A Brooklyn high school’s brainy class of 1927

Whatever became of the graduates of James Madison High School that year?

Born around 1909, they were little kids when the U.S. entered World War I and in their early 30s when World War II broke out.

Based on a copy of their class book, most were Jewish and headed to good schools: New York University, City College, Cornell, and Columbia. That includes many of the girls too. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the class of ’51.)

They came to from a wide swatch of Brooklyn, from as far away as Park Slope and Sea Gate. James Madison, near Kings Highway, was only a few years old in 1927; nearby high schools like Midwood and Lincoln hadn’t been built yet.

None of the four students in this yearbook photo could be tracked via a Google search. If still alive, they’d be about 101 years old.

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27 Responses to “A Brooklyn high school’s brainy class of 1927”

  1. A Brooklyn high school’s brainy class of 1927 | New York Blogs Says:

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  2. In the Beginning(s): Appreciating the Complexity of the Bible – Huffington Post (blog) Says:

    […] A Brooklyn high school's brainy class of 1927 « Ephemeral New York […]

  3. Eastsidr Says:

    There is a newspaper article (Charleston West Virginia Gazette) which states that a Norman Rees (born Nuncio Ruisi) committed suicide in Feb 1976. The social security death index shows he was born Sept 1906 and his social security card issued in NY. The story goes on to say that he was a spy for the Russians from 1942 to 1971 and became a double agent for the FBI. Am I 100% sure this is the same Ruisi — no? But due to the odd name and birth year, it could be. Could not find a link to the newspaper article since I located it through a public library database. There are many references to the Rees name, but the Charleston Gazette article was the only reference I found that showed his birth name.

    • Steve Says:

      Hello, I am interested to know your curiosity in Nuncio’s death and what made you mention this story. That is something I am investigating myself and feel there is more information that needs to be uncovered. I recently watched a move about the sources used in newspapers and how they do not have to divulge. When a source and subsequent news story causes a death I think the source should be divulged or at least an investigation made by authorities e,g, FBI. What about the family they have a right to know if the source is real or not.


  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Eastsidr, that is some fantastic information you’ve uncovered. Thank you so much for sending it. It seems like there’s a very, very good chance this is the same Nuncio Ruisi.

    According to this Wikipedia article about the former editor of the Dallas Times Herald, Rees killed himself after the Times Herald exposed him as a double agent. Scroll down to the fifth paragraph:


  5. Claudia Says:

    Great sleuthing re: Nuncio!

    Harris S. Scherr is also in the social security death index:
    Born May 21, 1909, died, Aug 1972 in Brooklyn, NY

    He’s indexed in a couple of directories from State University of NY, 1959/1961 in google books – don’t know in what context as they only show snippet view.

    He also seems to have/had family in Selden, NY and is associated with addresses there.

    20 year old Bella Schmookler is in the 1930 census living with her Russian born parents Lena & Morris and three brothers. she’s enumerated as a bookkeeper with her father.

    Belle Schmookler looks to have married Harry Finkelstein on Nov 13,1932 (nyc marriage indexes)

    Wish I had more time to investigage! Lots of fun.

    • Bob Says:

      There are 2 Bella Finkelsteins that could be this one in the SS Death Index.

      FINKELSTEIN, BELLA born 30 Oct 1908 died 27 May 1996 age of death 87 last address on file: 33026 (Hollywood, Broward, FL) Issued by: New York

      FINKELSTEIN, BELLA born 03 Jan 1913 died 05 Aug 1995 age of death 82 last address on file: 11224 (Brooklyn, Kings, NY) Issued by: New York

      Either one could be her, but I would lean towards the one listed in Brooklyn.

      Jacob Schiff is also in the Death Index:

      SCHIFF, JACOB born 07 Dec 1907 died 07 Mar 1989 age of death 81 last address on file: 11211 (Brooklyn, Kings, NY) Issued by: Pennsylvania

      There’s also 2 more Jacob Schiff’s in the Death Index, though I am guessing the Brooklyn one is most likely.

      • wildnewyork Says:

        This is great info, I so appreciate your sending it in. I would think the Belle Schmookler in the yearbook is the first Bella Finkelstein, only since the age would be more appropriate for a high school senior (19 vs. 14 for the second one).

    • Erica Says:

      I believe Belle/Bella is one of my distant relatives. I was not aware of this photo. I have her in my family tree with her parents Lena and Morris. Thanks for sharing!

