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Remembering First and Second Grade at a Catholic School in the 1960s

First and Second Grade

My family is Roman Catholic, and my two brothers, two sisters and I went to a catholic school in the 1960s in a small town in Iowa by the name of Elma. My mother had gone to the same school years earlier, and graduated in 1947. The school was run by a catholic priest and the nuns, of whom, were the sisters of Mary. The school was an old brick building with two floors for the upper and lower grade levels. The classrooms all had blackboards in the front, and on the side there were maps of the world. The first and second grades were held in a large room on the lower level. Above the blackboard was the alphabet and numbers 0 through 9. The name of the school was: "The Immaculate Conception School."

When I started school there I went into the first grade. The room was large where the first grade was held and had tall windows. There were two classes in the room, which were taught by the same teacher. The teacher was a nun named Sister Mary Gertrude, who wore the black habit that was wore in those years, as it was in the early 1960s. Sister Mary Gertrude wore glasses. She seemed kind of scary at the time. I think that I must had been pretty scared of her when I first entered her classroom for the very first time all those years ago. The nuns were stern. They did love music and singing, though.

Catholic Nuns Singing

Corporal Punishment and More...

I remember the nuns at the catholic school were strict. They would use corporal punishment on any student if the student got out of line. If any student did anything wrong the student would be punished. If the nun didn't know who did the deed, she'd punish everyone in the class. I saw Sister Mary Gertrude pull a boy in the first grade by his ear lobe up to the front of the class one day at school. The boy kept saying, "It hurts!" I think for a few times, until the nun let go.

When it was lunch time all the students had to go outside and walk to a building that was close by for the hot lunch that was served every day at the same time. In the winter it was real cold and extremely uncomfortable. I didn't like the hot lunches at all. My brothers and sisters never liked the hot lunches, either. The hot lunches didn't taste good at all to me. I would always gag when I tried to eat the food. I wouldn't eat the food, so the nuns told my mother and she said to eat the food, or she would shovel it down my throat. I still wouldn't eat the food, though. One day the nun, Sister Mary Gertrude had another teacher-a lay teacher, who stood at a place where the food that wasn't eaten was put in, etc...watch to make sure that I ate everything on the tray. I waited and waited for that teacher to leave the spot, so that I could depose of the food on the tray that I couldn't eat. Finally, she left somewhere, so I hurriedly emptied the tray and put the silverware where it was supposed to go for washing later-after the lunch period was over. Then, as I was leaving the building to go outside, I ran into Sister Mary Gertrude and she asked me if I ate everything on the tray? I told her that I did, but I really didn't, of course. Then, she let me go on and I went to the play area, until the afternoon school day was ready to start. The nun never said anything about me eating all the food on the tray after that.

My two sisters had a job together, cleaning the school. The cleaned the public school in the small town, too for awhile. When they cleaned the catholic school, they didn't get paid. The nuns said they didn't deserve to get paid! My two sisters have always been real good workers. My two sisters were very upset about not being paid for cleaning the catholic school, so they transferred to the public school in another town about 25 miles away from home. They were around the high school age back then. When they cleaned the public school they didn't have any problems with being paid for doing the work.


Matt on October 29, 2019:

Greetings once again to Gail, Clare, and all,

That’s great Clare that you and your husband both enjoyed “Twelfth Night”, and your comment regarding the character of Viola is quite astute. Viola is one of the strongest and loyal female characters in all of Shakespeare, and does indeed deserve wider recognition. She is extremely smart, witty and resourceful. As a young woman shipwrecked alone, she successfully disguises herself as a young man, and quickly enters the service of The Duke as a page. This shows her ability to move comfortably in social situations, and problem-solve on the fly. Very few people could so easily resolve their problems in this way. The Duke, believing her to be a young man, quickly comes to trust her completely above all others. In turn she is completely loyal to The Duke. Plus, the underrated scene where Viola, still disguised as the young man, has a witty exchange of friendly insults with The Fool, really demonstrates Viola’s extremely quick wit, and is a real gem.

Also thanks very much for the kind words, but I don’t think that I’m actually all that smart. In one of my earlier posts I told about how the very first time that my sister decided that I needed to administer a spanking to my teenage niece, and how my sister jokingly remarked about my completing a master’s, yet I couldn’t figure out something as simple as when giving a young lady a proper spanking, in order for the smacks of my hand to really be effective, I needed to lift up her skirt and smack on her knickers!


Clare Markham on October 28, 2019:

Thanks so very much for your detailed reply Matt! WOW, you must be really smart. I must confess that I’ve never really been that much into Shakespeare, but my husband and I recently saw a performance of “Twelfth Night” and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially liked the character of Viola. We all know about Juliet, but I’ve never heard of Viola who is equally as strong of a female character.


