JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Parochial Playground: 1940

Parochial Playground: 1940

April 1940. "Catholic church and schoolyard. Dubuque, Iowa." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Not exactly St. Patrick's

Those kids are playing in the dirt yard of a real-life cathedral, St. Raphael's, of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, an example of a cathedral that mainly functions as a local parish catering to the local population. The school closed in 1976 and the yard is now a (paved) parking lot.

Skinned knees and torn skirts

The Catholic school I went to in Detroit in the '60s was surrounded by city streets and black-topped parking lots. At lunchtime, these were blocked with sawhorses or pylons so we could play. We were broken up by grade, not boy/girl, and the fortunate ones were in the center courtyard. I think they were largely 4th graders in there. My knees were bare between the hem of my skirt and the top of my knee socks and I don't recall having anything BUT scabs on them from 1st to 6th grade from falling on that city cement while playing hopscotch, jumping rope or touch football.

Saint Columbkille's

I believe this must be the playground of Saint Columbkille’s elementary school ( Saint Vincent’s Academy, 1879). The Saint Columbkille parish next door purchased Saint Vincent’s elementary and high schools from the founding Sisters of the Presentation of the BVM in 1930 for $35,000 and the facility has been in almost continuous use as a school ever since. Today, Saint Columbkille’s is a K-5 facility and part of Holy Family Catholic Schools.

Now a Parking Lot

No more swing sets. Now a parking permit is required. It says so right on entrance sign.

But then I'm a Baptist

The swingset nun has me doing an imaginary running-scared routine down through the years, what with her Grim Reaper-like garb. She was probably a nice lady but that's simply terrifying. And I never spent a single minute in a Catholic school.

Impressive schoolyard

The Catholic schoolyard of my youth consisted of the unadorned, asphalt covered church parking lot. This one has the luxury of a genuine dirt surface -- a little dusty perhaps, but less likely to produce abrasion holes in school uniforms. The swings and other equipment appear to be accessible to everyone outside of school hours.

Hula Hoops and Marbles

I attended grade 6 at the old Brown public school on Avenue Road in Toronto for six weeks before our family moved to Australia for five years in 1958. The rear of the school had signs over two of the doorways: BOYS and GIRLS. The north half of the school yard was populated by only the boys who played marbles. The south half was filled with girls playing with hula hoops. No one dared cross the imaginary line that separated the two areas. When it was time to go into the school, a teacher appeared at a doorway and rang a large, brass bell, and we all filed in through the appropriate entrances.

Our classroom had old row desks with inkwells and dip pens, and the teacher brought out a leather strap to maintain order.

That Swingset and the Nun

Looks like the good sister is strung up vigilante-style. A little eighth-grade justice for those rulers-on-the-knuckles.


I never learned how to throw a ball because no one ever taught me, not my father, not any gym teachers. The boys were shown how, but not the girls. (That was back in the sixties. My daughter, a decade ago, was taught how to throw a ball by her female gym teacher.) So it doesn’t surprise me to see the boys and girls in separate parts of the schoolyard, playing different games. But I do feel for the girl in the plaid dress on the left, passing by the wall of the church, casting a glance over at the boys and their ball game. At least I think it’s a ball game. How would I know?

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2022 Shorpy Inc.