It is a common misconception that “no one is really from DC” – and, by extension, that no one is from Montgomery County. Yes, the area is home to many newcomers . . . but ask around, and you* might be surprised by the number of people you meet who grew up here, whose parents are from here, and who can claim a few (or many) ancestral generations with ties to the DC area. I admit, even I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when I meet a fellow County native. Recently we had a minor electrical problem in the office; the technician who came out was more than happy to tell us historians about growing up in Glenmont in the 1960s.

This brings us, in a somewhat roundabout way, to today’s artifact: a wooden desk chair, believed to have been used in the Glenmont Elementary School. It was donated in 2006 by Robert Faber, who said it had been purchased by a friend when Glenmont E.S. closed, and later given to him because he’d attended the school himself.

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The chair is made of wood (pine?), with metal screws and a brass-colored metal brace where the arm of the desk meets the back. The back is 32″ tall; the little attached desk surface is 11.5″ by 12″. There is a stencil on the underside, ending in 17, but it’s not terribly legible; I can’t tell if it represents a manufacturer, or was simply an inventory number (and, sadly, it does not appear to read “Glenmont E.S.”). Based on the number of similar examples to be found online, this was a fairly standard, common school chair design in the early-mid 20th century.

F2006.21.01 underside

Ours has been refinished, sometime between the school’s close-out sale and the Historical Society donation, and it looks great – but, delightfully, the refinisher left the underside of the desk alone. Though there are no helpful names or dates carved in, there’s still evidence of the chair’s original use: scratches, pencil scribbles, and even a few faint vestiges of dried-up gum.  This was definitely a used piece of furniture, not something that sat idly in a supply closet.

F2006.21.01 desk detail

The Glenmont school was located at what is now the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road, just north of Wheaton. (On the map below, from 1948, Randolph Road hasn’t yet been extended to Georgia.) It opened in 1926, with 125 students from Aspen Hill, Glenmont, Layhill, and Wheaton in attendance. Enrollment rose over the next few decades, and the school was enlarged several times – including a 1946 addition, designed by local architect V.T.H. Bien in a modern style. By the late 1970s, however, demographic changes meant enrollment was dropping at once-bustling suburban schools. Many Montgomery County public schools closed their doors in the 1970s-80s; Glenmont was one of them, closing in 1977.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the "GlenmontT" name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the “Glenmont” name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

By the 1990s some of the school had been torn down, but pieces remained; Bien’s addition, for example, was used as a commercial fitness center for many years. (Photos of the school’s various buildings, including the Bien addition, can be found in this architectural survey – although, note that the first page includes an inaccurate opening date for the school.) Construction of the Glenmont Metro Station, begun in 1993 and finished in 1998, negatively impacted the site; in the early 2000s, historic designation for the remaining buildings was denied. Today, nothing of the school physically remains – although, in development plans for the area, the corner is still sometimes called the “old Glenmont School site.”

The buildings are gone, but thanks to a devoted PTA, much of Glenmont E.S.’s history can be found here at the Historical Society. In addition to our little chair, the artifact collections include 1960s-70s trophies, awards, and plaques, likely displayed in the lobby until the school’s closure. In our archives we have PTA scrapbooks and albums, from 1926 through 1977, filled with photos, programs, handbooks, meeting minutes, dance tickets, and more – all of it giving us information on faculty, students, facilities, curricula, and student activities. What I have not yet found in this great resource is anything that shows or references our chair and its friends. One 1942 photo (detail below) from the PTA scrapbook shows similar chairs in use, but they have metal legs; perhaps that means the all-wood chairs dated from earlier in the school’s history. Do any Glenmont alumni remember sitting in wooden chair/desk combos in their youth?

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

*Unless “you” are already aware of the high number of natives, of course.

The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.

 

June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.

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June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.

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June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat

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June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

2000.03 Ellington

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June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.

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There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.

