New-York Historical Society Student Historians

This blog will highlight the work of teens participating in our nationally recognized Student Historian Internship Program at the New-York Historical Society. You can follow the Teen Leaders, interns who are in their second round here at New-York Historical, as they explore and research the museum and library collections in order to curate a pop-up exhibition on Governors Island opening July 2014. In addition to posts revealing their curatorial process, this blog will feature updates from our first year interns as well. Stay tuned as our teens share their unique perspective, informed by one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials that document and illuminate the history of the United States and New York.

The Student Historian High School Internship Program is supported by a generous grant from The New York Life Foundation and through an endowment established by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

Bill Cunningham: Facades & Fashion

For the past few months, the New-York Historical Society has displayed a marvelous collection of historical street style photography in the Bill Cunningham: Facades exhibit. From 1968 to 1976, the world-renowned photographer staged models in period costume in front of iconic New York streets and buildings, simultaneously invoking the vestiges of the past while documenting the growing interest in preservation in his own time.

  84782d_StPaulsChapel_BillCunningham.jpg                 84794d_BowerySavingsBank_BillCunningham.jpg          

Before this sartorial exhibition closes on June 15th, I wanted to explore other ways fashion has been displayed and shared throughout American history. While this blog post only allows for a few of the many examples, it shows how the accessibility to fashion trends and advances in technology go hand in hand.   

Early in American history, new fashion designs were displayed in millinery shops (where hats, trimmings, and articles of clothing were sold) on small bisque or porcelain figures called fashion dolls. Often referred to as Pandora dolls, they were the precursors to both the fashion dolls that young children play with today (such as Barbie dolls) and the representation of clothing details in magazines. The dolls were meant to help customers imagine what a finished garment might look like, and also helped dressmakers advertise their talents. A local modiste would receive these small dolls from the fashion capitals of Europe, like the French court, during 1700’s and 1800’s when these dolls were most popular. Every detail on each figure was carefully crafted, from the coiffed hair to the dainty miniature shoes, so that the particular fashion trends the doll conveyed could be perfectly replicated all over the world.

pandora-doll1.jpg 34lft-465x692.jpg                 pandora-doll-3.jpg


Magazines have played a large role in making new fashions accessible to the general public, even as early as the 1600’s. In the 17th century, magazines and newspaper columns chronicled what the nobility or local gentry wore. These written descriptions usually were found in the midst of accounts of notable events, similar to gossip columns today. When printing detailed sketches and drawings became easier, these magazines began including clothing patterns and images. In the late 18th century, a British publication called the Lady’s Monthly Museum became very popular, not only for its fashion but also for its advice columns. In 1867 Harper’s Bazaar, one of the most well-known magazines, debuted its first edition. Vogue began in 1892, and Women’s Wear Daily followed in 1910.                    04-vogue-covers_113720464996.jpgvogue-cover-1.jpg 

While the current N-YHS exhibit focuses on Bill Cunningham’s Facades work, many people know Cunningham’s name just from the many photographs he takes for fashion magazines or The New York Times. Along with Scott Schuman, the creator of the wildly popular blog The Sartorialist, Cunningham reinvented the world of fashion journalism. Bloggers like Susie Bubble and Hanneli Mustaparta are now known for exactly that kind of journalism style. Street style photography litters the pages of magazines, and can turn everyday fashionistas into virtual celebrities. In addition to The Sartorialist, other popular style blogs that feature personal style photography are Sea of Shoes and Face Hunter.  

 july-10-2011-bill-cunningham.jpg 03street-600.jpg                              tumblr_ltja5g9ib11qc4h0g.jpg

Cunningham manages to merge the long-established interest in how one presents oneself to the world with the modern concept of blog-like street style photography. By representing the fashion and architectural history of New York with the digital technology of today, he incorporates the past into the present. How fashion is accessed constantly changes, but as Cunningham shows, our interest in it hasn’t faded in time.


-Rebecca Ennis

Fernando Wood

Fernando Wood is not the most common name associated with the Civil War, but, he was, and should be known for his “southern states-rights” sentiments.  Wood was the Mayor of New York City from 1859 until 1865.  He is known as a man of contradictions.  According to Horace Greeley’s Tribune “no man ever went into higher office under a deeper cloud of ignominy.”  Wood made it clear that he wanted to preserve states’ rights.   Ultimately he hoped to have New York City secede; for, he believed in a needed autonomy for the City due to its national importance (evidenced by the internal conflict New York faced during the Civil War). Wood specifically believed that secession would prove profitable because it would allow New York City to continue the cotton trade with the Confederacy. In order to understand Woods’ desire to secede and have New York City become its own entity it is important to understand the place of New York City in the context of the Civil War.  Some may even say that New York City could be seen as a microcosm of the Civil War itself; although no battles actually took place in the City the ideological tensions were just as fervent if not more.  New York City was divided for many reasons, possibly the largest source of tension was the economic role that New York played nationally (in both the North and the South). 

