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Madison High School

Madison High School (1918 ca.)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-55265

Wild Youth

Forget the wild youth of today. Do you have any idea what great-grandma and great-grandpa were doing when they were your age, eighty years ago?

Prior to a big dance at Madison High School in March 1920, parents met with school authorities – the mothers with Miss Carolyn Moseley, dean of girls, and the fathers with Principal Volney Barnes – to figure out how to control their children.

As reported by the Capital Times, “rouged, powdered and penciled faces, ear muffs, silk stockings, high heels, georgette blouses, note writing, late parties, boy and girl relations, extravagances and courtesy” were discussed. “Say what you want about standards of morality – if a girl doesn’t demand them of a boy she won’t get them.” Mothers of boys thought girls should be responsible for maintaining decorum on dates; mothers of girls thought boys should use common sense. Mothers of both boys and girls insisted that it was the job of teachers to correct the manners of the children. Once their children left for school in the morning, they were beyond parental control. “A daughter often leaves home with the face nature gave her and appears in the classroom with brilliant cheeks.” It was, mothers said, up to teachers to send these girls to the basement to wash their painted faces before entering class.

Parents complained that school dances had no set ending time, and so they did not know when to expect their children to arrive home afterwards. “Our children are out roaming the streets or riding in autos until 2 o’clock in the morning, and we should know about it. The boys spend more money than is good for them, and the girls rouge, powder and dress to attract their attention.”

Then “Miss Moseley suddenly held up an envelope full of notes collected from different classrooms. ‘Read them! Read them!’ clamored the mothers.” After insisting there were some letters she didn’t think she should read, Miss Moseley relented and read one: “Come tonight. Father and Mother will be out, and no one will be there to keep us from having a good time.”

The mothers ultimately agreed that they should get together, set limits, and all tell their sons the same thing, avoiding the “but Billy’s mom said he could stay out late” problem.

Meanwhile, Principal Volney Barnes was telling the fathers: “the stranglehold and cheek to cheek position” in modern dances are responsible for many temptations.”

Mark Gajewski