Stories a Photo Can Tell

Dee Bowers

Black and white photo of graduating students.  Three rows of students, girls in white dresses and boys in suits, holding diplomas.
[P.S. 15 graduating class], photographic print, June 1900, V1972.1.1343, Early Brooklyn and Long Island photographs, ARC.201; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

I recently reprocessed the composite collection Early Brooklyn and Long Island photographs (ARC.201). This 1900 class photo from P.S. 15 is included in the collection. We have many class photographs like this one, such as in our Class Photographs collection (BCMS.0029) and our Brooklyn schools collection (CBHM.0006). But what caught my interest about this photo was an index card attached to the back.

Index card on back of photo listing names of those pictured

The donor, Mrs. Emile Neumann (née Fannie Master) typed out her recollections of who was who in the photo, naming seventeen of her classmates and, in some cases, providing some extra detail about their lives. Though we have many class photos, it's much more rare for us to actually be able to identify the students in the photos, and even more infrequent to have as many named as this. I decided to use some of our research tools--namely, Brooklyn Newsstand, our institutional subscription to ancestry.com, and Fire Insurance Maps Online (FIMO), among others--to see if I could flesh out the lives of these promising young graduates. I found more than I ever would have guessed, and could have spent many more hours tracing the histories of these young women and their families. I hope this example illustrates how even a single photograph can be an extraordinarily rich historic document.

First, I wanted to find out some general information about the school and the graduating class. P.S. 15, as Mrs. Neumann noted, was located at the corner of State Street and 3rd Avenue. Here's an image of it from the Brooklyn Eagle postcard series, which was issued in 1905-1907.

Black and white postcard image of P.S. 15
Public School 15, black and white postcard, 1905-1907, POST_0371, Brooklyn Eagle postcards collection (BCMS.0090); Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.

The building is still standing. Here's how it looks on Google street view today. You can see it is very much still recognizable, from the roofline to the shapes of the windows.

Interestingly enough, the building is now home to the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which, as the nation's first public school dedicated to Arabic language and culture, has known controversy and debate since it opened. But that's a story for another blog post.

In a June 30, 1900 article titled "2,324 Boys and Girls Ready for High Schools," the Brooklyn Daily Eagle listed the graduates from P.S. 15 as part of "a complete list of the graduates from the forty-nine grammar schools connected with the free educational system of Brooklyn...all of which are entitled to admission to the six high schools of the borough." The number of graduates that year was so large that "all previous records [were] broken." Nonetheless, it was "believed that high schools can accommodate all."

Paragraph from newspaper article listing graduates of P.S. 15
"2,324 Boys and Girls Ready for High Schools," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1900.

Several of the student names in this list differ from Fannie Master's recollection, so this was invaluable in tracking down some of the graduates pictured in the photo. Below is some information about each student listed by Master. Note that I made some assumptions in connecting the names in the list with other records, such as census records. Living in proximity to the school, an assumed birth date around 1884, and, when possible, middle initials, all helped to narrow things down, but I can't know for sure that the records I identified do indeed match up with the individuals in this photo.

Detail of Fannie Master

Let's start with our donor, Fannie Master. According to the 1910 census, she was born in December 1885, making her 14 at the time of her graduation from P.S. 15. She was born in Massachusetts, where her mother was also born. Her father was born in New York. In April 1900, they were living at 248 Schermerhorn Street, about a five minute walk from the school. By 1910, the family had moved to 530 Dean Street--still nearby, but on the other side of Flatbush Avenue. Fannie was 24 and working as a stenographer. In 1920, she married Emile Neumann, a man about 15 years her senior, and by the 1930 census the two of them were living at 298 Albany Avenue in Crown Heights. According to that census, Emile was from Germany and had been naturalized as a US citizen in 1870. He worked as a stamper in the bookbinding industry, and that seems to have been enough to support the couple, as Fannie's occupation is listed as "none." In June 1959, at the age of 73, she donated her class photo to the Long Island Historical Society.

Detail of Beatrice Jacobs

The student that Fannie Master identified as Beatrice Jacobsen was listed in the Eagle as Beatrice Jacobs. A Beatrice Jacobs was listed among the attendees of a reception of the Beth Israel League covered in the Brooklyn Citizen in 1903, as well as a dance of the Young People's Auxiliary of Mt. Sinai covered in The Standard Union in 1904. This would seem to indicate that Beatrice was Jewish. At the 1903 party, Charles Jacobs and Tessie Jacobs are also listed as attendees. All three names appear in the 1905 New York state census as siblings living at 350 Dean Street, very close to P.S. 15. Their father, Reuben, was a tailor, and their mother, Sarah, did housework, as did Beatrice herself. Reuben was born in Germany, but Sarah and her children were all born in the United States.

