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Grammar School Bullies in the '60s

Many kids had to endure being tormented by their peers simply because they were different.

For many of us, grammar school was a wonderful experience. Playing with your peers, going crazy at recess, and shooting spit wads were all a part of the jolly grade school life, blending into the fabric of growing up.

But what about those kids who were bullied on the playground? How did they manage? If you were different, wore glasses, braces or didn’t look like most of the other students, you were probably harassed. 

What is bullying? I guess it’s some weird version of Darwin, where those who conform survive. Those who don’t, have to fight for their place in the sun.

Back in the '60s, bullying was something many had to endure. For those who didn't fit in with the popular cliques, painful memories punctuated grammar school where incessant teasing took place, with social omission, blatant cruelty, and many forms of exclusion. 

They say that most bullies have also been bullied by others. I’ve heard many stories about kids who have been tormented by parents, older siblings or other associates who end up taking out their anger and frustration on those around them by bullying.  For some, homophobia often manifests itself through bullying.

I was very athletic in school, so I was never bullied physically. But many who were not into sports were often the brunt of jokes from their peers.

One fifth-grade teacher at Carpenter in the '60s was notorious for singling out artistic students with her cruelty. How’s that for building a child’s self-esteem? 

My sister and I were bullied in a different way. A flock of girls can be very cruel and vindictive when they band together. There’s always the popular ringleader who inspires others to join in with the mockery and frenzy.

Perhaps this is why I didn’t have many close female friends at Carpenter, but preferred the company of guys or other tomboys. My sister Teresa reminded me of episodes where the girls in school would make fun of our hand-me- down clothes. We were embarrassed that our home looked like it was right out of “Angela’s Ashes,” so we rarely had friends over to visit.

When we went to camp one summer, it was one of the worst weeks of my life, having to endure the cruelty of several 10-year-olds holed up in a tent.  I still remember them whispering and giggling in the corner and then pointing at my sister and me because we dressed as tomboys, and came from a broken home.

I was so glad when that week ended, so I could go home, get lost in the gully and feel good about myself once again.

In my teens, I began to gravitate toward the brainy kids in school, and those who were artists. Although I was always the class clown, I preferred being around other outsiders who made me feel more at ease.  I even ran for homecoming queen in high school, knowing it would be a real satire if I were actually elected.

To this day, I’m still uncomfortable around a flock of women.  I still wonder if they laugh at my outfits, make fun of my tomboy style, or wonder why I don’t wear much make-up. 

Thankfully, my sense of humor helped me through some tough times when I was young, but I wonder how others who were bullied endured their pain.

I hope they found a healthy way to get through it all. 

