, Derry, New Hampshire


January 2, 2014

Column: Things were quite different back in 1937


On another page, I found that the Massachusetts police in 1937 were arresting lots of male swimmers for immodesty. Quickly, I had horrible visions of my now deceased Bay State uncles streaking nude across the sands of Revere Beach 76 years ago. Fortunately, it proved not to be the case. It seems that in the Bay State back then the law required that males had to wear both shirts and swim trunks while swimming at beaches like Crane’s, Nantasket or Lynn. In addition, the statutes required that all males had to wear a robe when walking to and from the beaches. The Massachusetts police superintendent in June 1937 told a reporter that most people supported the law and “those hairy-chested fellows don’t present such a pretty picture.”

In another newspaper, I read that the Derry School Board announced that they would once again begin to hire only unmarried women teachers. This was a policy that had been started at the beginning of the Great Depression. The idea behind this seemingly strange rule was based on Derry’s economic conditions during the 1930s. The town fathers in their wisdom decided that because there were fewer jobs in Derry, it would be better to try to spread out the employment opportunities. The town would henceforth hire only single women teachers because they had to support themselves. Our town’s leaders believed that married women teachers could live off their husband’s income.

In 1935, the School Board members changed their minds and started to again hire married women teachers. This policy change was brought about by Derry’s economy heading toward rock bottom. It was said that Derry was the worst Depression-hit town in the state with an unemployment rate of over 30 percent; our sprawling shoe factories and many of our stores were boarded up and closed. With so many out of work, one-quarter of all the families in Derry were forced to go on welfare. The schools now began to once again hire married women teachers because most of their husbands were unemployed; their wives’ teaching salary would now likely be the sole income for their family. Our selectmen sent a telegram to Washington begging for help; pleading for the government to give Derry’s unemployed jobs by creating make-work projects.

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