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Kids at Play: 1940

May 1940. "Recess time at grade school in Hobbs, New Mexico." Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

May 1940. "Recess time at grade school in Hobbs, New Mexico." Medium format negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Prosperous Community

All the kids have shoes, unlike many other Shorpy pics.

Rodeo Boys

I would say one of the two boys that are on the ground, the one with the cowboy boot must live on a cattle ranch.

Child's play

It just shows you that no matter what the circumstances -- blazing sun, grassless play yard that looks like the edge of a gravel pit -- the total enjoyment on these children's faces says it all.

Fun playgrounds

The playground at my elementary school in the '50s at least had grass, minimal rocks. But the boys were very much like the boys here. Lots of roughhousing. Games were tough, all were a tackle game of some sort. Don't know what the girls did, we weren't interested. They certainly did not play any of the "boy" games.

But that was all overseas.

In 1961, we went on vacation to the US. My mom stuck me in a 5th grade class in a public school in Santa Ana CA. Playground was sanitized then. No roughhousing, no tackle games, etc. My thought was that the kids were a bunch of wimps. They weren't. I did get in trouble with a new found friend when I found out he like to roughhouse as much as I did. We both got detention.

Of course it wasn't the kids' fault that there were no rough and tumble games, they did not make the rules. It was the parents and the school administration. Recess was boring. I couldn't wait to go back home where it was fun.

Rough playground

Looking at that playground surface, my first thought was: "I'll bet the school nurse had Mercurochrome by the quart."

No adult supervision

This wild "playtime" would never be tolerated today by parents who demand that there be only organized games, safety patrol observers and several teachers on playground duty whenever they release the kids from their classrooms. Not only are most of the boys in this picture pummeling each other or getting prepped to pick a fight, I even see a girl on the left (climbing the stairs of the big slide) about to push another girl off of a seesaw. I don't know if kids were tougher then or if parents just let their children deal with the consequences of their own behavior. I do think that most of these kids got their clothes dirty and also came home each day with a new bruise or two.

Soft surface

I remember when the debate at my kids’ school for the playground surface was wood chips or rubberized. How about lots of rocks?

With regard to the merry-go-round on the far right: Word was, when I was a kid, that if you fell underneath while it was spinning, certain death would result.


That's a pretty rough playground for little ones. I imagine there were a few bloody knees when the bell finally rang.

Playground equipment

... must have been quite a novelty in 1940.


This is when bullying was just part of play time. Fights in progress, fights finishing and fights about to begin.

Recess the way I remember it!

Where to begin? Boys wrasslin' and roughhousing, too many kids on the seesaw and slide, rocks everywhere - and I see London, I see France, I see some girl's underpants! BTW, I live only about 45 miles from Hobbs, NM.

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