Archive for February 2023

Snow Day!

February 28, 2023

What kid, or teacher for that matter doesn’t love a snow day? As kids we would get up early and listen to the No School announcements on WHDH or WBZ radio praying to hear “No school, all schools in Dedham.” Then as quick as we could, we’d stuff our feet into Wonder Bread bags and rubber boots and head out the door to go sledding! In the days before the streets were intensely chemically treated and plowed to bare pavement before the last flake has even fallen, the little hill on Tower Street by my house made for great coasting. I’m sure this was the case all around Dedham on quiet streets with even the slightest elevation.

From the Boston Record-American, February 1959: “Pre-schoolers and their mothers take to the street with their sleds…This scene is being duplicated in all sections of New England…This was made in Greenlodge, Dedham.” To be exact, it is the intersection of Heritage Hill and Ledgewood.
The same view, January 14, 2023.

If we were feeling really adventurous, we’d take our Flexible Flyers (or Speedaway knockoffs) to the hill at the Capen School. Now THAT was a hill! If you weren’t careful, you could speed-away right onto the basketball court or the woods at the edge of the baseball field, especially if you were flying down the hill on one of those plastic or metal coasters.

From a 1943 report on the schools. That’s a pretty steep hill for downhill skiing!

Other popular sledding locations were the Community House and Federal Hill (Highland Ave) where sledders in the 1890s covered the hill with water taken from a nearby brook to create an ice covered surface for even more thrills. Even the dangers of car traffic didn’t stop some enthusiastic kids in December 1933.

Back at Tower Street, the Parr kids and our neighbors had a safe sledding option right in our own backyard. Even the installation of a rail fence by my father didn’t keep us off that hill.

From December, 1967. If the snow wasn’t too deep and you had enough momentum, you could duck under the fence rail and continue into the O’Berg’s yard next door.
I get creative and use my little brother’s plastic bathtub as a coaster. Oh, and I forgot to mention the rocks we had to glide over at the top of the hill.

Those childhood days of sledding are best captured in this poem I wrote recently. Feel free to share your coasting memories in the comments!

Our Hill

Our hill was not so big a hill,

But still, it was the only hill

In any backyard up and down the street.

And days when wind and winter chill

Dropped snow upon our little hill

It was the place where neighbor kids would meet

For coasting down that snowy hill,

A simple childhood winter thrill

That kept us in the cold outdoors all day.

And down and up we crossed that hill

And didn’t stop the fun until

The cold and darkness drove us all away.

The next time that it snows you will

Find new kids sledding down that hill

The way we did so many years ago.

Their happy shouts of joy will fill

The skies above that ancient hill

And echo over freshly fallen snow.

50 Years Ago- Dungaree Day

February 10, 2023

I will be wearing dungarees next Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dungaree Day at Dedham High School. First, for any readers not of a certain age, dungarees are what we called jeans back in the day (my mother shortened the term to “dungies”). Language changes. The Wrangler Wranch in the Dedham Mall where I sold dungarees during high school was originally called Mr. Slacks. Besides, “Jeans Day” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Dungaree Day took place at Dedham High School on February 15, 1973. It was a student protest that was one of the culminating events in a years-long battle between students and school authorities over a dress code that students found to be outdated, arbitrary, and unfair; a protest that saw high schoolers emulating college protestors across the country and administrators making public statements that could have been lifted from the script of Footloose. No summary I could write could accurately explain the event and the prevailing cultural attitudes of the time that precipitated it. I was still in 8th grade at St. Mary’s (dressed in shirt and tie every day, no less) and only heard about it from older friends and siblings who were there. So here is some coverage from the Dedham Transcript of February 21, 1973.

Articles in the Patriot Ledger corroborated this account and added more details. When the police arrived, students were outside chanting “We want dungarees!” After the protest students either changed out of the offensive clothing or went home. No students were suspended for protesting, but one was sent home for “gross disrespect” and smoking. A smaller protest took place the following day with a small group of students carrying signs outside before classes began.

