate everything on the tray. I waited and waited for that teacher to leave the spot, so that I could depose of the food on the tray that I couldn't eat. Finally, she left somewhere, so I hurriedly emptied the tray and put the silverware where it was supposed to go for washing later-after the lunch period was over. Then, as I was leaving the building to go outside, I ran into Sister Mary Gertrude and she asked me if I ate everything on the tray? I told her that I did, but I really didn't, of course. Then, she let me go on and I went to the play area, until the afternoon school day was ready to start. The nun never said anything about me eating all the food on the tray after that.

My two sisters had a job together, cleaning the school. The cleaned the public school in the small town, too for awhile. When they cleaned the catholic school, they didn't get paid. The nuns said they didn't deserve to get paid! My two sisters have always been real good workers. My two sisters were very upset about not being paid for cleaning the catholic school, so they transferred to the public school in another town about 25 miles away from home. They were around the high school age back then. When they cleaned the public school they didn't have any problems with being paid for doing the work.

Me and My Older Brother

My brother Jim when he was little. His school pic.
My brother Jim when he was little. His school pic. | Source
Grandma, sister Kay, and me
Grandma, sister Kay, and me | Source
Mom in Elma, Iowa--she was young.16 year old.
Mom in Elma, Iowa--she was young.16 year old. | Source

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Comments 9 comments

cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

I went to a Catholic school as well, but we didn't have hot lunch. Those close enough went home for lunch and the others brought a bagged lunch. The nuns were strict, but personally, I think we're better off for it. Looking at the kids today, is a good example.


gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City Author

Later when it was allowed I took bagged lunches to school. I agree, we're better off for it. Thanks.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

We were camping with my brother and sister-in-law and my husband was retelling stories of Catholic school. My brother-in-law's kids were spellbound. They thought their mom was making these things up. I don't think I have ever heard of hot lunches in private schools either.


gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City Author

The catholic school that I went to did have hot lunches, but they were not very good at all. I started to take sack lunches to school, which was a lot better.


Rusti Mccollum profile image

Rusti Mccollum 4 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

Schools and behaviours were so different then.It was a different time to live in.


gail641 profile image

gail641 4 years ago from Mason City Author

Your right. Things sure have changed since the old school days from the 1960s. No computers existed back then-everythings a lot more advanced. Thanks for the comment.


Caelii 23 months ago

It's always a pleasure to hear from someone with expsetier.


John Cartoni 4 months ago

I attended St. Athanasius Grade School in Brooklyn, NY from 1958 to 1966. I had a behavioral problem as a boy, so I was the kid who frequently acted up and was always getting slapped across the face by the Sisters. A slap from a Sister was quite hard and my face tingled for a long while afterwards, but a slap did make me behave for the rest of that day. And of course it was also embarrassing because even kids not in my class who saw me in the lunchroom, the hallway, etc, knew that I had gotten slapped because they could see the red handprint on my face.


Brian Fitzgerald 5 weeks ago

I went to St. Joan of Arc's in Queens, NY during the sixties. The nuns there were pretty much like what John described above, and although I, myself never got smacked cuz I was to scared of the nuns to misbehave. My parents never hit me so seeing other kids get slapped across the face by the nuns was a terrifying experience for me. There were several kids who always seemed be getting smacked for something or other. I remember very distinctly the loud cracking sound which used to make my ears ring, especially if I was so close to the kid who got slapped, and also staring fascinatingly at the handmark left on the kid's face which seemed to last for hours after the slap.

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