Shirley Mattinson Morano (B.A. ’43) says she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Born in Alberta, Canada and raised in Southern California, she was the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. As soon as she began school she knew she wanted to be an educator.
“I remember sitting in class in Kindergarten and telling the teacher I wanted to teach. I never had aspirations to do anything else,” she says.
Enrolling first at Santa Ana Junior College, Shirley transferred to UCLA as a junior in 1941, where she lived in Rudy Hall on Tiverton Avenue, just on the edge of campus. Rudy Hall was an all-female dormitory with apartments that included a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Shirley and her roommates slept on Murphy Beds, which were stored in closets and pulled out for use at night time. Rent was $12.50, and Shirley spent $2 a week on her share of groceries. Receiving an allowance of $35/month, Shirley earned extra spending money by babysitting the children of movie stars such as Walter Abel. She also held a part time job at Bullocks downtown and later in Westwood.
The fall of 1941 started well for Shirley. She was asked to ride on the Homecoming float as the “Babe” of UCLA after helping to build and decorate it, and she was invited to dances and parties across town. On December 5, 1941, she attended the Scabbard and Blade Dance at the Riviera Country Club with Jim Hansen. On the night of December 6, she was invited to a fraternity party at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “It had been a wonderful weekend,” Shirley recalls, “One of the best. But by the next morning, the world had changed.”
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Shirley awoke to a friend running into her apartment and turning on the radio. “Pearl Harbor has been attacked,” Shirley remembers the announcer saying. A close friend of Shirley’s, Lauraine Simmons, had a brother stationed in Pearl Harbor and Shirley and her roommates spent the day comforting Lauraine, whose brother was unreachable for many hours. While they eventually learned of his safety, it was one of the most agonizing days of Shirley’s young life.
The following day, December 8, Shirley and her friends crowded into a packed Royce Hall to listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous address to Congress over the airwaves. She describes the scene:
“Every seat was filled, upstairs, downstairs, even the aisles were packed with students and faculty gathered together. A radio was set up on stage and you could literally hear a pin drop. No one sniffled or sneezed. Everyone was listening as the President asked Congress to declare war.”
It was a day, Shirley says, that she will never forget.
In the subsequent weeks and months many of Shirley’s male classmates were sent into combat while the Japanese were forced to leave for internment camps. Although many years later the Japanese students did receive diplomas from UCLA, at that time they were taken away from UCLA before they could graduate.
According to Shirley, Director of Elementary Education Corinne Seeds became famous across campus for her staunch advocacy on behalf of the Japanese in their community. Says Shirley, “Ms. Seeds thought [their internment] was very wrong. She believed that all children deserved a good education and was horrified that the U.S. government would deprive them of that basic right. [Ms. Seeds] gathered books, materials and funds together to send to the camps, despite being accused of being a Communist for doing so.”
For those students who were able to continue their studies, the first half of 1942 was marked by the rationing of meat, sugar, and nylon stockings, among other goods; frequent air raid drills and search lights overhead at night; and the strict rule that all lights would be turned off at sundown or carefully concealed behind heavy black curtains. Shirley and her dormmates planted a victory vegetable garden next to Rudy Hall, and in March of 1942, Shirley joined the ambulance corps to assist in the local war effort. As a member of the ambulance corps, Shirley wore a uniform and marched in parades and a review at the Riviera Country Club. She also took beginning and intermediate first aid courses through the Red Cross. She worked at a service station washing windshields and selling war bonds and stamps. She helped to serve coffee and donuts to the search light crew on Mulholland Drive and later for crews further up the coast.
Shirley remembers one evening just after the U.S. entered the war when one of the most frightening air raids occurred. She had been studying in her apartment when all the lights went out and the sirens started blaring.
“My dormmates and I gathered in the lounge and looked out the windows to see what was going on. We could see the searchlights and could hear the anti-aircraft guns firing. They weren’t far from us – in Santa Monica.”
While she never learned what exactly happened that night, she remembers the fear she felt while huddling in the lounge and watching with the other girls in the dorm. As air raids were frequent after that, Shirley learned to sleep with her ambulance corps uniform beside her bed so that she could dress easily in the night and go to her assigned shelter in downtown Westwood.
