Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: May 27: Two ‘Scenes from the Great Depression’

May 27, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

As last week’s pictures showed, a lot of people were “Having Fun” back in the late ’30s. But, literally at the same time, the country was in the midst of a decidedly not fun economic disaster. I call this week’s photos “Scenes from the Great Depression.”

These are not just sights of misery or reminders of very difficult times. As always, the intent is to offer images that are interesting, informative and often beautifully done. A few display the overtly painful sights of the period, but most show people trying to do something about it, being as constructive as they can in the face of a grim reality. You might not smile as much as you did with last week’s collection, but I hope these photos allow you to find new perspectives and inspiration.

Today’s photos:

Today’s two photos feature public school teachers. Always valuable, always taking on more than basic teaching, and always underappreciated and underpaid. These photos show some of the consequences.

Classroom or clinic? October 15, 1936

P.S. 91, Albany & East New York Avenues. Julia Towbin, teacher of class 3A, examines her students. I always assumed these were dental checks, but they could be more than that. My father’s notes only refer to “health” exams. So Ms. Towbin and her classroom teacher colleagues might have been pressed to look for all manner of possible health concerns in the absence of school nurses or reliable routine professional medical checkups.


Teachers on strike, undated

This is one of those undated and undocumented photos. The information in the image is all I have. It’s a demonstration of some sort on Ocean Parkway. A careful look at the sign displayed near the back of the crowd reveals the words “Strike” and “Schools.” Labor issues and strikes were certainly common during the 1930s, but, like today, teachers rarely abandoned their students in full-fledged strikes. Extra responsibilities, larger classes, poorly maintained facilities, inadequate books and supplies, and of course, low pay during a depression — any combination of these might have driven this group to a last resort.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 4: ‘Scenes from the Great Depression’

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