Back to School Shopping, Then and Now

Back to School Sale ad with illustration of children streaming into school.

The Morning Journal-Courier. September 3, 1908, p.12


By Gail Hurley

This is tax free week in Connecticut, just in time to help families with the back to school shopping. It is the time to buy clothing, shoes, and school supplies to start the kids out right for the year. Advertisements in newspapers from 100 years ago show that parents had the same shopping needs as parents of today.


“The School Bell of ‘Quality’ rings clear and true here,” the banner of such an ad proclaims, urging “both scholars and parents” to recognize that the Malley School  Sale Week will feature “the wisest buying ways in all School Needs” (Morning Journal-Courier, Sept.  3, 1908, p. 12).  The school supply list has apparently not changed much! The Edward Malley Co., “The Metropolitan Store of New Haven,” lists school pencils, pencil boxes, tablets and pads (they mean paper, not electronics!), school crayons, composition books, pen holders and school erasers,”  all items selling for mere pennies.  While I just bought #2 pencils, highlighters and dry erase markers for my kids’ supplies, a Mendel & Freedman ad lists lead and slate pencils, in addition to pen and ink as writing implements (Sept. 3, 1908, p. 15).  So…maybe things have changed just a bit.

A clipping from an ad that shows the prices, in cents, of various school supplies.

Morning Journal-Courier, Sept. 3, 1908, p. 5


An ad from Caesar Misch, Inc. in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer from September 3, 1909, says “Don’t make the boy go to school on opening day in his old suit.  We have the finest two-piece suits in all shades.”  Evidently, baseball bats also seem part of the back to school fashion of the day.  Or it could be that the boy isn’t quite ready to give up the playtime of the summer for his upcoming schoolwork.  My son will be wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers on his first day of school.  I’d like to see his reaction if I presented him with a 2-piece suit to wear instead.  Memories of Alex P. Keaton well up in my mind.

Advertisement for children's back to school clothing with illustration of boy in suit with knickers and a basefall bat.

Bridgeport Evening Farmer, Sept. 3, 1909, p. 16.


Last but not least, “It’s time to get school shoes! School opens next week!!” says a Smith-Murray Co. ad from September 2, 1920. “The days of Frolic and Play will soon make vacation time only a memory. . .”  (Bridgeport Times, p. 3).  Yes, sadly this is so.  Enjoy what’s left of the summer and have a great first day of school!

Advertisement with illustraton of children's shoes with a child and a schoolhouse in the background.

Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Sept. 2, 1920


To further research advertisements for back to school sales in Chronicling America, start by taking a look at those referenced in this blog in their context:

“Malley School Sale Week,” The Morning Journal-Courier. September 3, 1908, p.12.  Accessed on August 23, 2017 at


Mendel & Freedman. “Buy School Supplies at Wholesale Prices,” The Morning Journal-Courier. September 3, 1908, p. 5.  Accessed on August 23, 2017 at


“School Days,” The Bridgeport Evening Farmer. September 3, 1909, p.16.  Accessed on August 23, 2017 at


The Smith-Murray Co. “It’s Time to Get School Shoes! School Opens Next Week!!,” The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer. September 2, 1920, p.3.  Accessed on August 23, 2017 at



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