Narrows Sunday School: Religious education in 19th Century Brooklyn

Narrows School book 1832The following post was authored by our Spring 2015 Library and Archives processing intern Stephanie Coy. It highlights one of several collections which she has cataloged this spring.

In 1988, Brooklyn Historical Society purchased a manuscript that chronicled the weekly activities of the Narrows Sunday School during the period of 1834–1845. The Narrows Sunday School was founded by Dr. John Carpenter in the Village of Fort Hamilton in 1825. After three years of successful service to the village’s residents, the school moved to a chapel building adjacent to the Dutch Reformed Church in the Town of New Utrecht (located at 18th Avenue and 84th Street in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn) where it enjoyed a larger student body and more patronage from wealthy Dutch families. The Sunday school has been in continuous existence at that location ever since!

This manuscript represents a snapshot of life and religious education in Brooklyn during the early 19th century when urbanization was beginning to take hold. With many notes about the moral beliefs of the students and teachers, weather patterns, techniques used in the education system, and the habits and etiquette observed by the staff, this manuscript offers the opportunity to study the lifestyles and beliefs common to teachers, students, and families of Kings County in the first half of the 19th century. This record book complements a large collection at BHS of other materials related to religious education in 19th century Brooklyn.

Perhaps most remarkable about the manuscript itself is its humor. For example, in the tutorial at the front of the book on how to log entries, it states:

“Thomas Wilson, discharged to-day, is a bad boy: his parents have put him to a farmer in the country.”

And on September 15, 1839, with attendance low, the writer notes that if something is not done, there will be “but little or nothing for the poor secretary to make minutes of than the number of flies that lite on the ceiling.”

Narrows School 1839-09-15

May 17, 1840:

“Miss Sarah Van Brunt committed matrimony & removed from the place,” and “the school has by this catastrophe lost one of its more efficient teachers.”

At a special meeting May 9, 1841, called to better organize the school, the “only measure proposed & not objected to was a resolution of Miss Jane Cortelyou ‘that hereafter she would not laugh in school – if she could help it.'”

June 27, 1841:

“Very warm. The school seems to be melting away. Some classes entirely gone. Scarcely a grease spot left.”

May 25, 1845, the secretary asserts a visitor came ostensibly to hear the children sing but “more probably to see Matilda Church if we might be allowed to give our own opinion,” with further comments on the topic in the following entry.

Narrows School 1845-06-15

Later, on June 15, there is somewhat sharper criticism of teachers for “laughing and talking” and a complaint the unclean schoolroom is “more like a hogpen than a place for decent people….”

On the more serious side, there are notes on founding a sewing club, raising money for the school, trips to New Utrecht, collections for missions, scholars’ exams at Flatbush, preparations for anniversary events, etc. Sometimes a religious topic is noted, as on May 8, 1842, when the “girls recited proofs to the May subject ‘That the Holy Spirit is the author of our Sanctification.'” There are also frequent notes on weather, especially as it influences attendance at the school.

This manuscript record reveals the individual personality and social outlook of teachers in southern Kings County in the mid nineteenth century. It documents the early history of a Brooklyn based religious education institution that still remains active to this day. Finally, it is also an important portrait of the early Dutch settlers in Kings County, especially as pertains to the more influential families of the van Brunts and the Bennetts.

Sources:

“New Utrecht Notes: Interesting History of the Reformed Sunday School at Fort Hamilton.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY), Jun. 10, 1894. http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/#50345952

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Photo of the Week: Personal Correspondents

[Lincoln and son], circa 1864; John B. Woodward papers, ARC.275; Brooklyn Historical Society

[Lincoln and son], circa 1864; John B. Woodward papers, ARC.275; Brooklyn Historical Society

In April 1865, General Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Thanks to the popularity of cartes de visite photographs, like the one pictured above, we can better understand how personal and nationalized portraits shaped the wartime experience on the battlefront and the home front. Cartes de visite first came to the United States from Paris in 1859 and because incredibly popular. They were the first inexpensive, mass produced photographs and for the first time, working and middle class people could afford to have their portraits taken and reproduced so they could give them to loved ones. In Brooklyn alone, the number of photography studios doubled between 1858 and 1864, many of them in downtown Brooklyn on Fulton Street. Photograph albums were invented so that Americans could house the growing number of cartes de visite that they amassed. Photography and photograph albums allowed Brooklynites to maintain a connection to family members, even if away at war.

The photo of the week is a carte de visite of Lincoln reading with his son Tad. While cartes de visite in BHS’s collections often feature everyday Brooklynites who distributed their portraits to loved ones, many people also collected widely-distributed cares de visite of famous people. Collecting these seemingly personal images of national leaders crystallized a collective sense of nationalism among Americans. The above photograph is particularly unique because while it is posed, it feels like a candid, private moment. The portrait, observed Andrea Volpe in a recent article on the New York Times “Disunion” blog, “evokes comfort and protection, not from a president consumed with war and politics, but from a tender patriarch.”

