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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight photos of ‘Schools’

July 20, 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:

This week’s theme is called simply “Schools.” Schools have been in our news quite a bit lately and will surely continue to be for the months ahead. Rather than reminding us all of the dilemma about how to open schools this year, I’ll provide an escape to scenes of Brooklyn schools 80 years ago. Not only that, the escape will take you away from public schools altogether for a look at the different (for most of us) world of private schools.

As I mentioned about a month ago, my father did a lot of work for the Packer Collegiate Institute, which was directly across Joralemon Street from the Irving Kaufman studio. (To see more information on this, look back at the June 18 post. The school is still there; the studio and its building are long gone.) He did hundreds of photos for them, from the mid ’30s to the late ’40s. He also worked, less extensively, for a few other private schools, among them the Walt Whitman School, Hawthorne Academy, Horace Mann and the Jewish Community School, all of which will be represented in this week’s display.

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Today’s photos:

More photos, shorter descriptions: I’ve got quite a number and variety of school pictures that pretty much speak for themselves. They happen to fall into specific groups of activities: art, music, science, shop (“industrial arts”), sports, theater and formal events. These activities and experiences lent themselves to photography more than “traditional” classroom scenes.

I’m happy to be able to show these less traditional images because most students today spend less of their time, and most schools dedicate fewer of their resources, to these activities. I think that’s a shame; maybe showing them here will remind us all how valuable varied and active learning are.

Senior prom, Packer, undated

Quaint or civilized? Outmoded or charming? Laughable or enviable? You choose.


School building, c. 1936

Not quite the one-room schoolhouse of the romanticized frontier, but primitive by most 20th century standards. Did effective education happen there anyway?


Fox and Paramount, Hawthorne School, November 1937

Interesting mix of abstracted familiar images: theater signs, clock, bed post, buildings. We miss the color here more than usual. The young artists got encouragement, opportunity and support. (The Hawthorne school was run by the Jewish Board of Guardians, which still exists as “The Jewish Board.” But I was not able to find any specific information about the Hawthorne School.)


Chemistry project, Walt Whitman School, June 11, 1947

This looks like an interesting opportunity for young teens. They apparently made cosmetics and learned both the chemistry and the marketing involved. (The Walt Whitman School, like the Hawthorne School above, was a Brooklyn private school in the 1940s, but I have not been able to find any further information about it.)


Opera for the younger set, Horace Mann School, March 11, 1947

These young students (third grade?) are gathered around the record player. A representative of Columbia Records brought a recent release of the opera “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck. (Yes, an opera composer, whose name and fame were co-opted by the British pop music singer.) Basil Rathbone narrates the story while Jane Powell and others sing the songs (arias) from the opera.


Dramatic tableau, Packer, January 1940

The senior play sets the cast in a dramatic pose. Looks like a mystery, with a confrontation involving guns. Unfortunately, any further information also remains a mystery.


Boatmaking 101, Packer, undated

Not your typical girls’ handiwork activity for the time. These two look happy and productive.


En garde, Packer, undated

Also not your typical sports activity, but these two are ready and willing.

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 12: Photos of ‘Schools’

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