It was difficult for the North and South to function without one another because of their interrelated nature.  Some have even said that the south could be considered a “colony of the North.”  Southern states were responsible for the production of cotton and other raw materials that were then shipped to the north to be manufactured.  The finished goods were then shipped and sold back to southern states.  This symbiotic relationship was inevitably disrupted when the southern states seceded. The south did not have enough man power to fight a war and produce the same amount of raw materials; similarly, they lost the final products typically shipped from the northern industrial states. New York felt all of the residual effects of the awkward break between the north and south, for, it thrived though southern business and trade.

Possibly the most controversial action taken by Wood was his unauthorized communication and support shows with the Southern states; this made clear his belief in the ideas of “states’ rights.” Overstepping these power structure boundaries is ultimately what has profiled Wood as the somewhat enigmatic character he is. A man who supported the north-south relation but ultimately supported New York City as its own entity.  He believed that if New York was to secede it could resume trade with the south and avoid economic limitations created by the war.

-Lienne Harrington


The Great American Schism

     At the turn of the 19th Century, America was expanding at an exponential rate. As more and more territory was acquired, the debate between whether or not to create new lands of inequality with the presence of slavery grew. As the country continually expanded, boths sides - pro and against - vowed to fight for what they believed in, all for the United States to become the land of opportunity - interpreted by each very differently. Towards the middle of the Century, the debate over territorial influence grew and produced a political dialogue as seen through Compact vs. Contract theory - who should have more control, States or the Federal Government? As more time passed, more and more states throughout the South believed that the Federal Government was encroaching upon their individual rights, and felt extremely disconnected from the capitol, expressing concerns over being marginalized. After cumulatively meeting, many States throughout the South believed that it was only appropriate to leave the Union in order to protect their sovereignty. A new President, Jefferson Davis, took office, and the Confederacy was established. First, let’s establish what States were exactly under the tutelage of President Jefferson Davis. In order of admission, here are the states that entered the Confederate States of America:

  1. South Carolina

  2. Mississippi

  3. Florida

  4. Alabama

  5. Georgia

  6. Louisiana

  7. Texas

  8. Virginia

  9. Arkansas

  10. North Carolina

  11. Tennessee


                  (The Confederate States of America seen in red)

      Now that we know what states were exactly admitted into the Confederacy, let us explore the many reasons for secession. Sectionalism existed throughout the United States from its inception. Industry varied from region, where the Southern and Northern economies greatly differed. The North mirrored that of an industrialized nation, with diversification of the work force, and established cities such as New York, and Boston. The South at the time represented somewhat of a feudal state, where plantation owners represented the lords, and the slaves like the serfs of Medieval Europe. Cotton ruled the South, quickly rising to become the most lucrative commodity during the 19th-century; cotton needed an efficient method of processing, and that came with long-established slave labor. Although slaves were seldom seen throughout the North, large plantations relied entirely on slave labor in order to produce goods to support the worldwide demand for raw materials - especially cotton.

    Following a national discussion on the continuity of slavery as a practice, and whether or not slavery was a necessary part of the United States, the slave states of the South decided to meet to discuss the issues at hand, and respond to the growing national criticism against their way of life. The Montgomery Convention in 1861 resulted in the formation of the Confederacy, which lasted shortly until 1865. The governing body of the Confederacy mirrored that of the United States, but lacked centralized control necessary to win the war effort. One of the main reasons why the Confederacy failed, aside from its archaic belief in slavery, was the fact that centralized control during a warring period did not exist. The states declared resentment towards the centralized rule of the Union, which would prove extremely contradictory if the Confederacy followed the same path of leadership. The States included in the Confederate States of America argued for the preservation of their individual rights to continue slavery, and for States’ rights over Federal rights. Many citizens of the South did not feel connected in any way shape or form to the Union, which provided the largest driving force behind the division of the country, and subsequent Civil War. With the newfound Confederacy, the core values of the United States of America were called into question, where many found it contradictory for a free nation to have slaves. The people of the South did not share this opinion, because the practice of slavery was essential to their way of life. The Union saw this as an opportunity to truly unite the nation through universal thought - one void of slavery altogether. This vision was only achieved through an unnecessary, horrific Civil War. This conflict proved Americans’ dedication to what is right, and to protect the liberties of all throughout the country.

10 Things You May Not Know About The Civil War

1.Confederate general Robert E. Lee had his sprawling Virginia home confiscated by the Union.

