I see a lot of nostalgia for past decades—especially the 70s and 80s–in today’s pop culture, especially in television shows, music, and clothes. I recently took the chance to look back even further in time to 1950s by talking to my grandmother about her teenage years. Known for poodle skirts, the beginnings of television, and rock and roll, the 1950s were a unique decade of social change.
My grandmother was 16 years old in 1950. Being sixteen now, I was interested in talking with her about what her life was like when she was my age. This interview covers what it was like to live as a young person during the 1950s. However, I am aware that my grandmother’s experience was not necessarily the same as anyone else’s experience during this decade.
To give some background, my grandmother was raised on the small island of Galveston, Texas, which then had a population of about 35,000. Grammy (as we lovingly nicknamed her in my family) lived with her parents and brother in a typical sized 50’s house, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. The interview shows the 1950s through the eyes of a young women who experienced the decade firsthand.
1. Tell us about the 1950s as you remember it.
G: That’s when Elvis Presley was popular. That was when I was a teen. I graduated from high school in the 50s. I can remember (laughs) Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole and all of those old stars. We’d listen to their music at dances on the pier. It was great fun. That place is still out there, but they don’t have the dancing anymore.
Back then, I had good friends–four or five girls who ran around together. We’d ride our bikes a lot of places. We’d ride all up and down the seawall from one end to another. We thought that was fun. I went to an all-girls school with them. We had a good time. The boys school was not too far away. Anyway, I was a cheerleader. When I got to be a junior or senior, you ran to be a cheerleader. It was fun to run out there when the game was just starting and make everyone cheer. I didn’t take any pictures back then, and it’s too bad. My mom and dad were never picture takers. After I grew up past a little girl, I don’t even remember them having a camera.
There wasn’t a whole lot on TV. The Ed Sullivan show. That was a variety show. I didn’t fly anywhere. I would have been so excited, but I never got the chance. Nobody I knew did. My good friend Mary Anne Johnson did–she flew to and from college. That was a big deal. I never knew anybody else that did that.
2. What did you do for fun as a teenager back then?
G: In terms of dating or even just for fun, we went to the movies. The movies back then were good. They didn’t have any R rated movies back then. We went to the beach. We did pretty simple things. And like I told you, we danced. Nobody started driving really young like they do now. When we did finally get our driver’s licenses, I had a friend who had an old car in their backyard– but it still ran. And they used to let us take it, and they’d tell us “Do not go off the island.” And sometimes, just for kicks, we did. We drove across the causeway and back just to say we went off the island.
The 50s were fine. I loved it. We had the Junior Prom and the Senior Prom and I went to both of them. We didn’t really have big social lives. But it was a lot less than it is now. There just wasn’t as many things to do. Still, I had a really good time growing up. I really enjoyed it. We did silly stuff. Nobody back then drank in high school.
3. Tell us about the entertainment you grew up watching or experiencing.
G: We all had record players–that was great. I got one for Christmas when I was in high school. They didn’t have CDS back then–you just had records, they were big things. They had a lot of musicals back then. They didn’t have big plots. We didn’t have color TV for a long time. The first TV we ever had was black and white. I don’t think we ever had a color TV while I was living at home. I have Xfinity (cable) today and it’s the most gorgeous picture I’ve ever seen. We used to have these TV shows and they weren’t so clear all the time. Of course that’s what happens, everything gets perfected and that’s why the TVs look the way they do today. I used to like Julie Andrews movies as a little girl. The Sound of Music, oh, that was a great movie. I still watch that one today.
4. What was the most memorable political or historical event from when you were growing up?
G: World War II. The communists. This was when I was a little girl, not a teenager. I remember this because they’d give you tickets. Everything was rationed. You could only get so much butter and so much coffee; you had to have tickets for the goods for how many people were in your family. Mother always made everything work. She was a good cook.
I just remember that World War II was awful. When pearl harbor was attacked-it was awful. We couldn’t keep lights on late at night. In Galveston, the Germans had submarines out there. My dad was right between those wars. He used to patrol the beach at night because of the German submarines out there in the water. If anything should come close, he could report it. He thought that was what he could do for the country because he was too old for the war. He had some kind of uniform he put on and went out there and walked the beach front at night.
I didn’t realize till much later that there were submarines out there. I would’ve been afraid to death for him. We had air-raid drills. It was real to everybody. We went to the courthouse or some place big to hide. When the war ended, I was pretty young. I can remember hearing about it and everybody coming out and cheering and shooting firecrackers and all that. I wasn’t even in high school, I was about in 6th grade. I can remember everybody was so excited and so happy. I especially remember that day.
5. How have women’s rights evolved?
I think that was natural thing that was going to happen in the world. We just–if we went to college that was pretty exciting. As far as becoming governors and other occupations, that wasn’t even in anybody’s mind. No, it really wasn’t, not at all. We didn’t think it would get to where it is now, but it has. Women have just gotten into the workforce more and some of them have really advanced and become big in companies. That didn’t happen in the 1950s at all.
I think it’s good for women to fight sexism. Women are equal to men. They ought to do whatever they want to do. If they want to become a CEO of a company and they have what it takes, then good for then. See back then, women were stay at home mothers. And that was good too, you were there for your children. It’s just–things change, time marches on. It’s a good thing. A lot of women have a desire to really prevail in companies and jobs, and that’s wonderful.
I challenge you to find out about your family’s history. Call an older relative and learn about what their life was like as a teenager. For me, it was very interesting to hear my grandmother speaking about her life experiences, and even better to be able to publish them for SincerelyMC. Learning about history through a real person makes it even more fulfilling. I challenge you to study up on a decade of the past by talking to someone you love that’s with you in the present.