Photo of the Week: Brooklyn Women

bhs_v1992.43.13

[Rose: 82 Years Old], 1977, v1992.43.13; Marcia Bricker photograph collection, v1992.043; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week’s photo of the week is in honor of Women’s History Month (also known as March, if you are not in the loop). While a wonderful idea, when I sat down to write about women, I was at a loss as to where to begin. It suddenly seemed like a daunting, and potentially dangerous topic, guaranteed to offend or stereotype somebody. So, I did a search of our image collections to get some ideas, and to see what women in Brooklyn have been up to in the last hundred or so years since the advent of photography. The answer, apparently, is that women in Brooklyn have been doing everything imaginable. Women were riding elephants at Coney Island, swimming at the beach, sitting on rooftops, dancing on boats, playing sports, handling machinery, getting married, holding babies, and having tea with friends, among other things.

It is hard to capture the essence of Brooklyn womanhood with one or two photographs, and I wouldn’t want to try. Instead, please enjoy this random portrait of one Brooklyn woman – Rose. Rose may not represent all women, but Rose’s smile, eyebrows and elaborate hair all hint at a fantastic life and story, and to me that is what Women’s History is – the lives and the stories of all the women like Rose.

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 new 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.

Author: Halley Choiniere

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Brooklyn’s Police Matrons

New York Police Department Police Matron Annie Boylan,

New York Police Department Police Matron Annie Boylan, 1909. 2008.33.4. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

This is the sixth in a series of posts on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which are currently being processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

Of all the cases found in the records of the Corporation Counsel, the most common may be for unpaid salaries owed from the city. The majority of these claims arose from typical municipal positions such as clerks, firemen, and laborers from various departments. Occasionally, I will come across something less common, such as the Department of Health biologist who worked at a laboratory in Rockville Centre. But by far the most interesting and unique salary claim I have found was for a position I had never heard of before: the police matron.

In 1882, a New York state senator introduced a bill calling for the appointment of police matrons to “take charge and care of female prisoners or lodgers and make necessary searches of clothing.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “the measure has been earnestly advocated by many Christian women who have had knowledge of the need of such employes.”[1] That year the first Brooklyn police matrons were appointed and supported not by the city, but by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union[2], which was one of the largest and most influential charitable organizations of the Progressive Era. These early matrons served a role closer to that of a counselor than prison warden.  In May of 1882 Brooklyn’s first matron, H. F. Crocker, reported that she had visited 142 ladies “from girls of 14 to women of 60 and upward; while none of these have been passed by without a word of advice or warning … my efforts are chiefly directed to saving the younger portion, who have just commenced a course of vice and intemperance, or those who evince any desire to lead a better life.”[3]

By 1888 the governor officially passed the police matrons’ bill, which provided that every city must designate at least one station house to confine female prisoners, and appoint “no more than two respectable women” to oversee them.[4] It was hard work – a 1908 New York Times headline reads: “Police Matron’s Job Is Not a Sinecure – What with Preventing Suicides and Lodging Vagrants Her Life’s a Busy One.”[5]

Claim of Catharine Fitzpatrick, 1901;

Claim of Catharine Fitzpatrick, 1901; Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

These new police matrons were now employees of the city.  Catherine Fitzgerald, for instance, was hired by the City of Brooklyn in July 1892. She was paid $800 per annum through 1897.  In 1898, Brooklyn was officially annexed by the City of New York, and her salary was reduced to $720 per annum. This reduction in salary is the basis for numerous claims found in the records of the Corporation Counsel.

This type of claim will be of interest to researchers studying the 1898 consolidation of the City of New York. The consolidation affected all levels of the civil service, from street cleaners to department commissioners. The claim of police matron Catherine Fitzgerald can be used to illustrate the growing influence of the Progressive Movement in the late 19th and early 20th century American cities and the increasing number of working women who populated them.

The records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel will be open to researchers by the end of this year.


