This digital archive is comprised of artifacts from a scrapbook created by my great-grandmother, Mary Jane Logan, during the years that she attended Appalachian State Teachers College (1933-1935) in North Carolina. A middle-class teen, Jane went to parties, attended school athletic events, dated around, rode in automobiles, and enjoyed hanging out with friends on campus, in the outdoors, and at the drugstore. Her social life exemplifies the newfound freedom of teens in the 1930s who pushed back against the paternalistic control of parents and other authority figures.
In the early 20th century, teens were considered young adults because most of them quit school at a young age for full-time employment. Family and community obligations outweighed the peer group, and young men and women got married and had children in their late teens. In the 1920s, however, “youth blossomed into a full-grown experience” (Fass 120). Increased enrollment in high schools, colleges, and universities created a distinct, leisure-oriented teen population. According to Paula Fass, work, the church, and the community were less important as school became the most engrossing experience for adolescents in the 1920s and 1930s. Teens who stayed in school and did not work had more free time than ever to socialize with peers.
Thus the 1930s, though troubled by extreme economic downturn,
was an exciting time for America's youth. As motion pictures gained
popularity and access to automobiles increased, teens had the
motivation and the means to spend more time away from home.
While parents dictated whom their children could date and
chaperoned courtships in the past, teens in the 1930s began
setting their own standards for potential mates and participating in
more casual and short-lived romances (Palladino). Teens smoked,
drank, rode around in cars, and had few apprehensions about
premarital sexual intimacy (Fass). They gained a level of personal
freedom and generational independence that challenged traditional
notions of parental authority and respect.
Many of the qualities that define today's teenagers can be traced back to this time in America’s past. For teens, then and now, socializing was/is one of the most important aspects of life. Owning a car and smoking cigarettes are still marks of coolness; and going to the movies and enjoying parties in friends’ basements are still popular weekend activities. For teens, who you hang out with and how you spend your free time largely determines your popularity among peers and, consequently, your status in the social hierarchy.
Studying teen culture throughout American history can help us better understand how the teen population developed over time and give us insight into the mindsets and values of this intriguing cultural group to which we all at one time belong. As such, I encourage readers to relate Jane’s life and her scrapbook artifacts to their own conceptions of teen culture, college life, and America during the Great Depression. It is my hope that this archive will not only teach readers about teen life during an important time in America’s past, but that it will also urge readers to think about their own teen years and how their experiences fit into a larger cultural movement over time.
Photos from top to bottom:
(1) Jane Logan in her college years
(2) The entrance to the Appalachian State Teachers College, ca. 1935
(3) The front cover of Jane's scrapbook
Project by Amy Berendzen
Graduate student in English at Creighton University
Introduction to the Archive