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We have a number of 19th and 20th century dolls in the collections; a few, including Kathryn Brown’s bisque and composition baby doll and Billy Hazard’s much-loved composition and fabric “Earl,” have been featured here before.  Today we have a doll of similar vintage to those two, but of different construction: a wood-bodied, metal-jointed Schoenhut doll from the 1920s. R2001.20.09 waving hello

Albert Schoenhut of Pennsylvania patented his “All-Wood Doll” in 1911. The metal joints allowed these dolls to be easily posed in relatively realistic ways. As his patent description explains,

My invention relates to toy figures, manikins, jointed dolls, and the like, and the object of my invention is to provide a structure of this character with means serving to articulate the several members, such means being of a character as to insure the maximum degree of friction whereby the several limbs and portions of the same may be turned and held in various positions assumed by such turning operations without danger of disarrangement except at the desire of the person using the toy, doll, or jointed figure.  In addition, the means which I have provided for articulating the structure are so arranged as to insure movement of the several limbs substantially in accord with the movement of the several limbs of the human body.

In simpler terms, a child could have Dollie stand on one leg and she’d stay that way until it was time for a new pose. A 1921 advertisement in Scribner’s Magazine shows several energetically posed dolls, and touts these features of “the world’s only educational doll”:

Made entirely from wood.  Painted in enamel oil colors which can be cleaned with a damp rag. Fully jointed with the new patented steel spring hinge, with double spring tension and swivel connections. No rubber cord whatever. Full joints at wrists and ankles. A unique foot pedestal by means of which the doll stands by itself. Real mohair wigs – blonde or Tosca or carved hair handpainted. Eyes either fixed or movable. Either conventional or natural child faces.

Our particular doll is a 15” model, with a “natural child face” (also known as a “character” face) and a Tosca (reddish-colored) mohair wig. The maker’s mark is inscribed on her shoulder blades: “Schoenhut & Co., Pat Jan 17 ’11 USA and Foreign Countries.”  Like most survivors of childhood play she’s missing some original features, including her union suit and foot pedestal, but she’s otherwise in pretty good shape.  She’s dressed in a cute purple floral swatch (the fabric is not actually sewn into a dress), topped with a cape and bonnet crocheted from white wool, and has some gold-colored bobby pins in her hair.

R2001.20.09 closeup

The doll – unfortunately, we did not get its name – belonged to Frances Brown Brosius, born in 1919 to Carroll and Isabelle Brown of Forest Glen.  In the early 1920s, the Browns moved to the Neelsville area (between Clarksburg and Germantown), where Mr. Brown managed several local farms. Frances attended Cedar Grove Elementary School through seventh grade, then went to Gaithersburg High School.  (She may be one of the students in the photo below, showing Cedar Grove students in 1927; anyone recognize her?)

MCHS Library collections, from Denise Wilson

Cedar Grove School, 1927. MCHS Library collections, from Denise Wilson

Mrs. Brosius lived in Silver Spring after her marriage, and in 2001 she donated a large collection of her family’s farm tools, household goods, toys, and other pieces (here’s her father’s fish) to the Historical Society.  This doll came with a trunk, some doll-sized furniture and accessories, and a few other pieces of clothing, saved from Mrs. Brosius’s childhood – and perhaps played with by her own children. The 1921 Schoenhut ad begins, “The child’s greatest tragedy is the breaking of the new doll or of the old favorite. . . . A Schoenhut doll will outlast [cheaper dolls] many times over.” Unlike many of the dolls in our collections, this young lady is still sturdy and unbroken – Mr. Schoenhut’s promise would seem to have held true.

To see a few other examples of Schoenhut dolls, here’s a bit from everyone’s favorite antiques show featuring four dolls from the 1910s. Right now you can also see our unnamed young lady in person, on display in the Beall-Dawson House children’s bedroom.

