Brides of Christ, Lock and Load
April 9, 2012 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I am writing a piece that includes a child's experiences in a Catholic elementary school in the early 60s. I was looking for memories of the details specific to such a place.

The setting is New England. In particular, I want memories that distinguish this place and time and that contrast with today, e.g., the way fluorescent lights hummed (even those big office clocks hummed) or how they had students assigned to beat the chalk out of erasers. I have some of the cliches in mind, glowering nuns (or singing nuns) in full black and white, but need to fill in the realities. Alternatively, if there is a documentary or film that gets it right, that can help me visualize it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Catholic school in the early 70's. Some recollections:

The milk machine. One lucky student got to walk down to the milk machine and put in a nickel for each of the cartons needed for the class' lunch.

The sound the mimeograph machine made. You could hear it in the Principal's office. BUT IT WAS UNSEEN. And the smell of the copies too - very distinctive.

How the nuns picked on certain children. Usually the ones not as clean and tidy as the others.

How the librarian nun always asked questions where she expected someone in the class to finish her ___________s. {sentences}

The names of the nuns.
Sister Mary Louise
Sister Timothy
Sister Ann Margaret
Sister Barbara ("pronounced candy-bar, candy-bar, uh." )

The nuns holder the ruling slapping their palm with it.

When Sister Ann Margaret made a student stand at the blackboard with his nose and each index finger placed within a little circle she had drawn on the board (for punishment).

I don't remember dunce caps, but suspect that they existed.
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:51 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember having to stay after school for punishment in 4th or 5th grade a few times, just long enough to miss the bus. This meant walking home alone - about two miles. My mother, who was at home (without a car, like everyone else's mom) had no idea I was not going to be on the bus. It didn't seem to bother her either. I guess she just figured that I would show up sooner or later.

Also - many of the kids in our school came from families with 6+ kids. Eight kids in one family was not that unusually. In fact, I knew two families with 13 kids - no twins. Needless to say, everyone knew everyone. And the nuns would often call you by your older siblings' name.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:59 AM on April 9, 2012

If this is in the early 60's, Vatican II is gonna probably show up. Not that a grade school kid would understand the more complicated stuff, but it was a big enough deal and was discussed enough that kids would sense that something big was going down.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2012

Oh, and the Palmer Handwriting Method book. Endlessly practicing the Palmer Method. Luckily I wasn't left handed.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:08 AM on April 9, 2012

I went to Catholic school in the 80s, but they still taught us Latin hymns. All our nuns were from Ireland, so we were occasionally treated to a mini-diatribe on the evils of those Protestant English. Their names were Philomena, Hilda, Ita, Kathleen, Margaret, Mary Margaret etc. . . Mass first thing Friday morning. No meat allowed for lunch on Fridays. I got consistent bad grades for penmanship. All the kids played soccer at recess. Huge families from which your classmates came. 4 siblings or more was very common.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:21 AM on April 9, 2012

Palmer handwriting. I still have gorgeous handwriting because of Sister Bernadette Mary, the Tyrant of St. Peters.

Rulers. Getting whacked with same. Regularly.

Windowless hallways, big bright classrooms.

Being told that girls couldn't play on the monkey bars or other equipment where it would make our panties show...cause of the uniform skirts.

Plaid. So much plaid.

Nuns with rulers to make sure your skirts weren't too short.


Mass. Morning Prayers. Afternoon prayers. Confession.
posted by dejah420 at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2012

I went to catholic elementary school in the early 80s.

Seconding nuns picking on people, and confession, and mass and learning prayers and the rosary. The stations of the cross. Boy's choir, altar boys, the tabernacle, incense. Catholic school girl uniforms.
posted by empath at 8:40 AM on April 9, 2012

I remember sharing textbooks too. There were not enough to go around, and the one we had were pretty old.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:46 AM on April 9, 2012

I attended Catholic school briefly in the early 60's. One thing that rarely gets attention is that, even then, there were lay teachers as well as nuns. My first grade teacher was Sister Catherine Loyola. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Mollenkoph.

