Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

New York City’s “open-air” schools for sick kids

September 13, 2014

Despite advances in sanitation, New York City at the cusp of the 20th century was a breeding ground for illness, especially in the city’s crowded downtown slums.
Outdoorschooljacobriis19103

Trash- and manure-filled streets combined with dark, dank tenements enabled the spread of a host of communicable illnesses, with tuberculosis among the most dreaded.

Outdoorschooljacobriis1910mcnySo education officials launched an unusual type of school for children thought to have or be predisposed to the White Plague: outside classrooms.

Holding class outside, or in an unheated indoor area with all the windows wide open, meant exposure to fresh air and light, and both were thought to combat tuberculosis.

The idea came from a German “open air” school started in 1904. Other cities adopted them, and New York’s first outdoors school launched in 1908 on an abandoned ferry.

Over the next few years, other outdoors schools opened their doors to tuberculosis kids, malnourished kids, even kids described as “nervous, irritable, or anemic.”

One school was located on Carmine Street, on top of a public baths building. Another opened at Public School 33 (which may have been on West 28th Street).

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Horace Mann, the private school then in Morningside Heights, also started a rooftop school, described as “closed on three sides only, the south side being entirely open with a drop curtain to close that side in time of storm,” explains a 1914 report.

Outdoorschoolsittingoutbagbeals“The floors are made of wood. Indoor toilet rooms are provided and also an indoor room where children may go to get warm if necessary in exceptional cases.”

Kids handled the bracing weather by wrapping themselves in “sitting out bags” (right).

Well-meaning as it was, this educational movement apparently died out quickly. In 1914, the medical director of New York City’s open-air schools came out against them, citing bad weather and the expense of building truly stable structures on the roof.

“With the changeable climate of New York City, and the extremely raw weather in the winter, I am distinctly in favor of keeping classes within buildings,” he says in this 1918 book on open-air schools.

Openairschoolps51anemicclassesloc

[Top three photos: Jacob Riis, 1910, MCNY Collections Portal; fourth photo: Jessie Tarbox Beals, Library of Congress; fifth photo: PS 51 "anemic classes" from the Library of Congress]

High-school girls in 1910 celebrate Midsummer

June 23, 2014

New Yorkers in 2014 enjoyed the summer solstice by going to the Mermaid Parade, testing out the new roller coaster at Coney Island, and cruising on Citibikes.

In the 1910s, they did it by reviving an ancient holiday most commonly celebrated in northern Europe: Midsummer’s Day.

Midsummersdayfestival1911The idea of bringing back this once-popular summer event—a festival of food, dancing, and maypoles—began with a group of students from all-female Washington Irving High School on 15th Street and Irving Place.

WilliamgaynormayorThey decided that Midsummer’s Day should be celebrated in the modern city with a traditional folk festival, with Mayor William J. Gaynor (left) in attendance.

According to a New York Times article, six girls sent and signed this very fanciful, slightly hippie-ish letter to Mayor Gaynor:

“Whereas the great family known as the City of New York should, like other happy families, take part in the joys of its daughters, you, the honored father of the city, are advised that your girls are minded to meet you in the family garden, Pelham Bay Park, June 24, 1910, and to pay you filial respect, to entertain you with songs and games, and otherwise celebrate our family loyalty.”

MidsummerdayfestivalrelayMayor Gaynor, impressed with the idea, promised to bring his wife and enjoy a luncheon on the grass in the Bronx with 2,000 Washington Irving students, alumni, and family members.

After eating, a Midsummer procession was to occur. “Competitive songs and dances will follow, with the ancient midsummer torch race and other traditional games,” the Times wrote.

Midsummerdayfestivalfling

I couldn’t find an account of how the Midsummer Day festival went off. And unfortunately, when it came time to do it again in 1911, the Mayor didn’t show, according to a 1911 Times article.

But thousands of Washington Irving girls did. These photos, from the Bain Collection of the Library of Congress, are from the June 24, 1911 festival.

A beautiful Village garden on top of a garage

May 5, 2014

WashsquarevillagewikiThe four “superblock” apartment buildings collectively known as Washington Square Village received little love from the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood when they opened in 1959.