In the late spring of 1942, a meteorology group came to campus to train students for the Army Air Corps. Josie Wilkins, a close friend of Shirley’s, who had been a math major switched her major to meteorology to pursue one of the coveted jobs for civilians, and Joe Clark, a boyfriend of Shirley’s, invited her to his commencement for the Special Army Air Force in Meteorology. Shirley and her friends often went on dates with ROTC naval officers and once attended a USO Officer’s party at the Masonic Clubhouse where the Geffen Playhouse stands today.
Perhaps the most exhilarating of her social engagements took place on January 1, 1943, when UCLA made it to the Rose Bowl for the first time in history. Shirley sat on the 50 yard line, where she watched the Bruins lose to the University of Georgia Bulldogs, 9-0. Shirley’s ticket to that first Rose Bowl game remains in her possession, still in pristine condition despite the years. Always an avid fan, she continues to cheer on the Bruins in football and basketball games, which she attends in person or watches regularly on television.
Shirley’s senior year at UCLA began with Education 330, a course taught by Ms. Seeds, in which Shirley, like the rest of her class, was instructed to create a “Seeds Box,” a collection of lesson plans and classroom artifacts reflecting a specific theme or topic. Shirley’s class was instructed to design their Seeds Boxes around the subject of “Trains,” and her research included a visit to a meat packing plant in South Los Angeles and the construction of a model train out of painted cans and boxes. Designed to encourage creativity and discipline among elementary education students as they prepared for their student teaching, the Seeds Box exercise became a famous standard of the UCLA Education curriculum in the 1940s.
Shirley conducted her student teaching in the spring semester at the University Elementary School, now UCLA Lab School, where she was placed with Ms. Malony’s Sixth Grade class. As Ms. Malony was sick for the first week of the semester, Shirley led the class on her own, checking in with Ms. Seeds directly for guidance.
As air raids continued throughout the school year, the teachers were trained to lead the children out of school and down the street to the basement of a nearby church. One afternoon, late in the spring of 1943 after all of the drills had been completed, the sirens went off unexpectedly. Shirley remembers feeling a rush of fear: “We had been doing lessons when the air raids went off. They had told us there would be no more drills and if the sirens went off again it would be the real thing. I looked at the kids and they looked back at me, some were in tears. It was very scary, but we marched down the hill to the church as we had practiced. Fortunately it was just a drill, but it was scary nonetheless.”
Shirley developed a close bond with many of her 6th Grade students that spring, and she was the only student teacher to be invited by the students to attend their graduation ceremony that May. Shirley’s own graduation from UCLA was also that spring. She recalls the emotion of that day,
“I had fallen in love with UCLA and was very sad to leave… When I think back to our graduation day I especially remember the naval cadets in their white uniforms marching in after we did. Everyone had tears in their eyes. We were all getting diplomas, but they were also getting their commissions as naval officers and would be going to war.”
After graduation, Shirley was hired by the Board of Education to teach 6th Grade in the Norwalk School district, where she taught for two years. During her first year of teaching, Shirley taught a classroom of 42 students; by the second year her class had grown to 45 students. By the time she moved to Santa Ana, the War had ended and Shirley was hired as one of a few white teachers in a segregated school. In addition to using many of the research and curriculum planning skills that she had learned in Ms. Seeds’ classroom, she read one chapter of a children’s book to her students every day after lunch and often helped to run the drama productions and musicals at the schools where she worked.
In 1949 Shirley and her husband moved to Long Island, New York, where she followed the advice of Corinne Seeds, who had encouraged her students to pursue a Master’s degree. As Ms. Seeds had done before her, Shirley attended Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, where she received her Master’s in 1954, graduating in the top one quarter of her class.
Shirley taught for a total of fourteen years in California, North Carolina, and New York State before realizing in 1968 that she wished to shift her focus from teaching to school psychology, having developed a passion for supporting students who were struggling and not making satisfactory progress academically. Earning a credential in school psychology from Pepperdine in 1971, she went on to work for twenty years as a school psychologist within the Los Angeles Unified School District before retiring in 1991.
Looking back over her career and her studies, Shirley remembers her time at UCLA with great pride and fondness.
“I love that I graduated from UCLA and that my daughter is also a graduate,” she says. “I loved being a student here and enjoyed the whole experience. I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend.”