My parents put me into public school starting in third grade when the archdiocese sent dad a letter suggesting his tithing was lower than they felt was proper.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:47 AM on April 9, 2012

Also, as an altar boy I used to get out of class to serve at the funerals in our church next door.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:48 AM on April 9, 2012

Things I remember:

- Learning the Latin responses in Mass that remained even after most of the liturgy has converted to English

- Seeing hair on the nuns' heads as the younger ones changed to the newer-style habits

- Celebrations of the Virgin Mary in May and crowning of the statue (Our Lady of Victory) that stood in the schoolyard

- Becoming an altar boy, getting out of class to serve funeral Masses

- Ad Altare Dei medals being given to Boy Scouts

- The nun who commanded her class to genuflect in church using a clicker

- Getting slapped for some misbehavior that I can't recall now

- Having days off the public school kids didn't have

- Struggling to come up with "sins" so I had something to say in Confession

- Learning to tie a proper knot so I didn't have to wear the clip on tie with my uniform
posted by tommasz at 9:01 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Went to Catholic public school in Montreal so not all my experience might apply.

Although the principal was a nun and my sister happened to have a nun teaching her in first or second grade, most of the teachers were laypeople and I wasn't taught by any nuns until one nutbar in high school.

Most of grade 2 was spent preparing for first communion, first confession and confirmation. Yes, we were confirmed then at age 7. We were told to choose a confirmation name but it had to be a saint's name. Lots of discussion among us kids about what name to pick. The ceremony involved a light slap on the face by a bishop. I'm told that isn't done any more.

Lots of "religion" in school that year. Mom called it "catechism" but that word was out of fashion by then. Vatican II had arrived, the cover of the religion book was colourful, but we still had to learn a certain amount of stuff by heart – questions and responses.

My mother explained we had to be confirmed first before indulging in any other sacraments. I don't know whether that was once a rule.

At this stage I was in school with girls only and we wore white outfits for first communion and confirmation, which were done on different Sundays. I don't remember a particular ceremony for first confession. The difficulty of coming up with enough sins at confession was something that troubled me briefly. Then I started making 'em up. I guess the boys wore suits but I don't have any brothers and don't remember if they wore anything particularly symbolic.

Although the school was next to the church we didn't actually spend a lot of time shuttling back and forth to church during school hours. In my mom's time kids actually had to go to a specific mass on Sundays and sit with their class or get in trouble – that was over by the time I was growing up.

In general I think kids were more regimented in my time but whether that was a Catholic thing I don't know. There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on getting us to line up and march in and so forth – sometimes I think this was a memory left over from WWII, the need to make people march around the square. At a school near me they still ring an electric bell to end lunch hour and so on but I don't see the kids lining up in twos like we had to do.
posted by zadcat at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2012

Oh, and no physical punishment. "The strap" was referred to occasionally, but I never knew anyone who got it. Think I saw a teacher throw chalk at a kid once.
posted by zadcat at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2012

I was born in 1964, so would have started school in 1970 or so--St. Joachim's in San Lorenzo, CA.

What I remember was a lot of regimentation: a bell would ring in the morning and we would all line up in a set order to enter the school; there were times when the teacher would have us all sit quietly at our desks for what seemed like a long time (there was a certain way you had to sit, with "feet flat on the floor, hands folded neatly on the desk," etc.) There were limits on how often you could go to the restroom, and I think they would only let one kid go at a time; I have a sensitive stomach, so I had to learn to calm my intestine when it would cramp. If you were good, you were chosen to erase the chalkboard and I think they also wiped them down with water at the end of the day. It was up to the teacher what punishment they wanted to use; one nun would swat you on the butt with a big wooden brush, the kind you might use with a dustpan. I got that once for lying. (My mother got the ruler across the knuckles when she was in Catholic school, but nobody did that in my school; the one nun was the only teacher who used corporal punishment that I remember.) For some reason, they only served lunch in the cafeteria once a week; it seemed to usually be hamburgers. I think we only had physical education once a week, also. As someone said above, I also remember frantically trying to come up with something to confess; it seemed to me that all I did was sin, so it was hard to just settle on an example or two. The teachers were mostly nuns, but also a few civilians. Every once in a while, one of the parish priests would visit the class for a minute and this was a pretty big deal; it was very clear that the priests were miles above the nuns in status.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went briefly, in the mid60s, in California.