Matt on October 27, 2019:

Hello again to Gail, Clare, and all,

[I want to apologize in advance if this reply becomes a bit too boring and long winded, and strays a bit off topic, but I thought that perhaps I should explain that teaching was only a part of my professional career.]

This is in response to Clare’s recent question:

No, once I decided to leave the Catholic girls secondary school (high school in US), I happily never had to administer corporal punishment to maintain discipline again, because my next assignment was teaching adults Shakespeare’s textual studies at university, which I did for several years, until I was chosen to become the general editor in preparing a massive multi-volume Complete Works Edition of Shakespeare, which took well over twenty years to complete.

Briefly: just to quickly explain an extremely complex job in simple terms - one of the many jobs of a general editor of Shakespeare is to oversee that each of the various editors who are preparing the individual plays to be included in the edition, be consistent with things like whether or not to modernize certain archaic Elizabethan and Jacobean spelling of words which were originally published in the various Quartos during the late 1500s and early 1600s, and in the 1623 First Folio, because certain archaic spellings would no doubt totally confuse the modern reader, especially students studying the plays.

It was my job to decide, and to suggest to the various editors, exactly which spelling to use for different words, such as whether to use “apricock” or “apricot”; “accompt” or “account”; “burthen” or “burden”; “bankrout” or “bankrupt”. For instance, a highly conservative editor might conceivably wish to retain some variant spellings, such as “caret”, “carrat”, and “carroote” [a word which actually does NOT appear anywhere in Shakespeare, but I use it here only because its three variant spellings offers a good example], on the grounds that they could reflect “a distinctive contemporary pronunciation”.

Hopefully, my answer will give a better idea of my life after teaching at a Catholic school, and hasn’t been too boring.


Clare Markham on October 25, 2019:

I have another question for Matt, if he sees this. I think that you mentioned that you taught at this Catholic school for 12 years. I was wondering if the school that you taught at after this school also used corporal punishment?


Anthony MacDonald on October 20, 2019:

Just to put in my two cents (and I realize that many will totally disagree with my opinion) I think that teachers should be allowed to paddle. In New York City where I live, these days all you have to do is to walk in the street pass any public high school when the classroom windows are open, and you can hear just how disruptive and out of control the students are. It sounds like the kids are at a sports event. How in the world are the teachers supposed to teach, and more importantly, the students supposed to LEARN in this type of environment?

Contrast this noisy environment with how it was when I attended Parochial school back in the sixties, when things were totally different. Our classrooms were always quiet, so the nuns and teachers were able to teach in peace. It’s also a well known fact that students received a much higher level of education in Catholic schools.


Matt on October 02, 2019:

Hello again to Gail, Clare and all,

Here’s my reply to Clare’s most recent question: Heavens no! In the 12 years that I taught at this school, I never conducted this type of an inspection. And as far as I know, neither did any of the nuns or other lay teachers, at least not during the period when I was teaching at this school.


Clare Markham on September 29, 2019:

I find it simply amazing that the nuns in Debbie’s mom’s school actually conducted inspections to see if a girl was wearing proper panties!

Another question for Matt - Did you or any of the other lay teachers in your school ever conduct such a panty inspection?


George Marino on September 28, 2019:

I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud when I read about the teacher getting hit in the head with an egg. Now I can think of several teachers that I would have loved to have thrown eggs at. LOL

George Marino

Debbie Flynn on September 27, 2019:

According to my mum who attended a UK Catholic school in the 1960s, regulation knickers/panties were atrocious navy-blue full-cut panties which dig into a girl’s thighs; I mean we are talking pretty much big-old granny-style blue knickers. As you can hopefully see in the link below, they were not sexy in the slightest. And the nuns would do random checks where they would have all the girls line up right before class and would lift all of their skirts to make sure that they were wearing proper knickers. That former teacher gentleman poster was not exaggerating when he stated that these knickers “more than sufficiently covered a girl’s bottom”. I’m not sure what material the knickers in the photo at this link were made of, but the ones my mum says that she had to wear were made out of cotton.


Clare Markham on September 26, 2019:

Thanks again for your further detailed and exceptional answers to my questions Matt. Much appreciated.


Sally on September 26, 2019:

I’ve been lurking here every once & a while reading the various posts since I attended Catholic school in the ‘90s when things were obviously quite different. I wonder if someone might perhaps please explain to me what exactly regulation school panties (knickers) looked like and how they differed from what we wear today. Thanks - Sally

Matt on September 24, 2019:

Hello again - This is in reply to Clare’s questions.

