Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grade School Graduation

As I was approaching the end of January 1924, I also knew that my school education would also be ending. For some time, I had been alerted by my dear Italian Father that it was time for me to take over some of the more tedious burdens of my Mother, to allow her to devote more time to her store business, and to prepare me for my future role as wife and mother. This is something I accepted, albeit grudgingly, but with great respect, because it was the way of life. Most all of the other Italian girls in my neighborhood, who were graduating from grade school, faced the same reality; however, they usually became factory workers.

In New York City in those days, it was the law that if you were under sixteen years of age when completing grade school, it was necessary to acquire Working Papers whether or not you became a wage earner. To facilitate matters to obtain these papers, an application form had to be filled out and signed by the school's principal and then presented in person to the proper government-agent whose office was on Tillary Street in downtown Brooklyn. New York.

I remember the day it was my turn to go to the principal's office. As I entered, Mr. Harding rose and came from around his desk to shake my hand, and, "What brings you here to see me, Elvita." Working Papers, I said. "Working Papers? Why? Aren't you going to high school?" No. And silently, without saying a word, he shook his head from side to side. He pulled out an application form from his desk drawer and started to fill out the form......Name: Elvita Sperduto, Address: 946 Atlantic Avenue, Birth: July --, 1910. And then a long pause, as if he was thinking. No longer gloomy, he looked at me smiling gleefully, and words just rushed out: "Elvita, you're going to high school whether your father likes it or not, You are not going to be 14 until July and that's six months away. The Law requires that you must be at least 14 years old before your schooling ceases. You are only 13-1/2 and, therefore, you must attend high school at least for one term before Working Papers will be granted." I was stunned! Once again, Mr. Harding walked around his desk and, this time, instead of shaking my hand, I received a great big bear-hug. (That would be considered inappropriate today. What a shame!) I'm almost one hundred years old and I still love that man...Mr. Franklyn Harding, the Principal of Public School #11.

I just could not eat dinner that evening and Mother thought I was ill. After dishes were cleared away, Father sat back in his chair and surveyed his domain. A few words from here and there and then I blurted out: "Pa , whether you like it or not, I'm going to high school" and continued to relate the conversation in the principal's office. I can still see my Father, rising in his chair, shoulders spread back, bang on the dining room table, and in a rage bellow: "No one is going to tell me how to raise my children. You are lying. You and the principal 'cooked-up' this story." Thank God for Nicholas, my oldest brother who was now 25 years old and worked as a private chauffeur driving a Lincoln limousine for a very wealthy financier. Nicholas spoke in a very quiet tone: "Pa, it is the law. You will be arrested and sent to jail. I happened to visit a few of my old teachers several weeks ago and they all said Elvira is smart....and, after all Pa, it's only for one term." Nick was able to calm down this enraged but truly law-abiding man. "Bene, justa fer fiva muns." Mother was removing pots from the back of the coal stove and with her apron wiping away tears. My brothers were elated "Gee, El, you're going to high school. Wow!" My sisters looked at me with awe.

Now I'm in a dilemma. I really wanted to be a dancer or fashion-designer. But, I'm going to high school only for one term. Heck, I'll ask Rose Lorber where she was going. The next day and with autograph book in hand , I met Rose and told her the above story. And as I mentioned in my last post, Rose said: "Goodness gracious, after all that was said and done. Give me your book, Elvita"....and wrote the poem about Moses.


By sheer LUCK I was able to attend high school My 4-A teacher had me skip a class; instead of promoting me to the 4-B, she placed me in the 5-A class. Had I not skipped a class, I would have graduated in June 1924,,,,,..in July, I was fourteen and my Italian culture would have prevailed.


Rose and I both graduated from Girls Commercial High School in January 1928 and that is another story!


  1. Hi Elvira.

    You can see a photo of your old school if you visit

    Best wishes, Eric (in Sydney, Australia).

  2. Elvira,

    I'm sure your principal was as happy as you were. What a good man to see that you were destined for so much. It's a shame that today's kids don't get the same response at school. God Bless

    Patrick (Moments in time)

  3. Luck does have a way of helping when we least expect it...