Among my memories of 1960s Oakland is the old Montgomery Wards store. My first job was in the toy store at Christmastime 1967, my senior year of high school. The Chatty Cathy doll was all the rage, along with electric trains and bikes.
One memory stands out and that is when my friends and I attended the Wendy Ward Charm School at Wards. We must have been in the 10th grade and boy, did we think we were cute. We attended classes after school one day a week. We learned how to walk, balance a book on our heads, fashion, charm and Miss Manners. This was back in the day when those things were important. Learning to be a lady was considered IN, as in style, an OK thing to do.
Later on I would continue my “charm school” lessons by enrolling in one of the premier Black-owned charm schools taught by Louise Skinner, who was an icon in Negro society in the Bay Area. Her fashion shows and hosting of debutante parties was legend. She is still a classy lady today. I remember being in a fashion show with the first Miss Black Oakland, Stephanie Jo Swanigan.
Montgomery Wards was more than a store to buy things; it was a part of the community, a place to see your neighbors, get that special sweater and learn to be a lady.