First off, thanks very much Clare for your questions and interest. To answer your first question: Absolutely NOT, simply because the postulants were not part of the school, instead they were a part of the convent and as a teacher in the school I had no authority whatsoever to punish a postulant. Plus, they weren’t all as young and as immature as this particular young postulant. Some of the postulants were actually even much older than I was, and were very serious and did not ever act like schoolgirls. That said, as angry as I was I no doubt would have still chased after her, but not to punish her. Once I caught her I would have brought her directly to the Mother Superior, and she might have been, as she put it, “thrown out”, since only a handful from each class of postulants actually made it through to becoming nuns, the others all fell by the wayside.

In order to answer your second question I will first need to explain a little bit of personal background information, so please bear with me. For about two years prior to my starting to teach at this school I had been working as an assistant director for the preparation of an exhibition of Shakespeare for The Third Adelaide Festival of Arts, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare, which was in 1964. During that time I had become sort of a surrogate father to my teenage niece. Her dad had died in an accident in late 1962, so my sister (who was 11 years older than me) and my niece came to live with me. After her dad had died, my niece had become quite a handful, arrogantly rebellious with a fresh mouth, and my sister who badly suffered from both Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, just couldn’t really handle her daughter.

My niece attended a Catholic school and she often wore her school uniform around the house on school evenings, so I vividly remember that the very first time that my sister wanted me to “go upstairs and give that cheeky young lady a good tanning”, I was not very keen at all on the idea of doing this. However, since my niece had answered her mom back quite disrespectfully, using a very bad word which I will not repeat here, and since my sister was physically weak and unable to punish her daughter herself, I very reluctantly agreed and went up to my niece’s bedroom, sat down at the edge of her bed, put her across my knee and began administering a spanking with my hand over her school skirt.

I soon became quite puzzled. Now I’m a pretty big guy - using the American system of measurements I’m six feet, two inches tall, and had even done some boxing at university - yet the hard smacks from my hand over the material of the skirt of my niece’s school uniform seemed quite ineffectual. There was absolutely no reaction from my niece. I then paused and asked my niece, “Are you now going to behave yourself and show some respect to your mother?” To which she answered with a defiant “NO!!!”

By that time my sister had slowly and finally made it up the stairs, and she told me, “If you’re going to use your hand to do that job you’ll need to do something about that skirt.” Still confused I asked, “I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand?” To which my sister laughed and made a joke about my having completed doing a Master’s, but yet I couldn’t figure out something simple like the proper way to spank a young lady. My sister then spelled it out for me, “Lift up her skirt and then smack her!”

I quickly followed my sister’s instructions and resumed spanking this time directly on the seat of her school knickers. The difference now was like that of day and night. My niece was now no longer defiant and I was now getting the tearful reaction that I had originally expected, and when I finally finished and asked her the same question as before, this time she apologized and promised to behave herself.

So yes, drawing from the occasions when I had dealt with my niece in a similar fashion, I always lifted up the skirts of the students and spanked directly on their school regulation knickers, which more than sufficiently covered a girl’s bottom. However, please remember that this was in the very different world of the sixties. Corporal punishment was quite common in all Australian schools back then, especially in the Catholic schools. As a teacher I was encouraged by the Mother Superior to use it frequently and at my own discretion. Times and attitudes have indeed changed. I believe that since the mid eighties corporal punishment has been banned in most Australian schools, including the Catholic ones.


Clare Markham on September 23, 2019:

Here’s a couple of questions for Matt, but before I get to them I would just like to comment that I’ll bet that that postulant had to do some serious penance after her next confession for throwing that egg. LOL

1 - If the girl who tossed the egg at you had been wearing her postulant’s uniform and not dressed like a schoolgirl, would you still have spanked her?

2 - As a male teacher in an all girls school, whenever you spanked a student did you always lift up her skirt and spank her on her panties?


Matt on September 21, 2019:

Hello to Gail and all,

I’m 79 now and while there are many people who can claim that they were spanked by a nun, I am probably one of the very few people with the distinction of claiming that I once actually spanked a nun!

Now before anyone judges me badly, or accuses me of blasphemy, or of sacrilege, I had better explain the situation that the 18 year old young lady in question was at that time only what they call a postulant (that is a novice or novitiate, or student nun).

In 1965, I was a brand new English lay teacher just starting out at a Catholic secondary all girls boarding school, located in Strathfield in New South Wales, Australia. The girls who attended this school were basically the ages 13 thru 17, but some were 18 before graduation. The school was somewhat unique in that it also was home to the young postulants, some of which were as young as 18.

This particular 18 year old postulant was quite brilliant, but more than a bit rebellious. She had often been verbally chastised by the Mother Superior for being a rebel. On Halloween night 1965, she decided to discard her own uniform and dress like one of the secondary students, and join some of the secondary girls in an egg fight, despite knowing that she would land in big trouble if the Mother Superior was to find out.

