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Yearbook Collection

A guide to using and exploring the Yearbook Collection for family or subject study.

Getting Started

The Chicago History Museum's Yearbook Collection includes publications for high schools, colleges, universities, and specialty schools in Chicago, the surrounding suburbs, and institutions in other parts of Illinois.

Some of the cities outside of Chicago represented in the collection include Arlington Heights, Burbank, Cicero, Deerfield, DeKalb, Elmhurst, Evanston, Galesburg, Gurnee, Highland Park, Jacksonville, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Neoga, Niles, Oak Park, Park Forest, Rock Island, Rolling Meadows, Skokie, Urbana-Champaign, Wheaton, Wilmette, Winnetka, and Yorkville.

The collection has limited materials related to grammar schools, also known as elementary, middle, and junior high schools. Grammar school information mostly appears when a K-12 school publishes a yearbook for graduating seniors and upper-level students and chooses to include information about the lower grades. This inclusion varies widely based on the period and school size.

Browse a current list of yearbooks in the finding aid.

Finding Individuals

Finding a name in the student roll next to an image of the individual is often the first place to look. Another starting point is a yearbook that includes an index of photographs or student names. However, yearbooks also provide insights and clues about a student's life in other areas. Try searching for an individual's first name, last name, or initials in different sections:  

  • Class histories and accounts of activities 
  • Written contributions by students, like short stories, poetry, dialogs, or editorials  
  • Athletic, club, or organization descriptions  
  • Within the title and chapter page illustrations, graphic designs, and cartoons  
  • Humorous sections with jokes, satire, and witticisms 
  • Alum records or news

Photographs of student activities or photo-montage pages reflect everyday or candid moments and might caption a picture with the student's name, initials, or nickname.

Yearbooks are also a great place to find individuals that worked at the school, college, or university. Beginning around the 1950s and 1960s, it became more common for high school yearbooks to include images of school employees working in the cafeteria, library, engineering, maintenance, and other departments.

Subject Study

Yearbook publications can be a helpful resource when studying topics and periods such as:   

  • Neighborhood history: written histories of neighborhoods and descriptions and photographs of buildings, streets, and other areas that have changed over time
  • Social customs and expectations   
  • Clothing styles and period elements (accessories, daily wear, formal occasions, sports uniforms, equipment)   
  • Sports taught in schools over time and sports taught or modified by gender   
  • Class subjects offered to students of one gender or another or classes offered to both   
  • Race and ethnicity studies in early twentieth-century higher education
  • Segregation and desegregation in Chicago Public Schools
  • The presence of international and exchange students in early-twentieth-century higher education 
  • Portraiture photography, especially late nineteenth and early twentieth century (individual, group, staged, candid, action)   
  • Student artwork, illustrations, and sketches   
  • Graphic and editorial design and typefaces   
  • The impact of local, national, and international events (e.g., "the Great War" or "News Events of 1999-2000") 
  • Parochial school curriculum 
  • Student activism   
  • Student pastimes, interests, and aspirations 
  • Retail and advertising in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries   
  • Alum records

As a suggested starting point, subjects can be studied by looking at yearbooks from select schools across time, looking at yearbooks from multiple schools within the same set of years, or searching multiple schools within a neighborhood.

Content Warning

Historical material often contains violent acts, offensive language or negative stereotypes reflecting the culture and language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record. The Chicago History Museum has an institution-wide initiative to critically consider the language used to describe people and materials, and we invite you to read more about our related projects.