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Photo of the Week: The Rooftops of Brooklyn

bhs_rooftops-citationsWhat do you see from your rooftop? Chances are, if you have lived in Brooklyn at any point in the last century, you have spent at least some time on the roof of your building. I have many fond memories of climbing through my window and scaling my fire escape to get to the sunlight and calm of my roof. The rooftops give you space to breathe, and at least the illusion of solitude. Most of the time I am completely alone – a rare and amazing feeling to have in the city – but I also sometimes see people on other rooftops sunbathing, or sitting with a friend, or barbequing, or doing yoga, or simply staring into the distance at a landscape and a city that you can’t see from the street. The rooftops are another layer of the city that only city people can truly appreciate.

The images above have dates spanning from the 1880s to the 1970s, and they give you an idea of how integral rooftops have always been to Brooklyn life and culture. I would even go so far as to say that you haven’t truly experienced Brooklyn until you’ve been to a rooftop barbeque, or visited a rooftop farm, or just gone to your roof to sit for a while.

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 new 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.

Author: Halley Choiniere

 

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Photo of the Week: The Streets of Brooklyn Heights

v1974.29.6

[Street Scene, Brookyn Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y.], circa 1890, v1974.29.6; Brooklyn street scenes glass plate negatives, v1974.029; Brooklyn Historical Society.

I was initially attracted to this photograph, taken somewhere in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights circa 1890, because it is aesthetically pleasing and because I have a soft spot for bowler hats. While I am not certain of the street – perhaps a reader will be able to provide a more exact location for this image – the neighborhood in the photograph seems similar to what it is today. The carriages are gone, but the tree-lined streets and the beautiful homes are still there. After the Fulton Ferry opened in 1814 – connecting the neighborhood to Manhattan – Brooklyn Heights rapidly developed into a residential “country retreat” for Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s wealthy elite.

While the image is pleasing, and the bowler hat is nice, zooming in reveals that the highlight of this photograph is actually the two women on the street behind the man in the hat.  I have no idea what the two ladies are viewing, but their sideways stares make it clear that there is a lot more happening on this street than can be seen.

v1974.29.6

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 new 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.

Author: Halley Choiniere

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Map of the month–March 2014

Map of New York State Parks

New York State Parks. Albany, N.Y. : New York State Council on Parks, ca. 1952. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

I selected this month’s map, New York State Parks, in a lull between February   snowstorms. The illustrator, C. Kroetzer, was clearly counting on exciting viewers’ imaginations with tableaus of outdoor leisure: the map is strewn with pictures of people sunbathing, horseback riding, swinging golf clubs, picnicking, and fishing. (Yes, there are skiers and tobogganers as well, but let’s not linger on them.) I will admit after selecting this map, I spent the last snow day looking at train schedules and thinking about places to visit once spring thaw is over.

Map of the month March 2014 detail 1

Detail of Long Island. New York State Parks. Albany, N.Y. : New York State Council on Parks, ca. 1952. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

The pictorial map is an old genre. Early maps used illustrations to characterize the journey itself as well as the destination. One of the best examples is the Carta Marina of Olaus Magnus, printed in 1539, a map profusely illustrated with animals, coats of arms, armies at war, natural landmarks, personified winds, and of course, sea monsters. The bird’s eye view, a genre touched upon in the November 2013 Map of the Month post, is also in this tradition.

While this month’s map is clearly a pictorial map, it is also a road map, a genre which reached great popularity in the United States during the post-World War II period with the rise of automobile tourism and the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The map itself plainly shows state roads leading to the parks, and a close look at the legend reveals a table of miles of parkway completed and under construction by region. (The map is dated ca. 1952 based on the state of parkway completion depicted.) On the legend under Binghamton, we learn that Robert Moses was the Chairman of the State Council of Parks (in addition to several other state and city appointments, including New York City Parks Commissioner). Moses and other state planners believed that the parkway system was integral to the state park system.

Other details underline this map’s affinity to the road map. The entire sheet folds to standard road map dimensions–at 23 x 11 cm., it is perfect for the glove compartment–and the  cover depicts a generic cloverleaf traffic exchange—a curious choice for this advertisement for the recreational wonders of New York State Parks.

Map of the month March 2014 detail 2

Cover. New York State Parks. Albany, N.Y. : New York State Council on Parks, ca. 1952. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

There is much more to this sheet. The map is only half of one side. Stop by and see for yourself. You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. Appointments are not required to view most maps.

This map was cataloged with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

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