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The concept of a high chair – a tall, small chair that makes it easier to feed, tend, and occasionally restrain a baby – has been around for a long time.  The Metropolitan Museum has a 17th century high chair in its collections, and the Museum of Fine Arts has an early 18th century example. Just like adult-sized furniture, children’s pieces follow fashions and trends: some are expensive and elaborate, others are throwbacks to an earlier era, and some are more about function than looks.  Here are two infant high chairs in our collections, used around the same time but of very different styles.

two highchairs
On the left is a late 19th century wooden high chair, 37″ tall, owned by the Jacobs family of Browningsville.  It is handmade, and may have been built by Jonathan Jacobs (1845-1919) himself; he was a coach-maker, but an 1867 tax record identifies him as a cabinet-maker as well.  Jonathan and his wife, Mary Manzella Brandenburg Jacobs, had four sons (Willard, Norman, Wriley, and Merle) born between 1875 and 1890.  The chair descended through the family of the youngest son, Merle Jacobs, to Merle’s son Charles, who donated it to MCHS in 1996.

It’s a good old-fashioned Windsor style, often seen in 18th century high chairs, with nicely turned legs, rails, and stretchers, and a shaped seat.  There’s no tray, which is not unusual for early (that is, before the 1950s or so) high chairs, but there is a little footrest, and a small metal eye centered under the seat indicates that there may have been a strap or other restraint to keep any Baby Jacobses from pitching themselves out of the chair headfirst.

DSC07529Though in pretty good shape, it does show evidence of years of use; there are a few old stains on the seat, the finish on the seat and arms is worn down, and several of the peg joints have been repaired and glued.

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DSC07513The 37″ tall walnut high chair on the right (and in the detail shot, above) was used around the same time as the Jacobs family’s, but is an example of a popular commercially-made chair.  (If you do an internet image search for “Victorian high chair,” you’ll see what I mean.)  “Convertible” highchairs were made throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (examples here); some turned into chair-and-table combos, and others into rocking chairs or, like this one, wheeled walkers:

DSC07524

Ta-da!

A number of manufacturers used this distinctive Eastlake-style chair-back design; ours, unfortunately, does not have a maker or store label.  However, family history tells us that it was used by Nourse family of Washington, DC and Darnestown.  (It was thought to have been used a generation earlier, by the Darbys of Seneca, but the design of the chair is too late for an 1850s date.)  Mary Alice Darby (1845-1942) of Seneca married druggist/physician Charles H. Nourse; the 1880 census shows the family in a well-to-do household on New York Avenue, DC, with their children Upton Darby, four years old, and Mary Helen, five months old.  They moved to Darnestown, near Mary Alice’s family, soon thereafter.

The highchair descended through the family of son Upton Darby Nourse to his daughter Rebecca Nourse Chinn and then to her daughter (the donor), Jane Chinn Sween.  Like the Jacobs’ chair, it shows evidence of hard use – the woven back and stamped-leather seat bottom (below) are both replacements – and was probably used for more than one generation.  The Nourse high chair can be seen, usually, in the dining room of the Beall-Dawson house (as a baby’s dining chair, not as a walker).

DSC07514
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And now a bonus, to thank my readers for being so patient with today’s at-the-end-of-the-day posting! We have no photos of the above chairs in use … in fact, though we have many pictures of infants and children sitting in baby carriages, on ponies, on the laps and shoulders of family members, and even in a wheelbarrow, we have very few high chair photos.  Happily, we do have this fantastic photo of infant James E. Mason (b. 1896) of Sugarland, posed for a photo in his chair.

Donated by Gwen Hebron Reese.

Donated by Gwen Hebron Reese.

Our Library collection includes photographs of the various efforts of the Montgomery County Community Chest and Council.  “Community Chest” was a name adopted by civic-minded charitable organizations around the country in the early-mid 20th century (many of which were eventually combined under the United Way umbrella); our county’s group was founded in 1943.  Agencies such as local Scout and youth groups, the Public Health Lay Council, and the county Social Service League (founded in 1908, later renamed Family Services Agency) joined the Community Chest and helped organize, fund and run programs like the Christmas Bureau, which provided food, clothing and gifts for families in need.  Here’s a photo of a Toys for Tots delivery to the Volunteer Christmas Bureau Store, circa 1950:

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Toys for Tots was started in 1947, and adopted as an official program of the US Marine Corps Reserve in 1948. This photo from our collections is accompanied by an undated press release, identifying Technical Sergeant Robert E. McPhee “shoulder[ing] one of the cartons of 300 toys delivered this week” to the county Christmas Bureau, along with volunteer clerks Mrs. Sol Goldman, Mrs. Charles Gordon, and Mrs. Seymour Leopold.