As I left the school building that night making my way to my car, I had to pass the girls who were egg fighting. I called out, “Please hold it up, ladies!” The girls stopped immediately. However, as I passed, one of the girls I guess feeling in a mischievous mood, purposely flung an egg directly at me, which hit me quite hard in the back of my head.

I lost my temper and chased after the culprit, as the other girls all quickly scattered. Please remember that this 18 year old postulant was wearing the uniform of a student and I completely believed that she was a schoolgirl. Well you can figure out the rest - I caught her, marched her over to a nearby bench, and over my lap she went as I then soundly smacked a pair of navy blue knickers hard and long.

As I spanked her she had been saying something through her crying which I couldn’t really make out. And honestly I was too angry to really listen to what she was blurting out. Only after I finished and put her back up on her feet did I realize that she was not a schoolgirl, but a nun to be. When I realized this I verbally scolded her, telling her that she should really be ashamed of herself for throwing that egg.

However, at that point although she was still openly crying, she was much more worried about the fact that the dorm where she sleeps had now just closed for the night, and how was she going to get back inside without the Mother Superior noticing that she was in the uniform of a student and not in her own uniform? “I’ll be thrown out!”, she cried, “You have to help me sneak back inside!”, she begged.

For a moment I thought to myself that it would serve her right to have to face the Mother Superior, but then I felt sorry for her, and after all I’d already punished her for throwing that egg, so maybe I should try to help her. Now as a male teacher I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the girl’s dorms. Then I got an idea. There was one young nun whom I was quite friendly with, since we both were big Shakespeare readers and I had lent her my First Folio facsimile, so I went round back and threw a pebble or two at her window and motioned for her to come down.

When she came outside she was horrified to see egg all over my head and my clothes, as well as to see the postulant standing there crying, dressed as a schoolgirl. I told her that I would explain everything in the morning and asked her if she would help the girl. So she came up with the idea of wrapping the postulant up in a blanket and pretending that she had been having stomach trouble and she had brought the girl outside for some fresh air, in case the Mother Superior asked. So she was able to get the girl back inside without anyone becoming the wiser, and I doubt if this postulant ever got involved in another egg fight after that.

Strangely this incident actually created a lasting friendship between myself and this young postulant. Instead of her hating me for spanking her, she viewed me as the person responsible for helping her to not get thrown out of the convent. She matured into a model nun, and today she is a Mother Superior herself somewhere in Australia, and we are still friends.


Linda Ferrara on May 15, 2019:

After reading all these comments about the past, I thought that someone should point out that unfortunately corporal punishment is NOT a thing of the far distant past in US Public Schools. It is still legal in 19 US states and practiced in 15. One of the biggest paddling loving states is North Carolina, where a few years ago a teacher even paddled a pregnant 16 year old even though the teacher knew that the girl was pregnant. That teacher is still teaching and paddling today.

This link at bottom from 2012 shows a female teacher caught on camera using a board on two high school girls. Plus the fact that the teacher does not bend the girls over a desk makes it a lot more dangerous, especially with the second girl who does not want to stand still, so this teacher has no real control over where she is aiming, and there is the possibility a the teacher just swinging blindly like this can miss the targeted area and hit the girl in a part of her body that can do permanent harm to the girl. - Linda


Naomi Halloran on March 31, 2019:

I came across this blog recently as I was trying to find examples to show my granddaughters (ages 14 and 16) who both attend Catholic school, of just how easy they have it these days, compared to back in the sixties. Like one of the other posters, I too was born and raised in in the UK, but moved to America in the eighties when my husband was offered a position teaching Shakespeare at a university here.

Starting in 1961, at age 13, I was a boarder at St Mary’s Boarding School for Girls, in Cambridge, which was founded in 1898 by the sisters of the Venerable Sister Mary Ward and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, better known as the Sisters of Loreto (not to be confused with the American Sisters of Loretto). Sister Helen Ward was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict about 10 years ago. Sister Helen Ward also founded a school of the same name in Ascot, Berkshire. The school had both borders and day-girls.

Everything inside the school appeared to be made of stone, brick or concrete. There were pipes painted silver, running all around every wall about four feet up from the ground. These of course were very hot to the touch and strange sounds came from them constantly – little pings and knocks and every now and then a nerve wracking hiss. We got used to hearing the pipes twenty-four hours a day, the same way people get accustomed to the sounds of traffic or the pounding of the waves when you live close to the sea. It became quite common to see the walls of the room lined with girls warming cold hands on the pipes after a late afternoon hockey game or a long cold walk. Perhaps this is why so many of us suffered from constantly painful and itchy chilblains – a complaint that you never hear mentioned today, but which we thought was a natural part of winter time and growing up.

