Written By: Ben Cosgrove

A remarkable cover story in the April 2, 1971, issue of LIFE magazine titled, “Help for High School Mothers”  chronicled the day-to-day lives of teen moms and moms-to-be in the otherwise typical southern California town of Azusa:

“In a public high school classroom [the article began], a 16-year-old student, eight months pregnant and unmarried, presents a book report. Her classmates and teacher are unruffled, for the quiet scene is an everyday event at Citrus High in Azusa, Calif. and elsewhere around the country where educators are taking radical new approach to an old and painful problem. Until a few years ago, the nation’s public schools dealt with teenage pregnancies by expelling the girls or by putting pressure on them to leave. Many humiliated families arranged secret and illegal abortions for their daughters. Others sent them away to “visit relatives” or, if they could afford it, hid them in private nursing homes.
“Today the attitude toward high school mothers is changing dramatically. While teenage pregnancy is just as unwanted and undesirable as ever, more and more parents and schools are trying to help the girls put their lives together again instead of ostracizing them. In nearly every major city programs now exist to meet the special educational, medical and psychological needs of teen-age mothers. In almost every case the programs have won strong community support. . . . Many communities provide medical clinics and counseling for the new mothers who will number an “estimated 200,000 this years.
“[That said], there are still not enough programs in the country. A recent study concludes that 75 percent of pregnant teen-agers drop out of school. But more and more girls are making the tough decisions to stay in school, for their own good and for the future of their babies.”

A few weeks after the story ran, the letters to the editor published in LIFE in response to the story were mostly negative, along the lines of one from a reader in Manitou Springs, Colo., who wrote that “the April 2 cover sets some sort of new dimension of achievement in crass, lurid, inelegant journalistic bad taste. To proffer a picture of this pathetic schoolchild with her grotesque maternity figure over the bold type ‘High School Pregnancy’ simply makes a bad, sad scene.”

The vice-president of a senior high school class in Redondo Beach, Calif., on the other hand, applauded the teen pregnancy program at Citrus Hill, but went to note that he felt “that the LIFE story was done in the epitome of poor taste. The entire tone of the article was such that one would think the greatest way of getting through high school is by having babies.”

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

At Citrus High School in California, honor student Judy Fay worked at the blackboard during an English class.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Linda Twardowski, a recent Citrus graduate, explained the basics of diaper-changing in a childcare class, using her son Charles. The girls also were taught prenatal care, cooking and budgeting.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Lupe Enriquez, 17, took notes on nutrition in homemaking class and received a playful pat from another expectant mother, Lynda Kump. Like several of the girls in the maternity program at Citrus, Lupe got married after learning she was pregnant.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Cheryl Gue, 17, quieted her son Michael with a bottle. Although the sound of crying babies was a normal disruption at Citrus, the more vocal ones were usually hustled out of class. The school was equipped with playpens, cribs and toys. The mothers were required to come to school for the morning child-care courses, but could study academic subjects at home.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Pregnant high schoolers, Azusa, Calif., 1971.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

High school students with babies, Azusa, Calif., 1971.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Vicki Conger, 17, with her 13-month-old daughter, Shawn Michelle, Azusa, Calif. 1971.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Sandy Winters, 13, who recently enrolled at Citrus, talked about her courses with principal James Georgeou, founder of the program for young mothers.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Expectant mothers were allowed to take naps in homemakeing class. Here Lori Cardin, 17 and six months pregnant, tried to catch 40 winks despite playful attention from young Shawn Conger.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

In the courtyard outside the school, Vicki Conger, 17, took a stroll with her 13-month-old daughter, Shawn Michelle.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Judy Fay chatted with a group of students outside class. With pregnant girls at Citrus, the boys cleaned up their language and courteously held open doors and even pushed strollers.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Toward the end of her pregnancy, Judy Fay’s father, an aerospace worker, drove her to and from school each day.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

Judy’s parents, Henry and Luella Fay, found to their relief that the neighbors were sympathetic to Judy’s plight. “We have had a lot of compliments because of the way we faced up to the problem,” said Mrs. Fay.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photo from a LIFE magazine article on teen pregnancy, 1971.

In the canopied bed where she had slept since childhood, Judy cuddled her son Dylan. “My son may have been unplanned,” Judy said, “but he is not unloved.”

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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