The first week of June signals the end of the school year and empty classrooms until the new school year begins. The picture shows an interior view of a vacated Benicia Grammar School circa 1890, assuming the flags were current at the time the photo was taken. Each flag contains thirty-eight stars, which dates them to the period from 1877-1890. The school, an imposing and ornate three-story building with a grand exterior staircase and pillared porch, was built in 1882-83 and torn down in 1938-39 to make way for the new Grammar School, which now houses the Benicia Unified School District administration building on East Third and K Streets. There are so many interesting details here that supply an abundance of clues as to the philosophic bent of the curriculum being taught at the time, and the ambitious daily schedule the students were expected to accomplish:
9–9:10 Memorizing exercise Monday
9:10-9:25 Recite word analysis
10:50-11 Study arithmetic
11-11:30 Recite arithmetic
11:30 -12:00 Book keeping
1:10-1:40 Study geography
2:35-3:10 Drawing/composition Tuesday & Thursday, civil government Monday, Wednesday & Friday and homework (word analysis/grammar/history/spelling)
Although the wording of the aphorism written on the blackboard to the left of the Program is not entirely decipherable, it appears that the author is the American judge and social reformer Benjamin Barr Lindsey (1869-1943), a pioneer in the establishment of the juvenile court system and a leader in the movement to abolish child labor. To the right of the drawn window shade it is possible to discern a portion of the poem “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Written as a tribute to the 18th century frigate USS Constitution, the popularity of the piece helped to save the ship from being decommissioned. She is now the oldest commissioned vessel in the world still afloat!
Interestingly, it was also Oliver Wendell Holmes who perfected the stereoscope viewer, a number of which can be seen next to the books on the desk at the front of the room. Stereoscopes consist of two prismatic lenses and a wooden stand–when held up and viewed straight on, the inserted stereoscope card presents a photographic image in 3D. On the easel is a map of the thirteen colonies and the U.S. after 1783. There is also a listing of historically significant dates to the immediate right of the door. I appreciate the beautiful cursive handwriting on display and also the lovely form of both the chair and teacher’s desk with a built-in spindle bookcase. We would be pleased to hear from anyone who knows the name of the military gentleman whose portrait hangs to the right of the print or photograph of the ship (which does not appear to be the USS Constitution) as we cannot make out the name. One thing is certain: then, as now, the students were glad to be quit of “…reading and writing and ‘rithmetic,” and left the classroom eager to start their summer vacation.