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New recordings from the Packer Collegiate Institute now online!

By Maggie Schreiner

Posted on February 25, 2020

This post was written by Aliki Caloyeras, Brooklyn Historical Society Digitization Intern.

Brooklyn Historical Society is pleased to announce the availability of over 175 newly digitized audio recordings, films, and videos from the Packer Collegiate Institute records (2014.019). This project has been made possible by a generous digitization grant from the Metropolitan Library Council (METRO), and follows up on our previous work with METRO to preserve quickly-deteriorating magnetic media and provide the public with easy access to our audio, video, and film collections.

Still from digitized 16mm film, “Miss Hickock, Packer Institute” depicting a puppet show in the garden, circa 1940’s.

BHS’s collection of Packer records offers a unique lens through which to view Brooklyn history and nineteenth- and twentieth-century social change. Founded in 1845 as the Brooklyn Female Academy and renamed less than a decade later after its benefactors, Harriet and William S. Packer, the school’s history develops alongside the growth of City of Brooklyn, which was itself officially incorporated in 1854. As one of Brooklyn’s most preeminent girls’ schools until its move to coeducational education in 1972, the history of Packer also traces the history of female education and the changing social roles of women over the last two centuries.

Packer’s audiovisual collections consist of alumnae and faculty interviews, performances, events, and graduation ceremonies, as well as educational conferences and speaker series, spanning from the 1930s to the late 1990s. They can be accessed through two separate Internet Archives collections on BHS’s account page: the Packer Alumnae and Faculty interviews collection and the Packer events collection. Highlights of these newly digitized materials include a short 16mm film documenting the school’s 1945 Centennial May Day celebration, alumnae interviews from students graduating between 1906 and 1957, and faculty interviews from the second half of the twentieth century.

Still from 16mm film, “Dancing in the garden--Centennial Year 1945, May 9,” depicting the May Court including senior girls dressed as the king and queen.

Packer’s audiovisual collections consist of alumnae and faculty interviews, performances, events, and graduation ceremonies, as well as educational conferences and speaker series, spanning from the 1930s to the late 1990s. They can be accessed through two separate Internet Archives collections on BHS’s account page: the Packer Alumnae and Faculty interviews collection and the Packer events collection. Highlights of these newly digitized materials include a short 16mm film documenting the school’s 1945 Centennial May Day celebration, alumnae interviews from students graduating between 1906 and 1957, and faculty interviews from the second half of the twentieth century.

Still from Super8 film of an apparently all-girls student trip to Israel in 1972, “Student Project: Exitus.”

The interviews were originally recorded in the late 1980s to early 1990’s on audiocassette tapes in anticipation of Packer’s 1995 Sesquicentennial. These oral histories by alumnae detail life at Packer in the first half of the twentieth century and include remembrances of students’ relation to the wider world including Packer’s response to two World Wars and students’ experiences of the Great Depression. Notable alumnae from this period include pioneer educator and President of Radcliffe College (1960-1972) Mary Ingraham Bunting-Smith, and author Lois Lowry. Faculty interviews include a four-part series with Jack Skillman, head of school from 1968-1982, during and just after Packer’s 1972 move to coeducation.

Additionally, we were able to digitize various materials from the 1995-1996 “Packer Institute, A Day in the Life” documentary project celebrating Packer’s Sesquicentennial. These materials include footage of Packer’s buildings and classrooms on normal school days as well as interviews with then-current students and faculty about Packer in the 1990s and its impact on students’ lives and futures. Although digitized for preservation, some raw interviews and outtakes from this production are not currently available online but can be accessed in person in the Othmer library reading room.

More about Packer Collegiate Institute’s history may be found in the online exhibition The Packer Collegiate Institute: A Story of Education in Brooklyn. A finding aid to the entire collection can be found here.

Still from Promotional Video:”Packer Collegiate Institute”, 1995.

Additionally, we were able to digitize various materials from the 1995-1996 “Packer Institute, A Day in the Life” documentary project celebrating Packer’s Sesquicentennial. These materials include footage of Packer’s buildings and classrooms on normal school days as well as interviews with then-current students and faculty about Packer in the 1990s and its impact on students’ lives and futures. Although digitized for preservation, some raw interviews and outtakes from this production are not currently available online but can be accessed in person in the Othmer library reading room.

More about Packer Collegiate Institute’s history may be found in the online exhibition The Packer Collegiate Institute: A Story of Education in Brooklyn. A finding aid to the entire collection can be found here.

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