Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Do you want to be the wife of the President of the United States?" and other questions for future Central alumni

It was Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960: Less than two weeks earlier, John F. Kennedy had defeated Hubert Humphrey in the Wisconsin Primary.

Earlier in the year, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter; an earthquake destroyed Agadir, Morocco; the 1960 Winter Olympics opened in Squaw Valley; Elvis Presley returned home after serving two years active duty in Germany; "Ben Hur" won an Oscar for Best Picture; and the United States announced that 3,500 American soldiers would be sent to Vietnam.

It must have been a slow day in the Wisconsin State Journal newsroom, because the newspaper ran a front-page story with the headline "Average Pupil Doesn't Want to Live in the White House." Members of the Class of 1965 were not featured in this article: They were under the protection of Vida Smith, who probably wouldn't have given a hall pass to a reporter who wanted to ask some dunderhead questions; or they were still ensconced in junior high schools too far away from the newspaper's S. Carroll Street headquarters.

No, the unfortunate task of answering ridiculous questions about what they wanted to be when they grew up fell to fifth and sixth grade students at Lincoln School on E. Gorham Street – some of whom who "grow up" to become Madison Central High School alumni (members of the Classes of 1966 and 1967).

Perhaps if all the students had been queried about whether they wanted to one day be president, this small, unscientific survey might have seemed less objectionable a half-century later. But they weren't…

Despite the fact that Lincoln had a female principal (Lillian Simonson), despite the fact that Margaret Chase Smith had been a U.S. Senator since 1948, reporter William C. Robbins (who would later become the newspaper's managing editor) didn't ask the girls if they wanted to one day be President of the United States; he asked them if they wanted to be the president's wife. The results were as follows:

"Of 13 boys questioned, all said they have ambitions other than being president. Of 23 girls, all said they prefer other roles than be the president's wife."

While I don't know what all the students who are named in the article grew up to be, I do know that at least a couple of the girls went on to careers that were definitely not dependent on their status as a wife: In 1970, Peggy Williams (Class of 1966) became the first female clown at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Florida. And "Debby" Hastings (Class of 1967) spent 23 years as Bo Diddley's bass player as part of the Debbie Hastings Band.

For your edification and convenience (and to attract the attention of the search engines), I've transcribe the entire April 17, 1960 article and am appending it to this post. Read, enjoy, rage, laugh – and then leave a comment, especially if you can update us on the whereabouts of some of the other students mentioned in the article.

Average Pupil Doesn't Want to Live in the White House

By William C. Robbins
(State Journal Staff Writer)

In this presidential election year, the average Madison grade school pupil has little or no ambition of ever living in the White House.

The boys would rather be astronauts, sports stars, businessmen, marines, detectives, or doctors than be president of the United States.

The girls would rather be married to doctors, lawyers, jet pilots, businessmen, lion tamers, or businessmen than be the nation's first lady.

That was the definite answer given in a survey of fifth and sixth grade pupils at Lincoln School, 702 E. Gorham st. Evelyn Simonson, 303 Princeton ave., is school principal.

Of 13 boys questioned, all said they have ambitions other than being president. Of 23 girls, all said they prefer other roles than be the president's wife.

They had their reasons, too. They said there is too much responsibility and public attention involved.

"I would not like to be president because every five minutes you have problems and large arithmetic problems, too," Karel Vlasek, 301 N. Livingston st., said. Karel said he would like to be an astronaut and help explore outer space.

"It involves too many decisions, worries, and responsibilities. He would not be able to spend enough time with me and the kids," Peggy Williams, 503 E. Gorham st., said. She would prefer her future husband be a doctor, she said.

What do they want to be someday? Here are the answers the boys gave when asked to name their No. 1 job ambition: doctor 2, lawyer 2, businessman 2, astronaut 2, marine 1, veterinarian 1, reporter 1, television cowboy 1, and comedian 1.

Here are the answers the girls gave when asked what job they wanted for their future husbands: doctor 7, lawyer 3, businessman 3, scientist 2, athlete 1, jet pilot 1, lion tamer 1, zoo keeper 1, FBI agent 1, interpreter 1, horse trainer 1, and teacher 1.

