November 14, 2021


Among our family photographs are a few high school graduation portraits, recognizable by the beribboned and rolled diplomas. This one features the Bales sisters, Sarah Lee and Anna Lou. There is another of Aunt Abbie and her sister Themis, as well as others of Neal Ensminger and Howard Bales.

Attending high school was easier for those who lived in town like the Bales and Ensmingers. For rural farm families, it was more complicated. Mother was a bright student and longed to go to high school.  She aspired to be a nurse. I think she boarded with family in town to begin high school studies, but soon her parents told her she was needed at home. Times were hard and the whole family had to work hard to eke out their living.

This graduation photo was probably about 1919 or 1920.  They didn’t seem to have class photos at the time.  The young women look more like debutantes than graduates!  It must have been a very important celebration for them.  The special white dresses and elaborate bowed turbans, the bank of flowers at their feet (perhaps props provided by the photographer) and the dainty baskets of flowers they are holding with their diplomas—all create the impression that this is a special occasion. At that time, high school diplomas were as significant as a college diploma is now. Teaching and nursing were about the only job options for women of this era. 

Sarah Lee did work and travel for much of her life.  Anna Lou married and died young, leaving behind her five little children. In this photo, they seem ready to move on from their school days into adulthood, armed with those diplomas! 

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