I realize now that our clothing was of exceptionally good quality, well made and functional (up to a point that is). First of all were navy blue knickers – with elastic around each leg which was never quite the right size. The elastic was either so loose your knicker legs hung nearly down to your knees or so tight that you had to pull them down to the thinner part of your thigh to make them bearable. Next we had quite pretty yellow and white striped blouses, which looked very nice under a navy blue pleated tunic. To cover this all up and to keep clean we wore a blue cotton pinafore which was easily laundered. Last but not least, apart from our black shoes, lace-ups as they were called, comes the article of clothing which were the trial of my life. Black stockings. Your days could be pleasant or not depending upon your stockings. Some girls always seemed to get nice new long ones, and that word LONG is the magic word. Mine were never LONG. They ended about four inches above my knee. As I have a rather long back, my suspenders were suspended to the limit. I was fine while bending over to fasten them up, but imagine the pull on my shoulders when I stood up. In my constant struggle to close the gap between my stockings and my knickers I would inevitably pull large holes in my stockings. These would frequently have to be mended, and of course my stockings would get shorter and shorter and my misery more acute as the term progressed. And our really lovely blazers and panama hats completed our uniforms – with coats and mackintoshes and tammies for the winter months.

As some of the other posters have already pointed out, discipline was of the upmost importance, and the nuns at St Mary’s were very rough and they used to slap misbehaving girls across the face - and REALLY HARD!!! I remember the very first time that I got slapped when I was in First Form (7th Grade in US) and had only been at St Mary’s for a few weeks. It was during Sunday morning mass. We were lined up waiting to receive communion, and directly behind me was one of the troublesome girls. She pushed me into a pew, so I pushed her back. Out of nowhere a sister quickly appeared and gave us both a good slap! Even though I was usually pretty well behaved, from that time until I graduated 5 years later at age 18, I would get my share of slaps.

Most slaps were given during class for things like talking, or fooling around, as well as other forms of misbehaviour. The sister we had in First Form was very tough and it frequently seemed like someone was getting slapped every other minute. Of course the girls who misbehaved the most often were the one who got slapped the most often. There were even two or three of the troublesome girls in our class who seemed to get slapped almost everyday, but no girl was exempt from getting a slap.

Whenever a girl (especially one of the troublesome girls) got slapped, the rest of us would always smirk at her. At lunchtime when the entire school was together, one of my roommates and I would amuse ourselves by looking around the lunchroom and counting the number of girls who had misbehaved that morning by which girls were wearing a red slap handprint on the faces... Ha!

Naomi Halloran

Helen Miller on March 24, 2019:

Hello Gail, and all!

This is in response to the question asked by Clare in her post: I hope that it’s alright for me to join in since I did not go to a Catholic school, and I am not a Catholic. Back in the sixties I attended a very old and conservative private school for girls in West Brompton, a suburb of London, although I have lived in the US since 1985. We had all female teachers at our school, and most of them were old enough to be ancient relics. Discipline was of the upmost importance, so our teachers were very strict and were allowed to use (and did use) spanking quite freely and at their own discretion. So girls were frequently spanked for many infringements, and back then no one seemed to question this, since most of us were spanked at home, as well (my mother and my grandmother were both firm believers in spanking).

The standard procedure was for the girl to be bent over the teacher’s desk from the teacher side, so that the girl’s face would be facing the rest of the class. In other words, so that the other girls only saw the girl’s face, while her bottom was facing the blackboard at the front of the classroom, so that only the teacher saw the girl’s knickered bottom when the teacher raised the skirt of the girl’s uniform and administered the spanking (spankings were always administered skirt up on the knickered bottom). When the teacher finished, the girl would then return to her desk, red-faced and crying.

The strictest teacher we had was Miss Tunney, who looked as if she was a hundred years old. She never smiled and we called her “Hag” behind her back. Whenever she spanked a girl, she always looked so incredibly stern while doing.

Here’s the part that Clare might find interesting: I remember one time when I was in what here in the US would have been called 9th grade, when Hag spanked three girls, one right after the other. After administering a thorough spanking to the first, and then to the second girl, she then had the third girl bend over her desk in the usual position. However, as Hag lifted up the third girl’s skirt, Hag’s usual stern expression surprisingly turned into a giant grin!

For a second or two I was quite puzzled by all of this. I had never even seen Hag so much as smile before, and now she was grinning widely from ear to ear. Then Hag said something to the girl which I was unable to completely make out, although I was able to understand the words, “very naughty indeed”. However, once Hag began smacking the girl’s bottom with her hand, I immediately recognized the unmistakable “sound” of hard smacks landing on a bare bottom, and realized that the girl had not been wearing any knickers! After Hag finished spanking the girl, she did not send her to the headmistress. However, I do not know if Hag herself sent the girl home with a note to her parents.


