This website is based on the “Childhood in the Bronx” exhibit originally featured in the Lehman College Art Gallery from October 23 – December 14, 1986. The exhibit took four years to research and create. By using both vintage and contemporary images, along with oral history text excerpts, the exhibit focused on the experience of childhood in the Bronx from the early decades of the 20th century into the mid-1980s.
Photographer Georgeen Comerford reproduced eighteen (18) vintage children’s images that spanned the period 1895–1943. These images came largely from family photograph albums loaned by interviewees participating in the Institute’s oral history project. Additionally, Ms. Comerford created forty (40) of her own contemporary photographs of children from 1971–1985.
Working with some three dozen Bronx organizations, she secured permission to photograph children. She also worked directly with local parents she met in public places around the Bronx. The parents gave her permission to photograph their child for inclusion in this project. We see children from infancy through their teenage years in these photographs. They are with family or friends, at play, on streets, in parks, schools, shelters, hospitals and at other locales.
Further information about the original 1986 exhibit can be found in Lehman College Art Gallery Notes (PDF), and the Gallery’s “Childhood in the Bronx” poster (PDF). Selections of the framed photographs are today displayed in the Social Work Department offices at Lehman College.
Though oral history text excerpts supplemented the photographs in the original exhibit, no sound was used. For the convenience of the user, this website provides oral history sound clips of quotations about childhood, and their text version. These selections were culled from the Institute’s community oral histories, housed in the Leonard Lief Library’s Special Collections division. The adults interviewed in these oral histories remember their Bronx childhood experiences from decades earlier. None of the children shown in the contemporary photographs were ever interviewed for the project. This is why this website only uses sound excerpts with the older, vintage images.
The boys and girls shown in the vintage images reflect the ethnic patterns in the Bronx during their childhood. The early 20th century Bronx is represented by predominantly Jewish, Italian, Irish, Polish and German children. The contemporary images show later ethnic settlement patterns, including Hispanic, African American and Cambodian children.
This website offers a chance to share the 20th century depictions of childhood in the Bronx in both images and words. While generations of children raised in the Bronx will most fully relate to the locales shown or discussed, the childhood experience is universal and speaks to all. Viewing these photographs gives us a chance to pause and remember our own childhood experiences. It is also a way to learn about the Bronx in a more personal way – beyond what is perceived from media depictions and dry reports. Three (3) additional images not shown in the original exhibit are included in this website which contains sixty-one (61) images.