Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Ida Kaplan, the daughter of Hyman Kaplan and Dora Shedlowsky, was born in Borzna, in Ukraine’s Chernigov province, on February 7, 1904. When Ida was six months old, her family moved to Philadelphia, where they resided at 2547 S. Sixth Street. Ida’s mother was a dressmaker, and her father, who had worked for the Singer Sewing Company in Russia, became active in garment workers’ unions, serving as secretary of a branch of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Ida had three younger siblings: Cecily, Frank, and Mae.
Ida entered the South Philadelphia High School for Girls (SPHS) in 1916 and graduated on January 29, 1920. She was a member of the fourth class at SPHS; she and her classmates were the first graduating class to have spent all four years at the school. SPHS opened in 1916 under the direction of Principal Lucy Wilson, who served in that capacity for twenty-five years. Located at the corner of Broad Street and Snyder Avenue, SPHS took in students from the diverse community of South Philadelphia, which was a thriving working-class neighborhood largely comprised of immigrants, many of whom were Italians or eastern-European Jews.
Ida chose to continue building upon the education she received at SPHS. After graduation she attended the Philadelphia Normal School and then became a science teacher in the Philadelphia public schools, teaching at Roxborough Junior High School and at SPHS. While working as a teacher, she attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied education and botany. After earning her Bachelor’s degree, she continued her education and received a Master’s degree in botany in 1945. She then became a research fellow at Penn for several years.
In addition to her work as a schoolteacher, Ida also worked as an educator at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she conducted classes for children and their teachers. An avid traveler and student, Ida spent a total of more than three years living in Mexico, where she worked in libraries and collected plants. Grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the U.S. Office of Education helped finance her trips. In 1964 she published A Selected Guide to the Literature on Mexican Flowering Plants, a thousand-page compendium of more than twenty thousand entries. She published numerous articles in both English and Spanish and worked as a bibliographer at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation of Carnegie Mellon University. She was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Botanical Club of Philadelphia, and after retiring, moved to Atlantic City, where she volunteered for the American Civil Liberties Union. Ida married Oscar Langman, a violinist, in 1928. They had no children. After suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for several years, Ida Kaplan Langman died in 1991.
Ida Kaplan’s scrapbook, which is entitled “My Record Book,” is a snapshot of her time at the South Philadelphia High School for Girls. The scrapbook itself was published in Philadelphia by Clark Printing House, and the pages feature elaborate headings and designs. Ida purchased this scrapbook and embellished it for her own use, adding colors and supplying photographs and other memorabilia. The scrapbook serves as a kind of homemade yearbook for 1919-1920, her last year there. Information on her class, such as its colors, flowers, and motto are included, and there are sections for classmates, faculty members, class history, clubs, entertainments, sports and athletics, invitations, and commencement.
The section of the volume devoted to Ida’s classmates includes autographs of Ida’s friends, who often wrote her short poems or aphorisms, such as “Friends slowly won are long held.” Most girls wrote their addresses as well. Photographs of the girls, many of them wearing pearls or large hats, were often pasted next to their autographs. Only one friend chose to reflect concretely on their time at SPHS: “Remember when we were three girls in a row in our Latin Class? We used to read moving pictures magazines instead of reciting Latin.” Names and photos indicate that SPHS was a diverse school; many students were of Jewish or Italian heritage, and there were a number of black students. One student addressed Ida as “Dear Bolshevik (Redsey).”
Ida’s faculty section includes photographs of faculty members, who wrote good wishes to her beside their photos. A few newspaper clippings, apparently added at a later date, refer to the deaths of some of these teachers. There is also a 1921 photograph showing all faculty members. Other sections of the scrapbook also feature photographs, some of them depicting outings with friends or club field trips. Among the materials for some of the trips are directions for getting there on public transportation.
Of particular note is Ida’s class history, in which she touches on the highlights of her time at SPHS. One of her most important memories concerned the closing of the school during the winter of 1917. SPHS ran out of coal and could not obtain more, forcing the administration to close the school. Students did not attend class for three weeks, until Furness School offered their school to SPHS students. After attending Furness for a month, coal was finally delivered and SPHS was reopened. When the U.S. became involved in World War I, Ida and her classmates participated in the Liberty Loan campaigns. They were especially thrilled when they were allowed to participate in Philadelphia’s Liberty Loan celebration, for which the students made dresses and crowns to be “Goddesses of Liberty.” A page depicting this ensemble is included in the scrapbook.
Ida’s scrapbook contains a section entitled “Class Prophecy.” This prophecy took the form of an imagined future conversation with Principal Wilson, in which a former student related details of what happened to Ida and her classmates in the years after graduation. Ida imagined that her classmates would embark on a variety of careers, and she envisioned beauticians, novelists, musicians, settlement workers, librarians, and nurses among them. Interestingly, Ida’s prophecy does not seem to have been at all constrained by gender roles. Although she imagined a few girls to be “social butterflies” or married with “three lovely children,” she pictured one of her classmates as a chief of police, one as a mountain climber, and another as the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Ida imagined herself to be the secretary of the Agricultural Department (with a friend as her private secretary).
Ida gave a speech at her commencement about the importance of learning a foreign language. Although commencement programs indicate that there was emphasis on teaching girls sewing and other skills that could be used in the home, math, English, and foreign languages were also stressed as being very important. In addition to Ida’s speech, which she copied into her scrapbook, there is also a copy of a speech delivered by Principal Wilson to the class that graduated after Ida’s. Principal Wilson sent Ida a copy of the speech and asked Ida if she would translate the speech into Yiddish and deliver it at the commencement ceremony. Another of Ida’s classmates delivered the same speech in Italian. Principal Wilson’s speech reaffirms the importance of giving girls a proper education, and the principal described how gratified she was that a number of girls had gone to college after graduation. The principal was obviously Ida’s mentor; the scrapbook originally included a page dedicated to Principal Wilson, but upon the celebration of Wilson’s retirement in 1934, Ida removed the page to give her as a gift, leaving a note in its place.
Other materials in the scrapbook include newspaper clippings, photographs and postcards from a field trip to Washington, D.C., commencement programs, tickets and programs for plays produced by SPHS, and programs for performances at the Academy of Music. There is a “reunion” section of the scrapbook, which is blank. Also included is a brief note inserted at a later date (labeled “pre-1956”), addressed to Mrs. Langman. The note is from some SPHS students and seems to have accompanied a gif that they gave her. With the exception of some newspaper clippings about the deaths of some faculty members, this small card is the only documentation of Ida’s life after she graduated from the South Philadelphia School for Girls.
Some of the information in the biographical note was very graciously supplied by Ida Langman’s sister, Mae K. Millstone.
- South Philadelphia High School (Philadelphia, Pa.).
- South Philadelphia High School for Girls (Philadelphia, Pa.).
- Education, Secondary--20th century
- Ethnic neighborhoods--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--20th century
- Female friendship--20th century
- Liberty bonds
- School field trips--Pennsylvania--20th century
- School yearbooks--20th century
- Student activities--20th century
- Students--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--20th century
- Teachers--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--20th century
- Women in education--20th century
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Leslie Hunt
- Finding Aid Date
- , October 2003
- Processing made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.