In the late 1950s, the Community Chest and Council joined the newly formed Montgomery Health and Welfare Council, “a regional unit of the Health and Welfare Council of the National Capital Area” (according to their 1959 annual report).  The Christmas Bureau was still an important part of the organization’s work, with 391 county families receiving gifts from the Bureau in 1959.  I’ve not figured out where the storefront in the photo above was located, but by the late 1950s the Christmas Bureau store was held at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.  Here’s a photo of two Silver Spring Rotarians preparing a delivery of what looks like ham (?) to the Christmas Bureau store, as helpfully noted by the sign propped next to the loaded station wagon: “We are on our way with Christmas Gifts to the Christmas Store located at Gaithersburg Fair Grounds, Sponsored by the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau.”

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Our collection also includes a few photos of “Santa’s Hideaway,” a temporary mini-store set up in Silver Spring, probably to let children choose their gifts from amongst donated toys and games.  Though the Hideaway has so far proven rather elusive, research-wise, the photos themselves tell us that it was funded in part by Red Feather campaign donations (the Red Feather was a symbol used by the United Givers Fund, later part of the United Way), and supported over several years by local radio station WGAY.  The two images below, from different years, show first a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, attended by various officials (including Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955); and second a group of children, each holding a different toy – though it’s not clear whether they’ve just received them as presents, or they’re preparing to donate them – being interviewed by a very serious-looking WGAY reporter.

051060L(Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955, is second from right; an Ellsworth Drive (Silver Spring) street sign is on the telephone pole.  In addition to the large “WGAY – dial 1050 – The Suburban Maryland Station” banner, a smaller sign advertises radio broadcasts held from the Hideaway: “North Pole Calling” by Chuck Dulane, and “Melody Circus” by Val Thomas.  If you’d care to while away some time with memories and photos of WGAY, here’s a fun website for you.)

051060J(Notice the Red Feather / Community Chest sign, as well as another WGAY sign, and what might be an ad for the Maryland News paper.)

Do you recognize any of the people or locations in the photos posted here?  Do you remember the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau or Santa’s Hideaway campaigns? Let us know!  A little extra knowledge would be a great holiday-of-your-choice gift to myself and our Librarians.  And here’s a gift for those of you who live (or have lived) in the county, and who enjoy surveys: A survey!  We’re planning an exhibit on Montgomery County’s long tradition of civic activism, including but not limited to activities like the ones featured in today’s post.  This survey, put together for us by a graduate student at the University of Maryland History and Library Science program, will help us gather stories and artifacts for the exhibit.

Photos donated to the MCHS Library by the Health and Welfare Council.

 

 

School’s in session once again, so let’s take a look at some early Montgomery County homework.  Our collections include two handwritten exercise books created by a young man attending Damascus area schools, circa 1850.

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Both books are bound with marbled-paper cardboard covers, with leather spines and corners, and measure 12.5” x 8”.  They’re the 19th century version of the composition notebook, basically.  The owner carefully inscribed the title pages with the subject, school, and teacher, as well as his name:

LAB title pages Left: “Larkin A. Beall’s Book. Containing Gauging, Mensuration, Geometry, & Surveying.  As taught by E. Thompson preceptor of Mountradnor School.”  Right: “Double Entry Book Keeping By Larkin A. Beall As Taught by E. Thompson Preceptor & Teacher of Mathematics In Mountradnor School Montgomery County, Md.” (Please note the extra flourishes, which are hard to transcribe.) The bookkeeping notebook also contains a section on mensuration and geometry; those pages are noted, “Larkin A. Beall, [various dates] 1854, James Purdum, Preceptor and teacher at Pleasant Plains School, Montgomery County, Md.” (See below.)  In addition, the names F.E. Beall, Horace Beall, and James O. Etchison are noted in different hands, though Larkin seems to have been the original, and primary, creator.  Dated pages range from 1848 to 1854.

