We want to get married
But we’re so young
Can’t marry no one
– The Beach Boys, I’m So Young (1965)
High school marriage is not often a topic of discussion these days. As Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston announced their upcoming marriage in 2008, the New York Times cited census records for 10 years earlier, that a mere one percent 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls had ever been married.
Outside of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” television series, the idea of marriage at such an age seems bizarre. In 2015, the average age for first marriage was 27 for women and 29 for men, ages that have been on the rise for several years.
A few generations ago, marriage at a young age was much more common. In 1950, the average man married for the first time at 22, the average woman at 20. The numbers were the same in 1960, with slight fluctuation. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, in a 1973 study, said 7.2 percent of females aged 15-17 were wed.
With kids marrying so young and much more often, it is natural that it was a concern for school systems. Students were staying in school longer and Georgia systems were adding 12th grade, hopefully keeping their charges at their desks until they were 18.
In preparing for updates for the Minimum Foundation Program in the 1950s, nearly all Georgia school systems prepared a survey of school needs. These alerted the systems, citizens and state as to the deficiencies within the schools.
The surveys were a massive undertaking and it took more than a decade for all the associated building projects to be completed.
These were not the first surveys ever to be done. Nearly 40 years earlier, a series of them were done by Mell L. Duggan, Georgia’s Rural School Agent.
Starting with Rabun County in 1914, for the next 10 years, Duggan was essentially a one-man crusade visiting schools and making suggestions as to how rural counties could improve the education of their children.
At the beginning of the decade, community schools were widespread, though there was little money and little to offer students beyond the school being local. Consolidations came to improve standards and with them, plenty of protests about the schools leaving the communities.
By the middle of the decade, many of these debates had subsided, with only a few major ones – Tennille’s objection of losing their high school to Sandersville and Oglethorpe versus Montezuma, for example – still on the table.
But there were other crises.
In 1954, Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was decided. Effectively considered the end of separate but equal racial policies, the battle was just beginning.