Clare Markham on March 23, 2019:

Question for Brigid:

I hope that this question is not considered inappropriate? If so I apologize in advance for asking it, but I was just wondering how do you think that the male teacher would have reacted if he had turned that troublesome girl over his knee & lifted up her school skirt & discovered that she wasn’t wearing any panties (knickers), as some girls at my school did not especially after gym class. Do you think that the teacher would have gone ahead and administered the spanking to her on her bare tush? It would have served her right!


Linda on February 28, 2019:

My sister and I both attended St. Ursula’s High School for Girls, in Bristol in the 1960s (my sister is 2 years younger than me). The Sisters there used spank all the time. We were both spanked quite a few times, even when I was 17. Sister would bend a girl over and lift up her dress, and administer a thorough spanking on the girl's knickers, usually with her hand, but sometimes according to the offense, with a ruler. And of course, my sister and I never even considered complaining to mum because it was mum who we feared the most. Letting mum know that you had been punished for getting into trouble at school would have immediately resulted in going over mum’s lap for second spanking, except that mum always peeled down our knickers and

spanked quite vigorously.


Brigid Maloney on February 27, 2019:

This is a reply to Gail’s response to my post:

Back in the fifties and sixties, Australia was far behind America in terms of using corporal punishment. I think that something like 89% of parents still believed in using it in the home, and about the same amount approved of its used in both public and parochial schools.

As an eyewitness witness to Rosie’s spanking from Mr. McGregor, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Mr. McGregor was all business as he smacked her. He certainly did not in any way, shape, or form admire her shapely bottom. At that moment he viewed her only as a naughty girl who had defied him and needed to be taught a lesson. I also think that up until that point Mr. McGregor had given a couple of the badly behaved girls one or two verbal spanking warnings, but some of the girls still doubted whether Mr. McGregor would actually carry out his spanking threats. I think that he used Rosie’s defiance as example to show the other girls that if he was pushed too far, he would indeed spank.

Some people today might also ask why defiant girls like Rosie weren’t just expelled. My mom told me years later that our Mother Superior had told the parents at school meetings, that she didn’t believe in just giving up on the troublesome girls and just chucking them out. Mother Superior told the parents that the nuns were not there to just teach the easy girls. And then mom told me that Mother Superior pointed to a statue of Jesus and asked, “Would HE have just given up on these girls?”

Brigid Maloney

Gail Stevenson on February 25, 2019:

I still remember the sisters at the catholic school I went to. My two sisters had to wear uniforms, a navy blue skirt, a white blouse and navy blue vest everyday at school. The lower grades wore regular dresses. I saw a nun pull a boy’s ear. They were very strict. That’s awful that the nuns spanked girls. I went to a public school after the 5th grade. Bullies are awful, too.

Brigid Maloney on February 25, 2019:

I was educated at a Catholic school for girls in Sydney, Australia, between 1958 and 1966. Although housed in a modern building, the school was run on old-fashioned lines, the nuns being Sisters of Mercy.

The following are some of the memories I have of the school. The day/boarding school had Irish origins for the Brigidine order of nuns, founded by Bishop Daniel Delany in Ireland in 1807, was the post Reformation re-establishment of an earlier order of nuns led by the Irish Saint Brigid in the fifth century. The new intrepid Brigidine missionaries sailed to the Antipodes in 1883 and established several schools in Australia and New Zealand.

While there were many subjects, there was a strong emphasis on music, languages and a commercial school within the larger school. Baby boomer era classes had 40 students in them—I recall a class of 45 one year. We started each lesson with a prayer, wore uniforms, helped nuns and thought the whole world was like this.

New girls were given the school rules to learn by heart in the first week. After that, you had no excuse for transgressing them.

Prominent among the rules were those concerning school uniform, a matter in which the Mother Superior took an obsessive interest. Our uniforms were a beige gingham dress and yellow sash, with the school crest and motto Quantum Est Sapere on the pocket, straw boater with a ribbon in school colours (or navy beret) and white ankle socks, and cotton gloves.

What was worn beneath was also strictly prescribed: white brassiere, navy slip in winter and navy cotton knickers, of generous cut and tight leg elastic, which dug into the flesh of our thighs.

At general assemblies in the courtyard, we looked up at the Mother Superior standing on a raised balcony, as if to God’s messenger who had descended to give a report of earthly doings and what Heaven wanted done henceforth.

We attended Mass in Latin, sang hymns in Latin and studied Latin. Our quietly spoken, yet determined teacher Sister Conleth, managed to convey to us that conjugating verbs in Latin and translation, was essential to any kind of semi-decent life on earth. She would begin each class with Salve puellae (“Hello girls”) and then get down to business. Not to do one’s Latin homework was simply human perfidy and would produce abject horror on her face. I am amazed my school retained large Latin classes despite the anti-Latin forces beyond but Sister Conleth, of blessed memory, was a supernatural tour de force.

