Theme I, Wayfinding: In 1955

By Jonathan Kesh

This is an NYU student handbook from 1955.

1955 front cover

But first, some background: Over the summer, I spent a week in Florida not so much to enjoy the beaches, but to help my grandma sort through some old boxes at her place in Orlando. They were musty and smelled mostly of cigarette smoke and expired film, but what I found in one of them was a reminder of my grandma’s days as a commuter student at NYU. Back in the 1950s, when Elvis was growing, Polio was shrinking, and the school’s first residence hall, Hayden, was still two years away.

So if you were an incoming freshman to NYU’s School of Education (what is now Steinhardt) in the 1950s, this is what they would have given you, complete with some well-crafted doodles for ambience:

1955 hi there

But it wasn’t all just generic “hello” material, new students were also treated to poetry, in the form of our alma mater (Click the image for a better view). Note that ’00 and ’06 refer to 1900 and 1906.

1955 poem

Most of the current buildings from around the square were still around, with Kimmel and Bobst as some notable exceptions, although Pless Hall and Pless Annex were known as the “Press Building” and “Press Annex,” respectively.

1955 buildings

But instead of just descriptions, maybe a partial map would help.

1955 map

Being the 1950s, NYU had yet to become the progressive hub it’s known as nowadays. You can imagine the reaction if this promotional image for the pre-Bobst library appeared in official NYU material (because 60 years ago, it did).

1955 peepers

The 80 Washington Square East Galleries were a fancy lounge for students studying education. See everyone enjoying themselves, save for the terrified dancing fellow in the bottom-left corner.

1955 students

But some things never change, and NYU has some long-standing traditions:

Back in 1955, they were pretty blunt about their sports reputation.

1955 sports

They were even more blunt about their financial aid.

1955 bursars

But back to differences. The 3 schools of NYU were the Washington Square College (CAS), the School of Commerce (Stern), and the School of Education (Steinhardt, as already established). The Tisch School of the Arts, arguably NYU’s biggest selling point (note: I am not in Tisch), wouldn’t exist for another decade. The Gallatin School wasn’t created until 1972, and any NYU students in the 1950’s would have found “creating your major” to be a foreign concept.

1955 looking ahead

After their “Looking Ahead” page into the future of NYU, the rest of the book is just for note-taking, closing at a little under 50 pages.

A big thank you to Shawn Paik for photography; to Jack Lefkowits and Larry Garfinkel, wherever they may be, for writing and illustrating this little booklet; and of course, to my grandma for letting me run off with this, returning it to its home in Greenwich Village only six decades later. Thanks, Grandma.

1955 back cover


One comment

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