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These were likely workbooks, in which students took dictation, made notes, and solved problems.  Some sections may have been written by the instructor, including notes referencing a printed textbook, and instructions for exercises.

DSC05795 “Exercises in Journalizing
Transaction   |   Journalizing
[pointing hand] Note Refer to the page 172, 173 fur further perticulars under this head” (errors original)

These workbooks give me a lot to cover: schools, study subjects, and people.  Though geometry – specifically, measuring solids – takes up much of the books, I’m going to focus on the bookkeeping section; after all, it’s not often I can say that something was invented in 14th century Italy.  I’ve spoken to two separate people in the last month who have praised the delights of double-entry bookkeeping.  I suspect the satisfaction a bookkeeper derives from a balanced ledger is akin to my own when I match up a set of mystery artifacts with the appropriate paperwork.  However, I do not personally understand this age-old method, so let’s let E. Thompson explain it (all spelling and grammatical errors are from the original):

part second PART SECOND
Double Entry Book Keeping

Double Entry
This term is derived from the fact that every business transacted recorded in the Day book is entered twice in the Ledger one on the debtor and once on the creditor side

Debtor And Creditor
These terms are correlative, the one implies and involve the other  Wherever there is a debtor there must necessarily be a creditor of an equal amount; and wherever there is a creditor there must be a debtor

Application of Debtor and Creditor
In single entry these terms are (with the exception of cash only applied to persons, but in double entry they are applied alike to persons and property, the persons being made [a] debtor for what you have trusted them, and creditor for wat they have paid or trusted you; and the property account being made debtor for the balance or cost of the property, and credit for what it produced when disposed of

On to the people.  Larkin A. Beall (b. 1836) was one of ten children born to Elisha and Alethea Lewis Beall; he grew up on a farm between Damascus and Browningsville (off present-day Bethesda Church Road).  Several of Larkin’s brothers are referenced in the notebooks; Horace and Franklin added their own names, and Larkin noted the deaths of John in 1852 and Evan in 1860.  (There’s also a side note in one of the books about three feet of snow that fell in 24 hours on February 20th, 1854.)  By the early 1860s, Larkin had moved to Washington, DC to pursue a career in retail, with a shop on 7th Street. City records from the 1860s and 1870s describe him variously as “clothier,” “merchant,” “[in] hats,” and “dealer in gents’ furnishing goods.”  Good thing he studied double-entry bookkeeping!

Larkin referenced two Damascus area schools in his workbooks.  E. Guy Jewell, in his manuscript “Damascus: Small But Lively” (1974), identified Mount Radnor as having “stood on the west side of Ridge Road near the intersection of Gue Road” from as early as 1839 until the site was sold to the county school board in the late 1870s.  The Pleasant Plains School was in Purdum, on the other side of Damascus, off present-day Mountain View Road.  (Note that both of these schools were for white children only; Pleasant Plains should not be confused with Pleasant Grove, Purdum’s African American school, which opened in 1869.)

There are two teachers listed in the 1850 census for this election district, but neither of Larkin’s preceptors are among them.  Jewell noted, “Many of the men teachers had their own small farm and taught school for the little extra cash each year.  Remember, the school law then limited teachers’ salaries to ‘not more than $300 per annum.’” With that in mind, 52 year old Elijah Thompson and 37 year old James Purdum, both “farmers” in the 1850 census, become likely candidates for Larkin Beall’s instructors.

Why did Larkin switch schools between 1849 and 1854? Maybe Pleasant Plains opened around that time, and was easier to reach. However, the Bealls lived about halfway between the schools (as the crow flies / as the teenage boy walks across neighbors’ fields), so distance may not have been a factor.  Perhaps one teacher was more congenial, or had a better reputation for mathematical skills.  Although there are a few side notes in the books (see: deaths of brothers, and depth of snow, above), there are few clues to the reason for the switch.

The books were donated to MCHS in 1978 by Lawrence Walter, who informed us that he received them from Miss Estella Drane (1865-1955), a DC school teacher.  Unfortunately (for me, since I like the whole story) it’s not clear how Miss Drane acquired them.