Ever heard of Arlington National Cemetery? In the 1850s it was just called ‘Arlington’, and it was the home of General Lee, his wife Mary and their children. Once war broke out the Lees fled their estate and eventually it was taken over by the Union for unpaid taxes totaling approximately $90.00. President Lincoln authorized the building of a cemetery on the property stating that if Lee ever returned he would “have to look at these graves and see the carnage he created”. Eventually, Lee’s family returned, but Lincoln was right, they wanted nothing to do with it.

The view of the Potomac from Arlington, VA

2.The Civil War was very, very bloody.

625,000 people died during the Civil War. More than the American death toll of World War 1, World War 2, the Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. That number comes from an exhaustive study performed at the end of the war by two Union officials. Recently, historians suggest that the number may climb as high as 850,000.

3.Over 60% of Civil War deaths were disease related.

It’s widely known that the Civil War is responsible for the most American casualties in any conflict. Roughly 360,000 of those deaths were the result of the unsanitary, bacteria-breeding conditions soldiers lived in. Lack of nutrition, cold, and poor medical care contributed to outbreaks of mumps, malaria, and tuberculosis.

4.There were 60,000 amputations performed throughout the war.

Battles were chaotic and often soldiers shot in the leg or the arm could be saved by an amputation. Surgeons were called “sawbones” and the best of the best could perform a full amputation in 5 minutes or less.

                  A Union soldier displays his leg wound, 

5.The national divorce rate increased by 150% in the 20 years following the war.

Divorce popularity skyrocketed in the years following the war. This may in part be due to the fierce schisms and divides that plagued families across the country. Financial problems were widespread during the Reconstruction Era as the economy adapted to the absence of slavery and displaced people began to rebuild their lives.

6.1/3 of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants.

In keeping with the spirit of the ‘Great American Melting Pot’, more than 600,000 of the 2, 128,964 Union soldiers were immigrants. 10% of them were German, another 7.5% Irish, and the remaining 82.5% a mixture of French, Italian Polish and Scottish.

7.Prisons were full.

Roughly 475,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by both sides. The prisons were horrible places where disease ran rampant, and violence and starvation took almost 56,000 lives. One particularly brutal prison, Camp Elmira in New York was known as the “Freezing Camp”. At Elmira, observation decks were erected for civilians to observe the prisoners. Admission cost 15 cents, plus the cost of lemonade, cake and peanuts from the concession stand.

A prisoner of war in Richmond, VA

8.There was some foreshadowing of the Civil Rights movement that would take place 100 years later.

There were a significant amount of African American soldiers fighting for the Union Army, and it’s believed that their contribution may be what turned the tide of the war and earned the Union a victory. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that black soldiers earned $10 to a white soldiers $13, minus the fee they had to pay for food and clothing, bringing their total income to $7. What you may not know is that for 18 months soldiers refused pay to protest the inequality. In response, congress corrected the policy, equalizing pay.

9.The Civil War was known by more than 25 different names.

The Civil War divided not only the country, but families and friends as well, earning it the name “The Brother’s War”. Additionally, both sides used titles as propaganda; the Union went by a few different names, “The War for the Union” and “The War of the Rebellion”. Conversely, the Confederacy referred to it as “The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance” and “The War Against Northern Aggression”. In some outdated textbooks used in the south, the Civil War is occasionally still referred to as “The War Against Northern Aggression”.

10.Slave escapes increased dramatically.

Before the civil war an estimated 5,000 slaves tried to escape each year. Tight patrolling, The Fugitive Slave Act, and brutal punishments discouraged slaves from escaping. Once the war started however, much less attention was paid to slaves on the run, and the number shot to 5,000 a month. Thousands fled up north to join the Union Army, while others ran west to escape it all.

Unidentified African American Union Soldiers

The Civil War is one of the most widely studied events in American History. From the bloody battles to political strife and a shattered social order, it’s full of secrets and un-spread stories, with many more rocks to overturn.

To learn about the above topics and more, come see us on Governor’s Island this summer (home to one of many civil war prison camps)!

-Emma van Lent

The Battle of Spotsylvania

Battle of Spotsylvania

Chapter 17 of Netflix original show House of Cards coincided nicely with our preparations for the upcoming Governor’s Island exhibit, as anti-hero Frank Underwood visited Spotsylvania, Virginia, to commemorate a battle of the Civil War campaign.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House was the second major battle of the Overland Campaign and was fought by the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Though General Sherman is perhaps the most notorious amongst the Civil War generals, for his infamous March to the Sea, General Grant gained a brutal reputation in his own right, in large part due to the Overland Campaign.

