Teenagers today would find our lack of knowledge and understanding of sex and sexual matters ludicrous. When I say that many of us literally were not sure how one got pregnant I am not exaggerating. Remember, unless you had a little brother or male cousin you babysat we did not have opportunities to see a penis. There was no internet, no books one could find in any legal source that showed more than a diagram side view cut away. Trust me, we tried to find pictures. Several of us too Anatomy and Physiology, a difficult course, simply because we wanted to finally get information on male sex organs and reproduction. We were sadly disappointed when, having been issued our texts, we quickly dashed to the girls’ bathroom to turn to the appropriate pages. The illustrations turned out not to look anything like the actual appendage.
We knew the basics, if nothing else from slow dancing. Teenage boys being in the throes of a testosterone driven rut for virtually their entire high school years it did not take much to set their rockets soaring so to speak. But, we still had enormous gaps in our information. I will never forget when, as juniors in high school one of my classmates whose mother was still having babies announced in gym class that her mother’s water had broken. Another of my female classmates remarked sympathetically that it was awful that she was having plumbing problems at such a stressful time!
Because a lot of us did not know where to draw the line and because having a baby out of wedlock, particularly while you were still in high school, was about the worse thing a young woman could do ( the male who got her pregnant, according to conventional wisdom at the time was just doing what boys do, she is the one who should have said “no”) many of us were not chaste because we were virtuous, but because we were terrified of doing something that would result in pregnancy and bring disgrace to our selves and our families.
Girls simply did not go around pregnant and if they were pregnant they either did not stay pregnant or they left town to have the baby and placed it up for adoption. You either knew one of the doctors in town well enough that he or she was willing to do a ” D and C”, remember when I was in high school abortion was illegal, or you went to visit Aunt Maude on the farm in Iowa and came back nine months later with a flat tummy.
One notable exception was my classmate and friend who I will call Kate ( not her name). She was a white girl from a working class family. Kate was in love with a doctor’s son, one of what passed for elite in Xenia. They dated seriously and attended all the required social functions together, football and basketball games, Y dances and the Snow Ball. In the winter of our junior year Kate announced to us, a small group of her friends, that she was pregnant. She was excited about the pregnancy and was sure that her beau, who I will call Rob, would do the right thing and marry her.
Across the street from the high school catty-corner was a group of apartments known as Shawnee Village. In a town where apartments were a rarity these were considered some of the coolest domiciles in Xenia. The plan, as reported by Kate, was to get married, live in Shawnee Village and finish high school. Rob, of course, was expected to go to college, so they would cross that bridge when they got to it.
We were all excited. We finally knew a girl personally, one of the “good girls” who must have had sex! She could tell us exactly what she did, we would avoid doing that and we would not have to worry. Unfortunately, Kate’s description of the act was not very specific or very instructive, she talked a lot about romance, a fireplace, a dark room and pain. Disappointing.
At XHS the rule was that if you got pregnant you had to leave at the end of the grading period in which the school found out you were in a family way, had a bun in the oven, a pea in the pod, etc. Our grading periods were 6 weeks long. Kate began to show long before the end of our junior year. In those days we did not have home instruction for pregnant girls. The school administration, like most of society felt that if you sinned and got pregnant you had to take your medicine and flunk the school year. Of course, the thought that you and the young man had done the same thing, or that you would either have to go through an illegal and potentially dangerous operation to terminate the pregnancy or carry on with the pregnancy and be the object of scorn and ridicule for nine months and then go through hours of agonizing labor, never occurred to them, or did simply not seem to be punishment enough.
In our junior year, 1964-65 madras plaid shift dresses were the rage. We all had them. One of the coolest things about the dresses was that each time they were washed the dye ran a bit and changed the colors of the plaid. In a way you were wearing a different dress each time. Kate, by the spring of the year, was showing, so she wore madras dresses almost everyday. Made without waistlines they effectively covered the incriminating bump that was her growing child. The problem, though, was that “bleeding madras” did not bleed in the seams. As a result when Kate had to keep letting her dresses out for more room, the seams that were exposed were not the same color as the rest of the dress.
I am pretty sure now, as I was then, that the school knew she was pregnant almost as soon as the rest of us did, about her fourth month. Because the father of the child, who at the time was still standing by her, was from a prominent family, however, nothing was done until the final six weeks when she was called to the counselor’s office and told she would have to leave school at the end of the six weeks. Since that was the end of the school year the admonition was moot.
Kate had baby Roby in the summer between our junior and senior years, her mother kept the baby and she graduated with us on time. Big Rob had been sent to a military school in Texas to get him away from the “bad influence.” His parents offered Kate $1,000 for baby Roby, a fortune in those days, but she would not take it. She and Big Rob continued to correspond and he continued to make promises that when he reached his majority he would come back and claim her and his child. She used to share his letters with us. By the end of our senior year, however, the letters got less and less frequent and eventually stopped coming all together.
She was still certain, however, that he would ride back into town on a white horse, sweep her off her feet and ride off into the sunset with her and baby Roby. She had lots of excuses for his failure to appear, he was finishing high school, he was finishing college first so he could support the family, etc.
Five years after our high school graduation there was a half-page announcement, with pictures of Rob’s marriage to a society maiden from Texas. Years later I taught Roby, who was a dead ringer for his father, in high school. His face made me want to dislike him for what his father had done to my friend, who never married, or even dated again to my knowledge. Roby, however, was a delightful young man, smart, sweet and an all around good person. He was one of my favorite students.
Morals and mores were so different in those days.