Posted tagged ‘Dedham High School’

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events in a years-long battle between students and school authorities over a dress code that students found to be outdated, arbitrary, and unfair; a protest that saw high schoolers emulating college protestors across the country and administrators making public statements that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.