Detail of Florence Jenkins

Florence Jenkins is next on Fannie's list. In 1900, according to the census, 15 year old Florence lived with her mother, sisters, and several boarders at 212 Schermerhorn Street. She was born in England in July 1884, and both her mother and father were born in Wales. A Florence Jenkins was mentioned among children who attended events at Nostrand Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church (now John Wesley Methodist Church) in newspaper coverage in 1891 and 1892, but it's unclear if it is the same person, since the family would have been traveling from their home in Ward 4 (downtown Brooklyn, as listed in the 1892 New York state census) to the church in Bedford-Stuyvesant for worship.

Detail of Millie Vinicombe

Amelia "Millie" Vinicombe is the only person in the photo other than Fannie to be wearing glasses. She certainly has an air of serious studiousness about her. Millie was born in March 1886 in New York. Her father was born in England and her mother also in New York. In 1900, she lived with her parents and brothers, as well as a servant, at 439 State Street. In 1910 the family were at the same address and Millie was working as a teacher. In January 1920, when the census was taken, the family still lived on State Street, but in an apartment at number 457. Millie was still working as a public school teacher. Unfortunately, as Fannie Master noted, she "died very young" later that month. Interestingly, this newspaper article states her age as 28, when according to the census that year, she was 33 at the time. Nonetheless, far too young to be lost so senselessly to a now-treatable disease.

Newspaper article reporting Millie Vinicombe's death from penumonia
"Miss Vinicombe, Teacher, Dies Suddenly of Pneumonia," Brooklyn Times Union, January 31, 1920.
Death notice for Millie Vinicombe
"Vinicombe--In loving memory of my beloved daughter," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 30, 1934.

It breaks my heart to think of the sudden loss of this dedicated young woman, who was about to return to her alma mater P.S. 15 as a teacher. 14 years later, on the anniversary of her death, her still-mourning mother placed this notice in the Eagle "in loving memory of my beloved daughter."

Detail of Emma Price

Fannie Master provided a tantalizing detail about the next person she named, Emma Price. Apparently, her "father was head Captain of the South Ferry boats." In the 1900 census, the Price family was living at 258 Livingston Street. The occupation of Emma's father Thomas, born in England, is noted as "Pilot." According to coverage in newspapers at the time, this was the title for boat captains. Captain Thomas Price is listed as an attendee at an event of the American Brotherhood of Steam Boat Pilots covered in the Brooklyn Citizen on January 15, 1893. Thomas Price is also listed in an 1882 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the Union Ferry pilots, "the men who carry our lives in their hands" (keep in mind that the Brooklyn Bridge would not open until the following year). Emma's mother Josephine was born in New York, and she had two younger brothers.

Detail of Minnie Bunge

Next on the list is Minnie Bunge, one of the several students in this class who was born outside of the United States. Minnie was born in Germany in December 1884 and came to the U.S. in 1891. In 1900 the family was living at 83 St. Mark's Place. Her father Robert was a musician and her mother Katie was a homemaker. By the 1910 census, they had moved farther east in Brooklyn, to 317 Ralph Avenue. Minnie is listed there in a 1911 city directory which also lists her occupation as stenographer.

Detail of Anna Junge

About Anna Junge (whose name she misspelled as Younge), Fannie wrote that she "left 3 children when she died young." I expected to find some newspaper coverage of such a tragic loss, but was unable to. From what I could find in census records, Anna was the daughter of German parents, and in 1900, the family lived at 513 Atlantic Avenue. Anna is listed as still single and living with her parents, and working as a milliner, at age 35 in the 1920 census, and Anna Catherine Junge, also daughter to Herman and Mary Junge, is listed as having passed away from lung and breast cancer in 1934. This made me wonder if perhaps Fannie had confused Anna for her sister, Alma, only two years younger than she. It may in fact have been Alma who left 3 children behind when she passed away. That would mean both sisters were lost young. Unfortunately, sometimes the historic record, and the vagaries of memory, can only tell us so much.

Detail of Carrie Abbott

Next on Fannie's list is Carrie Abbott, one of two Black students in the class. According to the 1900 census, Carrie was born in 1881, making her one of the older students in this class at age 19. Carrie's father was born in the West Indies and had arrived in the United States in 1870. In 1900 he was working as a butler. Her mother Mary had been born in Virginia. The family lived at 46 Fleet Street in Downtown Brooklyn, an address that no longer exists, having been obliterated by the extension of Flatbush Avenue, as can be seen in this detail from a 1904 atlas.