But Sasaki Garden, the one-and-a-half acre greenspace designed within the four buildings and on top of the complex’s sublevel parking garage, scored a better reception.

Sasakigarden1

And no wonder, thanks to the walkways and benches that wind around an incredible variety of plants and trees: crabapple trees (and their beautiful blossoms), Japanese maples, dogwoods, maples, even a weeping willow.

Sasakigarden3Designed by Modernist landscape architect Hideo Sasaki, it was and remains still an expansive oasis of quiet and loveliness in the middle of crowded Bleecker and West Third Streets.

The slab-like buildings are like fortresses hiding a treasure within their walls.

You can’t really experience its beauty unless you take a walk through it—which the general public might technically be allowed to do, as no sign says it’s for residents only.

Go now, while the pillowy pink and white blossoms are still out, because Sasaki Garden may not be around much longer.

Sasakigarden2

New York University bought Washington Square Village in the early 1960s; faculty and grad students occupy the apartments.

Yet NYU’s 2031 expansion plan calls for towering new buildings to cut into the garden and disrupt the original design. (The plan is currently on hold thanks to a recent legal decision.)

New York’s high-school student strike of 1950

March 24, 2014

StudentstrikebrooklynpubliclibraryIt all started with a proposed teacher pay raise.

In 1950, New York City high school teachers called on Mayor William O’Dwyer to increase their 2-5K yearly salaries by $600.

O’Dwyer balked, offering no more than $200. In response, teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities. So O’Dwyer’s administration suspended sport teams, clubs, and other school groups.

With their extracurriculars gone, students were angry.

To protest O’Dwyer, they staged a student strike over three days in late April, ditching their morning classes or not showing up at all.

SchoolstrikeheadlineInstead, thousands of high-school kids (mostly from Brooklyn) marched to City Hall in Lower Manhattan, with the number of strikers swelling on the third day.

“Carrying banners on which their pro-teacher sentiments were scrawled in lipstick, they held up subway trains, wrecked automobiles, and dared police to break them up and were prevented only by hasty police action from forcing their way into the office of Mayor O’Dwyer, who had refused to discuss higher salaries,” wrote Life on May 8.

Studentstrikelifemagazine

Of the strikers, The New York Times reported, “The vast majority of the youngsters were laughing and good-natured, and moved when they were asked. A few tried to stand their ground and spoke sharply to the police about ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s rights.'”

Studentstrikelifemagazine2By that third afternoon, the police had cleared out the students, and most returned to class the next morning.

School officials claimed the strikes were organized by “subversive elements,” according to Life. The teachers insisted they had nothing to do with it and denounced the striking students.

Was it worth it? Well, it took another 18 months for the city and the teachers to reach a pay compromise, and extracurriculars didn’t resume until September 1951, according to an excellent piece on the strike from Brooklynology.

[Top photo: Brooklynology/Brooklyn Public Library; Life magazine]

Old Brooklyn’s adorable schoolyard gardeners

March 22, 2014

The whole farm-to-table food movement? It’s not as new to affluent Brooklyn as you’d think.

In 1905, this group of young, sun-protected (look at those wide-brimmed hats and bonnets!) residents posed next to their wheelbarrows and watering cans in their backyard school garden.

Prattlittlefarmerskindergarten1905

They were enrolled in the kindergarten at Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill, which apparently had a little plot of land to help these city kids learn about dirt, seeds, and growing their own food.

Life in a New York University dorm in 1897

January 30, 2014

Today’s NYU students have an array of university housing options available to them. In 1897, dorm options were probably more limited.

Newyorkuniversitydorm1897

This 1897 photo shows the inside of a dorm room at the old University Heights campus in the Bronx, personalized with a horseshoe . . . and boxing gloves? One student is trying to study, the other appears to be playing music . . . college life hasn’t changed.

The caption to the photo, from this fascinating NYU history website, states: “The earliest evidence of university housing is an 1840 list of six students residing in the old University Building on Washington Square.”

NYU had fraternities back then too. Here, some 1890s bros smoke pipes and do bong hits.