teresa mcgrath July 05, 2011 at 02:31 PM
excellent article mary. you nailed it with people who are bullied, who sometimes bully others. we were bullied for pixie haircuts and tomboy mannerisms. as mary stated, we fit in with the boys more than the girls, with their emphasis on fashion, nylons, eye makeup. unfortunately we were human at times, and teased a couple of people, who didn't fit in either. i guess we felt we had to build ourselves up thru cruelty of others. one boy, jim debree, reminded mary and i that we called him blockhead at carpenter. jim was the smartest student in our class, but our bully tactics were awful. to this day, i still feel bad for that behavior. jim brushed it off at the reunion, and mentioned, it only made him stronger. another younger girl, lutay, was the brunt of our bullying. we would take a pop can and bend it til it crinkled, and she would cry. again, to this day, i feel bad. mary and i did experience the worst bullying at that camp, but finally made a friend on the last day. that helped. otherwise, we were crying everyday. athletics provided the best outlet for being picked on, and we were thankful for our family emphasizing sports. art was a sold refuge as we matured, and the counter culture helped with trying to fit in. workplace politics to this day still reflect those times, with pecking orders, and being left out for being different.
Mary McGrath July 05, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Thanks for illuminating this situation Teresa. I do remember teasing a few of my classmates, and I regret that I did this. Those who are different are to be commended. Often, because of these early challenges, they rise above the peer chatter to achieve greatness.
Michelle Smith July 08, 2011 at 08:30 AM
Both of my parents taught me to have respect and show kindness toward everyone. I have always been told to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Therefore, I have never bullied another person in school, because I feel one should not put down another because they are different. In elementary and middle school, I witnessed my classmates bullying others. When I was younger, I would immediately go tell a teacher or another authority figure what was occurring so it could be stopped. Now, I have kids, and I want to ensure their safety from bullying, I have provided them a mobile application for safety and protection from Safekidzone. Just pressing a button they can notify and alert friends, family and myself. If needed, the call will be routed to the nearest 911 dispatch. Protect your children check this out http://Safekidzone.com/
Nicole locket/ Nickolas i puffer May 09, 2012 at 08:19 AM
i get bullied everyday of my life. i was beat up, harassed, death threatened, spit on, people put gum in my hair, etc. People did that to me mostly because I'm not a girly-girl I am an all time tomboy. Just because I'm different than the rest of those slutty girls in my school I get picked on because I'm not easy like every single girl. I never tried to be like them. Kids should read this article maybe they would change their ways and not pick on anyone anymore. when boys started beating me up my parents took me out of school and now I'm in cyber school. And guys what, when my parents went to the school and called the principal they said they weren't going to do anything about it. I never bullied, but the only time i do is when I stick up for myself but that makes everything way worse than it already is. Since I've been in cyber school I haven't been bullied since. and when I stick up for myself that's when the principal gives my a detention or a suspension. All i say to those kids who puck on me is to leave me the fuck alone, piss off, get a god dam life and leave mine alone, go bother someone who deserves to be bullied like yourself, up yours, or get away from me or I'll tell a teacher. And I get in trouble for what, STICKING UP FOR MY GOD DAM SELF FOR ONE, I'M SO GLAD I'M OUT OF THAT SCHOOL IT WAS NOTHING BUT HELL THERE. AND KIDS WERE SO SLUTTY I HATED BEING APART OF THAT SLUT HOUSE THAT THEY CALL A SCHOOL. OH and too all the kids who pick on me PS I'll get you karma
Mary S August 11, 2013 at 01:16 PM
@ Nicole: I know it can be tough, but be strong. You appear to have changed your life a bit to avoid these girls, who are garbage... so just focus on making life better for you. Don't let them see that they affect you!! They feed off that, knowing they get to you. If you treat them as is they are invisible, they will be and will go away. Join a group at a local club, such as YMCA or someplace where you all have the same agenda... to learn and have fun. Those clubs, unlike schools, will not allow bullying. I'm much older than you, but was bullied in Jr High. Not to the extent that I hear about and see on the news these days, but back then, I'd get sad and wonder what I ever did to deserve it. I went to school in So Calif... a school where the girls shopped at the "best" stores and were always the fashion queens. I got my clothes at Kmart. I didn't live in their neighborhood, but just 2 miles south and yet, to them, I might as well have come from 50 miles away... I was on of the "outsiders". Kathy Ta**is and Barbara Sh**per (I **'d out their names, but if they read this, will know it's them)were not even friends with each other, but felt ok to harass me, and probably others. They picked at our clothes, even though they were cute, and anything they could point out. MIND YOU, Kathy's hair, clothes, and mannerisms were that of a boy!! She was not cute, but she acted as if she was gorgeous. With her friends standing next to her, it was easier for her to be mean. I made some great friends there but still had bullies. I reported threats a couple times and, instead of dealing with the bully the correct way, they'd call Barbara in when I was there and have me tell her what I said... and when she'd deny it... I was made to feel like a crybaby. And then she'd be worse because she won. It was terrible. HOWEVER, I graduated!!! I went on to High School, in my own neighborhood, and was never bullied again. And, get this, one of those counselors who made me feel like a baby for reporting the bullying in Jr High, transferred to my high school. By then, I was so much stronger and when he was rude to me in the office hallway one day, I let him know (in front of other students) that I didn't appreciate the way he handled things at the other school and that I would NOT allow him to disrespect myself or any other student. I never had an issue with him again. So, you see... if you are strong, not rude, just KNOW you are ok and not what they treat you like, you will grow and be better for it. It won't last forever. When you call them names or say you will get them with karma, THEY win. As you get older, you will see that I am right and that, as time goes by, it hurts less. You will know you are the better person. But until then, don't let them see it gets to you. Ignore them and do what makes you happy. Walk away with a smile. And use your experience to make it better for kids in the future. Maybe be a school counselor. I will end with this... my high school years were so much happier that I wish I could go re-live some of those days LOL AND, more so, my Facebook friends list is filled with friends from my high school days... 30 yrs ago!!! It can happen for you. But find a way to socialize and make real friends!! Maybe even go to another school close to your area, not just internet school. Good luck!
Mary McGrath August 11, 2013 at 01:28 PM
Thank you Nicole for this wonderful post. School is starting soon, and one of our neighbors has been picked on in grammar school. She is entering middle school now, and I hope her experience with her peers changes with the new school venue. A group of women can be so cruel, with cliques, fashion, boys, make-up. It's all very difficult if you are an outsider.
Mary McGrath August 11, 2013 at 01:31 PM
I mean, thank you Mary S for this wonderful post in your reply to Nicole...

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