In the aught years of the previous century, a certain teacher (named Smith, not Jones) had a certain young pupil by the name of Norman Rockwell in her classroom. Rockwell was not a strong student, but Smith recognized his artistic flair. Happy Birthday, Miss Jones is his tribute to the woman who encouraged him to draw.
Film directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have described Rockwell’s work as cinematic, and this one is a prime example. Though it consists of a single “frame,” one can imagine an entire scene prior to the teacher’s arrival: children neatly placing gifts on her table, scrawling greetings on the blackboard, the sudden rush back to their desks as they hear Miss Jones approaching (suggested by the chalk and eraser on the floor). Then there’s the class clown, playing for laughs by placing an eraser on his head.
This cover inspired numerous letters to the editors, including one from Laura R. Jones, of Atlanta, who wrote that she had known a moment just like this. She had walked into her classroom to find a cake decorated with the words We love Miss Jones. Whenever she faced a dark day of exhaustion and discouragement, she wrote, the memory of those bright, eager faces kept her going and in love with her work.
We really feel sorry for this kid. An artist named Worth Brehm illustrated the March 19, 1910, cover, depicting a boy with a rather unflattering portrait of his teacher. Said schoolmaster is standing right behind him looking very much like a man one does not want to anger. And he looks really angry. With no principal’s office in those days, we can only imagine what happens next (although we’d rather not).
The teacher is obviously not happy about a slacking student on Robert Robinson’s October 1918 cover. This boy’s unpardonable sin is falling asleep and daydreaming in class. Boys in 1918 probably often dreamed of fighting in the Great War to end all wars. He might be safer “Over There,” judging from the look on the teacher’s face and the firmness with which she’s holding that ruler.
A kinder, gentler teacher emerges in Fanny Young Cory’s May 1906 cover. The charming schoolmarm is helping one of the pupils tie her hat, making sure each adorable kid is properly turned out to go home.
It isn’t hard to figure out what the mother is saying in Amos Sewell’s December 1959 cover. “How can someone as smart as Johnny bring home such poor grades? Why, the boy is the brightest youngster we have ever seen!” The weary teacher shows signs of having heard the story more than once before.
If you identify with artist George Hughes’ September 1948 cover, you may not want to admit that you were one of those clingy kids who threw a royal fit when dropped off that first day of school. Showing one more reason why her job is not easy, the teacher is kindly trying to wrench the traumatized little girl from Mommy, while the expressions on the other kids’ faces are everything from laughter to “oh, dear.” Artist Hughes was something of an expert, having five girls and “the one who is crying on the cover is, of course, mine.”
Our salute would not be complete without the classic teacher cover, Norman Rockwell’s Happy Birthday, Miss Jones. Just when the teacher thinks she’s had enough of cramming figures and words into unreceptive little minds, they do something like this: scrawl “Happy Birthday, Miss Jones” on the chalkboard. As we’ve often said, Rockwell is all about faces, and Jones’ face says it all.
The boy in Stevan Dohanos’ September 1946 is bringing the teacher flowers. These were actual students from the fifth grade of Bedford Elementary School in Westport, Connecticut. We love the editors’ note in this issue: “At one point the artist asked their teacher to brush her hair back a little more severely. When she came back from the cloakroom with the new hairdo, the kids raised such a clamor of disapproval that Dohanos had to yield to overwhelming public opinion and sketch her as they like to see her.” The lesson? Don’t mess with our teacher!