What I know about yearbooks
with lots of pictures.

by Darilee Bednar aka bookstorelady
owner of Third St Books, Marysville WA

I was asked to give a talk about yearbooks to the Whatcom County Genealogical Society of Bellingham WA. I was pleased and surprised and over a period of several weeks developed this talk which I presented to them in May 2004. I have given the same talk several more times to local societies.

There isn't a whole lot of yearbook history online. So when I tell you that the oldest yearbook known to have been printed in the United States is a 1806 Yale University one I'm using up most of the on-line history.

I own a used book store and would shop at thrift stores and see yearbooks, lots of yearbooks. So 16 years ago I began to buy them. Sometimes as many as 40 at a time and all at 95 cents each.

Currently I have a collection of over 5900 yearbooks. Over 3500 from Washington State alone. My online catalog of yearbooks I own is at Third St Books Genealogical Library

Do a consider myself a yearbook specialist... No, because I've never put one together but I'm definitely a yearbook lover.

So This is what I know about yearbooks.... with lots of pictures.

Three Types of Yearbooks

    Alumni Directory My oldest yearbook is an 1853 Middlebury College Yearbook. It is full of biographical sketches of the graduates from the school starting with the first and only graduate in 1802, Aaron Perry, who died young 1803 and extending to the 16 graduates of the class of 1853. This type of yearbook is very common during the 1800's through 1910's. It predates the commerically viable letterpress printing process and the use of halftone printing process that allowed true and cheap reproduction of pictures.
    Reviewing 1804: 12 men graduated, 7 died youngish within 15 years of graduation; 2 became teachers, 3 became lawyers, two became ministers, 3 ended up in politics.
Middlebury College, 1853, Middlebury VT

    Art and Literary Magazine The quarterly magazines (some times monthly) were very common around the turn of the century through the 1920's. These books were always soft cover and stapled. As the name says these books were the product of student writers and artists who published these books 4 times a year. The Fall issue was dedicated to football and the June issue was full of pictures of the Senior Class. Queen High School, 1913 Kuay, Vol. 5 - #1, Seattle WA
    Picture Yearbooks The yearly books contained all same information that was common in the Quarterly Magazine yearbooks of that time. So they had student works of fiction and poems, cartoons, senior pictures in one volume.
    By the 1940 student works of literature, joke pages, alumni pages, and calendars where replaced by candid photographs and individual portraits of all students.

How to look for History in Yearbooks.

    Alumni Lists were a common feature of yearbooks 1900's through the mid 1930's. These lists are a joy for the genealogist as the girls are listed with both maiden and married names. Occupations are given and current residence if known and everyone is in alphabetical order, sorted by year of graduation. A high school student was and still is about 18 at graduation. It is possible to track a person through the alumni lists as the information was updated.

Yearbook for North & South High Schools, 1912, Bellingham WA

    Literary Student writings were featured especially in the quarterly yearbook magazine types 1890's to the early 1930's.     This poem caught my eye because it was written by college girl about WWI. Some of the references, while unusual today, reflects the attitude of average person towards the war. It wasn't an uncommon allegory to the draw a correlation between the war in France with the game of football. (see Capt. Lloyd Butler Dysart, of Centralia ) The student writings review their teachings and the opinions of their parents and piers.

Yearbook for Washington State Normal School, 1918, Bellingham WA

Art Student artwork has been a feature from the earliest yearbooks.

Yearbook for Bellingham High School, 1953, Bellingham WA

    Humour Most of the jokes were all "chestnuts" that were given the names of popular students and teachers or were used to poke fun at the underclassmen. Little jabs at seniors were also common. The cartoon work was done by the students. 1890's through 1930's

Yearbook for Washington State Normal School, 1918, Bellingham WA

    School Calendars Not only were there school calendar of events but sometimes all the classes had their own calendars printed. Very common 1890's through 1930's.
    This one is unique because in February 1918 the basketball team traveled over 200 miles south to play basketball, they also crossed the mountains to play another 200 miles east. It must have been by train which would have still been a full days trip and was only eight years after the Wellington Avalanche that destroyed a stranded train and its passengers near the top of Stevens Pass.

Yearbook for Washington State Normal School, 1918, Bellingham WA

Sports coverage was a must in all yearbooks. The monthly/quarterly yearbook magazines always featured a football issue. In some of the smaller towns, high school sports were a front page news article. Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Track. If the girls participated in any sport it was Basketball and there are plenty of yearbooks from the 19teens and the twenties that showed young women with hair ribbons in a similar pose.

Yearbook for Washington State Normal School, 1918, Bellingham WA

    Clubs The schools were proud of their cultural groups like the orchestra, debate teams, and the theatre groups. In some cases the debate teams got almost as much room as any of the sports teams in the 1890's through 1940's. In fact, the debate teams and the oratory groups got front page news articles in the local newspapers.

the combined yearbook for North Side and South Side High Schools, 1912, Bellingham WA

    Remembrance Pages A page set aside of classmates that died during the year were very common in all the earliest yearbooks. All the yearbooks from the 1918 and 1919's listed their alumni who died in WW1.

In 1894 a Duluth High School yearbook, Duluth MN listed 5 classmates that died in one year with no reason of death given. Of course all the classmates knew... In the school calendar it mentioned creating a "bald head club" for all the students who had suffered from scarlet fever and had lost all their hair due to high fevers.

Yearbook for Whatcom High School, 1919, Bellingham WA

    Class Song Besides the School Song, the School Yell, the School Cheer, there were class songs, yells, cheer, colors, and flowers. All created by the student leaders.

This yearbook is worthy of note because it wasn't professional printed, with the exception of the picture pages. To save money the students ran all text pages off on the mimeograph machine and then handbound it.

Yearbook for Prosser High School, 1944, Prosser WA

    Underclassmen The Portrait type pictures of underclassmen did not become a common feature until the mid 1950's and even then they were smaller in size with many more per page.
    In pre-1950 yearbooks the usual practice was to have portrait shots of the underclass leaders and then group shots of the class. If there was a list of students in the group shot, usually they were only identified by last name and first initial and, often as not, no names were listed.
    This yearbook was unusal because it was a combined yearbook of two high schools. So there was two of everything. On this page were the pictures of both school Freshman class leaders, each class having a short bio. Very unusual book

Yearbook for North & South High Schools, 1912, Bellingham WA

    Senior Class Yearbooks were created for Seniors by seniors although some schools let the juniors do it. So the Seniors got the big portraits, bios, predictions, and most of the candid shots .
    Around the turn of the century most schools had a 1/2 year class that usually graduated in January. This class was generally much smaller than the class that graduated in the Spring. The 1/2 year class had it's own leaders as did the Spring class.

Yearbook for North & South High Schools, 1912, Bellingham WA

    Senior pages One of several pages exclusive to remembering seniors. Usually funnier then the joke pages.

Yearbook for Whatcom School, 1919, Bellingham WA

    Autographs It wasn't until the late 1930's that the students did much more than sign their names. The long rambling inscriptions common in todays yearbooks didn't start until the 1960's and even then it was very tame.
    Most college yearbooks do not have signatures nor inscriptions. Very few college yearbooks even have their owners name in them.

Yearbook for Whatcom High School, 1919, Bellingham WA

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Placed on Line 7 Oct 2004
By Darilee Bednar
A member of the USGenWeb Project
Supported by Third St Books
@ 2004 All rights reserved.