A pioneering photographer’s Greenwich Village

January 27, 2014

Born in 1870 in Ontario, Jessie Tarbox Beals starting taking photos in 1888, the year she won a camera for selling a magazine subscription.

She then scored staff photographer jobs at national newspapers, mostly in upstate New York and New England.

Jessietarboxbealspatchinplace1910

Beals was the rare female news photographer in a field dominated by men—partly because journalism was generally closed to women.

But also, few women could lug the 50 pounds of camera equipment required for the job (while wearing a whalebone corset, no less).

Jessietarboxbealsspaghetti

In 1905, she and her husband settled in New York City. Here she produced some of her most enduring images, particularly after she moved to Greenwich Village in 1917 and opened a studio in Sheridan Square.

Jessietarboxbealsinkpot

A favorite subject was Bohemian life: the tearooms and cafes where writers and artists congregated, as well as the Village’s crooked alleys and mews.

The Ink Pot, above, was a small magazine run from a Sheridan Square office, per the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

Jessietarboxbealscrumperie

She also trained her camera on street life scenes, particularly of city kids at school (below, a school lunch at P.S. 40) and at play, selling photos to leading magazines and newspapers and turning some into postcards.

Jessietarboxbealsps40lunchnypl2

She credited her success with her ability to hustle work—and also her inner strength. “‘Mere feminine, delicate, Dresden china type of women get nowhere in business or professional life,'” she wrote in her diary, according to a 2000 New York Times article.

Jessietarboxbealsportrait“They marry millionaires, if they are lucky. But if a woman is to make headway with men, she must be truly masculine.'”

Beals (at left) moved away from New York in the late 1920s to work in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The stock market crash brought her back to the city, where she struggled to make a living in an increasingly crowded profession.

She died in the charity ward of Bellevue Hospital in 1942 at age 71, destitute.

[Top photos Library of Congress; school photo: New York Public Library Digital Collection]

Addresses carved into Lower East Side corners

January 2, 2014

These old-school street name carvings pop up in the city’s tenement districts—and few neighborhoods have as high a concentration of tenements as the Lower East Side and East Village.

Avenuecaddresscarving

Avenue C above Houston Street was rebranded the East Village in the 1960s. But this red-brick residence with the graffiti tag on the upper left has the vibe of the LES.

Orchardhestercornersign

Above, turn-of-the-century Public School 42 notes its address: on the corner of Hester and Orchard Streets.

Interestingly, this is now known as the Benjamin Altman school, after the department store founder, the son of German immigrants who opened his first dry-goods store on nearby Attorney Street.

Divisonandpikesign

Division and Pike Streets are firmly in Lower East Side territory. Thanks to Ephemeral reader Iman for the great snap!

Cooper Square, flanked by the el and streetcars

October 21, 2013

No sleek boutique hotels stand out in this vintage postcard view of Cooper Square at the turn of the last century.

Instead, there’s an elevated train on the Third Avenue side, streetcars and horse-drawn carriages on Fourth Avenue, and a little pedestrian activity on the sidewalk.

Coopersquarepostcard

The yellow building on the right, at 61 Cooper Square, is the former Metropolitan Savings Bank, built in 1867. It’s still there—still sporting some of the coolest Victorian windows and roof in the neighborhood.

Is that a horse fountain at the bottom right?

A dazzling relic of an old city school building

August 19, 2013

Not only did the city used to construct light, airy, inspiring school houses a century ago, but they installed pretty sweet brass doorknobs, like this one.

Publicschoolnydoorknob

I imagine having these in every hallway gave school buildings a little extra specialness, which fed school spirit and pride.

PS177marketmonroests.jpg1922Remnants like this of demolished schools pop up for sale online occasionally. And Olde Good Things on West 24th Street just got some in.

A pair might run you a couple hundred bucks, but they are enchanting. How many little kid hands touched this one over the years?

I wish I knew which school it came from—perhaps one of these two beauties, PS 177 formerly on Market and Monroe Streets or PS 103, once at 49 East 119th Street.

PS103east119thst1920

Both photos were shot in the 1920s, and both are part of the NYPL Digital Collection.


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