To celebrate NYC Homecoming and the reopening of city schools post covid school closures in 2021, students and staff at The Washington Irving Campus launched an interactive exhibition on the history of teaching, learning and student life in the historic Washington Irving Campus Library. Students are leading the research, design, curation, and facilitation of the exhibition, continuing in the great tradition of service learning and activism, similar to students of years ago who first protested for the building's construction in 1909.
These amazing educational artifacts focus public schooling on career and technical education, community building, service learning and civic engagement. Students collaborate with Union Square Academy for Health Sciences social studies teacher and instructional coach David Edelman, the campus' librarian Tracy Karas, and custodial staff to collect, preserve, analyze and curate objects from our school building's history. Students have also collected oral histories from alumni and staff including community organizer, radio personality and musician Gilda Miros.
Items such as the WIHS 1924-1925 instructional record details vocational training, instructional practices, field trips, projects, community events and experiential learning with great attention and care tied to building community, relationships, rigor, relevance and realness.
The record captures stories of students, the school choir and Principal Meade describing WIHS as a "composite school of both academics and industry that fosters both technical skills for the workforce and the ability of students to solve to problems of the living boy and girl." Click the link above to listen to it.
Items on display are categorized and curated by students into several categories: 1.Civic Engagement, 2.The Arts, 3.CTE (Career & Technical Education), historically known as Vocational Studies & 4.Student Life.
Members of student government helped create an interactive scavenger hunt in which students, staff and guests collaborate and compete to learn about the history of the school, its connections to local history, world events and civic engagement.
If you are an alumni, guest or community partner and would like to visit our exhibit, record an oral history, engage in a scavenger hunt, dip pen writing tutorial or student led docent tour, please reach out here.
Special thanks to: Jose Valdez, campus building custodian, who preserved and protected many of these amazing artifacts. Tia Keenan, a community activist whose grandmother Rosemarie Morale graduated from Washington Irving in 1950 with a concentration in dressmaking who donated an old Theodore Kundtz manufactured school desk with a built in ink well. As well as Marty Raskin, retired NYC educator in pursuit of new homes to display school history, who graciously shared various documents and objects about W.I.H.S. from his collection
Students in 1913 training to be nurses at W.I.H.S
Known initially in 1903 as Girls' Technical High School, and then renamed Washington Irving High School in 1909, the school was the idea of progressive educator William McAndrew as an educational center large enough to house the institution, at the time part of Wadleigh, the only girls' high school that existed in multiple locations around New York City. In an about-face, in 2011, Washington Irving High School was gradually phased out as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg emphasized the creation of new, small, specialized high schools. Currently 1 Success Academy Elementary School and 5 smaller Department of Education High Schools, all with various Career & Technical specializations, operate in the building, now renamed
WIHS was the first comprehensive all girls "composite school" in the US to focused specifically on:
Vocational Training, Academics & Civics
Very similar to the educational philosophy of the NYC DOE today which prioritizes Career & Technical Education through new, innovative schools focused to provide students with specific employable technical training, internships, as well as liberal arts academia, in 1909, Principal McAndrew believed that girls training for vocational or technical trades and those undertaking an academic curriculum should be educated together to improve students access to academics, vocational opportunity and since all students have much to teach and learn from one another.
Vocational programs included housekeeping, nursing, marketing, care of babies, laundering, embroidery, plain sewing, garment making, costume designing, drawing, illustrating, plain and fancy cooking, entertaining, sanitation, picture hanging, telephoning, dancing, stair-climbing, typewriting, bookkeeping, stenography, salesmanship, office management, bookbinding, cataloguing, commercial filing, printing, photography, gardening, newspaper writing, in addition to the usual high school academic subjects.
Construction on the school began in 1911 after student led protests in front of the Board of Education in 1909. Washington Irving first opened its doors after a lavish street parade in 1913. Principal McAndrew believed in deemphasizing classical studies and was a proponent of a more civic focused curriculum. Although McAndrew designed the curriculum to favor employers, in the words of Principal Mary Meade "he did not believe that private business should ever be entrusted with direct control over schools."
Superintendent of School buildings C.B.J. Snyder designed a seven-story brick, limestone, and terra-cotta structure with an imposing arched entrance, paired round-arched Florentine Renaissance windows on the seventh floor, a deep cornice, and a tiled hip roof. The lobby is decorated with 12 murals depicting the history of New Amsterdam by America’s most prolific muralist Barry Faulkner whose work is also in the National Archives rotunda in Washington, DC. A bust of Washington Irving by Friedrich Beer was placed in front of the building in 1935 as part of a Great Depression WPA program to repurpose public art and was re-pedestaled in 2023. The exterior of the building and the statue is featured in the opening credits of the TV show Head Of The Class
The building was to cost $600,000. Two years later the proposed building was enlarged with the addition of another story and a flat roof that would be available for recreation. This also made WIHS the tallest educational complex in the country at construction. In 1938 7,023 girls attended WIHS making it also the most populated high school in America and perhaps the first to have rooftop greenhouses in NYC.
Boys did not attend the school up until 1986 when Title IX legislation first passed in 1972 began to be enforced at the school. This coed phase of WIHS can be observed in students' yearbooks from 1986 to 1989 which was the first graduating class to be coed.
You can learn more about the history or Washington Irving High School from the words of students and staff of year's past in several issues of the student journal The Daisy and The Staff Manual Writs of Assistance
Before Washington Irving High School occupied Irving Place & 16th Street it was home to the National Conservatory of Music. The world famous Antonín Dvořák was the Director in the 1890s. He lived two blocks away near the statue of him in Stuyvesant Square Park. During Dvořák's tenure as Director he hired the baritone and Composer H.T Burleigh, who's parents were born into slavery in America, who introduced Dvořák and largely white audiences to African American spiritual music. The People's Symphony which performs in the campus' auditorium pays tribute to this history and plays the music of the Czech Composer and the American H.T Burleigh