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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2019 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Story Circle: 1912

Story Circle: 1912

Washington, D.C., circa 1912. "Neighborhood House meeting room." One of five "Neighborhood House" photos. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.

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Roycroft Hall Bench

Whoops! While preparing my previous post on the Craftsman style, I was so busy squinting at the Elbert Hubbard motto that I failed to notice that the motto is painted on the back boards of a high-back hall bench, not on the wainscoting of the room. The bench was probably made by the Roycrofters furniture workshop, but my copies of their catalogs (reprints) are across town, so I can't verify that. No benches quite like it are currently posted online, and it was probably a pretty scarce form. Does anyone else in the Shorpy Patrol have the catalogs?

How cute!

What an assortment of hats, coats, high button shoes, tights and coats!

All of the children seem to be clean and well-dressed for the weather.

I just love having a glimpse of a moment in time like this.


Craftsman Meeting Room and Motto

The meeting room is a fine example of the Craftsman style of interior design, which was very fashionable in 1901 when the Neighborhood House was built. The key Craftsman style feature seen here is the combination of tall and simple panel-and-frame wainscoting capped by plate rails, with plain, off-white plaster, probably amber colored. The division of the ceiling by simple boxed beams is also a typical feature of the Craftsman style, as is the choice of unvarnished clear redwood (imported from the Pacific Northwest).

The raw wood panels between the archways on the back wall are painted in a pseudo-medieval style with a coat of arms and a motto by Elbert Hubbard: "Do Your Work as Well as You Can and be Kind." Hubbard was the founder and reigning philosopher of Roycroft, a Craftsman cooperative community in East Aurora, New York. Beginning around 1900, this motto was one of several by Hubbard that was sold by the Roycrofters as a decorative wall plaque in a fumed oak frame.

Two degrees of Shorpyation

In 1909, Neighborhood House's founders, Charles and Eugenia Weller, wrote "Neglected Neighbors: Stories of Life in the Alleys, Tenements, and Shanties of the National Capital" The book is illustrated with dozens of photos, most of which are credited "Photo by Hine." Lewis W. Hine, no doubt.

"Theatricals in the Alcove"

I think Anonymous is right: The metal device hanging from the ceiling is stage lighting.

I saw the curtain on the left but could not imagine what it was for. But the curtain put together with the phonograph (also on the left) suggests this room did double duty as an auditorium for school plays, just like today.

But still, with all that gas burning to light the stage, it must have gotten awful hot in there.


I find the variety of hats, from baby bonnet to an "old lady hat", quite fascinating. Almost as much as that thingy hanging from the ceiling. Hurry up with the other prints, Dave. Maybe one of them will reveal the secret of the mystery box.

Gas Floodlight

The meeting room has not yet been converted to electric lighting and all of the fixtures seen are gas. The strange sheet metal ceiling fixture appears to be an open-faced four-jet gas floodlight, perhaps installed for theatricals in the alcove. The jets are the little tube tips spaced along the bottom rim of the sheet metal reflector. The chain suspended behind it is actually one of a pair that dangled from the ends of the control rod on the gas valve in the ceiling tube. The front chain is missing, and the valve is in its closed position. To light the thing, one would pull the (missing) chain to open the gas, and ignite the jets with a long lamplighter's wick. To extinguish it, one would close the valve by pulling the extant rear chain.

Remember discipline?

As a previous commenter noticed, you would NEVER get this many little ladies and gentlemen to sit still and behave in this manner today. From the age of 2 or 3, these kids today are perpetual motion whining machines. If they are not kick-boxing, playing "air" soccer, practicing karate or hanging upside down from the nearest structure, they are arguing with their guardians or annoying a companion. I am totally against anything resembling child abuse, but there was a time when very young children could be controlled in a civilized manner and life ran much more smoothly. These kids may be somewhat uncomfortable, but they are tolerant, patient and obeying the rules and all of them look like little adults. Yes, I know we do not want to stifle their creativity or forbid them from expressing themselves, but this picture really points out a major difference in the past century of raising kids and the results.

Re: The Boy In The Hallway

Poor kid. Whatever happenned, it looks like he was probably scarred by it for a good portion of his adolescence.

Thing on the ceiling.

I'm going to say it's a gas light or heater. The little nozzles on the lower edge look like they would emit the gas, and the chain could be pulled to adjust the height of the flame. Or it's a large fly catcher.

Gas Heater

I think the mystery unit in the ceiling is an open-flame gas heater.

Notice that the sconces and chandelier look like they are gas fixtures fitted with mantles (a non-combustible gauze that increases the luminosity of a gas flame). There is also an absence of wall switches, outlets, or electrical equipment.

The ceiling unit looks like it has four gas jets, which probably cant inwards towards the steel shell. Heating the steel this way increases the amount of heat available to warm the room. The shell shape also probably helps create a draft to circulate the hot air. There are no soot marks because of the clean-burning nature of gas.

There are radiators, so this would be used to take the chill of the room, not a primary source of heat. When finished, the unit could be turned off from floor level by pulling the chain and closing a valve in the down pipe.

Also notice the phonograph horn at the far left. Being a nursery, this unit may be a donation or a hand-me-down because by 1910, the classic horn phonograph was going out of style. The “talking machine novelty” had worn off and the market was asking for record players that looked like furniture, not laboratory equipment.

Babies It's Cold Outside

They all seem to be dressed for the outdoors. Didn't they heat the meeting room? Also, the boy hiding in the shadow of the archway, pointing an accusing finger at someone. He eventually went to work for Department of Justice identifying Anarchists and Bolsheviks.

Large thingy at the ceiling

What, pray tell, is the large thingy suspended from the ceiling at the top center of the image?

Human popsicles

This was the daily game of musical chairs. 33 children, but only 32 chairs in the circle. Notice the horn of the Victrola on the upper left, and the loser in the rear hallway? If the kids are good, the adults will turn on the heat later in the day. If the kids are bad, the adults will pull the chain on whatever that object is, that is hanging from the ceiling, in the middle of the circle.

Then versus now

Try getting that many 5 year olds to behave that well today. Good luck!

Metal piñata

What is the thing hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room?

Neighborhood House

Neighborhood House, which opened as a settlement house at 470 N St. NW, was founded in 1901 by Charles and Eugenia Weller. The Washington socialite Alice Pike Barney was a major benefactor. Today it's known as the Barney Neighborhood House, with headquarters at 5656 3rd St NE.

The Boy in the Hallway

Was he late, and too shy to come in and join the circle? All the chairs appear to be taken. I can relate to that kid.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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