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    Great detective work Claudia, and thank you for posting.
    I like Belle Schmookler. She looks like a fun chick–and that fur coat! And according to her address on East 10th Street, she lived just a few doors down from my great-grandparents.

  7. Adam McLain Says:

    Apparently 1927 was the first graduating class from James Madison. At least one of their classmates, Ben Parmet, was still kicking as of February, 2009. It appears he also received his honorary diploma that year. Have the “P” section of that class book by any chance? Link is below…


    • wildnewyork Says:

      Fascinating. I do have the entire class book, but Ben Parmet is not in it. I guess he left school before it went to press.

      • Vicki Gabriner Says:

        Dear wildnewyork: What an interesting blog! My mother, Edna Leibowitz, was a 1927 graduate of JMHS. I would be interested to know if she appears in the yearbook you have in your possession & if yes, if it would be possible to get a copy of the yearbook. Best, Vicki

      • wildnewyork Says:

        Thanks! I’ll check the yearbook tonight and let you know. I hope she’s in there.

      • Harold Rosen Says:

        My grandmother’s brother Harold Jaffe was born 1909 and died 1929 He was a medical student at NYU I would like to find out what high school he attended in Brooklyn

      • Harold Rosen Says:

        Can you tell me if there was a student Harold Jaffe from Madison HS

  8. Harold Rosen Says:

    I’m looking for information about Harold Jaffee born 1910 and may have attended Midwood High School from 1925-1928. I think he drowned before 1930 in Coney Island. Thank you

    • oldeastsidr Says:

      Does this newspaper reprint help?

      Brooklyn Standard Union
      June 17, 1929

      Death in the News


      Medical Student Missing After Swim—900,000 There

      One drowning is believed to have occurred yesterday at Coney Island, while the resort was enoying (sic) its biggest day of the season. A crowd estimated by police at 900,000 flocked to the beach and the majority headed for the water, after spending weary hours in line before bathhouses, which were taxed beyond capacity.

      It is feared that Harold JAFFE, 20, a medical student at N.Y.U., who lived at 5 Amboy street, was drowned. He was reported missing by his father, Moe, at the Coney Island police station.

      JAFFE and a girl, whom the family knew only as Betty, went to the home of JAFFE’s sister, Molly ROSEN, at 2851 West Thirty-second street, to dress for the beach. After they had been in the water for a short time, Betty says, they became separated and the girl came back upon the beach.

  9. Harold Rosen Says:

    Thank you for your help. Although its been 2 years since you posted this I appreciate your concern. I wonder if you can tell me what high school my late relative attended. Or what NYU clubs he was affilliated with. Thank you

    Harold R:

  10. Harold Rosen Says:

    My grandmother’s brother Harold Jaffe was born 1909 and died 1929 He was a medical student at NYU I would like to find out what high school he attended in Brooklyn

    • Claudia Says:

      Is this your grandmother’s brother. Listed at Poly Prep through a yearbook on ancestry.com . I can send you the image of the page if you give me your email.

      Declamation-Harold Burton Jaffee
      U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990
      Name Harold Burton Jaffee
      Estimated Age 16
      Birth Year 1912
      School Poly Prep
      School Location Brooklyn, New York, USA,

  11. Adina Says:

    Hello. My grandfather was born in 1909 and I believe may have attended James Madison (I found his sister graduated from there in 1929). If you have a copy of the 1927 yearbook, I would greatly appreciate it!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Adina, I have this yearbook packed away but I’m happy to look for you. What is your grandfather’s name? You can email me off the board if you prefer: ephemeralnewyork -at- gmail.com

  12. Harold Rosen Says:

    My grandfather’s name was Jack(Jacob) Rosen born in Russia, about 1900 Moved to Brooklyn NY about 1902-1910. His father’s name was Wolf Rosen. Can you tell me anything as to his occupation or the name of the ship they arrived on?
    Thank you
    Harold Rosen

  13. Harold Rosen Says:

    My grandfather Jack Rosen owned many luncheonettes in Brooklyn and New York: Judys on Water St. and Wall St, Jiffy’s on Beaver St.,
    the Chocolate Shoppe in Brooklyn, and Primrose on Liberty St in Manhattan. He won an award for decorating the ballroom for the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan in 1963. Can you provide and news articles on any of these in any magazines? Thank you
    Harold Rosen

  14. Harold Rosen Says:

    Hello Claudia
    Yes, if you can send me the photo from Poly Prep High School that will be very helpful. Thanks for your continued interest,
    My Email is hrtempo2750@gmail.com.
    H Rosen

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