Yearbooks- Guidebooks To Yesteryear by Kyle Leach
Most of us bought yearbooks when we were in high school. It’s something almost everyone does. They are the quintessential guides to our youth and are a permanent edition to the record, as we look back, for good or ill. Most people get them for themselves as a personal remembrance and a some are purchased by doting family members, dedicated educators, and a few by organizations.
Though the personal significance of a yearbook can’t be overstated, the wealth of information they give to libraries, museums, and historical societies for the historical record is equally compelling. So much information of so many people is locked together in one book, linked by geography, families, friendships, and interest. Moments in time from a single period, a year, presented and choreographed to tell the stories of an entire class of people, a segment of a school, a portion of town.
The details of a school year, all the facts a figures of school life have, been well documented for as long as we have had school records in this nation. Just in Farmington, in the museum, we have reams of school data, report booklets, and minutes, hundreds of calling cards, personal and class announcements in letters and programs, and announcements from newspapers from the mid 1850’s to the 1940’s, that cover most school activities. From such early periods, not as many individual photos, class photos, or activity photos survive or were even taken to begin with. And believe me when I tell you none of those are nearly as glamorous or all encompassing as a yearbook.
Yearbooks are packed with visual content starting with their often distinctive, highly individualized covers. Once you open them they are a sea of photography from the class photos, the club pictures, and sports highlights, to the performance stills and art installations and administration and teachers snapshots. Almost always a photo has a key, telling the viewer who they are seeing and what they are doing.
Class photo sections now have remarks with them as well as the header pages and end pages having the space for friends, fellow students, teachers, administrators, or family members to leave permanent statements or observations. Sometimes those spaces are filled with comments. From earlier periods we are very lucky to get an autograph book that many people carried on their person to capture autographs from people they met, collect personal notes or remembrances, or gather thoughts or well wishes from friends, or on a rare occasion a poem.
The Farmington Historical Society was recently gifted more yearbooks to add to the collection in the Museum of Farmington History. This time, the set was from the fifties and sixties of the twentieth century. I can’t tell you how delighted I was and how honored the society is to have stewardship over these new items.
Members of the community incredibly generous this year with donations of personal items, as well as items of a less personal nature. I’ve said this before, class photo cards
and year books are terribly important markers for not only the people in them,
but as representations for each generation and for the decade they are created
in. Even with the latest donations we don’t have many class photo cards or yearbooks in the museum collection. As people pass on they are often thrown away or stored, never to be seen again.
Every one we get has tremendous cultural value and increases what people will know about our community in the future. If you can part with them we would love to have them as part of the permanent museum collection.
Kyle Leach, Curator
Farmington NH Historical Society
Museum of Farmington History
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