This Romanesque Revival structure near Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights opened in 1868 as Public School 9, later served as Public School 111, and is now home to Intermediate School 340. You can see some photos from inside the school here.
When PS 9 began holding classes in the new building in September 1868, the school also had a new principal: Jane Dunkley, "the first woman put in charge of a grammar school" in Brooklyn, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, or at least "the first woman appointed in Brooklyn to preside over a large grammar school", according to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.
(Another woman, Agnes Humphrey/Humphreys, is cited by the Daily Eagle on another occasion as being Brooklyn's first female grammar school principal, and other Daily Eagle articles [1, 2] seem to suggest that Ms. Humphrey became principal of PS 27, which the paper describes as "one of the largest [schools] in the city [of Brooklyn]", earlier in 1868, some months before Ms. Dunkley took over at PS 9.)
By the early 1860s, Ms. Dunkley was a well-regarded vice principal at Brooklyn's PS 15 (the building that served as PS 15 in those days is still standing), and within a few years she had made it clear that she wanted to become head principal. But while the vast majority of public school teachers at the time were female, there was still much resistance to the idea that a woman could effectively lead an entire school. Looking at excerpts from Daily Eagle articles over the years, we can learn a little about how Ms. Dunkley rose to become head principal of PS 9, and also about the various attitudes people held at the time about women's roles in the educational system.
I'll start by quoting from a general article about the schools of Brooklyn, in part to provide some background information about the public school system, but mostly because it's just funny, and then I'll move on to a chronological series of articles that specifically mention Ms. Dunkley. You'll notice that she is sometimes referred to as the principal of PS 15 in pre-1868 articles, but this must just be a form of shorthand, as evidence from other articles overwhelmingly indicates that she was a vice principal, possibly in charge of the primary school students.
September 28, 1868: The "forty school houses" mentioned here are all the public school buildings in Brooklyn at the time.
In these forty school houses, under the charge of the Board of Education, there are engaged five hundred and eighty-nine teachers, of whom only twenty-seven are males, and the remaining five hundred and sixty-two are females—a fact which, more than all else, speaks volumes of hope and trust for the rising generation. It is a fact within the memory of most grown people, that not a quarter of a century since, the idea of females as teachers to boys, anywhere except in an infant school, would have been looked upon as absurd in the extreme, for it was argued after the old system that education could only be made to take root in the mind of a boy by the daily and vigorous application of a stout rattan or cowhide. Experience has proved that this idea is erroneous, and the experience of the principals in our public schools is, that the female assistants are by far the most useful in imparting knowledge, for while a male teacher is apt to get angry and excited, and so create in the mind of the pupil similar emotions by the sudden infliction of an unlooked for chastisement, the gentleness and patience of the female teacher wins the regard of the pupil and creates a spirit of chivalry and respect for the sex in the boy, which is one of the best safeguards in after life against his falling into brutal habits.
November 3, 1863: An article titled "THE RUSSIANS IN BROOKLYN" describes a visit to PS 15 by Admiral David Farragut and a contingent of Russian naval officers. The Russians had arrived in New York Harbor aboard six warships in mid-September to the great excitement of many Northerners, who perceived their presence, in the midst of the Civil War, to be a show of support for the Union. Lavish celebrations were held for the Russians — a parade, banquets, a grand ball — and apparently PS 15 was chosen as the first school that they should be taken to see.
The pupils of Public School No. 15, to the number of some twelve hundred, held high festival today on the occasion of a visit from Admiral Lovinsky and suite and Admiral Farragut and lady to the school. . . .
As this was the first visit made by the Russian officers to any of the public schools in this country, the preparations for their reception, under the management of Mr. Taylor, the Principal, and Mrs. J. A. Dunkley, Vice-Principal, were of the most creditable character, and must have impressed the visitors very favorably.
March 7, 1866
The Academy of Music this evening will be filled with the pupils of School No. 15, and their friends, to participate in and listen to the entertainment to be given this evening by the Primary Department of the School, under the direction of Mrs. Dunkley, who has long acted as the efficient principal of the school.
October 2, 1867
The Board of Education last evening increased the salary of the lady principal of Public School No. 15 (Mrs. Dunkley) to one thousand dollars per annum. Due mainly to her ability, tact, and energy No. 15 has acquired more than a local reputation. While we do not desire that the case should not be accepted as a precedent, it will serve to show that we are willing to remunerate conspicuous talent in our teachers whenever we find it. It is a curious commentary on the labor problem that there is no reason in the world why Mrs. Dunkley should not have the same pay as the male principals except the fact that she is a woman.
