Ah, the most mundane of library tasks: “reading the shelves,” or going book by book and putting everything in order. A few weeks ago, after reading the general history and genealogy shelves in the room — yes, all of them — I decided that it was time to sort through our yearbooks.
The collection was reorganized last fall. At the time I was mostly concerned with updating the inventory and moving the more delicate volumes to the safety of the Rare Book Room. Now I could pay more attention to the design of the books, and when I did, I began to notice some patterns.
From the emblem and the name, you’d think German Township High School’s mascot was a Trojan. Nope — they were the “Uhlans.” (Guess it’s hard to find a template of a Polish cavalryman.)
North Union High School’s mascot, the Ram, makes an appearance on the 1946 volume. An otherwise dull cover is livened up by its landscape orientation; I couldn’t find another like it in our collection.
One of the most enduring cover elements I noticed were pictures of the school buildings themselves. In more established communities, the designs also drew on the larger local identity.
It’s certainly apparent in the title of Connellsville High School’s yearbook (The Coker). But it was Brownsville High School, located on the banks of the Monongahela River, that really worked its city’s symbols into its yearbook designs:
World War II
The United States’ leap into WWII inspired patriotic covers on many local yearbooks, including those of North Union High School:
Redstone High School got in on the trend in 1943, with slight alterations to the eagle design that was used by North Union:
The patriotic trend in yearbooks was unique to WWII. Other conflicts, both before and after, didn’t inspire such unified designs. It’s a reflection of the war’s tremendous reach: Not one of the students in these pages were unaffected by it.
When the war wrapped up, yearbooks with western motifs begin to appear. Smithfield High School’s Sentinel has a nice out-on-the-range feel:
A few years earlier, Redstone opted for a lasso-inspired font:
Need I mention that Westerns were very popular at this time? Televisions were also becoming more available, providing material for students’ conversations (and yearbook covers) for generations to come.
In 1939, Connellsville High School opted for an unusual binding for its cover. This is the only yearbook in our collection that is bound this way:
A bit earlier on, the rival Uniontown High School favored centered name plates:
I’ll cheat a bit now and give you a look inside the 1926 Maroon and White. The mine tipple and coke oven design at the bottom is a nod to the area’s coal and coke industry. For each of these students, the smoke from the ovens would have been ever-present in their day-to-day lives.
Many visitors are surprised to see that there were people of color attending Uniontown High School as early as the 1920s. The yearbook reflects the times, however: Their photos are grouped separately from those of their white classmates.
Of all the yearbooks, my favorite has to be South Union High School’s 1952 volume. I have no idea what inspired its design, but the level of detail is unmatched by any of the others. Even the green-gold hue is something entirely different.
That said, older yearbooks didn’t adhere to school colors as strongly as modern ones do. We have every color under the rainbow in the collection — even pastel pink!
While they aren’t high school yearbooks, I’d be remiss not to include some interesting designs from other local institutions:
Overall, the feature of old yearbooks that stands out to me the most is their texture. While modern designs go for smooth, slick bindings, the classics might be pebbled, marbled, striped, or crosshatched. They have a lot of personality, and they’ve been places — across the country, across the world, or maybe just in a box in the attic.
One way or another, they found their way here. When you have the time, find your way to the Pennsylvania Room and have a look!
If you have a Fayette County yearbook or other local memorabilia you’d like to donate, please contact the Uniontown Library at (724) 437-1165.