School group in the North after the Civil War

This early cabinet card has no information on it, but we can make a few reasonable assumptions.  The cabinet card format was introduced in London in 1863 and in the United States in 1866.  The two boys lying on the ground are wearing dark blue hats of the type worn by Union soldiers during the American Civil War (1861-1865).  The hats, called kepis, must have been popular for some years afterward.  The Confederate kepi was grey.

The presence of a dark-skinned young woman, who is presumably African American, also tells us this photo was likely taken in the North, rather than in the South, where schools were segregated by race.  She looks older than most of the kids, as do two young women standing in the same row on the left side.  Were they helping to tutor kids who weren’t at the same academic level as the rest of the group?  Everyone in the photo is holding a book, but I haven’t been able to read the title, even at high magnification.

I’ve cropped the photo into several pieces, below, so you can see everyone in more detail.

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Everyone in the group looks very dignified.  For some of them, this may have been the first time they were ever photographed.

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39 thoughts on “School group in the North after the Civil War

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  1. If the building behind them is the school, it is a substantial building, suggesting that it may contain more then one class, all of which are assembled for the picture. The black woman does appear to be older then many of the children, but not as old as what I am assuming are the teachers. This would not be uncommon since the picture was probably taken around the time of emancipation, affording her probably the first opportunity to go to school. Our one room school had kids from 5 to 21. The boys mostly were the oldest as they got pulled from class in the spring to plant and the fall to harvest.

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  2. So interesting! I love having the cropped images so we can see everyone a bit more close up. I always wonder what instructions the photographer is giving in these kinds of photos, and who is listening and who isn’t-haha. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s good to hear that the detail images are appreciated! In some earlier posts, I added galleries with high-resolution versions of the featured photos instead, but few people seemed to click on them. That made me think that cropping the photos into pieces that could be viewed quickly while reading would be better. Some photos seem to call for it more than others. Thank you, Lemony!

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  3. The group in that photo seems to have been choreographed as much as arranged. I can’t remember ever seeing such a variety of poses. There are some pensive, almost sad, expressions, too. I can’t help wondering what experiences those children had endured in their young lives. I wondered if the three older women were teachers, and the male at the right the headmaster. In any event, if I were to put a caption above his head, it would be, “So sue me, already.”

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  4. Interesting discussion. I was fascinated with the women’s fresses and the many decorative flourished:ruching, pleats, scarf ot collars etc. in looking around i found this site that might be of use in pinpointing a time by the fashions. It lists women’s fashions by decade and describes their evolution. I saw similar dresses in the 1880s but im sure youre a better judge than me at such things. 😊

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    1. I’m terrible at dating women’s fashions! I’d be very surprised if this photo turned out to be from the 1880s, but it’s not impossible. That’s a handy website you found (coincidentally at the University of Vermont). I had landed on it once before, but hadn’t seen the pages you found. Nice work, Andrea! 🙂

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      1. You’re probably right, the differences in fashion in the 60s 70s and 80s were not so very pronounced that a layman like me could tell the difference. Still i love the florals in the leftmost woman’s tunic.

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      2. Yes, the floral tunic must have been pretty. Wonder what color it was? A fabric expert might be able to guess. The plaid piece below the neck of the woman next to her is also nice. (I want to call it a bib but there must be another word for it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Much care was taken in the positioning and posing of everyone. I wonder how long that took to get just right. One of my first reactions was to the young man on the far right – he looks like Abe Lincoln! I wonder if the kids thought so too.

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    1. I hadn’t thought of Mr. Lincoln, but you’re right! The man in the photo has a bony face and deep-set eyes under dark brows like Abe, and his beard probably makes him look older than he was. (The beard could do with a little trimming, in my opinion.) I like his long frock coat!

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      1. Yes! It’s almost like he chose it all for the moment, for the photograph. If only he had the stove pipe hat. 😊. It intrigues me the way the two boys in front are laying down. That’s rather unusual and I wonder why.

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      1. Thank you Brad for your lovely comment. 💗😊 It is a challenge indeed with the cold weather but we can snuggle on the sofa with a soft, warm blanket, a good book and a hot coco. This is what I will do this weekend. Almost Friday, yay!

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  6. You asked if I had any clues where this might be. I have none. It “feels” midwestern to me, but, really, I have no clue. The young African American “woman” looks more like she is in her late teens. I agree the gentleman is most likely the headmaster. I would need to look up the clothing styles. They may be clutching McGuffy Readers. Short of someone recognizing someone in the photo, I don’t know how we would figure it out.

    Liked by 2 people

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