October 3, 1867
During the week, afternoon exhibitions of the Apocalypse have been given for the accommodation of the public schools. Tuesday a special matinee was given in order to enable the pupils of School No. 15, under charge of Mrs. Dunkley, Principal, to attend. Nearly a thousand children were in attendance, and without desiring to detract from the merits of the entertainment, we must confess that to witness the perfect order and general appearance of the pupils assembled at the Atheneum on this occasion was worth as much as the admittance fee to the exhibition.
May 20, 1868: A letter to the editor in favor of Ms. Dunkley's promotion.
Now for the suggestion to our Board of Education:
As some of the most successful educational enterprises in our land [have] been accomplished by women, and as Mrs. Dunkley has already given every evidence in her conduct of School No. 15, of her being in every respect qualified to effect similar results, with the proper means. As those who have given most attention to the subject of teaching are led to assign [women] a first rank in its profession, and as Mrs. Dunkley is worthy in every way of being advanced to larger than her present educational trusts, will not our Board give her a principalship that shall allow her ability full scope?
May 21, 1868: Another letter to the editor in favor of Ms. Dunkley's promotion.
I was pleased to see in last evening's Eagle a demand on our Board of Education to place Mrs. Dunkley in charge of No. 15. This is just and should be listened to. My children attend that school, and nothing would tempt me to second the motion, but an honest conviction that Mrs. Dunkley's promotion would be not only for the interests of No. 15, but would also add greatly to the efficiency of the profession.
At present a man Principal has no fear that his abler assistant may succeed him, for she is a woman. Let our Board of Education stir up competition by appointing Mrs. Dunkley to a principalship, as suggested by your correspondent last evening, and our public school matters will assume new life. Try it.
Don't let Mrs. Dunkley leave No. 15 for a field that will offer full scope for her ability.
June 3, 1868 (part 1, part 2): A report on a Board of Education meeting recounts a discussion among the (male) board members about a proposal to remove the male principal of PS 15 and replace him with Ms. Dunkley. Mr. Fields reveals himself to be an old stick in the mud.
Mr. Fields thought it was time to put a stop to the idea of experiment in our public schools; it was too bad that every one who got a whim in his head should try it upon the system of education, the teaching of youth had everywhere been placed in the hands of male principals, and why should the experiment of placing the delicate machinery of the human mind under the control of a woman be tried in Brooklyn? He thought it a pity to allow any woman to educate lads how to fight with men in the pursuit after their daily bread. No woman could give a commercial education fitted for these times of competition.
. . .
Mr. Kinsella thought . . . There had been a great deal of foolish talk about the inability of women to educate the youhtful mind, but his experience was, that those who had succeeded best in life had followed most implicitly the instruction of the women each of us held in most sacred remembrance. On a recent occasion he had been classed among the "old fogeys" of this Board, but in this matter he intended to be found among the most advanced in the line. He believed the inefficiency of our teachers—if inefficiency existed—was owing to the fact that no adequate reward was held out to them to make teaching a profession, and he proposed by this experiment to hold out something worthy a woman's ambition in the fact that they could attain to the highest position we had to give, if found competent.
July 11, 1868: Another account of a Board of Education meeting. Mr. Fields is at it again.
Dr. Conkling presented a resolution from the Teachers' Committee and Local Committee of No. 9, recommending the appointment of Mrs. Dunkley as Principal of No. 9, from Sept. 1st, 1868. The recommendation was signed by all the Committee of No. 9 and Mr. Whitlock of the Teachers' Committee.
Mr. Fields presented a minority report signed by Dr. Conkling, Mr. Stearns and himself. The document was a very lengthy and carefully constructed one. The main points raised in objection to the appointment of Mrs. Dunkley were as follows: 1st, that the plan was revolutionary; 2d, the experiment would be too costly; 3d, such a course would greatly disappoint the patrons of the school; 4th, grave doubt as to Mrs. D.'s experience being such as to make her fit for the position. The report closed with the following resolution:
Resolved, That the teachers and local committee be directed to select a competent male teacher for Principal of Grammar School No. 9, and report his name to this Board for information.
Mr. Seabury moved the adoption of this report.
Mr. Northrup thought he should have written a statement to read from the majority, for that of the minority was a powerful document, and did credit to the gentleman who had read it. He would have liked to have been present at the reception of No. 15, and to have heard the gentleman's eulogy on female teachers. In plain language he considered all Mr. Fields had read bosh and bogas and read as buncombe, and he didn't believe the gentleman believed one word of what he had said.
. . .
