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

Updated on January 3, 2013

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, 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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      Mark Stack 3 months ago

      I went to St Madelines school in Ridley Park Pa in the early 1960s.

      The nuns were sadistic lunatics.

      They would hit both boys and girls.

      If someone threw up they were told to get a bucket of sawdust from the janitors closet and clean it up.Kids old enough to tie there shoes and walk to school were shitting and pissing there pants because they were denied bathroom privileges.

      Can you imagine that happening today?We had white dress shirts and ties on,dress pants,polished shoes.And here we are sitting on our chair unloading in our pants!

      Those nuns were sick S O Bs.

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      Ralph 14 months ago

      I don't know. When I think about how so many kids today behave so unruly and disrespectfully to their elders, maybe that kind of strict discipline is what is needed today.

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      Brendon Markham - correction for typo 15 months ago


      If you are able to, would you please correct my typo. I meant to type that one of the kids in my class yelled: "Brendon really just got Confirmed!" I wrote "Ryan" by mistake instead, because Ryan was the name of the kid who yelled that out.



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      Brendon Markham 15 months ago

      I attended Catholic school from 1st to 8th grades as well. I was somewhat of a class clown so I was one of the kids who got slapped a lot. During Confirmation rehearsals they put all of us boys together with the public school boys for 3 long days of rehearsals in the chapel (the girls rehearsed separately in the old church). I remember how terrified the public school boys were of the nuns even though the nuns never slapped any of the public school boys -- maybe they were afraid of the school getting sued? During rehearsal while my group was lined up in front waiting to go up to go up to the alter where an older kid sat in a chair pretending to be the Bishop. And we would go up to him in a single line, one kid at a time and he would tap us across the face, pretending to Confirm us. As we were waiting our turn on line, instead of facing forward I had my head turned smiling & fooling around. When suddenly I heard Sister yell my name "BRENDON!!!" As I turned around Sister gave me such a slap across my face, which certainly wiped that smile off my face. A few seconds later one of the kids in my class yelled out "Ryan really just got Confirmed!" Once my group made our way back to our seats every public school kid sitting near me repeatedly kept turning around to stare at the hand print on my face. I guess to the public school kids this was a big deal, something that never happened in public school.

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      Brian Fitzgerald 16 months 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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      John Cartoni 20 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.

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      Caelii 3 years ago

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

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      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.

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 5 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

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

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 5 years ago from Mason City

      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.

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      Judy Specht 5 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

      Gail Louise Stevenson 6 years ago from Mason City

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

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 6 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.