When the 13 boys were asked directly if they wanted to be president some day, only one said "yes." He was Dick Sweet, 18 Sherman terrace, and his first choice was astronaut.

"I would like to take trips. I would also like to live in the White House," Dick explained.

When the 23 girls were asked directly if they wanted their husbands to be president, only four said "yes."

"I would be able to travel with him and help him make decisions and help the United State," Sandra Gasen, 2426 A Truax Field said.

Debby [sic] Hastings, 10 Sherman terrace said, "I would like him to be president so I could see him on TV and we could go on trips together. And live in the White House."

The pupils also had a chance to state preferences between being president and holding a number of other jobs. The boys said overwhelmingly they would rather play for the Milwaukee Braves than be chief executive. The vote was 10 to 1. They would also rather be a lawyer (8 to 1), detective (10 to 0), clergyman (7 to 4), and businessman (10 to 1).

The girls agreed. They said they would rather be married to a baseball player (20 to 3), lawyer (19 to 2), detective (17 to 6), or a businessman (19 to 4). The only reversal was president over clergyman (13 to 9).

The reasons the students are not interested in the presidency reveal their understanding of the responsibility of the position.

Mickey Toseff, 243 A Truax Field, television performer: "It is too hard. You have to talk all day. I don't like it. It is not exciting."

Work all the time

Steve Reynolds, 130 N. Blair st., lawyer: "I would not like to make speeches and go to meetings and take trips. I would rather stay close to my family."

Danny Walker, 124 N. Hancock st., doctor: "There are too many important decisions to make."

Steve Bruns, 5 Sherman terrace, doctor: "You have to work all the time and worry too much."

David Williams, 503 E. Gorham st., businessman: "It is a big job that I think is a bit too big a job."

Jacqueline Harrington, 414 Washburn, pl., lawyer or doctor: "I would not like him to be president because we would be too high and mighty and I wouldn't like that life."

Too Much Strain


Trudy Halla, 822 E. Gorham st., scientist: "Because I wouldn't want my children to grow up in politics. I'd like them to grow up in the country."

Patti Anne Notes, 741 E. Gorham st., teacher: "I'd have to live in the White House and go where the president goes—too much attention."

Mary Jo MacMillian, 126 S. Hancock st., anthropologist: "I would not like him to be president because of the dangers of assassinators and enemies he would make. He would have too much responsibility and there would, be too much physical and mental
strain on him."

Susan Brockett, 1026 Sherman ave., lawyer: "He would have no time for me. He might go away often. He might get to be a swell head."

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Central Arch and "The Ash Street Project"

While persistent, unsubstantiated rumors flutter around about the possibility that MATC may make another attempt to tear down the historic Central Arch, West High School alumni are about to embark on a fundraising campaign to "have a grand new entrance" on Ash Street. According to a story in this morning's Wisconsin State Journal:

"Later this month, about 20,000 West High graduates will find in their mailboxes a donation plea for "The Ash Street Project," a $400,000, front yard reconfiguration of a building that many consider a Near West Side landmark. Designed by Madison landscape architect Ken Saiki, a West High alum, the new entry will have a symmetrical, formal staircase, decorative walkway and performance area.

Referendum funds and grants will cover $250,000 to replace the school’s crumbling steps and make the new entry comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But it’s up to West to raise another $150,000 to fund Saiki’s design, a vision approved by a community committee, said Principal Ed Holmes.

Technically the district money is enough to take down what we have and put it back the way it is," Holmes said. "It’s time for a renovation, kind of a starting over. The Ash Street entrance is really the symbol and the image of West High School that people have had over the generations."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Keeping abreast of new posts and updates

The blog list in the sidebar automatically updates when I post something new in one of the other Madison Central High School blogs. Recent updates include an announcement about the date for the 2009 All-Central Reunion in Alumni and Reunion News; an obituary for Fess Hotel owner, Perry Fess (Class of 1906), accompanied by a newspaper article featuring artwork from two other Central alumni, photographer George Stein and illustrator John Schmelzer, in the archive for obituaries published prior to 1990; an obituary for Thomas Lloyd Jones, a Madison [Central] High School school principal who was also the cousin of another MCHS alumnus, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, in the obituary archives for teachers, administrators, and staff; and a 1970 poster by the ubiquitous John Schmelzer in the Central history blog.