After some discussion the previous question was ordered by 17 ayes to 14 noes. Mr. [Fields's] amendment was lost, 13 to 18, and the motion appointing Mrs. Dunkley was carried—17 to 14.
September 5, 1868: An article about the upcoming school year.
Peculiar interest attaches to the opening of the new school, No. 9, from the fact that it has been placed [under] the charge of a lady principal, Mrs. Dunkley, whose marked success as teacher and principal of the female department of School No. 15, inspired the Board of Education with such confidence in her ability that they have entrusted her with the sole charge of the new school. The experiment will no doubt be watched with much interest. Hitherto but little inducement has been held out to the teachers in our public schools beyond their salaries which have never been liberal; the well remunerated position of principal in the schools has heretofore been reserved for men, while women have filled all the lower positions and done all the hard work. Of the capacity of women for teaching there is no longer any question; of her capacity for the government of a school, further proof is yet wanted to silence the doubter. The ladies have been fortunate in this instance in their representative, and they may await the result with confidence.
December 24, 1868: A story about the Christmas exhibition given by the students of PS 9.
Dr. West addressed the school in a few and appropriate words, during which he paid a high compliment to the talent of Mrs. Dunkley and congratulated the citizens of that part of Brooklyn in having such an institution as School No. 9. He had been associated in a school in New York some twenty years ago with Mrs. Dunkley and had then formed a high opinion of her abilities, since he had closely watched and was gratified at the success which had attended her.
Ex-Judge Reynolds followed and said:
I must say I was never more disappointed—agreeably disappointed. It is one of the pleasantest things connected with what I have seen here to-day that it has tended to confirm in me an opinion which I have cherished some time. That opinion is, that the work of teaching can be as well—if not, in the main, I think, much better performed by women than by men. And not only that—I have believed that the work of organizing and disciplining and conducting a school might be as well done by a woman as by a man. And to-day I have seen it done. I can only express the hope that the Board of Education pay as well for this work when it is done by a woman as when it is done by a man. And the teachers and the scholars in this department will allow me to say that I consider the drill and discipline of the scholars in the room below (Primary Department) is no less admirable than here.
. . .
Mr. Wm. C. DeWitt said: I concur entirely in the notion that ladies should conduct the teaching in the common schools. I think a man looks bad "mousing" around a schoolhouse. (Laughter.) I don't think it is necessary that he should be there; and I know, from my own experience, that boys prefer female teachers. They like them better; they listen to them more complacently and more tenderly than to men.
January 23, 1872
The resignation of Mrs. Dunkley, Principal of Public School No. 9, is announced. Mrs. Dunkley had been confined to her residence by sickness for a considerable period. Her resignation leaves only one school in the charge of a lady Principal. It is to be hoped that the Board of Education will adhere to the principle they have adopted of not entirely excluding experienced lady teachers from the prospect of promotion to a principalship. It is by no mean every lady teacher, however skillful and experienced, that is fit to be a Principal; but the examples of Mrs. Dunkley and Miss Humphrey prove that a lady teacher may succeed admirably as a Principal. In filling Mrs. Dunkley's place, therefore, it is to be hoped that the authorities will promote or transfer some experienced lady teacher to the principalship of No. 9.
February 15, 1872: Not long after resigning because of illness, Ms. Dunkley (sometimes spelled Dunkly) passes away.
Mrs. Jane A. Dunkly, wife of Leonard Dunkly, Jr.
The friends and relatives are invited to attend the funeral services at 2½ P.M., on Saturday, 17th. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Clinton av, near Atlantic, Brooklyn.
The Leonard Dunkly mentioned above, Ms. Dunkley's husband, was also a principal. He presided over PS 16, which was apparently a renowned school. According to an 1881 article from the Daily Eagle:
The reputation of [PS 16] is well known. It is quoted from one end of the country to the other as a model school, not only in appointments but in intelligent methods of instruction, systematic organization, and the thoroughness of the work. For twenty-four years Mr. Dunkley has been recognized as one of the leading educators of Brooklyn.When Mr. Dunkly (his family apparently spelled the name without an "e") retired in 1902, the Daily Eagle ran an 11-paragraph tribute with a sub-headline reading "Principal's Life Devoted to an Elementary School Whose Results Are Historical."
Mr. Dunkly was held in such high esteem, in fact, that his name lives on in the public school system to this day. When I searched for information about PS 16, just to see if it's still located in the same place — it is, on Wilson Street between Bedford and Lee Avenues in Williamsburg, but in a newer building — I discovered with surprise the full name of the school: PS 16 Leonard Dunkly.