One of the many things that makes old high school yearbooks such vibrant, lively archival materials is the humour found within their pages. Our yearbook collection dates back to 1913, and even the earliest yearbooks, which read more like student newspapers, have sprinklings of inside jokes, light quips, and satire. It is an encouraging reminder that the youthful spirit of teenagers spans across generations.
The high school humour found in yearbooks also reminds me that laughter brings us together. As I write this during the COVID-19 lockdown, I have a new appreciation for the power of humour and its ability to lift us up. Even in the darkest of times, laughter finds a way to spread a bit of light.
This was the same in 1917. The St. Catharines Collegiate published the 1917 edition of Vox Collegensis in the midst of the First World War. In the same issue that honours the fallen soldiers who were Collegiate alumni, there are a number of other pages filled with humour. Pictured below is an ode to teachers and classmates from the students of 3B.
Poking fun at teachers seems to be a trend we can trace in yearbooks across generations and high schools. The same humour found in the 1917 St. Catharines Collegiate yearbook is also evident in the 1970 Grantham High School yearbook. In “The Students’ Psalm”, the author takes a light jab at the mundanity of school.
Merritton High School students saw humour as such an important aspect of school spirit, that they published a full page of jokes in the 1966 Merritton Hi-Lites called “Yuckin’ It Up!”.
Another form of high school humour spanning generations are student quotes. The class photo pages in yearbooks across decades and high schools often provide a quote for each student in the class. These quotes usually lend from inside jokes and personal quips that were likely written under teenagers’ youthful insistence that high school will be the best time in their lives. Perhaps it also comes from students’ desire to make their mark. I may not know the students in these yearbooks personally, but I appreciate the glimpse these quotations give me into their personalities and their relationships
As I flip through high school yearbooks looking for humour and jokes, I am reminded that laughter is a universal concept that we all value and understand. Even though I might not “get” many of the inside jokes or satire scattered through these yearbooks, I smile wondering about the stories these jokes came from, and the people they belong to. I hope we can continue to remember the importance of laughter during the challenging time we are experiencing together.
Sara Nixon is a public historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.