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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Places in Books: Girls Normal School from Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

I am currently reading Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart (due out Aug. 24, 2010). It takes place in Philadelphia, my home town, in 1876; the year of the Centennial Exposition. The main characters of the book, Katherine and Anna, attend the Girls Normal School. Well this totally brought a smile to my face. Why? Because I graduated from Girls Normal School. Therefore, I thought I would give you some background on this extremely unique school and why it will always be a piece of me.

Girls Normal School now known as the Philadelphia High School for Girls, aka Girls' High, is one of the oldest, single sex, public high schools in the United States. (Supposedly there is a school in Baltimore that is older, but whatever, Girls' High grad here.) It was founded in 1848 and it is a magnet school. To be accepted, you must either have a certain GPA or pass a test. From day one, girls are told that they will go to college. That is why you are at Girls' High. It is not the place to mess around. If your grades are not maintained you will be forced to leave, anytime, regardless of what year you are in, Junior, Senior, you're out. If I remember correctly, my class started with about 425 girls, and graduated with 276. Some leave because of grades, some because it is tough starting out with little or no friends. Girls from all over the city attend, and in most cases, your grade school friends attend the local school. Luckily for me, even though I am friendly and out going, the part of the city I come from automatically made it easier for me to make friends. Besides, no one messes with a South Philly girl, that's just the way it is ;)

Due to the school being around for over 150 years, there are a lot of traditions, and they are not broken. One of my favorites was Zero Day.  This was the last day of classes for Seniors.  You are allowed to dress up however you wish, preferably in a costume or goofy, and carry signs proclaiming you are Senior and it's Zero Day.  In homeroom you are given a bagel tied with ribbon that you hang from your neck.  As you go through your day, at the end of each class, you take a bite of the bagel.  This signifies you are done, finished with that.  sounds corny, but it's pretty cool to see that bael missinng pieces, and everyone wants to be a Senior on that day.  So when it's finally you're turn, you go all out. 

One of the most significant and beautiful traditions occurs at graduation.  For the ceremony,  we wore white dresses and carried bouquets of red flowers. No cap and gown. There was one class, I believe it was 1976 that wore cap and gowns and it is said they have regretted ever since. True or not, the graduation tradition maintains the sense of family and sisterhood that is fostered from freshmen year. Those traditions that seemed so corny freshmen year, are so beloved and cherished by the time senior year rolls around. Girls' High was and, I hope still is, a unique place to attend high school. I made some wonderful friends there and learned so much about myself; to be an independent and successful woman. Just because you are a woman, doesn't mean you can not achieve the same things as a man. Sounds feminist but it's not. It's more about conquering your own fears and being the person you know you can be. The school motto is Vincit qui se vincit (she conquers who conquers herself), and it is quite true.

I could go on and on about more traditions and such, but I won't. I just wanted to highlight this place because Kephart mentioned it in her book and it tickled me pink.

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Blodeuedd said...

That I certainly didn't know about you. Wasn't it boring, no boys to look at..then again that's a good thing

Nise' said...

How cool! It sounds like you had a wonderful high school experience! I have yet to read one of Beth's books (I Know!) but hope to remedy that soon.

Trisha said...

That is definitely a unique high school experience.

Staci said...

What a great post with so much cool insight into your Alma Mater!!! I have this book too for a Winesome Blog tour and now I will have some extra info about the setting. I love the idea of the white dresses and red flowers...what a great photo!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Fascinating! Sounds like a great plot for a supernatural story ;)

stacybuckeye said...

How very cool! I've always thought that I would be a lot smarter if I had gone to a school without boys, LOL.
The bagel thing is funny but one of those quirky traditions I love. Hope the book takes you back :)

Irene said...

Wow, I love tradition.

The Bookworm said...

How nice that your high school is mentioned in the story.
Sounds like you had some fun traditions.

Ash said...

It's always so neat when something from your own life shows up in a book you're reading! Your high school experience sounds so different from mine! It's crazy how one experience is so different for everyone.

Helen said...

It's great that your school was mentioned in the book. It sounds very different from the school I attended here in the UK!

Michelle Santiago said...

What an interesting high school experience! Happy reading:)


Willa said...

Love this post!! Will have to read the book now :-)

Teddyree said...

Loved the post Jenny and the bagel tradition. What an awesome school and you're right the school motto says it all! The original name did give me a giggle (I've got a sick sense of humour LOL) Girls Normal School ... as opposed to what?? abnormal?

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