November 30, 2020 | Centennial
The History of Palm Beach Day Academy: The 1940s and WWII

Written by Hilary Mendoza ’71

At the dawning of the decade of the 1940s, the war had not officially begun for the United States, yet there were indications that the Depression was no longer the greatest threat to the country. By the end of the war, in the middle of the decade, the world, the country, and the school had to make some decisions about their future. The Palm Beach Private School’s Board understood that the strong institution that they established had survived the Depression, the New Deal, and could now survive the war years and the post-war challenges. To this end, the leadership, faculty, and students supported the war effort, while making changes to the school. 

Manual training in woodwork, metalwork, or needlework for young ladies was added at an additional one dollar, not to prepare these privileged youths for future jobs, but to give them training in hand, eye, and muscle coordination. Some of the more controversial issues facing the Board that are still controversial today were standardized testing for admission to each grade level, individual achievement awards, the name of the improvement prize, discipline, sectioning, traffic, and seasonal students; however, “the uncertainties of the time” including travel restrictions, rationing, declining enrollment, and the coastal threat dominated the school’s focus from Pearl Harbor through 1945. 

PBDA Daily Program 1940s
The daily program from the 1940s

Supporting the War Efforts

Students threw themselves wholeheartedly into the war effort. Besides being part of blackout patrols, the students took an eighteen-hour first aid course given by Nedenia Hutton (actress Dina Merrill), a former student and daughter of one of the founders, Marjorie Merriweather Post Merrill.  The students made afghans for the troops, which had to be discontinued due to the lack of wool. They also collected stamps, milk bottle tops, tinfoil, and papers to raise money to buy war bonds.  In addition, they also received instructions on what to do in case of a bombing raid on Palm Beach, however unlikely that prospect was. Nevertheless, Palm Beach Private School contributed men to the war, including Headmaster Karl Dearborn and Latin and art teacher Ivan Skinner, both of whom distinguished themselves in the war. 

PBDA Ivan Skinner
A letter from teacher Ivan Skinner while he was serving during World War II

The Post-War Era

So in 1945, with enrollment up and a solid knowledge of its goals, the school entered the post-war era with a mind to change and adapt to the new realities of Palm Beach and the world. Gone were the mansions of the Twenties and the students who only attended the school for a maximum of two weeks between December and March. The Board was committed to expanding the facilities, the faculty, the curriculum, and the athletic program while keeping the commitment to the quality of education and the individualization of programs offered to the students. 

By the end of the decade, the school had established its reputation, graduated its first senior class, established and extended the curriculum, and produced students who could meet the challenges of a new, frightening era in the history of the United States.