The Overland Campaign began as Grant crossed into Virginia and placed himself between General Robert E. Lee’s forces and Richmond, the capital of Virginia. Lee met Grant in the Battle of the Wilderness, resulting in heavy casualties but no decisive advantage gained by either side. This proved to be a recurrent theme in the campaign, as Grant and Lee struggled for control without any real shift in momentum. One particularly gruesome moment in the conflict was highlighted by the House of Cards episode, as Union and Confederate forces converged on a Southern defensive position nicknamed the Mule Shoe. Over a 24 hour period, the Mule Shoe witnessed over 15,000 casualties confined within a mile and a half stretch of forest, as Confederate forces fought desperately to repel the Union attack. Earlier downpours had ruined stores of gunpowder for both sides, meaning much of the conflict was intense hand to hand combat. Once again, the battle was indecisive.

Ultimately, the Overland Campaign concluded with the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg, both of which served the purpose of draining Confederate supply lines and personnel. Union forces suffered particularly horrendous casualties, as Grant was willing to send his troops against well-fortified defensive positions in the hopes of wearing down Confederate manpower. The Overland Campaign proved to be the last major Civil War campaign, with Lee surrendering not long after its conclusion.

History remembers Grant as a brutal general who was willing to expend so many of his own troops that he was nicknamed “the Butcher”. Whatever that may reflect on his character, one cannot fault the effectiveness of his methods. The Union advantage lay in its massive industrial base and overwhelming numerical superiority. As the war ground on, the Confederacy found itself incapable of sustaining the casualties that Grant was forcing upon them. Many would argue that Southern generalship was far superior to that of the Union; the Confederate roster boasted names such as Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, and the famous Robert E. Lee. But no matter the brilliance of their maneuvers or inspiring presence amongst their own men, they simply could not defeat the manpower advantage that Grant brought to bear. In a larger sense, this raises the question of whether the deaths of soldiers and civilians can be justified as a necessary cost of ending war. Though the Civil War is long ended, upon its anniversary, perhaps these are questions that should be applied to events in the world today.

Seowon Yu

H. L. Hunley: The First Submarine

When it was lost on February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley was the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel.  Surprisingly, the Hunley, named after its inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley, would not be raised from its resting spot in 1864 until 2000, nearly a century and a half later. 

Powered by a hand-cranked propeller and shaped from custom parts, the 40-foot submersible was operated by eight crew members.  Seven of the crew worked the crank to turn the propeller while one crew member steered.  The vessel utilized ballast tanks that were flooded by opening valves and then pumped dry with hand pumps.  There were several iron weights attached to the hull for extra ballast which could be removed during an emergency if a crew member unscrewed the bolts from inside the submarine.  The two watertight hatches were located on the forward and aft portions of the ship atop the conning towers, both of which were equipped with small portholes.  The hull totaled around 4 feet 3 inches in height and required the crew members to constantly stoop their heads during use.  After an initial demonstration in Mobile Bay, where the submersible attacked a flatboat, it was deemed ready for military use and was put on a train and sent to Charleston, South Carolina.

Plan of the Hunley showing both conning towers and hand-cranked propeller. 

The submersible was plagued by bad luck from its first missions in the Confederate Navy, in which it was sunk on two separate occasions.  On its first training mission in August of 1863, the submarine’s crew was still learning the procedures for a test dive when the Skipper, Lieutenant John A. Payne of the Confederate Navy, stepped on the lever in control of the diving planes.  The ship dived immediately while its hatches were still open and submerged too rapidly for most of the crew to escape.  Only two crewmen and Payne swam out of the flooded submarine which then was raised by the Navy.  In October of the same year, Horace Hunley wished to command his vessel through another exercise to instill confidence in his invention.  Despite his precautions, the sub dived during the exercise, but did not surface for reasons unknown.  Unfortunately, Hunley died as well as the whole crew and the ship was raised once again.  

In February of 1864, the salvaged Hunley set out once more on what would be its last voyage.  It had one mission in mind: to ram the Union Navy blockading Charleston’s harbor.  Its victim would be the Union sloop, the USS Housatonic, guarding the entrance to Charleston’s harbor.  The Hunley completed its mission ramming and sinking the USS Housatonic with its spar torpedo, a copper container filled with 90 pounds of black powder and attached to a wooden spar approximately 22 feet long.  While it is still a mystery as to why the Hunley sank, its legacy lives on as the first submersible to destroy a ship. 


Sketch of the Hunley

-Andrew Sobelsohn

New York at War

In 1860, the Democratic nature of the large immigrant community & the City’s mercantile interests were pro-Southern and even pro-slavery. Historian Leslie M. Harris, associate professor of history at Emory University, noted: “From the time of Lincoln’s election in 1860, the Democratic Party had warned New York’s Irish and German residents to prepare for the emancipation of slaves and the resultant labor competition when southern blacks would supposedly flee North.” New York seemed opposed to the war.

