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Absence makes the excuses grow odder: A catalogue of notes to the teacher

Truancy has been a problem for teachers and parents, I suppose, ever since schools became public and attendance mandatory.

In the 1920s and ‘30s Laura B. Bridge was a vice principal at Lincoln High School, in Lincoln Heights, and for some reason, unknown, she saved dozens of notes written by parents asking that their children be excused for their absences.

Miss Bridge had two sisters who were also teachers, but most of the notes seem to have been addressed to her, and they have come into the hands of Muriel Reynolds of Newport Beach, who was once her student.

The notes are funny, sad and poignant, reflecting the problems of parents dealing with an unfamiliar language, with irresponsible children, with sickness and with poverty; but the hope that their children will have a better education and make something of themselves shines through.

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Here are a few examples:

“Please excuse Adolphus for being absent yesterday. His grandmother passed out and it was impossible for him to come.”

“Kindly excuse Kenneth’s absence yesterday. He had no pants. I had no money. Then I got a little money and he got some little pants. Hoping you are the same, I am yours respectfully. . . . “

Having no pants was evidently not an isolated problem:

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“Please excuse Hal for being absent as he had no pants to wear at all. So he went to town and bought a pair. . . . “

A death in the family is often cited succinctly:

“Please excuse Vilen for being absent her grandfather came for a visit, not knowing that he was going to die. He was buried yesterday at 2 p.m. . . . “

“Will you kindly excuse Isaias for being absent yesterday. We had a dead person in our family. . . . “

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A harassed mother explains her son’s tardiness:

“I had overlook Sidneys stockings & he had to wait untill they were dry. . . . “

A mother makes an unusual excuse, for Los Angeles:

“I kept Anthony at home yesterday because the weather did not allow anyone to stick their noses outside let alone their bodies. Please excuse him and oblige his mother. . . . “

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A sense of anguish and betrayal shows in notes from parents who didn’t know their children were not in school:

“I have send Joe to school every day. I fix his lunch and give him his ten cts for the carr. I never expect he was not going to school. . . . Don’t blame me for kiping him out of school we want him to learn and be something. . . . “

Unusual maladies are often cited:

“Esperanza has not been to school because . . . she had cinks on her legs and she was afraid she might get one and fall while going up the steps. . . . “

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“Please excuse Clarence from school yesterday for he was weak and fainty. . . . “

“Please excuse Lillian for being absent Friday for she had a pelivus attack. . . . “

“Please excuse Julian for not coming to school. He had an offeal headegg an it was raining. So I did not let him come. . . . “

“Please excuse Elizario for not going to school because he was sick from his head, desseness. . . . “

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The emergencies of family life are often blamed:

“Please excuse Lydia’s absence yesterday. Mrs. Sommer has roomatism in her arms and she had to do the washing. . . . “

All too often the unfortunate child who showed any symptoms whatever was given a physic.

“Please excuse my son Eusebio for being absent Thursday and Friday. He had a terrible headake Thursday that he couldn’t hardly keep his eyes open. I gave him some Bromo-Seltzer and a fisic. Friday I notice that wax from the ears was running through his nose and mouth. . . . “

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“Mathew stayed at home yesterday because it was raining at the time he was supposed to set off so I took the chance to give him a physic because I have noticed that he has been needing it for some time. . . . “

“This note is to let you know the reason why Pasqual was absent Tues and Wed is cause he took sick he had his stomach upset and I had to let him take a physic, which didn’t work on him Tues, so then Tues night I gave him another. Well it did work on him Wed so today he returns to school. . . . “

Often the parents are surprised to learn of their children’s truancy and urge the school to punish them:

“With great pleasure toward your troubles of having informed to me of my son Frank absents. There are absolutly no cause to his absents on those days. I am very sure that he ditch and therefore it’s the duty of the school to punish him, besides to what he gets from me at home. . . . “

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“Refern to your letter in wich you let me know that Fred was absent on June the 6th. Well I thank you ever so much and I can’t tell you any reason, and he got no excuse for; so I have this case on your hands, so you can fix Fred, the way you like. . . . “

The squeeze of family finances shows through:

“Please excuse my son Michael for being absent on March 7, 8, and 9th for he had to catch up with his income. . . . “

Some of the excuses are almost breathtaking in their brevity and sweep. I believe my favorite is the following:

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“Tony was absent because his grandfather died and he had his ingrown toe-nail cut off.”

Whether it was the grandfather that had his ingrown toenail cut off, or Tony himself, is not clear. But any way you look at it, it’s an impeccable excuse.


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