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Secret and long suppressed records of the Froebel Society.

Apr 1, 2013 10:24 AM | 0 comments

This blog post comes with an audio accompaniment. Please put in your ear-buds or ensure that your speakers are turned on, click here, skip the obnoxious ad, and press start before reading on. All will become clear as we go on.

Slowly but surely the manuscripts and archives housed in the Brooklyn Collection are rising out years of obscurity complete with finding aids and arranged into sparkling new acid-free folders. The records of the Froebel Society are the latest to be dusted off and brought into the light of day. It was in 1957 that the ageing members of the Froebel Society, a dwindling cohort of women interested in progressive education and uplifting ideas, decided to wind up their affairs. Active since 1884, the Froebel Society had, it seemed, run its race, reached the finish line, and like many other Brooklyn clubs, succumbed to changes in society and the media that rendered club membership less attractive than staying home and watching the telly. Cognizant as they were of the value and interest of their activities over the last half century to future generations, the far-sighted society members turned to their local library to find a final resting place for the minutes of their meetings, their yearbooks, their accounts. What they did not give us, was their photographs, if they had any, or the silver tea service! I find these omissions hard to forgive.

But we must be grateful for what we do have, and among our Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs we find these two images showing the actual transfer of the materials from the remaining Froebel Society members into the hands of then Chief Librarian Francis St. John. The date is June 1957.

A catalog record for the collection has long been available in OCLC, but I sadly I cannot say that library patrons have been breaking down the doors demanding access to these files. Now, the new finding aid describes some of the activities of the Society and the arrangement of the collection in the confident expectation that those interested in educational movements, women's clubs and related topics will find their way to us.

Friedrich W. A. Froebel (1782-1852) was a German educator who established the idea of the kindergarten and believed in the value of free play in early education. A kindergarten based on Froebel’s principles was established in Brooklyn in the 1880s. According to the Brooklyn Citizen, (Sept 23, 1894) and in the words of one of the officers of the society,
“The Froebel Society was organized in April, 1884. It was the outcome of the desire of the patrons of the Froebel Academy (incorporated 1883) to so understand the principles of education that the home life and the school life might become supplementary parts of one scheme, and was organized out of the mothers and teachers of the academy. Its purpose…continues to be mainly educational..." 

Children at the Froebel Academy, 1945

The Froebel Society was a women's social club that provided cultural programs for its members at their monthly business meetings, and gave them other opportunities to meet in committees such as the "Home Committee," which was particularly scrupulous in recording its proceedings. The Club also took part in the activities of the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs.

The Society's records provide a fascinating window into social practices among middle class women during the first half of the 20th century.They entertained each other frequently at lunches and suppers and their menus were very much of their time. Here is a lunch menu from 1954:

Fruit cup

Ham, peas, sweet potato and pineapple

Tomato aspic salad


Ice cream and special anniversary cake

While the subjects of talks ranged widely through literature, art and politics, a number of our volumes relate to the activities of the Home Committee, which took a particular interest in domestic life. "Fabrics--the key to successful decoration" was the title of one of their talks in 1948. In 1899 a Mrs Benjamin read a piece by Marion Harland entitled "The Mistress' Touch,"  which avers--now pay attention to this--that the "stamp of good housekeeping is the clean soap dish."  Happily, the ladies of 1900 (February 20th) took a somewhat more relaxed view of housekeeping: "It was the general opinion of the ladies...that...if a book was out of its usual place or a few cigar ashes on the carpet not to feel that either interefered with the routine of work."

It all too easy to make fun of  women who were not allowed to vote, or to enter a profession aside from those then prescribed for women such as teaching or nursing.  Women's clubs must have played an important role in keeping women sane and connected to society. Later in 1900 Mrs Benjamin summarizes an article from the magazine Club Women: "The article stated how beneficial Club life had been to women; taking them away from the petty cares and trials of house-keeping for a while, to go back strengthened and refreshed at the same time keeping women young."

Among the many concert programs included in the collection, this one caught my eye. Schulz-Evler's Arabesques on Strauss's Blue Danube Walz (played in this case by the amazing Josef Lhevine) is what you have been listening to if you followed the instructions at the top of this post. Pianist Marian Kalayjian must have had chops!  She played that, but the only note in the minutes is "Miss Marian Kalayjian...rendered a well-chosen group of piano pieces"! There's gratitude for you. I hope at least they had a glass of fruit punch waiting for her on a doily!