Even though our school was attached to the back of the church, our parish priest wasn't seen that often in the classrooms. The classrooms were the domain of the nuns while he stuck to church business. The rare times I saw the priest out and about, I noticed the front of his black cassock was always peppered with sauce stains (he had a bit of a "belly shelf") that were only visible when he was within a few feet.

We had nuns (dressed in black habits), half-nuns (women wearing profoundly non-stylish street clothing and head veils in pastel colors) and stealth nuns (dressed in ugly street clothing) as teachers. The first two kinds wore rosaries prominently, the third kind often displayed a small gold cross on a thin gold chain necklace instead. There was much speculation if a stealth nun was actually a nun but then you'd see them at a service wearing a habit and in the context they looked really alien.

The school and church hosted a ton of festivals year round. All involved some component of fundraising (bake sales, food booths, carnival games, sit down feeds, raffles, auctions). We students were required to sell raffle tickets to our neighbors and work at the festivals in some capacity or another. I recall feeling overwhelmed by the level of responsibility because I was assigned to handle money at a food booth when I hadn't quite learned how to make change reliably yet.
posted by jamaro at 9:52 AM on April 9, 2012

Sister Rita Jean clipping pink hair bows on Ken Flanagan's head and making him wear them all day long because his hair was "too long" (it just barely reached passed his shirt collar). (The Beatles were all the rage and the Beatle haircut was starting to make its way through the elementary schools.)
Families of 8, 9, 10 and more kids. Being a member of one of those large families and having to do chores like washing the desks and classroom windows since the school was benevolent enough to let the last three or four of your siblings attend tuition-free (because your parents couldn't afford it).
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2012

Yes, we always had to sell something door to door, which was terrifying for an anxious kid like me. I remember one year it was some sort of package of popcorn kernels, popping oil, and popcorn salt and I couldn't get anybody to buy it because all our neighbors were old and had dentures. My father bought the whole box that year, I think.

And yes, the hair length thing--my brother was sent home from Catholic high school once because his hair touched his collar. My mother had to give him an emergency hair cut.

My experience of family size was different, though; I didn't know any big ones at all. There were three kids in my family and two or three seemed to be the norm.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:09 AM on April 9, 2012

Eight years of Catholic grammar school in New England in early sixties:

