School Days–Cincinnati–1930s-40s


The day after Labor Day in 1938, I began my education by entering old Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  I’m sure Mother must have pointed out the school to me many times before I started the first grade there.  It was just across Central Parkway from our first floor two-room apartment on Elm Street.  If we were standing on the street or even sitting on the front stoop, we would have been able to see the big red brick building and the heavy iron fence that surrounded it.

I remember the dress I wore on my first day of school because a picture had been taken the day before at the County Fair in Dayton, Ohio.  My grandma had bought it for me – a yellow silk dress with brown velvet ribbons and a full circle accordion pleated skirt.  This was before World War II when silk was the fabric of choice for special occasions.


I can remember Mother walking with me to my first day at Raschig and then suddenly being gone.  I don’t recall being particularly happy or unhappy – I was just there.  Because I hadn’t been to kindergarten, they put me in a class with kids who needed to be evaluated.  The teacher was a middle-aged lady and not particularly friendly  Soon after I arrived,  I noticed kids were passing around food for our mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.  One bowl held the most gorgeous purple plums.  I don’t believe I had ever seen plums before.  I asked the teacher if I could pass the plums and she was very brusque and said the children were chosen ahead of time and to go sit down.

Luckily, I left her class within a couple of weeks and had Mrs. Clark and a young student teacher who were wonderful.  I remember struggling with reading – it didn’t seem to make sense and then one day it all came together and I never had any problems after that.  I also struggled a little to make the cursive letters that spelled out Lillian.  We never did learn to print but went into handwriting immediately.

I looked forward to the stories the teacher read to us – “Lazy Liza Lizard”, “The Three Bears”, and particularly “Little Black Sambo” because I loved the description of the butter and the pancakes.

Ours was an inner city school but during the housing shortage of those war years there were many middle-class people living in the area with children going to Raschig.  Kids like Rollo, a black boy who always wore stylish knickers and argyle knee socks and appeared to come from a well-to-do family as well as a girl named Mary Jane and another girl named Patty Lou (double names were big in the 1930s).  Our family was about middle-ground economically – there were kids much poorer – Dorothy, Mary Lou, and poor Otto, a raggedy boy whose shoe soles flapped as he walked.


This was a Valentine I designed one year to show Rollo, Otto and myself in our classroom


Those Raschig years were good for me – I did well in school, the teachers seemed pleased with my work, I thought most of the kids liked me, nobody bothered me except for teasing occasionally about my long finger curls and I never took that seriously.  When I was 9 years old, I jotted down a poem about school starting again at old Raschig.   I never did outgrow my love of school.

Poem by Lillian (9 years old) – August, 1942

I love to go to school
And see the teachers dear
There to teach us children
All through the year.

I love to go to school
To learn to write and read
And there to learn to be
Very good indeed.

I love to go school
Because it’s so much fun
For when I have gym
I sometimes get to run.

I love to go to school
Way up into June
For you see I am so anxious
School will be starting soon.

In autumn when the leaves are falling
We hear the children’s voices calling
I think how glad they must be
To go to school the same as me.

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quilt32

Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

11 thoughts on “School Days–Cincinnati–1930s-40s”

  1. Wow! I love your post! Great memories. Thanks for taking me along on your journey. You were such a great poet at 9 years old. I just love the valentine and those curls…they are precious.

  2. What sweet memories. I enjoyed your post too. You were such a pretty little girl and I loved your hair. Your poem and drawing was great. I always liked to draw until somebody made fun of it. I took a drawing class last year and the enjoyment has come back. I’m not good but I do enjoy it occasionally. I loved going to school too. The best times of my life were in school. I enjoyed learning, reading and Math was my favorite. My kids didn’t like school like I did even though I wanted them to. They laugh at me when I said I liked school. I couldn’t write poetry but I played in the band from 3rd grade through high school. I still play my flute now. I was in the church orchestra but I changed churches and they don’t have one where I go now. I still enjoy it though…thanks for sharing your memories, it brought back good memories for me too. Have a blessed day and a wonderful Labor Day holiday.

    1. Thank you so much for your nice comments – I enjoyed hearing about your school days. I think we were in the minority as children who liked school. My youngest daughter wanted me to post something using the poem to show her children how it was possible to actually love going to school.

      It sounds as though you were and are very talented musically. What a wonderful thing to have in your life. Lillian

  3. I love your poem – very talented to make it rhyme when you were only 9. What a great memory post. I enjoyed reading about it and seeing a picture of the school (just the kind I always wanted to attend, but in the southwest, they schools were all one story) and of you. Thanks for sharing these memories.

  4. What a wonderful story and memories. What a marvelous childhood you had. I think I told you before that I visited my elem school where I went to 1st and 2nd grade. I could go right to my room. They were going to tear it down this summer and build a new one, so glad I got to see it before then. 1st and 2nd grade was 1940 and 41— I started early and was only 5 and wasn’t 6 until the next February. I was born 1935.

    1. You’re the same age as my little sister whom I mention so much in my posts – she was born in January, 1935. She passed away last December.

      You were so lucky to be able to visit your old classroom. My Raschig School was torn down back in the 1960s, I believe, for a parking lot. Such a waste of a beautiful old building.

      Hope you are having a nice Labor Day weekend. Lillian

  5. Oh Lillian…I love your sharing these sweet memories with us. I too loved school so understand your warm thoughts. The photos of you are so adorable and how fun it must be too look back at them. Your school building was beautiful. But it was your being there that made it a special place. Thanks for sharing it with me!

    Hugs from Holland ~
    Heidi

  6. My mother was a very young teacher who graduated UnivCinti teacher’s college about 1939 and went to teach at Raschig. In those days if you graduated tops in your class, they sent you to the poorest school district to teach. My mother told me she had all ages of children in her class–quite a challenge to teach back then. She told me stories upon stories of Raschig. If anyone has any memories of her, let me know. Her name was Virginia Kapfer or she might have gone by the name Virginia Wissel. She absolutely LOVED teaching people to read and draw.

    1. Dave Wissel, the young student teacher I had in the first grade was very young, very pretty and very kind. I’m sorry I don’t remember her name but it might very well have been your mother. During the summer vacation, she stopped by our apartment on Elm Street (right across from Raschig) and gave me a small white teddy bear which was cherished for years.

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