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The Children's Song: 1910

The Children's Song: 1910

Washington, D.C., circa 1910. "Potomac School." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.


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The girl on the lower right

The have lived and they are now gone but the girl on the lower right was sure beautiful.


Assuming there are not more than two doors in the room, both of the ones in view are blocked; one by a dollhouse and one by a desk. All that wood wouldn't give them a chance. Fire marshal!

The word is "plump"

Alas, it struck me that today at least half of these children would be classed as overweight or even obese. That they are obviously healthy would not be meaningful.

No, indeed it would not -- even little kids are being dragged into the bizarre hysteria over body size these days. It's such a shame.

But in the pic, I love the look on that boy toward the right in the sailor suit. He was probably a dynamo at recess.

Look out below!

The girl front and center seems to be seated on a trap door or lift of some kind. Perhaps that's why her head is bobbing -- she's about to descend.


Beautiful penmanship by the teacher in the Kipling quotation. It's a lost art. As a kid with a horrible handwriting that no repetition could cure, I have to admire the teacher's work.

Do you like Kipling?

"I don't know, you naughty boy, I've never kippled".

No one has commented on the Kipling quote on the blackboard, exhorting youngsters to take their place as "men and women with their race." Yes, times were different. Very proper children in a fine school who are learning that "their place" is distinct from the place of those other kids we see in Shorpy.

In 20 years or so, they will witness the Great Depression, if they survive World War I and the flu pandemic. Perhaps their attitudes toward "place" will be adjusted.

Very Little Changed

The elementary school I attended from 1967 to 1975 was built in the mid-20s. The classrooms looked exactly the same save the ye olde desks. Transoms above doors? Check. Creaky wooden floors? Check. Chalk boards? Check. Pictures above the chalk boards? Check. Only thing missing which I'm sure is on the other side of the room? Portraits of Lincoln and Washington.


I'm pretty sure we had the same Birds of America cards up in the back our classroom a mere eighty years later.

Whose School Is This?

Before we wax too poetic about the advantages of American life in 1910, let's take stock--from evidence on this site.

In this photo, we have a modern schoolroom full of clean, well-dressed pre-teen children, surrounded by adults who cared for them, and ready to learn.

While the kids in this photo were taken to school, Donny Cole had probably been on the job for a couple of hours in Birmingham .

While these kids were tucked into bed, eight-year-old Gurley was selling papers on the streets in St. Louis.

While the kids in today's photo were on their way home to a nice supper, these kids had probably been at work for several hours .

And while today's group was in class, we all know what our eponymous Shorpy was up to .

All these photos, say the captions, were snapped in 1910. Go figure.

Please explain

"Concepts and facts" that are "far beyond the reach of high schoolers today"?? I graduated high school in 2002 and remember learning the exact same things about Kipling, Smith, etc.


Please take careful note of the topics on both chalkboards. The students -- mid elementary at most -- are being exposed to concepts and facts that are far beyond the reach of high schoolers of today.

How did the regression of student expectation take place?

Oh dear

Alas, it struck me that today at least half of these children would be classed as overweight or even obese. That they are obviously healthy would not be meaningful.


So none of these girls are hotties, right? Not even the pretty blonde in plaid with the Kirsten Dunst smile? Now I don't know when it's OK to use that title any more.

"Real Writing"

When we learned cursive in the 3rd grade we called it "real writing" in our elementary school. But, I've never seen "real writing" as precise as on the board in this photo. As my teacher would say, "make it big, round and clear".

Ol' Snakebow

I'm sure the girl with the white bow cried when she saw this. She obviously dressed very carefully for the picture. But having the "Unite or Die" segmented snake seemingly perched on top of one's beautiful headpiece in the school picture must have required years of therapy to overcome.

The Mystery Girl

Wow-there is SO much to look at in this picture.

I guess the thing I find most interesting is that the only person in the picture who does not have her hands folded on her desk is the little girl with the cryptic look on her face and who is wearing a dress that looks distinctly different than the dresses of the other little girls. It is so much fun to try to imagine the story of a person like her, and her place in this class.

Tech made to last...

When I was in primary school (1969) we still used desks just like these. Even the inkwell was there, although we used ballpoint pens.

It's the little things.

Very nice shading on Franklin's snake cartoon.

And I wish my teachers had paid as much attention to posture and ergonomics when I was in school. I'd have loved to have had my feet firmly placed on a footrest, instead of dangling beneath my chair.

I Love This Photo

It's amazing to think these are children in 1910 with their entire lives before them, and that it all happened and ended so many years before I was born. I feel like I could leap back in time into this room as a younger version of myself, and be one of their friends and classmates. Notice their art projects on the back wall?

Boys & Girls

Potomac School
Boys And Girls
Kindergarten and Seven Grades
Seventh year begins October 12, 1910.
Address: Kate M Estey, Principal,
1200 Eighteenth St.


"Join or Die"

The "join or die" emblem on the rear chalkboard is really neat! And they are so well dressed and behaved, certainly a world away from my elementary school days.


We're all in our places with bright shining faces!

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