--called a grammar school, not an elementary school
--huge classes--forty, sometimes fifty kids to a class each rule by just one teacher, a nun, weilding a wooden pointer and a ruler and not afraid to use them. A few nuns were warm, and kind. Others were dull and uninspiring. A few were frightening, and ruled by terror and physical punishment (of the boys) usually with a wooden ruler with a metal edge applied to both hands in full view of the rest of the class.
--total rote learning; no children's literature at all. Penmanship taught every day up to grade five.
--nthing the bad nuns' cruelty and shaming of really poor, unkempt children from large Catholic families who had nine, ten, twelve kids and lived in terrible homes. This is precisely why Rick Santorum and the Opus Dei crowd make me ballistic.
--rigid gender separation--separate schoolyards, drinking fountains, lunchrooms (not called cafeteria), boys and girls sides of classroom. Kids always trying to get a peek of the other side.
--stories about "the missions" in Africa and what was then called Indochina, for which we collected money.
--nuns often threatening the boys that they would wind up in public school, which was unfavorably compared to a juvenile deliquent hall. Surprise, surprise when some of our families sent us to public high school and we discovered that, except for penmanship (yes, Palmer Method), the top public school kids were light years ahead of the top Catholic grammar school kids.
--peering through wooden crisscross fencing to see nuns' white, white undergarments hanging out to dry. Also getting a strange, secret thrill when a nun went through the heavy doors that separated the convent where the nuns lived from the connecting classroom building.
--learning Latin at an early age and singing Latin hymns at mass.
--girls' choir, as well as altar boys ,pulled out of class to sing and or serve at funeral masses. Gregorian chants haunt me, actually in a beautiful way, to this day.
--sitting in terror in our nearby church on the first day of school while waiting to hear which nun was going to be our teacher. Was it going to be Sister Torquemada or St. Teresa?
--being rewarded for being an obnoxious goody-goody--only girls need apply. A few "good" boys were allowed to open the windows from the top with impossibly long poles.
--getting friggin' points for everything, in the form of cut apart cardboard, which were kept under your assigned classroom seat in a box that nylon stockings came in. Again, no boys need apply unless they were goody-goodies, so there weren't too many because then they'd be beaten up when no one was looking.
--"patrol boys" wearing sashes and badges who ordered around kids as they walked home from school. You could get yelled at for touching the top of a store awning! They're probably working for TSA or Homeland Security now. In fact, I know one of them is.
--being told "Your records will always follow you even when you're an adult." Except for the seventies and eighties, before the Internet, this has turned out to be true, though not for the reasons the nuns told us.
--riveting stories about exorcisms that gave kids nightmares for years.
--carrying lilacs to school in wax paper and foil for Holy Mary rituals. That meant summer, and liberation, would soon be coming. Still love lilacs for that reason.
--wax paper bread bags used to "wax" the floor under and by our assigned seats.
--miracle at Fatima was huge.
--horrible hard candy in little cardboard boxes with kind of string handles given out at Christmas, which the "bad boys" would smash under their heels on the way home.
--deep wooden, metal lined cooler full of half pints of milk that the "patrol boys" would hand out before lunch. Woe to us if they hadn't gotten blocks of ice that day. The chocolate milk would be thickened and curdled. Makes me gag just to type that.
--girls rolling up their skirt waistbands en route to school, then unroll them as they entered the schoolyard.
--Making up sins for confession, yet always being shamed and made to feel sinful. (Otherwise, why would Jesus need to save us?)
--Oddly, total support of separation of church and state during civics lessons. The nuns would say: "That means that we are free to do anything we want in our churches and schools." And they did.
--diagramming sentences so that the blackboards looked as if physicists had just finished working out the mathematical explanations of the universe.
--literal interpretation of Bible stories, which made me go instantly from goody-goody to mouthy bad girl when I simply asked, in sixth grade: "Then does that mean boys have fewer ribs than girls do?" And all the kids started counting their ribs while the nun tried to regain order in the classroom.

There's more, much more, but I'm outta time.
posted by Elsie at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gar! Nuns did teach "wield" "i before e except after c" and tenses. Sorry so much bad grammar crept into my answer--fingers typing ahead of brain thinking.
posted by Elsie at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2012

Ontario in the seventies, but the intense rivalry between my Catholic Grammar school and the local public school that included at least one full-out war in the schoolyard (yet my best friend went to that public school); we thought they worshiped Zeus. That we were indoctrinated that our education was "better". Retreats at the former only local Catholic Grammar school, built in the early 20th century and functioning up until the seventies as a school (and what you probably are thinking of as your school, with a large chapel and all-nun resident teaching staff on huge immaculate grounds with a large stone gate.

A lot of the religious edcuation, by female teachers, that emphasised that women were the ones that always stuck by Jesus as the men were weak and abandoned him. The girl chosen to play Mary at the Spring Mary festival was "better" than the rest of us. CYW dances, where students from all the local Catholic schools would get together at the church basement. Mass in the school gym (we were too far to walk to the nearest Catholic Church. Our Catholicism seemed to be inflused by French-Canadian/Quebecois Catholicism. I was surprised to go to Ireland and find out there were a bunch of Saints important to them I had never heard of, Italian Catholic friends also commented on some differences. I knew girls, in the seventies, who were not allowed to wear pants, ever.

Because we were all God's children there was no streaming. There was no "gifted programme" for the smart children and my school had children with both physical and mental disabilities that were fully integrated in class and on the school yard. I knew a lot more "ethnic" people than my friends in Public school (I lived in a very white area of Canada). The school library had books that were a bit tamer than the public school library (as a catholic school librarian in the early nineties I was not allowed to have goosebumps books on the shelves).
posted by saucysault at 10:47 AM on April 9, 2012

Oh, and the damned white shirt and brown cross-continental tie we had to wear every day.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:52 AM on April 9, 2012

Thanks a lot for these. From my research, I've found

I've found a television show, American Dreams, was in the mid-60s and had some of the kids in a Catholic school. Don't know how real it is, may have to check it out.

