It’s that time of the year again. As Labor Day rolls around, students of all ages and in all phases of their education start anticipating – and in some cases dreading – the first day of school. In honor of “Back to School” sales, new notebooks and pencils, and fresh haircuts around the world, I decided to share some objects from our “Schools” ephemera collection.
Public and private school systems have co-existed in New York City for centuries, and the Museum of the City of New York holds material culture objects from both.
Much of the material in the “Schools” collection consists of report cards, certificates of merit, and the type of material children happily bring home to their parents and the parent happily keeps for ages. The awards at the right simply state that the student was “Good,” while some of the others get into specifics, such as stating the pupil has been “regular, punctual, and obedient” or has “correct deportment and diligent attention to his studies,” others were awareded for general “faithfulness and proficiency.”
While the collection lacks any sort of “Parent-Teacher letters” regarding students’ poor behavior, many of the report cards don’t tell quite the same story of good performance, such as that of Alexander Hatos, to the left.
Other materials in the collection relate to specific events, such as the invitation to the Graduating Exercises of De Witt Clinton High School in 1903. As mentioned in the invitation, the graduation ceremony was held at another school, as this was before the school moved to its new location on Tenth Avenue in 1906.
The collection also includes invitations to alumni events and dinners, such as that for the Ninth Class Association for Old Public School No. 14, to the left.
As I looked through the Private School materials, I came across an object I had not encountered with the Public School materials: a receipt for education expenses. This 1859 receipt from the Grammar School of Columbia College is for a charge of $10 for a 5-week course in Classics – the equivalent of $275 today.
In contrast, the collection holds an admission card to a seminar at the Tabernacle offered by the Mechanics’ Institute, the oldest privately owned endowed technical school in the country, offering free evening courses in trade-related vocations since 1820.
I also found materials for schools that provided instruction in more specialized pursuits, such as “Miss McCabe’s Academy of Dancing,” “The Dagmar Perkins Institute of Vocal Expression,” and “Disbrow’s W. H. Riding School.” There are also various “Schools for Boys,” and “Academies for Young Ladies.”
No matter what the fall holds for you students (and teachers) out there, I hope it brings some consolation that New Yorkers for centuries before – and we hope for centuries to come – have faced the first day of school. You might even be able to find an image of your school on the Collections Portal.