Safety Patrol GIRLS at Memphis City Schools?



I've written many times before about the quasi-military Safety Patrols that guarded the lives of children attending schools in Memphis. Most of those stories were written in the "dark ages" — before the Internet — so I can't even provide you with a handy link to them here.

But some of you surely remember the Safety Patrol boys, with their white sashes (yellow if you were lucky enough to be elected "captain" of the squad), wide-brimmed white plastic helmets, and wooden poles with the red warning flags. (In bad weather, you wore bright yellow raincoats and clunky black rainboots, which made the uniform complete.) These brave children would stand on street corners around the city's schools and help their fellow students cross the streets, by walking out into traffic and blocking the oncoming cars and trucks with their red flags.

Most of these jobs went to boys, and girls were usually relegated to hall-monitor duties.

But what about the all-girl schools around town? Well, as this photo from their 1961 yearbook clearly shows, St. Mary's School for Girls did indeed employ females on their Safety Patrol squads, and they got to wear the same gear as the guys.

And look, St. Mary's even got one of those cool "street cop" signs — brightly painted metal policemen that you rolled out into the street (they had two wheels mounted at the base) to warn drivers to SLOW DOWN because this was a school zone.  Some of these turn up now and then in antique malls, selling for hundreds of dollars.

Memories of a long-ago time, huh? Does any school in Memphis still have Safety Patrols? Or do the kids just play dodge-em with the traffic?

Reader Comments:
Jul 14, 2012 06:57 pm
 Posted by  canont

Thanks, Vance. I graduated from St. Mary's in 1963 and all these girls were friends of mine. As a matter of fact, the photo has now gone out to many in our class and we were so glad to see it. And talking about the photo has led to many other memories. It has started a flurry of comments from our class. Thanks, Vance

Jul 14, 2012 10:04 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Proud member of the Sherwood Elementary 70 and 71 safety patrol here! I loved carrying the long flags, walking in unison while chanting a safety cadence until we arrived at our intersections. We truly were 'the straw that stirs the drink' and could have had any girl in the school. If only we weren't 11 and 12.

Jul 16, 2012 01:57 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Had a friend jump the last 3 steps instead of 'walking' down and fled a safety-patrol gestapo girl at Sherwood Elem. circa 1966.
"I" laughed and was collared by this Fraulein Himmler who demanded his name. I made one up, and was nabbed the next day by the Gruppenfuhrer of the Safety Squad and was hauled before the Asst principal for 3 licks for false reporting or somesuch.

Thanks for bringing back the memories...

Jul 17, 2012 08:56 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I remember doing that in front of St. Anne School on Highland in 1963-64. The worst part of it was walking out in the street, holding that red flag pole across your chest, and staring into the windshield of a bunch of high school guys from Messick laughing at you, making faces, hollering, and giving you the finger the whole time.

Jul 19, 2012 04:55 pm
 Posted by  Bill Thompson

Vance, it's always fun to read your articles and go back in time. I was one of those lucky ones that was elected to wear the yellow belt at Lenox Elementary. I never had so much fun in school as I did being on the safety patrol, until the next year when I attended Fairview Jr High and discovered girls.

Jul 21, 2012 05:37 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I remember Fairview Junior High in the 60s. On election day they had to let some of the students out to go vote.

Jul 23, 2012 08:20 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Back in the mid- to late-fifties, at Sea Isle School anyway, the helmets were steel WWII-style helmets, not plastic. The wide-brimmed plastic ones came in before I finished sixth-grade. Early on, the patrollers walked out into traffic and held flags in the middle of the street. Later, in an apparent concern for their safety, the patrollers had to remain at the curb and extend longer flag poles into the street.

Jul 24, 2012 04:18 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I attended Idlewild, Bellevue and Central schools (graduated 1961)

Idlewild Elementary had Safety Patrol GIRLS. Somewhere in my boxes of photos is an 8 x 10 glossy of that group - it was quite a large group.

I don't recall Safety Patrol Boys at Idlewild, but that doesn't mean there were none.

LG

Sep 2, 2012 08:47 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Safety Patrol girl, White Station Elementary, 1969-70!!

Sep 2, 2012 02:55 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I was a safety patrol girl at Bethel Grove Elementary school in about 1963. I can't remember that we got to help kids crossing the street - I just remember given the honor of walking the perimeter of the school grounds in the morning with the capt of the SP boys. I had a crush on him - he probably didn't even know I was walking next to him altho he did smile alot. Aaaah 6th Grade - how grown we were - that is, until the next year when I stood in front of the massive Fairview Jr. High observing Fonzie type guys in leather jackets and motorcycles.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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