Detail of 1904 atlas showing proposed Flatbush Avenue extension
E. Belcher Hyde, Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York, Volume 2, 1904, sheet 1R (detail). Library of Congress via FIMO.

In 1902, according to The Standard Union, Carrie was elected founding president of the Uno Club, a girls' club at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ that became part of the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs. Carrie was quoted in the paper as saying, "Our aim is to do good. Our motto is 'labore et honore'." In 1904, The Standard Union reported on the club entertaining Miss Roberta Dunbar, president of the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs. From these accounts, it seems like Carrie was an ambitious and accomplished young woman.

Detail of Harriet Merrill

Next to Carrie stands Harriet Merrill. Merrill was the focus of a 2020 Photo of the Week post about this photograph written by Cecily Dyer. Harriet was born in March 1885 and was 15 when this photo was taken. At the time, she was listed in the census as a boarder in the household of a name transcribed on ancestry.com as "Musa H. Morton." Morton's occupation is listed as "physician," and their residence (shared by Harriet) was at 395 Gold Street. In the scanned image of the handwritten original census document, the first name was obscured and illegible. When I searched Brooklyn Newsstand for "morton" and "395 gold," I was surprised to find that Dr. Verina H. Morton was a woman. A black woman physician was rare at the time, the most famous example being Dr. Susan McKinney Steward, who was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in New York state. According to the Brooklyn Citizen, Dr. Morton was a leader in "colored society from the Colored Heights"--described as the area we would now know as Downtown Brooklyn, where both Harriet and Carrie Abbott lived. According to the 1892 census, Dr. Morton's husband, Walter A. Morton, was also a physician. This is corroborated by an 1894 article about him in The Standard Union. Walter died in 1895, which would explain why Verina was listed as the head of household in 1900. By 1905, Verina had remarried a man named Emory Jones, and she, her son Franklin, and Harriet were all living with him, still at 395 Gold Street. Harriet is listed as a "cousin" instead of a boarder, so it seems like perhaps she was related to Verina--they were both born in Ohio. Harriet went on to graduate from Manual Training High School in 1905. She is mentioned several times in newspaper coverage of charitable events, including for the Home for Aged Colored People and the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum. In 1908 she married Chester Moore. Unfortunately, she is another member of this class to have died young, at age 36. She passed away at Brooklyn Hospital in 1922 and is buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens.

Detail of Mary Olander

The only record I could find of Mary Orlander was the 1905 New York State census, which has her living at 899 Pacific Street with her parents Alfred, a painter, and her mother Hannah, who did housework. Mary and her 16-year-old sister Annie are both listed as typewriters, while their 14-year-old brother Gustav was still in school. They were all born in Sweden and had come to the United States in 1895.

Detail of Grace Tabor

When this photo was taken New York-born Grace Tabor was 15 and living at 207 Dean Street with her father Thomas, who had also been born in New York, her mother Elizabeth, born in Ireland, several siblings, and her maternal grandmother Eliza Hutchinson. By 1905, Grace was working as a stenographer while still living at home. Coverage in the Brooklyn Times Union notes her as a 1903 graduate of the Heffley school. The Heffley school was associated with the Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill. Charles Pratt had hired Norman Heffley in 1889 to create The Heffley School of Commerce, which taught stenography, typing, proofreading, and other commercially useful skills. Heffley went on to found Brooklyn Law School. Grace studied to be an amanuensis, a person who takes dictation or copies manuscripts. In the 1910 census, the family was living at 44 Sterling Place and the women of the household all had their occupation listed as "none," so perhaps Thomas's work as a coffee and tea merchant, and eldest son Albert's work at a bank, was enough to support the family. But by 1915 Grace was again working as a stenographer. This was where I initially lost Grace in the record. I thought I had found her again in the 1940 census, living alone and single in Manhattan and working as an editor and writer after having attended college. Unfortunately, that must have been another Grace Tabor, because according to newspaper coverage, this Grace died in August 1915 from an illness contracted on a sightseeing trip to San Francisco.

Detail of Eva Knox

Eva Knox was born in New York in June 1885 and in 1900 was living at 70 Boerum Place with her parents Thomas and Margaret, who were born in Virginia and New York, respectively. Thomas was a bookkeeper. In 1903 Eva married William H. Busby. In 1910 she gave birth to a daughter and named her after her own mother. The young family, along with Eva's mother, lived at 120 Third Place, and William worked as a boilermaker in a shipyard. By 1915 they were at 223 13th Street, and by 1920 William was no longer living with them and Eva was listed as the head of household at 440 10th Street. Since she is still listed as "married" rather than widowed, it's possible that William was traveling for work. Eva was working as a dressmaker and had taken on boarders, presumably to help make ends meet in her husband's absence.

