23 November 09

Girls Need Purses

My freshman and sophmore year of high school I carried my backpack everywhere. Because my locker was so far out of the way and I only had 3 minutes between classes, I had to carry half of my books with me at any given time, along with folders and notebooks and all the other random stuff that teenage girls need.

My junior year I switched schools. The school became worried about increasing gang violence so we were no longer allowed to carry backpacks. Girls were permitted to carry purses though. The boys were furious. That’s not fair! And, honestly, it wasn’t to a degree. But a guidance counselor told a group of boys, very loudly, that they had two options. The could either stare at tampons and pads while in class or they could carry their own purse.

I went to Kmart and plunked down my saved money to get the largest purse I could find. It was denim with faux-leather strap and bottom patches. It was the first true purse I’d ever owned and it was big enough to carry notebooks and to carry a couple of books. I took it to school and carried it for a week before a teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to carry it to class anymore because it was larger than the approved size. The approved size whas 6” by 9”. This bag was well over that size. But, I’d already spent all my money buying this purse. Money was tight with my parents and I knew there was no way they would be able to give me another $15 to buy a smaller purse. So I found a pencil case that wasn’t see through and began to carry that instead. But it was embarrassing because all the other girls had cute purses. There was like a fashion explosion in purses. I began seeing all these leather purses with L’s and V’s on them, interlocking C’s and all kinds of other crazy designer bags.

My English teacher came up to me one day in the library with a small purse that was tan with a shoulder and a wrist strap. She handed it to me and told me that she had found it in the back of her closet and was going to get rid of it since she’d had it for years and never used it, but thought I might be able to use it since she knew I hadn’t gotten to use my new bag for very long. I felt ashamed, but I liked the bag and I didn’t know how to turn her down. So I accepted it. When I got home, and I put all my stuff in the purse, I saw a price sticker for JC Penny’s in the bag. I remember that it was originally $39 marked down to $28. At first I couldn’t believe that she’d forgotten she bought a $28 bag and I couldnt’ imagine spending that much money on something and never using it. The following Sunday I was eating breakfast and reading the circular ads when I saw my exact purse in the Sunday ad with a few others marked down to 50% off. I realized she had bought the bag new for me. My teacher spent almost $30 on me out of her own money. I was floored. I’m still floored. It was 1987, $30 went a lot farther then.

So, when I read a post by Mocha Momma, who happens to be an assistant principal, about how her school passed a similar ban and the girls at her school can’t afford new bags. My heart obviously goes out to them. And I’m purse maker. Most of my bags are too large to work, but I have a few that will be acceptable. So, I encourage you to send her any bags that are smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. She is selling them for $5 to the girls who want them and using the money that is raised to do something nice for all the kids at the school. So feel free to buy a purse scholarship if you don’t have any bags that you think high school girls will like to carry.

And thanks, Mocha Momma. Thanks for reminding me of something I had forgotten, a kindness that deserves to be remembered even if it is 20 years old. And more importantly, thanks for doing this for your students. It’s heartwarming.


  1. There must be something about English teachers because I was one before I moved to The Dark Side.

    No, thank YOU. That story warmed my heart and gave me a bit of resolve that this project is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.


    Mocha on Nov 24, 05:33 pm

  2. what an awesome memory, and what a cool project Mocha Momma is doing! y’all are good people, both of you. :)

    Carrie on Nov 24, 09:20 pm

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