Despite the reservations of some elements of society New York served with zeal. After the first three months of the firing on Fort Sumter 30,000 volunteers rushed to join the war effort. Several famous New York regiments earned their stripes fighting for the union, the 69th “Fighting Irish” and the 11th “New York Fire Zouaves.” These soldiers joined nearly 400,000 men from the Empire State, 45,000 more than the next highest state, Pennsylvania. The military contribution in manpower was a key element in Union victory & New York was an instrumental player.

                                     The 69th are still active today

New York was far from the front lines, but that did not mean it was far from action.  The draft riots of 1863 have already been touched on as the largest civil uprising in our nation’s history, leading to scores of people dead and racial humiliation & looting.  In addition confederate saboteurs were active in the city, planning to light a string of fires on election day in 1864. They were unsuccessful. The Brooklyn Navy Yard constructed the first Ironclad, the USS Monitor, and contributed greatly to wartime manufacturing.

                                Lincoln’s passing was felt by the city

Near the wars end New York honored Lincoln’s death, as New Yorkers flocked to see the President’s procession. The State has come to terms with the conflicted role it has played in the war, and in the end New York was changed as much as the rest of the nation.

Adam Hamilton

To read more see the following

Why History?

     Having worked at the New-York Historical Society since my sophomore year, I have been asked multiple times in various contexts, why do I love history? There is the standard answer of not repeating mistakes and placing current events in a greater context, but for this blog post I thought I might try and answer this question in greater depth.

      In various sciences, there is a phenomenon known as emergence theory which states that simple interactions give rise to complex patterns and systems that may exceed the sum of their parts. A commonly given example is that of water: hydrogen and oxygen are flammable agents that, when combined, suddenly gain the ability to put out fire. Crucially, water exhibits properties that are absent in its constituent elements.

     Within the study of history, we can often observe this trend unfold. Religion, art, civilization, and all other great and powerful developments find their origins in the multiplied actions of ordinary men and women. Once set in motion, however, they exhibit a life and momentum of their own that influence us as well. The greater trends of history can be distilled to reveal what is essential to us as individuals. Consider why we place importance on the Declaration of the Rights of Man, or the Wonders of the World. They are representatives of certain principles that hold enduring value, such as liberty, self-expression, artistry, etc. By studying what we honor and remember, we discover the values and accomplishments that hold weight to us as people. This remains true in the present day, and as we decide what should be recalled in textbooks, museums, and other recordings of human history, we influence what will be taught and considered important to future generations as well. History is thought of as a study of the past, but through it we understand the present and determine the future.

     So within the context of my work at the New-York Historical Society, there is a definite sense of connection to an ongoing process. The N-YHS was founded in 1804, and though it has undoubtedly gone through multiple iterations, the objective of the institution remains to bring people together through NYC’s history. Over the academic year of 2012- 2013, I and my fellow Teen Leaders were given the task of designing the Governor’s Island exhibition on World War II Photography and Propaganda. World War II holds special significance in the collective memory of the United States. It was the beginning of America as a global superpower, pushing us up onto the global stage and setting us up for the role we occupy in the world today. On a more personal level, we remember it as a fight for freedom and self-determination: a crucial battle in an ongoing struggle to help make the world a better place. As I assist in creating exhibitions, doing research, giving tours, etc, I feel that I am one part of a greater whole dedicated to preserving these ideals and connecting us to these principles that continue to matter.

Seowon Yu

The Fort, Opera House, and Aquarium: Castle Garden

Castle Garden was constructed between 1808 and 1811 to serve as a fort on the tip of Manhattan.  Originally dubbed West Battery, the fort protected New York from possible invasions by European nations and was manned throughout the war of 1812.  However, West Battery and its twenty-eight guns never saw action; its presence alone was enough to persuade British forces not to attack New York.  Three years later, it was renamed Castle Clinton after the mayor of New York City, Dewitt Clinton and still officially holds that name to this day.  Leased to the city by the United States Army in 1821, the fort underwent renovations and reopened as Castle Garden in 1824. 

Castle Garden quickly became a great cultural center and a place of public entertainment.  It was used as a restaurant, opera house, exhibition hall, and in 1896 was remodeled as the New York Aquarium.  Throughout the 19th century, the fort saw many great American and international figures.  Revolutionary War General Marquis de Lafayette’s triumphant return to America began in Castle Garden, where he was greeted by a major general’s salute.  In 1833, President Andrew Jackson landed at the Castle and was welcomed by hundreds of New Yorkers along the waterfront edge.  Two years later, the Castle hosted Samuel Morse, who used it as a venue to display the use of his telegraph to the public.  Despite its walls bearing witness too many famous historical figures, the Castle saw the emigration of millions of other figures, not quite as famous as Presidents or Generals.  