So, children, as you begin this school year full of enthusiasm and excitement, follow Larkin Beall’s example to keep that enthusiasm from flagging as the year progresses: Either take the time to make your notes pretty, with elaborate fonts (not at the expense of your attention span, of course!) . . . or be glad you don’t have to hand-write a textbook’s worth of notes.

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“Directions for posting.”

We have a lot of family photo albums and scrapbooks in the Historical Society collections, along with the archival equivalent* of ye olde traditional “Shoebox of Photos I Never Got Around to Dealing With.”  We also have a few baby books, the commercially printed kind with pages for recording the date of baby’s first teeth, first sounds, first steps, etc.  One of my favorites is this book, which combines the written word with a number of snapshots and photographic portraits to record the early life of one William O. Hazard, Jr., of Garrett Park.

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Billy, as he was called, was born on August 6, 1913 to William Oscar Hazard, Sr., and his wife Maude Wagstaff Hazard; he was their first child.  We don’t know who gave this copy of Baby Days: A Sunbonnet Record (Bertha L. Corbett, 1910) to the happy couple, but one or both parents used it to diligently keep track of Billy’s vital statistics and development milestones, including his first words (“Mamma, Da-da and stick”), his baptismal sponsors, and the guests at his first birthday party.

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The Barth family (descendants of Billy’s younger sister Edith) has donated a large collection related to the Hazards, including clothes, toys, documents, this book, and photographs. Mr. Hazard was a professional photographer, and – as one might expect – he took a lot of photos of his new family.  Choice images appear throughout Billy’s baby book, not only pasted onto the designated pages (“Some precious pictures” and “More snapshots”) but also scattered throughout, sometimes illustrating the written info, sometimes as a little extra.  To the Hazards, the images were as important as the words.

A formal portrait and several snapshots (including both Mother and Father) adorn the "More snapshots" pages.

A formal portrait and several snapshots (including both Mother and Father) adorn the “More snapshots” pages.

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Another photo of Billy, deliberately placed and perhaps showing him in his “First Short Dress.”

These 1915 snapshots, showing Billy enjoying the garden (and the company of a few chickens), are opposite the unrelated page that demands info on Baby's First "Creeping" (crawling). (Which was at 9 months, by the way.)

These 1915 snapshots, showing Billy enjoying the garden (and the company of a few chickens), are pasted opposite the unrelated page that demands info on Baby’s First “Creeping” (crawling). (Which was at 9 months, by the way.)

Baby books – introduced in the late 19th century, but particularly popular starting in the 1910s – are a fantastic source of information, with clues about the lives of babies both as individuals and in the broader historical context.  What illnesses did they suffer?  What gifts and presents were appropriate?  What types of questions do the different books ask?  (E.g., how many modern baby books ask about “first dancing lessons,” as this book does?)

There is scholarship out there on the subject; this Slate article from April, 2013 summarizes some points, and the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library at UCLA has a collection of, and I quote, “More baby books than you can shake a rattle at.”  However, today’s artifact is (at least in this case) intended less as an historic baby book, and more as an example of one family’s creative compilation of their child’s photographic record; the baby book became the photo album.  I had something else on deck for today’s post, but an NPR article caught my eye this morning: What happens to family photo albums in the digital age?  I was particularly struck by the suggestion that we’re in a strange place right now in terms of photo technology; we’ve moved to a primarily digital format, but we don’t yet have a handle on digital photo preservation, and that gap might one day prove problematic.  This might not be something you’ve worried about, blog readers, but believe me, historians, curators, and other museum people are concerned, and we’d like you to be as well.  (It will make our jobs easier someday!) Ready to start prepping your gigabytes of baby pictures, holiday snaps and other images for the future?  Here are some suggestions from the Library of Congress on how to start the process.  You’ll thank us later.

* That is to say, now the photos are stored in acid-free folders instead of shoeboxes.  (And I should clarify that these are donors’ collections of un-albumed photos, not photos the Society hasn’t gotten around to dealing with.)

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