Object Story and Significance:
This artifact is a wooden drawer filled with about 1,350 record cards recording the earliest academic records and physical examination results of male students at various schools, starting with P.S. 108, but many of whom later attended P.S. 23. It is one of two wooden drawers–one holding boys’ student records and the other girls’ student records. Most of the students were born in the early part of the twentieth century but some records go as far back as the 1880s.
The drawers of records help document the history of an important community institution which adapted its education to meaningfully serve the needs of the immigrant and working-class community in which it was rooted. Because every members’ labor was often needed to help families make ends meet, P.S. 23 in this era began offering evening classes and accepted entire working families into their night school. Grandmothers attended English classes and mothers learned dressmaking, millinery and other skills to earn extra income for their families. In 1905, the New York Tribune dubbed Public School 23 “the school of twenty-nine nationalities” for the diversity of its student body, and this included a handful of Chinese students. Over later decades, the bounds of Chinatown gradually expanded to encompass P.S. 23 at 70 Mulberry, and by 1920, about 50 percent of P.S. 23 students were Chinese. By 1950, they became almost entirely Chinese and Chinese American.