From my bit of research it seems that some schools were greatly dominated by nuns, others were mixed with lay-people. Often priests were given administrative roles. Most places suggest that the nuns who were terrifying were few but always memorable. There seem to also be a fair share of progressive nuns.

Catholic schools used to be much more about Catholic education back then. Now I suspect in most cases half or more of their students are not Catholic.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:06 PM on April 9, 2012

My mother (born 1955, Catholic school 1960-1968) often talks about her Catholic elementary school days. I don't remember which order of nuns taught at her school, but they seemed to be a little more liberal and less scary than some of the other commenters have described. A few of her memories:

-Learning evolution from the nuns. Genesis wasn't literal, but was God explaining the origins of the world in a way that people of the time could understand.
-Most of the nuns reserved physical punishment for the boys. But one time, as punishment for talking during class, a nun wound tape over her mouth and all the way around her head. It took her a long time to get the tape out of her hair.
-Mass every day. If she forgot her little lace hat/chapel veil, she had to wear a handkerchief over her head.
posted by twoporedomain at 12:08 PM on April 9, 2012

I found this on a pro-Catholic website, Catholicanswers. I thought it had some nice details.

My days in Catholic grade school were so happy, and I must say that I truly loved the nuns in black habits and the bright white stiff starched wimples.They truly guided me and chided me like a mother should.

I remember the wooden floors -- it was the 1960s -- and sleigh like desks, bolted to long runners on the floor. The seat part off the desk flipped up, and the top the of the desk opend to store our books in. No lockers needed. There was a place for pencils in the desk, and a space reserved for an ink well, long unused. The front of the classroom had a big blackboard and two door-openings on either side to the cloak room. There I'd place my coat on a hook, and my lunch box -- the Jetsons! Every Friday -- egg salad .. ooooh and it got so runny from sitting in the cloakroom all morning! I recall picture of the Holy Father and one of George Washington on the walls. And a crucifix of course

If, for some reason, I ate in the cafeteria, sister would line us up, in silence, to head downstairs. Lunch was 25 cents a day, and you got a little card that got punched 5 times -- you paid $1.25 in advance. Oh, and milk in little square cartons.

Sister Eustace operated a penny candy store and so if I saved bit, I had a treat.

Sister Hubert was first grade ... wow did she have her work cut out with us. And Sister Myra was second grade. She was ancient back then and still kept up with us and went on teaching for 10 more years! She was so sweet. And our principal, Sister Gregory -- she was a toughy! Lord forgive me for every nasty thing I every thought about her!

I remember her rushing into the classroom -- first grade -- to tell us about the assassination of JFK, and us all dropping to our knees in prayer.

Oh -- and I remember having the same Sister teach every subject -- she was with you all day. And how the first grade readers 'See Dick. See Jane. See Spot. Run Spot run!' had Catholic stuff in them.

Then there was Sister Laura, who tried to quiet us down on the bus. As she turned to leave the bus, she called out, "Good bye children" and I replied "Good riddance". Oh yea! Punished! You bet! But I learned something from that incident. Respect

Oh -- and Sister Pancratius -- who my sister -- 5 years younger -- told everyone, including Sister Laura, that I called Sister Pancakes.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:22 PM on April 9, 2012

I remember being told quite a few stories about heroic missionary priests who had such deep faith that they chose to live amoung the lepers - in the leper colonies - without fear.
posted by R. Mutt at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2012

Fascinating thread. I went to public school in the early 60s, and must note that some of these (school patrols, mimeograph machines) were aspects common to all schools then. Some additional info, from the other side of the fence -- 'our' schools were grade 1-6 elementary, grades 7-9 Jr High and grades 10 12 Senior High. The Catholic kids didn't have Jr High (now called Middle School). Since Catholic High School tuition was non-trivial, we saw some new faces, first day of 9th grade... but mostly, I got to know guys who went to Catholic school from Cub and Boy Scouts, the one place we all got mixed together. That's where I heard a lot of the stories above (for example, those metal-edged rulers -- corporal punishment, though threatened, wasn't actually allowed in public schools by the time I got there).
posted by Rash at 3:35 PM on April 9, 2012

I went to Catholic grammar and high schools. Many nuns were pretty much sent to convent by very religious families, and had little sense of vocation, either for religion or teaching. I had some very good teachers, and some indifferent ones, and the arithmetic teacher in 2nd grade scared me off arithmetic. Then we had to learn New Math in @ 5th grade, which was a mess. My high school had a sex ed. class that included the facts of birth control; that's long gone.