The Dungaree Debate was nothing new in Dedham. It had only been a couple of years earlier that the necktie requirement for boys and skirts for girls had been abandoned. For several years at School Committee meetings, concerned adults had pointed out examples of dress code scofflaws followed by pleas of “Why do we have a dress code if we don’t enforce it?” For example, police chief Walter Carroll remarked at the March 1970 meeting: “The dress code should not be relaxed. A disciplined school is a happy school.” At another meeting, Committee Chair Walter Flanagan’s comment “Dungarees are not permitted but I know they are wearing them at the junior high and the high school” prompted Superintendent Harry McKay to respond: “I’ll look into it. If they wear dungarees to school, they should be sent home.” In 1965, just a few years into his tenure as DHS principal, Thomas O’Donnell was interviewed for a Patriot Ledger story about dress codes at different area high schools. Referring to Dedham’s dress code (adopted by the student council in 1958) that stipulated hair length and style among other rules, Mr. O’Donnell seemed satisfied, stating: “The students cooperate, and so do the parents.” By 1973, the ban on dungarees was about all that remained of that old dress code, and the students needed to let the administration know it wasn’t 1958 anymore, times had changed, and the dress code was obsolete.

Mr. O’Donnell started as principal in 1962. He retired at the end of the 1972-1973 school year after serving the Dedham Public Schools for 41 years.

At a School Commitee meeting in November 1972 the dress code had been discussed but not modified. The idea for Dungaree Day was proposed at a December meeting of the Student Activities Union, which had formed in September as an alternative to the traditional Student Council. According to the Transcript, the majority of the 200 students at the meeting were against the idea and favored working through proper channels to try to lift the ban. But students had been working through “proper channels” for some time with no results. The Student School Committee, an advisory committee to the town’s elected school committee had voted in November 1971 to abolish the Student Dress Code. The School Committee took no action. Students at the Junior High won a significant victory in November 1970 when the Student Council convinced administration to allow girls to wear pants (only from November-April and NO DUNGAREES!) but the dress code was still very restrictive.

The Junior High dress code from September, 1970. In November, it was revised to allow girls to wear pants from November-April, then revised again to allow pants and pant suits year-round, but NO DUNGAREES! The necktie requirement for boys was also dropped.

Senior Susan Prodnak voiced her opinion on the dress code in a letter to the Transcript in December:

“Almost everyone agrees that the dress code is pretty ridiculous. Basically it is that you’re allowed to wear any color dungarees from saffron yellow to shocking pink with the exception of blue. If you are discovered in such blue attire, you are forced to miss several classes, and possibly several days of school.”

The Class of ’74 commemorated Dungaree Day in a collage in the yearbook.

The issue of dungarees seemed to come up at every school committee meeting before and after the Dungaree Day protest. In their public statements, administrators consistently voiced the same three arguments against the offending clothing: 1. Dungarees are play clothes and if students wear play clothes to school, they will be less focused and in a more playful frame of mind. 2. Dungarees are the uniform of the counterculture and the drug culture and the rebellious youth of America. Allowing students to wear them would result in a lack of respect and discipline and lead to disruptive behavior. 3. Rules are rules. Dungarees are against the rules; students need to follow the rules and face the consequences when they don’t.

The dungaree debate was resolved in July 1974 when the Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation known as the “Students’ Bill of Rights.” Among other protections for students was the ban on dress codes, unless the code was instituted for hygiene, health and safety purposes. The bill essentially put an end to dress codes in all Massachusetts high schools, as long as local school committees approved. Dungarees were allowed for the first time at DHS in the 1974-1975 school year, my sophomore year. The student conduct code was officially approved by the school committee the following October. Although my rights to freedom of expression had been affirmed by both the Massachusetts Legislature and the Dedham School Committee, they were overruled by a higher power, my mother, and so I never attended a day at DHS while wearing “dungies.”

Do you have any Dungaree Day memories? Share them in the comments below!

Coming in Part 2- This was not the first kerfuffle at Dedham High over a dress code, nor would it be the last. Stay tuned.