Our English teacher, Sister Loyola, led us to believe that life without literature was not worth living either. We memorized poetry and Shakespearean passages and pondered Hamlet’s problems as if they were our own. Strangely, there was no critique of the French revolution as we sang the Marseillaise, to practice our French. Sister Clare inducted me into the world of music.

Rings, bangles, clips or any other kinds of adornment were forbidden.

The Mother Superior used to hold unannounced uniform inspections. She’d enter a classroom, speak briefly to the nun, and before anyone had a chance to as much as slip off a bracelet the class was marched to the assembly hall and lined up. Names were first taken of any girls whose hair was not bobbed, braided or tied back according to regulation. Then, in her black habit and white coif, our head nun went down the row of apprehensive girls, pausing long enough to cast an eye over each, and lift the hems of tunics with her fountain pen.

Skirt length was, of course, a burning topic in the early 1960s. The tunic or dress had to cover the knees, and however much we might complain, this was non-negotiable. A girl who put up her tunic to make a mini-skirt was dealt with for defiance.

Girls called out of the line had to face a form teacher made angry at having been disgraced, and the following morning these girls had to present themselves to the headmistress correctly attired.

The Mother Superior used to stand at the window of her room high above the school gate watching. If she caught sight of a girl entering or leaving school without hat and gloves, someone was despatched immediately to take the culprit’s name.

Bad, rude, or rebellious behaviour was not tolerated and was punished immediately. The culprit would be either bent over the desk, or put across the nun’s knee. The Sister would then raise the girl’s dress and slip, and she would be spanked on her knickers with either the nun’s hand or the back of a hairbrush.

I was one of the “good” girls so I was never spanked. But some girls weren’t so lucky. When I was in Fourth Form (Grade Ten today) the school hired its very first lay teacher, a male economics teacher named Mr. McGregor. He was a tall and strong man and generally a good natured chap. However, he was allowed to punish us in the exact same manner as the nuns did, which of course made us feel a bit uncomfortable knowing that he would be staring at our knickered bottom during the punishment. On his very first day, he explained to the class that as long as a girl behaved herself, she would get along quite well with him. However, if a girl misbehaved or acted rebellious, he would not hesitate to put her across his knee and give her plenty of what he called, bottomly trouble.

Luckily for us, Mr. McGregor only spanked as a last resort. Although the class rebel, Rosemary Fitzgerald, did try his patience. She was a very pretty and shapely girl, who had modeled during summer vacation, and I remember her remarking that “All men are the same. If he ever hoisted up my skirts he’d become so overwhelmed by the sight of my bum in those knicks that he’d probably be so embarrassed that he’d pull my skirt right back down again and let me up immediately.”

So Rosemary just had to test Mr. McGregor. One afternoon he caught her chewing gum. When he asked her to spit the gum out, she refused. He then asked her a second time. Once again she refused.

He calmly walked over to Rosemary’s desk and firmly grabbed her by the back of her neck. He then lifted her out of her seat and marched up front to the rubbish tin. He pushed her face into the tin holding her there until she finally spit the gum out.

Still holding her firmly at the back of her neck with one hand, he pulled his chair out and sat down, pulling Rosemary across his lap. From that point on, everything happen very quickly. He lifted up Rosemary’s skirt and slip, exposing her knickered covered bottom.

To Rosemary’s dismay, Mr. McGregor did not in the slightest way become overwhelmed by the sight of her bottom in knickers. Instead he held her very firmly in position with his left hand as his right hand repeatedly smacked the seat of her knickers. He did not need to use the hairbrush as his hand smacked extremely hard, and since using one’s hand to spank was not limited to 12 whacks like when using the hairbrush, he was able to smack her for as long as he wanted to.

At first Rosemary tried to holdback the tears, but as the smacking progressed she started crying openly, and by the time he finished her face was as red as a beet. When he did finish, he quickly pulled her skirt back down into place, and let her up, once again grabbing her firmly at the back of her neck, and then he marched her back to her desk and firmly sat her down (actually he plopped her down) on the hard wooden seat.

Needless to say, Rosemary did not ever chew gum again in Mr. McGregor’s class.

Brigid Maloney

Bob Aiello on September 05, 2018:

What a small world! I too went to St. Athanasius Grade School in Brooklyn, NY, and had the misfortune of being in the same class as poster John Cartoni from second through sixth grades, and the horror of sitting right next to John in fifth grade. John one of the worst behaved boys, but he also picked on and bullied myself and about three other boys, and since I sat right next him in fifth grade, I was his main torturing target for that entire year.

I learned early on that the sisters pretty much only slapped the bad boys, like John, although there were some exceptions. And John is right, he did indeed always seem to be getting his face slapped, because he was so bad!

