JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Schooling immigrants to NYC, c. 1900 #general
Jania SOMMERS poses several questions about schooling non-English speaking
immigrants to New York City--specifically, to The Bronx--c. 1900.
I am going to make comments based on my own family's oral history.
Certainly, children arriving in New York were regularly put into the public
school system which, at that moment, probably was the finest free school
system in the history of the world.
Children who did not speak English were placed in the lower grades,
regardless of their ages. As they learned English, they quickly were promoted,
however. More often than not, I was told, they did graduate at an age-appropriate
In those days, "grammar school" ended at 8th grade, when most students were
age 14. If a family was desperately poor--often the fact--many children left
school then to go out and get jobs, more often than not contributing their
earnings to the joint family coffers. This was not considered to be "dropping
out of school." "High school" continued until 12th grade, when the
appropriate age at graduation, then as now, was 18. Only the richest and
smartest continued to college--and, at that time, financial ability probably
was more of a determining factor in making this decision than was intelligence.
There were night schools at that point in time, but I do not think that
these served school-age children. They were attended by non-English speaking
adult immigrants; those who, theoretically, were lucky enough to have jobs
during the business day.
At the early part of the 20th century, The Bronx often was treated as a
continuation of Manhattan. In fact, until only recently, The Bronx was the only
other borough of New York City's five boroughs which shared the famous "212"
telephone area code. And it recently was pointed out to me that people >from
the other three boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island) say that they're
going to "the city" when they head to Manhattan, while people >from The Bronx
say that they are going "downtown." So it well may be that the school records
for The Bronx, particularly at that point in time, are merged with those of
New York City