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Brooklyn Schools: A Look at Ephemera and More

Aug 8, 2013 1:04 PM | 0 comments

At the Brooklyn Collection, we have a large assortment of Brooklyn school ephemera, newspaper clippings, photos, yearbooks and even school newspapers.  I've written a few entries about schools the Brooklyn Connections program has partnered with: Erasmus Hall (STAR Early College), MS 57 and PS 26 (Brooklyn Excelsior).

Recently as I was doing some research for yet another Brooklyn Connections partner school, I came across this:


School Diary, Primary School 3, 1878.  The flip side of the Diary states, "New and improved series of school records adapted for public of private schools...adopted by the New York City Board of Education."

I was fascinated when I opened up the diary.  Students were rated perfect, imperfect, very poor, and failure and they were graded on punctuality and behavior along with subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic and history.  For record keeping, students were given an "x" next to the subject they failed on a particular day. Guardians were required to sign off weekly to indicate they were are aware of how their children did in school.  Today, student's study ELA (English Language Arts), math, science, social studies and if they're lucky, art and music. In NYC public schools, elementary and middle school stududents are rated on a rubric of 1-4 using careful language: (4=exceeds standards,3=meets standards, 2=approaching standards and 1=needs direct support).

The diary is much like today's progress reports from public schools.  Along with progress reports, report cards are distributed typically four to six times a year--depending on the grade and school.  Brooklyn Collection has a few examples of report cards, like this one from Boys' High School, June 1960:

We have a small collection of classroom materials from the Limbert/Thorer family which include report cards, commendation notices and notebooks.

Above, Christine Limbert's 5th grade report card from 1905.  She was graded on effort and proficiency.  It also indicated she was "deficient in arithmetic."  Below, Christine Limbert's class photo from PS 102.

The classroom materials collection has several different notebooks--math, science, history and penmanship (a now long-forgotten subject in public schools).

Christine Limbert's penmanship book.

Annie Thorer's English notebooks

We also have some permanent records dating back to 1902. 

Viola Schafer's record from 1908-1914.

Partner schools in the Brooklyn Connections program often use the school newspapers collection to conduct research, or in the case of one school, used it as inspiration to restore the school newspaper.  The revitalized school newspaper didn't work out -- for various reasons -- but the students (and teachers) had a blast reading about their school from the perspective of alumni.

Sometimes while researching you'll find the most interesting items in the most obscure places.  While researching the Bushwick Campus, I found sheet music for the school anthem from 1912.

"Hurrah for Bushwick High." 1912. Brooklyn Collection. Sheet Music Collection.

Of course other schools had school songs, here are some Boys' High School songs found in the student handbook from 1924.

B.H.S. Marching Song

We are the boys of B.H.S. you hear so much about, The people stop and stare at us whenever we go out, We're noted for our winsomeness, the clever things we do, Most everybody likes us; we hope you'll like us too.


While we go marching, and the band begins to play, You can hear them shouting, The boys of B.H.S. are on the way, Our minds are filled from wisdom's store, our work is done with care, Of 'ologies and 'osophies, We've had a goodly share. But when our work is over and the daily tasks are done, We leave dull care behind us, and have our little fun.

No school collection would be complete without yearbooks. We have yearbooks spanning 159 years from dozens of Brooklyn schools.

I encourage our classes to do research about their school, which usually yields some interesting results; maybe they will find out their school was built on a cemetery, or that former students tried to abolish teachers or even protested the schools' administration -- not that we recommend that sort of thing.