And yes John, I and the other boys that you picked on, got great joy every time Sister slapped your face and cut you down to size, changing your whole demeanor. I took great pleasure in seeing this big, arrogant, bully sitting there looking so meekly and with Sister’s clear red hand mark on your face!

Mark Stack on November 29, 2017:

I went to St Madelines school in Ridley Park Pa in the early 1960s.

The nuns were sadistic lunatics.

They would hit both boys and girls.

If someone threw up they were told to get a bucket of sawdust from the janitors closet and clean it up.Kids old enough to tie there shoes and walk to school were shitting and pissing there pants because they were denied bathroom privileges.

Can you imagine that happening today?We had white dress shirts and ties on,dress pants,polished shoes.And here we are sitting on our chair unloading in our pants!

Those nuns were sick S O Bs.

Ralph on January 18, 2017:

I don't know. When I think about how so many kids today behave so unruly and disrespectfully to their elders, maybe that kind of strict discipline is what is needed today.

Brendon Markham - correction for typo on December 16, 2016:


If you are able to, would you please correct my typo. I meant to type that one of the kids in my class yelled: "Brendon really just got Confirmed!" I wrote "Ryan" by mistake instead, because Ryan was the name of the kid who yelled that out.



Brendon Markham on December 16, 2016:

I attended Catholic school from 1st to 8th grades as well. I was somewhat of a class clown so I was one of the kids who got slapped a lot. During Confirmation rehearsals they put all of us boys together with the public school boys for 3 long days of rehearsals in the chapel (the girls rehearsed separately in the old church). I remember how terrified the public school boys were of the nuns even though the nuns never slapped any of the public school boys -- maybe they were afraid of the school getting sued? During rehearsal while my group was lined up in front waiting to go up to go up to the alter where an older kid sat in a chair pretending to be the Bishop. And we would go up to him in a single line, one kid at a time and he would tap us across the face, pretending to Confirm us. As we were waiting our turn on line, instead of facing forward I had my head turned smiling & fooling around. When suddenly I heard Sister yell my name "BRENDON!!!" As I turned around Sister gave me such a slap across my face, which certainly wiped that smile off my face. A few seconds later one of the kids in my class yelled out "Ryan really just got Confirmed!" Once my group made our way back to our seats every public school kid sitting near me repeatedly kept turning around to stare at the hand print on my face. I guess to the public school kids this was a big deal, something that never happened in public school.

Brian Fitzgerald on October 28, 2016:

I went to St. Joan of Arc's in Queens, NY during the sixties. The nuns there were pretty much like what John described above, and although I, myself never got smacked cuz I was to scared of the nuns to misbehave. My parents never hit me so seeing other kids get slapped across the face by the nuns was a terrifying experience for me. There were several kids who always seemed be getting smacked for something or other. I remember very distinctly the loud cracking sound which used to make my ears ring, especially if I was so close to the kid who got slapped, and also staring fascinatingly at the handmark left on the kid's face which seemed to last for hours after the slap.

John Cartoni on July 21, 2016:

I attended St. Athanasius Grade School in Brooklyn, NY from 1958 to 1966. I had a behavioral problem as a boy, so I was the kid who frequently acted up and was always getting slapped across the face by the Sisters. A slap from a Sister was quite hard and my face tingled for a long while afterwards, but a slap did make me behave for the rest of that day. And of course it was also embarrassing because even kids not in my class who saw me in the lunchroom, the hallway, etc, knew that I had gotten slapped because they could see the red handprint on my face.

Caelii on January 07, 2015:

It's always a pleasure to hear from someone with expsetier.

Gail Louise Stevenson (author) from Mason City on April 18, 2012:

Your right. Things sure have changed since the old school days from the 1960s. No computers existed back then-everythings a lot more advanced. Thanks for the comment.

Ruth McCollum from Lake Oswego, Oregon on April 18, 2012:

Schools and behaviours were so different then.It was a different time to live in.

Gail Louise Stevenson (author) from Mason City on April 11, 2012:

The catholic school that I went to did have hot lunches, but they were not very good at all. I started to take sack lunches to school, which was a lot better.

Judy Specht from California on April 11, 2012:

We were camping with my brother and sister-in-law and my husband was retelling stories of Catholic school. My brother-in-law's kids were spellbound. They thought their mom was making these things up. I don't think I have ever heard of hot lunches in private schools either.

Gail Louise Stevenson (author) from Mason City on March 01, 2012:

Later when it was allowed I took bagged lunches to school. I agree, we're better off for it. Thanks.

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on March 01, 2012:

I went to a Catholic school as well, but we didn't have hot lunch. Those close enough went home for lunch and the others brought a bagged lunch. The nuns were strict, but personally, I think we're better off for it. Looking at the kids today, is a good example.

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