Tag Archives: education

WAY Back to School

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.

A Good Girl, ca. 1875 – ca. 1890, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 46.302.7

A Good Boy, 1888, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 26.103A

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.”

Report Card of Alexander Hatos, 1913, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.32.5.

Report Card of Alexander Hatos, 1913, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.32.5.

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.

Graduating Exercises of the De Witt Clinton High School, 1903. In the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 39.196.13

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.

Eleventh Reunion of the the Ninth Class Association of Old Public School No. 14, 1874, In the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.238.

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.

Grammar School of Columbia College, 1857, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.134.6.

Admission card to Mechanics' Institute School, 1846, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.239

Admission card to Mechanics’ Institute School, 1846, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.239

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.

The Education of a Young New York City Gentleman

I decided to check back in on Fairfax, and see what else he’s been up to since we first introduced him. If you aren’t familiar with young Master Harrison, check out our earlier post, “Who was Reginald Fairfax Harrison?”

Diary of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, 1883-1884, in the Manuscript Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 71.123.

Fairfax’s diary entry for May 17, 1883, begins: “I went to school, and Mr. Cutler told us that Mr. Treton was going to look over our compositions and that Mr. Roosevelt and the Rector of Mt. Zion Church and another gentleman were going to judge who should get the prizes. Mr. Roosevelt is our oldest graduate and it will be very nice to come back after being away so long and … be an honored Judge.”

There are two names in this diary entry that gives us clues to the caliber of education Fairfax was receiving – “Cutler” and “Roosevelt.” According to an obituary in the New York Times, Dr. Arthur H. Cutler served as headmaster to the school he founded, the Cutler School, for nearly 40 years.

Wurtz Brothers. 49 East 61st Street. General exterior, ca.1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1110

The obituary states that the school was a private, collegiate preparatory institution, attended by the sons of many of New York’s prominent families. “The first graduate of the Cutler School was Theodore Roosevelt, who went to Harvard in 1876, and the roster of pupils through the succeeding years includes the names of J.P. Morgan, Waldorf Astor, and many others” (“Dr. Arthur H. Cutler, School Founder, Dies,” New York Times,June 22, 1918).  According to real estate listings in the New York Times, the school held four different locations during its existence; it was originally founded at 20 W. 43rd Street around 1873, then moved to 20 East Fiftieth Street in 1893, and moved again to 49 – 51 E. 61st Street in 1913. The school moved to 755 Madison Avenue following the death of Dr. Cutler, in 1918.

Theodore Roosevelt for Governor, 1898, in the Ephemera Collection.Museum of the City of New York. 41.310.57. William McKinely and Theodore Roosevelt, 1900, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 41.310.50.

When Theodore Roosevelt, future President of the United States, visited the Cutler School in 1883, he was finishing out his term as New York State’s youngest State Assemblyman, having been elected right out of Harvard.   Fairfax’s diary entry is very respectful when he speaks of “Mr. Roosevelt,” and the reader can tell that his participation in the Cutler School composition competition was very exciting for Fairfax and his schoolmates, and that they enjoyed knowing that an alumnus of their school had already achieved such a great reputation.  Little did Fairfax know that this noted alumnus of his school would go on to serve as Governor of the State of New York in 1898, Vice President of the United States in 1901, then quickly move into the office of President following the Assassination of William McKinley in September of that same year.