Life magazine cover, May 16, 1949
As part of my birthday tradition, each March I leaf through a bound library volume of April to June 1949 Life magazines that I found at a used bookstore. I was a year old when these were published. I’m interested in the ads more than the stories, because the ads tell how people lived: food ads (cream of chicken soup was new in 1949); radio ads aplenty; ads for that new media, the television set; car ads; train ads, because I love trains; movie ads. A time machine, these ads are.
I don’t imagine my mother or father or Aunt Lacy looking through Life while infant Gary slept in the next room–I’m too wedded to fiction for that. I picture instead my troubled character Miriam, featured in my story “The Yearbook” and slated to be co-protagonist in a novel yet to come. I see Miriam at age 37 leafing through 1949 Life magazines, stopping to admire an electric alarm clock and to consider how it would look on her bedroom bureau. She would hardly notice the picture below, other than to think little tykes play rough.
The article, “Kids in the Ring,” is bylined “Cop stops schoolyard fist fights by giving the boys boxing lessons” and reads in part, “Directing traffic at a Glendale, Calif., intersection, [a cop] found himself almost constantly breaking up fist fights. So he started afternoon boxing lessons for the small fry.”
How things have changed–at least, I think they have. I can’t see today’s parents putting boxing gloves on their five-year-olds and telling them to have at each other. No-contact martial arts, yes. But boxing that bloodies noses and knocks tykes down?
1949 was four years after World War II and perhaps the world thought boys were never too young to use their fists. Maybe soldiering dominated thought in the aftermath of Hitler’s aggression. People thought boys needed to be raised ready-to-fight.
The photo below is captioned, “JIMMY GETS IT AGAIN, this time on top of the head and from 5-year-old…”
Obviously concussions weren’t in the public consciousness. Bicycle helmets and other protective headgear were years away, as were car seat belts.