More than eight million immigrants traveled through Castle Garden from its opening day as New York’s Emigrant Landing Depot on August 1st, 1855, to its closure in 1890, when it was superseded by Ellis Island.  In the mid-1900s, Castle Garden was ordered to be demolished by Robert Moses as part of his Brooklyn to Battery Bridge plan.  Fortunately, his plans were too costly and while the aquarium was destroyed, the fort remained standing.  Castle Garden became a national monument on July 18th, 1950 and still stands today in Battery Park, operated by the National Park Service.  The Castle has been restored much to its former glory; with its open ceiling and replica guns the fort resembles its former self in the early 1800s.  There is also a museum located within the fort and great views of the waterfront and the statue of liberty from its location at the Southern tip of Manhattan.

-Andrew Sobelsohn

Brother Against Brother: Did New York Really Want to Secede During the American Civil War?

     The answer to this question in short, yes. During the American Civil War many New Yorkers were inclined to allow the Southern States to continue practicing slavery in order to increase total output of the largest American cash crop at the time: cotton. New York was, and has been the epicenter of the U.S.A., and with the onset of a Civil War New Yorkers were not happy. Well, many people were not happy - the nation was about to dive into a horrible conflict, nevertheless cotton provided so much to the New York economy that many people did not see the chance to let it slip away. An estimated $180 billion dollars was defaulted on by Southern industries, infuriating many New York businessmen, and furthering the calls to remain neutral and leave the South alone. 


     Citizens’ calls for neutrality were fueled by the fear of increased job competition in an already deflated economy. Wealthier citizens were able to pay approximately $300 in order to have a substitute take their place in the war, causing anger to reverberate throughout the city, particularly among its robust Irish population – who could not afford to have substitutes. Additionally, racial tensions existed between the Irish, and Free Blacks over competition for jobs. Following the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many felt that the next stop for Free Blacks would be New York. This fear led to the onset of the New York City Draft Riots – the largest civil uprising in American history. Many New Yorkers, predominantly Irish citizens attacked the city’s black population, destroying buildings such as the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue. Reinforcement from the U.S. Government did not arrive until a day later, however the riots continued. The aftermath of this insurrection altered the city’s dynamic. Many Blacks, fearing for their lives fled the city for protection, and the Union gained support from the people of New York. 


     New York was divided even more so on the principles of continuing war with our own. Peace Democrats, fueled by their own intentions of job preservation, and maintenance of the South’s slave status quo, encompassed the city, compromising a significant portion of the general population. Known colloquially as Copperheads, Peace Democrats were found predominantly throughout the Northeast. Many Republicans used this moniker to compare the intentions of the faction to that of a venomous snake, representative of wanting to ruin the nation by opposing the war. Copperheads adamantly argued to end the conflict through diplomacy, and not violence – a viewpoint that many saw as futile and weak. Ultimately this faction acquiesced after the Confederate capture of Atlanta, prompting the Union to become predominantly pro-war. Another faction existed within the Democratic Party – War Democrats – who called for war and supported the efforts of President Lincoln. As you can see, The City of New York was not entirely supportive of the American Civil War, and for the most part did not even want it to take place, no matter what the cause was for. Through conflict, and diplomacy, New Yorkers finally supported the efforts of the country, providing unity behind the Union’s cause, and rejoiced when the Union had finally won the ideological conflict. 

- Charles Kyle O’Rourke 

7 Women Who have Rocked Major US History Era’s

March is Woman’s History Month, a whole month dedicated to celebrating the amazing women in history; their accomplishments, their inventions, and their revolutionary attitudes.  Although there are thousands of women who are noteworthy, I’ve selected one woman to represent each era discussed in the forthcoming article. These selected women (I believe) represent and capture the sentiments of the era they are coupled with.

Revolutionary War – Molly Pincher

Molly Pitcher is a nickname that was given to a very brave woman who is said to have fought in the Battle of Monmouth.  Historians believe her to be Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, there is no official documentation of who this woman was but one of the most important things about her is that she became a symbol of the many women who carried water to men on the battlefield.  

Civil War – Clara Barton

Clara Barton was the founder of the Red Cross; she was a pioneer nurse and voiced the importance of nursing and medical aid.  She was also a teacher, patent clerk, and a humanitarian.  She devoted her life to helping others – in a time when most women were expected to occupy their role as home-makers Clara Barton defied societal norms and followed her natural altruism.

Industrialization/Progressive Era – Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell is one of the most memorable Muckrakers of the Progressive Era – she is most well known for her book “The History of Standard Oil,” which exposed the evils and corrupt nature of John D. Rockefeller (who was depicted as “money-grabbing” and miserly.  A muckraker could be considered an early form of an investigative journalist. These men and women worked to expose political corruption and “social ill.”  Similarly, Tarbell helped expose the corrupt ways of the Era (specifically the corrupt nature of Standard Oil) and will forever be remembered.

