Looking Back At Heading Back To School

The Jewish News
Mike Smith

Mike Smith

From the JN Foundation Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Back to school. Three words that hold different meaning for different people. It is a menacing phrase for kids. It means, alas, summer is over; it’s time to get back to work. For moms, it means “Hooray, I survived the summer with the children home every day, and I now get some respite for a few hours a day.”

For moms and dads, it means time to shop for clothes and school supplies for the kids, and work out who drives whom to which sports practice, dance class or after-school program. And, I thought to myself, what would I find if I searched for “back to school” in the Davidson Digital Archives?

Well, I found 1,569 pages in the JN and the Detroit Jewish Chronicle that mentioned “back to school.” It was interesting that the initial use of the term first appeared in the June 13, 1919, and other early issues of the Chronicle, not for a department store sale, but as a social item regarding who was returning to college. The phrase was also included in a poem, an ode to mothers with school-age children, in the Sept. 22, 1922, issue of the Chronicle. It has a rather unceremonious title: “Ma!”

In the Jan. 25, 1924, issue of the Chronicle, the “Go Back to School” advertisement was for “classes for men” at the Detroit Institute of Technology. Times have changed. The Palace Model Laundry placed a back-to-school ad for its services in the Sept. 4, 1925, Chronicle, noting: “What mother doesn’t have enough work … without being burdened with ‘extra heavy washings?’” Indeed. The Aug. 24, 1928, Chronicle had a brief ad from Hudson’s, simply pointing out that it had expanded its Children’s Floor.

My favorite use of “back to school” from the early years? I liked the advertisement from United Dairies in the Sept. 11, 1936, Chronicle, which had a very succinct message: “Back from Vacation! Your Children Go Back to School! Phone at Once! [to get more milk].”

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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