Detail of Anna Schroeder

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to pin down any information about Anna Schroeder.

Detail of Nellie Boyce

Helen "Nellie" Boyce graduated from Girls' High School in 1905 and was the only member of the class to make the Economics honor roll. In February 1907 she passed the examination necessary to be licensed for practice teaching in elementary schools, and that June she received her degree from the Brooklyn Training School for Teachers. She was one of 323 women to graduate at that time, along with one man. The Eagle described the ceremony as "one of the social events of the year." 

Detail of Eleanor Savage

The student named by Fannie Master as Anna Savage was in fact named Eleanor Savage. She was able to complete a degree at Girls' High School earlier than Nellie Boyce, graduating from their Commercial program in 1903. The remaining newspaper coverage about Savage has to do with social events, including for a group called the Sunny Jims and the Ladies' Catholic Benevolent Association.

Detail of Laura Foren

Fannie Master named this student Laura Forhan, and the Eagle called her Laura Fooren, but the sources I found indicate her name was actually Laura Foren. Foren was born in September 1885 and in 1900 was living with her father Andrew at 40 Boerum Place. Andrew's parents were from Ireland. Laura was born in New York and her (presumably deceased) mother had been born in Massachusetts. Andrew worked as a real estate agent. It would seem that Laura was quite clever, as she was many times listed in the Eagle's "roll of honor" for children who had completed puzzles from the newspaper's pages. The Brooklyn Times Union noted that she graduated from Mount Holyoke college in 1908, and that same year she was listed as eligible to teach in Brooklyn schools. In 1910 Laura was still living with her father, now at 92-94 Schermerhorn Street. Andrew was listed as working in real estate and insurance, and Laura had no occupation listed. Andrew must have done well since he owned their home rather than renting as many of these students' families did. In 1916, however, he passed away. The Brooklyn Times Union called him "one of the best known Congregationalists of Brooklyn." His obituary noted that his daughter had taken over his real estate business. In the 1920 census, Laura is listed as both head of household and owner of the property, with several renters at the same address. Her occupation was manager at a publishing company.

Detail of Matilda Von Dessauer

Matilda Von Dessauer was born on Valentine's Day in 1885. Her father Angelo had been born in Bavaria and worked as a druggist. Her mother Alvina was born in the United States. Like Laura Foren, Matilda was listed many times in the Eagle's roll of honor. In 1905 she married Harry N. Ayres. Harry was from Connecticut and worked as a timekeeper at a hotel. They are listed in the 1930 census as living at 157 West 66th Street in Manhattan, along with Matilda's mother. 

Detail of Lillian Cohn

Fannie said of Lillian Cohn that her mother had also attended P.S. 15, but unfortunately I could find no evidence of that. Lillian was born in December 1886. In 1900 she lived at 171 Dean Street with her German father Morris and her American mother Gussie, as well as a servant. Morris had come to the United States in 1876, and in 1900 was working as a lithographer. In the 1905 census, Lillian is still listed as "at school," so she must have continued studying even after her 1904 graduation from Girls' High School reported in the Eagle. Dr. J.F. McConnell spoke at the ceremony: "Women, as well as men, he said, are needed daily in this great race for life, and it is to prepare them for their battlefields that the schools are maintained." That seems like a good note on which to end this long examination of these 18 students from 1900.

As one final step, I mapped the addresses of the students I was able to find in the 1900 census (with one or two addresses from the 1905 census). You can see how close together all of these families lived (marked in green), clustered around the school (marked in blue).

Screenshot of custom Google map with school and student residences marked

As we ring in the new year, I hope this post demonstrates the many routes for research available here at the Center for Brooklyn History. We look forward to reopening fully this year, but in the meantime, our collections and research guides are at your fingertips. Join us in uncovering and sharing the stories of all Brooklynites.

 

This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.

 

Helen Z. Magida

I have a class photo for (Brooklyn Elementary School) P.S. 115 - January 1937, graduation. On the back of the framed picture, my mother wrote the first and last names of the students. If you would like the original, please let me know.
Sat, Jan 14 2023 8:41 pm Permalink
Anika Scott

Outstanding! A fascinating look at girls' education of the period and the lives they lived afterward. I was researching this and am so grateful to have this excellent post. Thank you!
Thu, Apr 20 2023 8:30 am Permalink

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