This photograph comes from the John B. Woodward collection. This collection consists of correspondence, ephemera, scrapbooks, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, and other materials relating to Brooklyn resident John Blackburne Woodward (1835-1896). To learn more about this collection, be sure to check out the finding aid here. This photograph, along with many other cartes de visite and letters, are now on display in the Personal Correspondents exhibit at Brooklyn Historical Society. There is a rich history and connection between photography and the civil war which can be explored further through this unique and engaging exhibit featuring items from the BHS collection. It’s not to be missed!

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Ebbets Field

[Ebbets field], 1914 ca; Brooklyn photographs and illustrations, ARC.202, V1973.5.1801; Brooklyn Historical Society

[Ebbets field], 1914 ca; Brooklyn photographs and illustrations, ARC.202, V1973.5.1801; Brooklyn Historical Society

It’s officially spring, which also means the baseball season is underway. The photo of the week features the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field around 1914. On April 9th 1913, over 100 years ago, the Brooklyn Dodgers hosted an opening game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the brand new Ebbets Field. The stadium was located in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, on Sullivan Place.

The Dodgers made history in 1947 when they hired Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first African American baseball player, to take over first base. In 1955, the Dodgers won the World Series. Despite success, a combination of events led to the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. The Dodgers’ now-famous move to Los Angeles in 1957 has been much debated by fans, developers, politicians, and historians. The team’s departure was a major blow for fans and is emblematic of the cultural and economic challenges that Brooklyn faced in the late 20th century.

To learn more about the Brooklyn Dodgers, check out the O’Malley Brooklyn Dodgers records collection which contains newspaper clippings and correspondence of former Brooklyn Dodgers president, Walter O’Malley. Brooklyn historical Society also has a Brooklyn Dodgers finding aid, which can be accessed here.

The above photograph is from the Brooklyn photographs and illustration collection. The collection contains over 7000 items dating from the early 20th century. The collection provides comprehensive visual documentation of the borough of Brooklyn, N.Y., with images of neighborhoods, homes, buildings, the waterfront, and infrastructure. Over 30 Brooklyn neighborhoods are documented. To learn more about the collection, be sure to check out the finding aid here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Sheepshead Bay

Crabbing,1880; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191, V1974.7.39; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Crabbing,1880; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191, V1974.7.39; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Sheepshead Bay, like many other places in Brooklyn, has undergone many changes over the years. Named after a local fish once ubiquitous in the bay, the town was formerly a sleepy fishing village. With the advent of the subway and later the Belt Parkway, Sheepshead Bay was transformed by business and tourism. In recent years, recreational fishing fleets have declined, and more party boats and dinner boats have gained popularity. This change has caused some tension in the community, and recent legislation. Sheepshead Bay Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz recently proposed banning party boats along Emmons Avenue docks in an attempt to control rowdy behavior.

With that in mind, the photo of the week is a photograph from the earlier days of Sheepshead Bay. This 1880 photograph of a man and woman in a rowboat crabbing along Sheepshead Bay comes from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection. The collection contains lantern slides and photographs taken by Martense documenting Brooklyn during the last quarter of the 19th century. I think this photograph is particularly charming because the man seems proud standing on the boat, holding a hand net for crabbing, while the woman seated appears ready for a sophisticated outing. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery. To learn more about the history of Sheepshead Bay, be sure to check out this book from our collection.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Pilgrim Laundry

[Female Laundry workers at Pilgrim Laundry], ca 1910, V1989.3.1; Pilgrim Laundry photographs, v1989.003; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Female Laundry workers at Pilgrim Laundry], ca 1910, V1989.3.1; Pilgrim Laundry photographs, v1989.003; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week comes from the newly processed Pilgrim Laundry collection. Pictured above is one of the six black and white interior photographs from the collection. In this photograph, female workers are displayed using laundry machinery around 1910.

Pilgrim laundry was a laundry facility located in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn and first opened its doors in 1894. The owners set out to open a laundry business founded on the belief that if employees were given fair labor standards, the business would flourish. This method proved successful for Pilgrim Laundry. While the original facility burned in 1910, a new facility opened in 1913 that featured recreation facilities for employees, as well as a vacation clubhouse. In 1921, the company allowed employees to buy stock, and by the 1950s, Pilgrim Laundry was completely employee owned. Unfortunately, however, Pilgrim Laundry was later acquired by a new firm and while under new ownership, they went out of business in the 1960s.

Early laundry businesses were one of the first industries to hire predominately women. Married women with children were attracted to this line of work because they could perform paid work, while also fulfilling responsibilities like childcare. The industry was also characterized by long hours and low pay, which makes Pilgrim Laundry’s approach to labor particularly noteworthy.

To learn more about the history of Pilgrim Laundry, be sure to check out the finding aid for the collection. This collection is newly processed and can now be accessed online here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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