Autograph Books

Main Piece

Folk object “autograph books,” recounted by informant as a pastime among Middle American schoolchildren in the 50s. She participated in the creation of these objects around the 3rd and 4th grade.

These were big rectangular books with black covers and a title on the front that said “autographs.” They were bought in dime stores for a quarter, and brought to school for friends to sign. The pages were different colors (first 10 pink, next 10 yellow, next 10 blue, next 10 white), and kids would select a colorful page they liked to write on.

Informant recounts that this was more common among girls than boys, though many students at her school participated. Students would sign their friends’ books with little poems, visual puzzles, or sayings. Image attached of examples drawn by informant.


Personal Interpretation: While similar to the end-of-school yearbook, I find these autograph books to be a more keen example of expressing kids’ presence in one another’s lives. These are not correlated with any particular time, and a way of proving an everyday connection. I also find it interesting to see which of the above mentioned phrases are still used today in similar children’s folklore (like yearbooks), such as the poem ending in “Sugar is sweet / and so are you”–I can recall hearing that phrase in my own experience at elementary school.

Many others are a direct reference to objects of that time–the center top poem about the ocean and rubber pants, for example, is a reference to the fact that diapers used to be made fully out of cloth and could not retain water / fluid. Thus, rubber pants were sometimes pull over them to keep fluid contained. Another phrase used in a different poem, “Heavens to Betsy,” is an “oh my god!” like exclamation, but something I’m not familiar with–some research let me know that this is a more common phrase in the Midwest and South, and largely used in the 1900s. Overall, though, I was surprised at how familiar many of these poems felt–if not exactly similar in practice, they are nearly identical to modern day children’s yearbook poems and sayings in theory / concept. I find that strong correlation endearing and indicative of continuous patterns in children’s folklore.


My informant is a practicing speech pathologist in Pasadena, California. She is in her 70s and of European descent (English, Irish, and Welsh). She was born in California and went to elementary school in Kansas, and returned to California later on.

She fondly recalled autograph books and drew the poems she remembered. She also mentioned that students would ask pretty much anyone in their class to draw something in their books, but would seldom ask older kids. Informant remembers keeping her book in her desk and passing it around for others to sign, and that students would be “excited when a cute person signed it. Like, ‘oh, she signed mine!'”