Yearbook

How directory signatures have evolved since the 1600s

In 1635, the first public school in what would become the United States opened. The Boston Latin School only admitted boys and focused on a humanities program. The earliest “yearbooks” and their signatures date back to the east coast schools of the late 17th century, where people signed album-style books containing hairstyles, dried flowers, newspaper articles and other memorabilia. of the school year.

Students signed each other’s books with short thoughts or poems, or stories to remember time spent together. The practice had evolved from mundane books, a Renaissance tradition of compiling important and memorable information on bound sheets of paper. Students were encouraged to keep the books during class, and they eventually became a place to store anything their owners found interesting, including the signatures of other classmates.


The class of 1806 at Yale created the first known official directory with information about the school year, students, and faculty. It was called Profiles of some of the graduating class at Yale College– and since permanent photographs wouldn’t be invented for about 20 years, this book included printed silhouettes of the students.

But you can thank the first American photographer George K. Warren for the directory as it exists today. Daguerreotypes and their easily tarnished silver plaques lost popularity in the 1860s, and Warren needed a way to keep his business going. He turned to negatives, a process invented in the 1830s by William Henry Fox Talbot that evolved over the years to the point where Warren could print multiple images from a single negative. He took his career in a new direction, taking individual portraits and whole class photos, then selling those images to students who had them all bound in class yearbooks.

When photographs were not available, students’ names were simply printed in a book, sometimes alongside drawings, and classmates signed in the blank space. In other cases, like the one at East St. Louis High School in 1914, the yearbooks adopted the album’s original style, full of memories like pressed sheets.

The signatures of these early directories were often long and mainly focused on friendship and remembrance. Almost everyone in the East St. Louis directory, as well as several compiled from Archive.org and user submissions to Facebook and Twitter, signed off with a rhyming poem, like “Remember about me early, remember me late, remember I’m a former classmate “or” When the future is present and the present is past, may the light of our friendship shine until the end. Many signatories wanted to be a link in someone’s chain of friendship or a brick in their friends’ fireplace.

Professors ‘signatures were almost as long as classmates’ signatures, but with one important difference: not a single one signed with a personalized message. They were all excerpts from poems or plays, or quotes from philosophers. Then, in the early 1900s, teachers’ signatures mostly disappeared, not reappearing until around the 1960s.

By the 1930s, signatures had started to shrink. Classmates signed their names with short messages, mostly variations of “best wishes” or “good luck”. Then, around 1935, an anti-signature revolution appeared. Some yearbooks, like the one for Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, designated certain pages for teachers and classmates’ autographs, which they signed in a row with only their signatures. In Chicago and other Midwestern cities, students signed off their photos, leaving no notes or best wishes. This trend lasted until about 1940. There’s no good explanation for why this shift took place, but the ink shortages of the Depression Era might offer partial justification. The students of the time could have favored memory.

By 1943, the yearbooks for Bound Brook High School in New Jersey and Gage Park High School in Chicago were again full of signatures and notes, with small drawings that covered the pages of both. Including “swell” in your signature was the cool thing to do, a trend that finally started to fade in the 1970s. If you were anything in high school in the 40’s and 50’s, it definitely was. awesome – awesome guy, awesome guy, awesome kid, awesome hunk, awesome little girl, awesome guy, coolest guy – that was unmissable. Good luck wishes that were in yearbooks in the early 1930s also made a comeback, remaining until the late 1950s in various forms: good luck, best wishes, success to you, lots of luck, good luck. , A lot of success. The two often combined, creating the quintessential yearbook signatures of those decades: “Best wishes for luck and success to a beautiful girl,” someone scribbled in a 1947 yearbook from Mount Horeb High School in the United States. Wisconsin.

By the late 1940s, classmates had also started trumpeting their grade level; almost all of the signatures had “a junior”, “a senior”, “a froshie” or something similar just before the actual name. And almost everyone has commented (lightly) on the nature of the owner of the directory, telling them to “keep that personality” – the signature of the predecessor of the “keep it sweet” revolution that began to appear in the 1980s. The 1950s saw the last of the “daughters” and “companions,” but they also held firm to the supposed healthy, middle-class and white American Christian values ​​of the time, with many directory signings including ” God bless ”in one form or another.


Yearbook signatures witnessed a massive change in the 1960s and 1970s. Free love was in full swing, and as a result, the word “love” itself seemed to lose its sacred quality. In previous years it was reserved only for family and relatives, but signatures from the 1960s made liberal use of the word. Everyone signed up with “love” or “love ya” even when they barely knew the person who owned the directory. It was not uncommon to see notes beginning with “I didn’t know you so well” and ending with a declaration of love just before the name of the signer. “Good luck” and “best wishes” have all but disappeared, replaced by poems and rhymes that are both silly and a little mean. For example: “When you are old and in bad shape, remember that the girdles cost $ 2.98. “

Variations on the poem “roses are red” overwhelmed yearbook signatures over the past two decades, such as these three alluring notes from the 1970 class signing books at St. Symphorosa School in Chicago:

Roses are red, violets are blue, houses were built, but what happened to you?

Roses are red, violets are blue, when I take out the trash, I think of you.

Roses are red, violets are blue, toilets are made for people like you.

Acronyms have also appeared over the years, announcing the URAQT (you are cute) and that the signer is AFA (always a friend). Ingenuity in the signature layout also began to show, with a wavy line of text all around a page and surrounding other notes, or a signature masquerading as math:

These clever acronyms were just a warm-up for the swarm that arrived in the 1980s and has stuck around for good. Today’s directories contain many of these old standards: KIT (stay in touch), RHTS (raise hell this summer), FF (friends forever, which became BFF in 1996, according to the Oxford English Dictionary), LYLAS (love ya like a sister), SWAK (sealed with a kiss), HAGS (have a good summer), HAKAS (have a crazy summer), NE-WAZ (anyway). One of them, fortunately, did not survive, probably because of the discriminatory tone, it was the early 90s that took “I love you DNQ” – very expensive, not oddly.

In the late 90s, several other perennial favorites began to grace signature pages in directories across the country. There was always “the first to sign your crack” written on the back between the pages; everyone wanted to know “wuz ^” (what’s up) but also wanted you to know NMH (not much here); and by the way, your friend would also do “c-ya next year”. Oh, and so and so was there, in a very specific place marked with an arrow. And don’t forget to keep your directory, because one day, “my signature will be worth a lot of money.”

Directory signatures in the early 2000s were an exercise in technology. In 1999, almost everyone left a phone number, with the now standard KIT or C / M (call me), although hardly anyone really thought so. In 2000 and 2001, email addresses and pager numbers joined the ranks, followed by screen names, spoken text, and Facebook referrals in 2008.

The more recent directories seem to have removed much of the silliness of the previous decades, instead turning into something more personal: longer, meaningful letters to let friends know that the person signing really cares. This was probably due in part to the evolution of mobile technology; friends can now connect 24/7, so maybe directory signatures have become a way to show someone how you feel outside of Instagram or Snapchat. But hey, KIT. HAGS will surely make a triumphant comeback in the years to come.


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