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Class Portrait: 1940

"Montgomery High School students." An amusing (or maybe unsettling) class portrait from Montgomery County, Maryland. The Library of Congress says circa 1936; we've found a number of clues that narrow it down to 1939-40. See the comments for details. National Photo Company safety negative. View full size.

"Montgomery High School students." An amusing (or maybe unsettling) class portrait from Montgomery County, Maryland. The Library of Congress says circa 1936; we've found a number of clues that narrow it down to 1939-40. See the comments for details. National Photo Company safety negative. View full size.


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1940 Richard Montgomery HS Yearbook

Page 28 of the Richard Montgomery Yearbook -- The Rocket (via shows this classroom and a description of "Junior English". The pictures on the wall on the left are the same as those in the photo here, though the back wall has different pictures, and none of the students match up. Page 6 of the yearbook shows a crowd of people watching the school burn and page 8 describes the fire - no one was injured and all the school records were saved.

That Boy

My family is from Rockville - my grandmother graduated from Montgomery High School in 1933, my mom graduated from Richard Montgomery (the newer name) in 1960, and I have a lot of other relatives who attended that school. I showed this picture to my mom to see if she recognized anyone and she immediately said she knew the "about to burst" boy. His name was Frank (she couldn't remember his last name) and he had cerebral palsy. She remembers that when she was a child, he sold Fuller brushes in their neighborhood.

One possibility

The fellow with the 'sideways' book could actually be looking at a picture; they were sometimes printed that way when they were much wider than tall, so wouldn't fit otherwise.

Panama Smith

Oy, I am chagrined. GG had the best line in the movie (Roaring Twenties) and one of the all time classic tag lines...

"He used to be a big shot."

Gladys George

Good catch, Highney. I should have recognized her, since she has memorable character parts in three movies in my collection: opposite Cagney in The Roaring Twenties (1938), as Miles Archer's duplicitous widow Iva opposite Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941), and with Kirk Douglas in Detective Story (1951). Rather tragic personal life, unfortunately; check her bio in the Internet Movie Database.

Mystery Star, neither Miriam nor Claire

That pic is of Gladys George.


Now where else on the web are you gonna get an old classroom photo with two disparate song references to the likes of Rick Astley and Mambo #5?

Yo, tterrace

Would have been here sooner, but I had a hurricane to contend with. I think Miriam Hopkins might actually be Claire Trevor. Not sure about Joel Mcrea, but I don't have any alternative candidates to propose.

That's just about the sissiest picture of John Garfield I have ever seen in my short life!

Never Gonna Give You Up

Could that be a time-traveling Rick Astley, second from the right?

[And right behind him: John-Boy Walton. - Dave]

A bit of Hedy in your cellphone!

She's downright beautiful, and smart: co-inventor of "Secret Communication System" technology submitted for US patent in June, 1941 and patent was granted in August, 1942.

Back then, this frequency hopping method was well ahead of technology that could support it, but the spread-spectrum principle is used in today in cellphone and WiFi communication gear.

See for details.

Hottie Spotter

That chick in the front row, far right side is total hottie!

School's out for summer

The date of the fire that gutted RM High School was Thursday, March 7, 1940, early in the morning. The blaze was so spectacular that it threatened other parts of the city, and response was called in from six other cities.

Parenthetically -

That girl behind Angry Boy - the one in glasses - is genuinely lovely, and she'd be a knockout if she ditched that “Comrade Librarian” look.

The Churchill photo

The Churchill photo would have NO REASON AT ALL of being on a wall in a US classroom unless it was after he became PM in WWII.

[Well, yes it would. In fact it appeared in the January 9, 1939, issue of Life magazine, which had a photoessay on Churchill. A photo from the same session was the cover of the September 4, 1939, issue of Time. Churchill was something of a celebrity in the U.S. well before he became prime minister -- his mother was American. At the start of World War 2 in 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, it was generally recognized that Neville Chamberlain was through and that Churchill would be England's war leader. - Dave]

Other Classroom Stars

Between the two standing girls, Tyrone Power; second to the right of Errol Flynn, Paul Muni and Luise Rainer, stars of 1937's The Good Earth; two more to the right, possibly Miriam Hopkins, but I won't swear; likewise below her looks like Joel McCrea.

The Class

They look so young, but at the same time they look so old!

Look Busy

As a teacher, I can make much of what's going on here. Obviously the students were told to look busy. You see the ones who complied: the ones in the front (the good kids) and the girls. The ones sitting in the back (trouble), and most of the boys (with one lone girl peeking) are stealing glances at the camera. Some things don't change.

Cross Reader

Notice the boy far left, front row. Everyone else is reading the book normally. He's reading it crosswise or maybe not at all. Maybe he's thinking about the pretty one sitting to his left!

I do believe

that that is a portrait of Hedy Lamarr next to ol' Errol.

Casual or Formal

Is there any clue that these students knew ahead of time that their picture was going to be taken this particular day? Although people dressed better in school back then, I'm curious if this is really a candid shot, or if they might have dressed a little differently for this occasion (specifically Bursting For a Pee Boy).

And why is the kid on the far left reading his book sideways?

Held Back

I believe the young man in the 2nd row is the most explosive, because he's probably been held back a few times. He looks about 4 years older than the rest (including the guy with the mustache) and appears to be much bigger than the rest. All joking that aside, If this was around 1940, those boys were going to be in a shooting war very shortly. That makes the photo more serious.

How Do I Look?

Caught the 'Elizabeth and Essex' photo, but being a girl, I checked out the fashions. Shorter skirts, saddle shoes and moccasins worn with bobby sox, and the long hair on half the young ladies point to the very late '30's-early '40's.
Does the kid at the bulletin board have a mustache? Was that allowed?

Montgomery High Memories

This is a classroom in the old Montgomery High in Rockville. The school was torn down after being gutted by fire in 1940.

Angry Boy

I was thinking the kid at the back with the glasses looking towards the camera is Angry Boy. He looks like he's about to go postal. Guy in the middle looks like Bursting for a Pee Boy.

Class Project

So who'll be the first to dig up a yearbook for this school and ID these kids? It would be fascinating to find out what became of them. Especially Angry Boy in the middle. And that girl on the left -- what a beauty.

John Garfield

didn't make his first film until 1938.


Perhaps that wasn't what you were looking for, but why would a classroom have a photo of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is what he was in 1936.

One more thing...

Bobby Sox.

Why it's later than '36

For one thing, the publicity still of Errol Flynn is from "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex," and that was made in 1939.

[Bingo! Although I'll bet there are other clues as well. - Dave]


I believe the picture of Churchill dates from WW2. What movie is the Erroll Flynn picture from? I think it's "The Sea Hawk" from 1940.

[I was thinking that might be a cropped version of Karsh's famous portrait of Winnie but it's not. - Dave]

A Clue

Assuming that's a photo of Churchill, he wasn't PM in 1936.

[Close, but not the smoking gun. - Dave]

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