Citizenship aid class, Tompkins Square, New York (1921)

Along the bottom edge of this photograph are the words “Tompkins Square Citizenship Aid Class,” followed by “Intermediate.”

Tompkins Square (1921) 6

On the chalkboard at the back of the room, the teacher has helpfully recorded the date: Tuesday, March 15, 1921.

The photo may be examined in higher resolution below.  I’ve divided it into two parts.  Click on either part, then select the link in the lower right corner of your screen which says “View full size.”

The teacher has struck a dramatic pose at the right side of the room.  Her students are all well-dressed.  A few are smiling with amusement, but there’s an atmosphere of respect and cordiality in the room.  They’ve come to learn, and they appreciate the effort this dignified woman is making on their behalf.



The class was likely held at the Tompkins Square Branch of the New York Public Library.  The library’s website says:

The Tompkins Square Branch of The New York Public Library has been serving residents of Manhattan’s Lower East Side since 1904.[…] Designed by esteemed architects McKim, Mead and White, and constructed with funds donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the three-story branch has sixteen-foot ceilings and a spacious children’s room on the second floor.

Traditionally, Tompkins Square has served varied ethnic populations, including German, Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian, and, since the 1960s, a thriving arts community.


A stamp on the back of the photograph identifies it as having been produced by the International Film Service Company, Inc.

Tompkins Square (1921) 5


Here’s to the teachers and the helpers.



8 thoughts on “Citizenship aid class, Tompkins Square, New York (1921)

Add yours

  1. Would this photo have been taken before or after they acquired citizenship? I bet a lot of friends were made from it in the process. 🙂 As well as the photo itself, I love the pictures in the frames in the display cabinet.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Val, I’m sure the class was done in preparation for citizenship. The social aspect probably helped a lot. These immigrants–possibly displaced by the First World War–would have felt isolated from mainstream society and dependent on each other for information.

      It’s hard to see what the pictures in the cabinet depict, but the images look Egyptian or maybe Biblical.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I wish we could see what’s written on the blackboard and what book the students have in their hands! I like the way the glass on the case reflects the faces of some of the people in the room. Wonderful photo and social history! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

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