WWI – Georgia O’Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe is very well known for her paintings of enlarged blossoms, she is said to be the mother of American Modernism. American Modernism is the ideological belief that humans have the power to change and influence their surrounding environment.  The Modernist movement began in the early 20th century as industrialization was booming due to WWI; it was a response to the impersonal atmosphere that came with industrialization.  Modernists aimed to bring back individualism – and post-WWI, inspire citizens to “pick up the pieces” and use their influence to change the world they were living in.   

Great Depression – Eleanor Roosevelt 

Eleanor Roosevelt is known as the longest serving first-lady of United States History.  She is known as a very controversial first lady because of her outspoken nature; she is specifically known for her voiced opinions on racial issues. Most importantly she oversaw the drafting of the “Declaration of Human Rights.” This stated that there were rights that all humans were entitled to, regardless of race, religion, sex, geographical location, etc.  The declaration of these rights was appropriate post WWII; but the involvement of Eleanor Roosevelt with the publication of these rights speaks to the changing nature of the US at that point. The Declaration of Human Rights highlighted the need for change in the United States – something that Eleanor Roosevelt deeply supported. 

WWII – Rosie the Riveter

“Rosie the Riveter” became a national symbol of hard work, a nationalistic mindset, and a “we can do it” attitude.  Rosie became very popular during the WWII-era where women on the home front began to fill the positions of men that were off at war.  Rosie motivated women to help their country by working in factories, grow their own victory gardens, or become nurses.  Rosie made the “Home-front” as important as it became – but she did so much more than this.  She involved the 2nd half of the population in the war, she made women feel empowered, and she made women feel like equal participants – for, she clarified that helping to win the war did not have to include fighting overseas.

Civil Rights Movement – Rosa Parks 

Moving on to the Civil Rights movement era – Rosa Parks is most famous for her bus boycott.  This memorable boycott included her refusal to stand up and move to the back of the bus for a white male.  Although this is what she is most well-known for Rosa Parks was a Civil Rights activist for the rest of her life.  This may have been one action on one day, but this single action stands for the Civil Rights movement ideologically as a whole – the refusal to accept the label of second class citizenry. 

All of these women are phenomenal role models, but they are all different and special in their own ways. The major thing that they have in common is that they were all very influential; each of them not only lived incredible and noteworthy lives; they all changed and affected many people’s lives. There of course, many more women that I could have chosen – this made choosing even more difficult. You also might have noticed that I stopped after the Civil Rights Era; this is because as women’s rights have increased even more monumental/influential women have developed. It has just become too difficult for me to just pick one woman to represent an era as the dawn of the 21st century has come. Woman’s History Month is meant for just what this article has done; it is meant to remember the wonderful, motivational, and memorable women that have populated our rich history.      

-Lienne Harrington 

Ulysses S. Grant: The Man Behind The American Hero

Ulysses S. Grant, the famous Union Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States, was born in Ohio to Jesse Grant, a tanner.  He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and surveyed the western frontier alongside many other young officers who would become military leaders in the coming Civil War.  However, beyond our knowledge of his achievements before and throughout the Civil War or during his time as President, can we attest to the character of the man behind the larger-than-life figure we constantly see in history books and television programs? 


Ulysses S. Grant at Cold Harbor, 1864.

Grant was not always portrayed as kindly as he is today. A little known fact about Ulysses’ family is, while they were well off, his parents did not always give him the affection a child deserves.  His mother never visited him in the White House during his presidency and he had a troublesome relationship with his father for most of his life. Even his name conceals hidden facts.  Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses S. Grant after Congressman Thomas Hamer made a mistake while writing Grant’s name down for a nomination to West Point. At the age of 17 Grant adopted his new name and embarked on a journey into the military that would change his life. As a Cadet Grant did not enjoy the military lifestyle and was very casual when concerning his studies.  He preferred horseback riding and quickly established himself as an expert. Grant, as it turned out, wanted above all to pursue teaching and hoped that his military career would come to an end. 


Ulysses Simpson Grant 

Unfortunately, a few years after his graduation from West Point in 1843, the Mexican-American war began. Grant was opposed to the war, but duty called and he was engaged in the front lines. He believed the war was unjust and would just spread slavery through the newly gained territory—a sentiment against slavery that would be echoed later in 1859 when he freed a slave given to him by his wife’s father.  Moreover, throughout his victories in the Civil War Grant kept a level head not letting his success get the better of him. 