Lots of nuns had male saints' names. Sr. Raphael Joseph, or Sr. Ann Thomas. My schools weren't gender-segregated. Lots of silence in line, and you got in line for everything. You got in trouble for everything, and could be sent to the principal to be paddled with a wooden paddle. Yes, we got hit with rulers, and the occasional well-aimed eraser. Any complaint was met with "Offer it up to Jesus." Esp. during missionary month, lots of collections for poor heathens in faraway places. I used to get in trouble for reading ahead in the book. I loved to read, and it was torture to listen to other kids haltingly get through a sentence.

Books and movies had to be approved by the bishop, or seeing/reading them was a sin. We went to Mass or confession as part of school. We all got confirmed together; there was no sense that this was an adult decision; it was just something you did in 4th grade. Religious instruction every day, different readers; we had Ann and David, not Dick and Jane. We did learn about evolution; I still remember a classmate who found it ridiculous. Class sizes were usually 35 or so. I got a good education in reading, writing, literature, spelling, and a terrible education in math and geography.

I wore a uniform to school for 12 years. In elementary school, a navy blue jumper and white blouse, then gray tweed with a vest. I had my sisters' uniforms after they graduated, so I also had a plaid skirt and plain vest from before the change in style. w00t! choices! Knee socks.

I found Catholic grade school terrifying. My high school was pretty terrific.
posted by theora55 at 4:09 PM on April 9, 2012

Went to Catholic elementary school in Texas from 1959-1967. Wore horribly hot doublebreasted wool jumpers with Peter Pan collar white shirts and saddle oxfords. No air-conditioning. We sweltered in hot portable buildings with only one fan per class. The nuns wore full black habits. They were probably hotter than the kids; they certainly were mostly bad tempered. Lots of slapping of faces. I once got slapped six times HARD across both cheeks (front and backhanded) because I refused to sit next to a soaking wet kid on the bus and the monitor tattled on me.

In 4th grade I wrote a paper about why the Pope was NOT infallible (researched at the public library) and got called out in front of a whole school assembly as a heretic. After that, my fairly good grades dropped and I never made better than a C on my report cards again, no matter how many A's I made on tests and homework, with only one exception.* When I complained to my mother that I was being punished with bad grades she told me I deserved it for being smart-mouthed. This shit went on for four more years.

* I made A's in 7th grade in a science class that was taught by a non-catholic teacher.

In 8th grade there was a medal awarded for the highest grade on the state standardized test. Another girl was given the award even though my score was higher.

As a junior atheist, I lied in confession always. It was none of that priest's business what I did. We had to go to Mass during school hours 3 days a week (plus Sunday) so we had to go to confession during school hours, too.

I've got years of horror stories and the emotional scars that go with 'em.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:43 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

ooh I had forgotten about having to make up sins to confess to - such a weird thing to have to do as a kid, when you're right at the intersection of "never really do anything that bad" and "no way am I going to tell anyone here about anything I actually have done"

I also remember having to sing hymns in "class mass", and on two occasions passing out when the room was too hot and I wasn't getting enough air
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2012

My pastor -- the wicked awesome Father Ray -- tells of being in Catholic school then. He said he had studied and studied Latin, and finally passed the test to be an altar boy. Naturally, within weeks Vatican II hit and Latin was passe. He's still mad about it.

If you can get there, the Museum of Work & Cultiure in Woonsocket, RI, has a whole recreated Catholic school classroom. They have photos on the wall of all the different nuns' habits of the past (and damned if I can tell a one of them apart despite having been taught in my youth by several different orders), and many books stuffed with firsthand recollections, most of which should not predate your target era:
posted by wenestvedt at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2012

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