Our Strategic Vision

1947-48, the year BFS was nearly lost, Part I

A jaw-dropping BFS moment of my last ten years working at my alma mater occurred in 2006, during preparations to renovate the MS/US Library on the 3rd floor of 375 Pearl Street. I came to work one day to find a large and worn scrapbook on my desk chair, accompanied by a tiny note from MS/US librarian Angela Ungaro which read, “You are going to love me.” She was right.

What Angie had given me was the 1947-1948 Fight to Save BFS Scrapbook, detailing one of the most important moments in the school’s history, something completely forgotten by BFS almost 60 years later. With a lot of help from our friends and those who soon became friends, we successfully fought to save Brooklyn Friends School and the Brooklyn Meeting House from the City of New York’s wrecking ball, when the properties owned by New York Monthly Meeting were to planned to become the site of the Brooklyn House of Detention. No matter that this event was forgotten for decades – it is an example of the best kind of history one can rediscover.

For those unfamiliar with the story of how BFS was joined by individuals and organizations in its successful fight against City Hall, readers might enjoy the article How Good Citizenship Saved BFS, published in 2008 as part of the celebration of both the school’s 140th anniversary and the Upper School’s 100th anniversary. The scrapbook and further newspaper research provided almost every detail for that article.

I recently completed scanning the 1947-1948 Fight to Save BFS Scrapbook. In the years since its emergence from that library shelf, I have added related material which was donated to the school. In 2009, Nada Davies Barry ’48 kindly gave newspaper clippings and notes from 1947-48 Student Council meetings: without a complete run of The Life it is nearly impossible to understand how our students responded, so Nada’s contribution helped greatly. Also, in 2007, Mary Doty, member of Brooklyn Meeting, former faculty, alum parent, and daughter of alumna Anne Chapman Booth ’27, donated a file she found in her mother’s home which contained plans and correspondence concerning the possible move of both BFS and the Brooklyn Meeting House, kept by Anne’s father, A. Wright Chapman, a 19th Century BFS alum, member of Brooklyn Meeting, who was also the Treasurer of Turner Construction which had great ties to BFS. Mary Doty’s donation helped shed light on the actions of New York Monthly Meeting just in time for the article. The contributions from Mary and Nada are included at the end of the scanned scrapbook.

This moment in our school’s history is also important to the history of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting. Michael L. Black mentioned it prominently in his two lectures commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Brooklyn Meeting House in 2008:
A Humble but Illustrious History: Quakers in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Meeting House and Quakers in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Brooklyn Meeting had also forgotten this moment from its past, so we were delighted to share with Brooklyn Meeting a short while before its 150th celebrations.

As is often the case, there was much more to the story than could be told in 2008. Some tidbits were unknown at the time and others simply did not make it into that original article. There were also things I sensed but could not prove until only recently. I look forward to sharing the rest of this BFS tale next week in Part 2.