General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Medal

Also a man of morals and civil rights, Grant championed Black and Indian rights after the war and most notably during his presidency when he pushed for congress to pass the 15th amendment.  This amendment prohibited any federal or state government from denying the right to vote based on a citizen’s race, color or previous condition of servitude.  Grant championed Indian rights during his presidency and appointed a Seneca Indian as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  In addition, he started reversing the federal governments past policies of removing Indians in favor of policies that benefitted the Indians and set up relationships between the United States and various tribes.  As Grant fought to maintain domestic peace he avoided conflict abroad.  He wisely directed the nation away from wars with both Great Britain and Spain, preserving international peace. Grant took economic steps as well to ensure America’s prosperity backing the paper currency with gold.  Sadly, this venture led to many corruption scandals within his administration and when Grant left office he was remembered by some as a hero and others as another dishonest political figure. 


The Funeral of Ulysses Grant

Today we recognize Grant as one of the America’s great national heroes, but just as with any of our other heroes we should take the time to learn a little bit about the person’s personality and beliefs, not just their overwhelmingly famous feats before we judge their place in history. 

To check out more about Grant’s life and his relationship with other famous Civil War figures go to our online exhibition: Grant and Lee in War and Peace

-Andrew Sobelsohn

Black History Month

As far back as I can remember February has been Black History Month. In school we always learnt about Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver and other black figures who left an impact on our society. Invariably one student would ask “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?”  There is no one sentence answer to that question, but the best way I have heard it explained was through the history of Black History Month. This February will be the thirty-eighth black history month since President Gerald Ford decided to commemorate the month as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. On February 10th 1974 black history month became a yearly tradition.

Ford’s decision to make black history month didn’t just come out of thin air. The precursor to the month long celebration of black culture was originally called “Negro History week”. In 1915 Carter Woodson, a graduate of the University of Chicago returned to his home state of Illinois to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. After experiencing the popular state sponsored exhibits on slavery and reconstruction he and a friend, A. L. Jackson, formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to promote the study of black culture. In 1916 they began to publish The Journal of Negro History.

Mr.Woodson looking quite dapper.

Woodson and the ASNLH were upset by the lack of support their movement was receiving, and, in an effort to popularize the study they announced the creation of Negro History Week in February 1926. The second week of February was intended to encompass the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederik Douglas, both celebrated annually to some degree by the black community. Since the inception of Negro History Week it slowly began to grow, gaining acceptance as more and more Americans, regardless of race accepted the celebration. Woodson died in 1950, wanting the celebration to be more than a one week affair and hoping to bring black history into the normal curriculum. Twenty six years after his death, during the fiftieth Negro History Week President Ford made his proclamation, making Black History month part of American Life.

 Now whenever I am asked, “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?”  I respond that Black History Month is intended to bring black history into the classroom rather than usurp the time from “White” history, but to remind us that Black history is American history, and they should be taught together.

The Journal for Negro History has been renamed The Journal for African American History and can be found here:

President Ford’s declaration of Black History Month can be found here:

To learn more about Black History Month check out:

-Adam Hamilton

Solomon Northup & the Civil War

For the past few years it’s seemed like everywhere we look we’re seeing a new book or  movie (or N-YHS satellite exhibit) about the Civil War, and as the 150th anniversary of the end of the war approaches, it definitely seems like we have found a new history hot-topic. In light of all the Oscar attention it’s been receiving, I finally went to the movie theater and saw 12 Years a Slave. If you haven’t yet, run out this minute and get a ticket, you won’t be disappointed. 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man and respected musician born in New York. He is lured into going to Washington, D.C. with the prospect of giving a concert, and is drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery.


             A sign commemorating Solomon Northup in his home of Saratoga, NY 

What is known as the “Reverse Underground Railroad” doesn’t get half as much attention as it should. During the first half of the nineteenth-century it was not uncommon for escaped slaves to be caught and either returned to their masters or resold, but the kidnapping of African American’s that were born free was unknown to most of the population.

What was most disturbing to the people being transported, and to those of us now learning about it, is that the hub of these illegal sales was right in Washington, D.C., literally under the shadow of the Capitol Building on Independence Avenue. The most notorious of these ‘slave pens’ was the one run by William Williams, and is the very place that Solomon Northup was held in. Williams’ pen was nicknamed ‘The Yellow House” because of its pleasing and cheery outside that masked the misery on the inside. It was situated right on the National Mall and hundreds of people walked by it everyday, completely unaware of what was going on inside.

After the Civil War began, kidnappings and internal trading came to a halt, and this particular thread faded into the broader tapestry of slavery in America, immortalized only in diaries like Northup’s.

Here’s the trailer for 12 Years a Slave- Go and see it, it’s an amazing story with an amazing background!

And for more interesting takes on slavery check out these great books:

The House Girl, by Tara Conklin

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

And don’t forget to come visit us this summer on Governor’s Island to learn more about slavery right here in New York City!

-Emma van Lent