: The Yearbook: Harlem School Days in the Depression :

an excerpt by Irving Louis Horowitz

A contemporary Madison Avenue advertising writer, the director of the Odysseus Group, has written a series of critical works on the current status of schooling in New York, one of them is on Wadleigh High, under the compelling name of “Challenging the Myths of Modern Schooling.” It serves as a bitter reminder that things may change, but not always for the better. Indeed, Wadleigh Senior High School had morphed into a Junior High status for essentially black boys as well as girls in Harlem. So before reflecting on the place that my sister attended High School between 1933 and 1936, a look at John Taylor Gatto's vision of the present scene at Wadleigh, presumably nicknamed “the death school” by “regulars” at the West End Tavern near Columbia, is in order.

Mr. Gatto writes that “some palace revolution long before I got there had altered the nature of this school from an earnest, respectable Victorian lock-up to something indescribable. During my teaching debut at Wadleigh, I was attacked by a student determined to bash my brains out with a chair…Wadleigh was located three blocks from that notorious 110th Street corner in Harlem made famous by a bestseller of the day, New York Confidential, which called it 'the most dangerous intersection in America.'… This faculty was charged with dribbling out something called 'curriculum' to inmates, gruel so thin Wadleigh might rather have been a home for the feeble-minded than a place of education.”

In its origins, Wadleigh had several locations other than the main building: Annexes at 135th Street and at 102nd Street. The Yearbook indicates that Paula had little or no connection with the annexes. Wadleigh as such was the girl's equivalent of Boys High School. Indeed, the Owl (the name of the yearbook) proudly notes that Wadleigh defeated Boys High School in debating that year (1936). It was commonplace for big cities to have a gender differentiated place for female students. This was not so much a sop to equality or liberation. Far from it! Rather it was a tacit acknowledgment of “tracking”-of girls being prepared for careers in secretarial and business life. Indeed, the major advertising was of the Washington Business Institute at Seventh Avenue and 125th Street for an “exclusive school devoted to intensive secretarial and business training courses” with a special emphasis in “stenography, typewriting and bookkeeping.”