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Freshman Chemistry: 1925

Freshman Chemistry: 1925

Washington circa 1925. "Mount Vernon Seminary, interior." Someone open a window, it's getting hot in here. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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Department of Homeland Security

This room is now occupied by some employee(s) of the Department of Homeland Security. The Mount Vernon Seminary Nebraska Avenue campus was taken in 1942 by the federal government via the War Powers Act and occupied by the Navy until 2002/3. When DHS was created, it needed a headquarters and the Navy's campus on Nebraska was transferred to the new department for that purpose. A new location has been identified for DHS and it will eventually move and the Nebraska site will more than likely be "excessed" back to the private sector or to the DC government.

Middy Blouses

As someone who grew up in Japan I find these pictures interesting, as that "sailor style" school uniform remained popular there into the 1990's (there are still some schools which use this style of uniform). The adoption of the style there was around the same time as the look became popular in the US, as far as I know - it's just lasted longer.

The look instantly says "school uniform" to me, I am used to them in modern settings but I'm not used to seeing them in an American context.

This blog is amazing. I realize this post is very late, but I've come here moving backward over each page from the latest now in August, it is that compelling!

The writing on the wall

I can see something about Fehling's solution on the blackboard along with diabetes. We did an experiment with that in my high school chem class in 1964-65. I can't recall if eye protection was mandatory (my eyeglasses served somewhat as such). Our instructor was always setting up labs using college chem textbooks.

How Soon We Forget

In the NYC Public School System, the elementary school which I attended ca 1938-1946, we had Friday assembly. The required dress code had the boys in white shirts and red neckties and dark trousers or knickers, the girls wore white middy blouses with red kerchiefs and a dark skirt. We had extremely poor children in the mix, I really don't remember but I've got to assume they weren't strictly held to the rule. This was at P.S.53 in The South Bronx. The neighborhood that it served was from about 163rd Street to 170th Street and to Brook Avenue in the east, and, Grant Avenue to the west.


I think you missed the teacher. She is probably the fortyish woman standing with the pulled-back hair and the lab coat.

Those sailor dresses

The sailor outfits, called middy (midshipman) blouses, were standard, relatively generic school uniforms of the era. I had a class photo of my aunt, born 1924, in such a white blouse and neckerchief from a New York City public school. My mother, who was six years younger and went to the same school, did not get a uniform at all.

These ladies have really nicely made and elaborate versions of the look. The drop-waist on these specific dresses, for instance, is very much in 1920's style. They also actually fit each student gracefully, which off-the-shelf school uniforms rarely do.

You see the plain white middy blouses with the neckerchiefs in many school photos of the early 20th century.

Less Serious as You Go Back

The two ladies in the foreground are dedicated researchers; the air
of seriousness diminishes as you go back, 'till things get downright
playful (another hottie alert!) at the very back.

I'd be inclined to agree..

As of my last high school chemistry class, (Junior year, 2008) I can certainly say that the lab equipment looks exactly the same. Actually, come to think of it, this stuff looks better! This is most likely due to the frugal (see "cheap and miserly") instincts of my town's board of finance.

Different eras, different meanings

A seminary, for most of the 19th and early 20th century, was simply a post-primary-level school. No religious connotations.

And middy suits were common as school uniforms -- and non-uniforms. My collection of 1914-1925 women's magazines shows that middy suits were very popular as school and play clothes for girls up to their late teens. They were washable, sturdy, economical, and easy to sew.


What classroom would be complete without a couple spitwads permanently affixed to the ceiling? Future archaeologists will be surprised to learn that the stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the concrete tunnel that connects my hometown's elementary and jr/sr high schools are man-made.

Hi Sailor!

Was the nautical outfit a school uniform that signifies something? What about the two in white in the rear of the room, were they townies?

Mt Venon Seminary

Mount Vernon Seminary: founded by Elizabeth Somers in 1875 at 204 F St. N.W. (some more history)

1917 advertisement

Nautical Theme

I wonder why the women are dressed in Navy-like uniforms. Was there a nautical connection at Mount Vernon Seminary (now George Washington University at Mount Vernon College)?

That's my sister!

Speaking of the girl in the back, she looks like my little sister, I should say my little sister looks like her. I hope no one got chemicals splashed on them or in their eyes. I see no protective eyewear or anything.

Institutional history

This institution has quite a history. Starting out as home schooling for women after the Civil War, it was a high school, then a junior college, then a four-year college. Ten years ago, its very desirable location was gobbled up by George Washington University and is now the Mount Vernon Campus. Boys live there now!

My eyes!!

This class would never be allowed today. No safety glasses, no fireproof aprons, no gloves. I also don't see any hazardous material disposal containers. Whatever is in those test tubes could shoot out and get all over the person at the next desk. Of course these ladies probably wouldn't sue for damages and emotional distress for every cut, burn or discomfort they might encounter in everyday life. And not to mention the environmental zealots who also might take offense.

Bunsen burners still the same

I took up pre-med classes in the late 1980s and early 90s. And from what I remember, chemistry labs look pretty much the same as this picture. Bunsen burners are nearly identical and chem lab equipment have not changed much. Perhaps the only glaring change is that in modern times, all chemistry labs will include the required "safety faucets" (safety eye wash).

Perfectly normal?

Okay, it's 1925, and there are young women in modified sailor uniforms studying chemistry at a seminary. Have I missed something, or are there a lot of incongruities here?

Open The Windows... What!?

I once worked in a basement office in Manhattan, not unlike this one (but it was a bit more recently). The worst thing about it was that in the winter, you'd get up before sunrise to take the subway to work, and when you left for the day, it was dark again. So, the only time the employees would see daylight was during their lunch breaks.

Some of them were borderline-insane, which doesn't surprise me, looking back at the experience. The place was also infested by huge, inch-long cockroaches which you'd surprise in the hallway occasionally. When I was given a chance to take a vacation in California (at my own expense), I went to the Mojave Desert!

Well hello there!

The girl in the center rear, with the bob and the white blouse has that "Well hello there!" look on her face. Hubba hubba!


I wonder what the different color sashes dictate? That girl in the middle back sure has some eyes.

Hot for Teacher!

The seated women in white near the chalkboard is absolutely stunning!

[They is! - Dave]

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