Erasmus Hall records
Language of Materials
Records (known as the Archives) of Erasmus Hall Academy (1787–1896) and its successor, Erasmus Hall High School (1896–circa 1975), at 911 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn. The first school chartered by the Regents of the State of New York, Erasmus Hall educated, initially, the children of Dutch-speaking farmers of Flatbush, and, later, thousands of students in the Brooklyn and New York City Board of Education systems, including many future prize-winning actors, authors, artists, musicians, scientists, and sports figures. Along with trustees' minutes (1787–1896) and the school's newspaper, The Dutchman (1925–1974), the collection contains material documenting the history of Brooklyn (such as registers of electors and voters in Flatbush, 1859–1860) and papers from the early Cowenhoven, Lefferts, Lott, Martense, Vanderveer, and Zabriskie families (such as a 1797 bill of sale to Garret Martense for an enslaved woman named Peg).
Erasmus Hall Academy, named in honor of Dutch scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536), was established in 1786 to educate the sons (and, beginning in 1803, the daughters) of the farmers of Flatbush, then an independent town of Kings County. Erasmus Hall was the first school chartered by the Board of Regents in New York State (1787), and remained a private institution for over a century. In 1894 the City of Brooklyn annexed Flatbush, and in 1896 its Board of Education took deed to Erasmus Hall. (In 1898 the City of Brooklyn became a borough of Greater New York, and the Brooklyn Board of Education was supplanted by the New York City Board of Education.) Construction of a new Erasmus Hall High School at 911 Flatbush Avenue was in four phases between 1905 and 1940, and resulted in a Collegiate Gothic complex around a courtyard that preserves the original Federal-style Academy building. Excellent for much of the twentieth century—Erasmus Hall produced such luminaries as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bernard Malamud and singer Barbra Streisand—the school's prominence declined in the 1970s and 1980s. Centered in the heart of then crime-ridden Flatbush, Erasmus saw frequent violence and generally poor performance. It was closed in 1994 and split internally into five smaller high schools, each with a distinct academic focus and its own administration, but sharing the common lunchroom, gymnasium, library, and auditorium.
[This note draws from B. Kimberly Taylor, "Erasmus Hall High School and Academy of the Arts," in The Encyclopedia of New York City, Kenneth T. Jackson, editor, 2nd edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 419, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's designation report for Erasmus Hall High School.]
This collection is not processed. It came to the New-York Historical Society from Erasmus Hall in two record cases (totaling 20 drawers), 39 document boxes (called "manuscript boxes"), and assorted cardboard boxes of objects, memorabilia, and framed illustrations. To ship the collection offsite, material from record case drawers has been transferred to boxes, which are numbered "RC-1," "RC-2," etc., with "RC" standing for "Record Case" and the numeral representing the drawer. In instances where a single drawer held items too large or too numerous to fit comfortably inside one box, that box has been split in multiple parts labeled "a," "b," and sometimes "c," e.g., "RC-5a" and "RC-5b." Material in document boxes remains in those containers and follows the original numbering, but with the prefix "MS": "MS-1," "MS-2," and so on.
While the collection was still housed at Erasmus, alumnus Joseph W. Halpern (class of 1972) indexed it by author, subject, and title, and indicated on catalog cards in which drawer or box to find a particular item. The current finding aid attempts to replicate Halpern's card catalog and provides a nearly verbatim transcription of his work, including some repetition of items that appear under their authors, subjects, or titles.
The container list retains Halpern's subject scheme except for one significant change: where he spelled out and alphabetized entries for the school's various anniversary celebrations—such as "Erasmus Hall High School—One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary (1937)"—the archivist has regularized the headings and listed them chronologically, e.g., "Erasmus Hall High School—150th anniversary of charter (1937)," followed by "Erasmus Hall High School—165th anniversary of charter (1952)," etc.
Items cataloged by Halpern, but which were not located when the collection was boxed for offsite storage in 2021, are marked "[NOT PRESENT]."
The original item-level, alphabetical card catalog to this collection, compiled by Joseph W. Halpern (Erasmus Hall Class of '72), is stored offsite in Box RC-25. A bound photocopy is retained by the New-York Historical Society Manuscript Department, but the present finding aid provides a nearly verbatim transcription of Halpern's catalog.
Scope and Contents
Records (also referred to as the Archives) of Erasmus Hall Academy (1787–1896) and its successor, Erasmus Hall High School (1896–circa 1975). The collection includes the school's charter, granted by the Regents of the State of New York and signed by Governor George Clinton on November 20, 1787; trustees' meeting minutes (1787–1896); annual reports; course and library catalogs; school handbooks; school histories and student publications (notably, the newspaper, The Dutchman, 1925–1974, and yearbook, The Arch, 1929–1978); autographs of prominent alumni and public figures; numerous photographs, postcards, and other views of the student body and school campus; scrapbooks; examples of early printing and illuminated manuscripts (one dated 1325); an Albrecht Dürer engraving of Desiderius Erasmus (circa 1600); and meteorological observations taken daily at the school (1826–1869). Also present are materials documenting the history of Brooklyn and the Flatbush neighborhood, such as the minutes of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Flatbush (1836–1838); registers of electors and voters in the Town of Flatbush (1859–1860); and account books, papers, receipts, and artifacts from the early Cowenhoven, Lefferts, Lott, Vanderveer, and Zabriskie families.
With the exception of one box (RC-19a) and three oversize folders, the bulk of this collection is stored offsite. To arrange to consult it, please go to www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff. Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282. Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: www.nyhistory.org/rights-and-reproductions.
This collection should be cited as: Erasmus Hall Records, MS 201, New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of the Board of Education of the City of New York, 1979.
The following works of art have been transferred to the New-York Historical Society's museum:
•Erasmus Hall Academy, Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, 1826. Watercolor by Charles Burton (1979.81)
•John Henry Livingston, DD (1746–1825), ca. 1810. Oil on canvas by Abraham G. D. Tuthill (1979.82)
•Jonathan Warren Kellogg (1780–1853). Oil on panel by an unidentified artist (1979.83)
•Dr. John L. Zabriskie (1831–1895), ca. 1890. Oil on linen by M. S. Jenger (1979.84)
About this Guide
This collection is not processed, but remains largely in the order in which it came to the New-York Historical Society in 1979. In 2021, to prepare the collection for offsite shipment, archivist Joseph Ditta transferred the portion that was housed in record case drawers to record cartons. Material in document boxes was not rehoused. A number of items were removed from glass frames by N-YHS conservators, who also supplied appropriate containers for fragile, oversize items.