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The Search for Air in Baltimore: Open-Air Education at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

"Some of Our Little Ones," Mountain Hospital, Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, ca 1909.

“Some of Our Little Ones,” Mountain Hospital, Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, ca 1909. The Hospital was one of the first proponents of open-air education in the United States.*

In the early twentieth century, student health attracted increasing attention from educators, medical professionals, and architects. This concern came in two waves. First reformers argued that schools were actively harming the health of students. Then they sought to expand the responsibilities of schools by arguing that the activities and structure of school buildings should not only maintain, but improve student health. These discussions occurred both nationally and within Maryland, and particularly affected the architecture of Baltimore schools. When the state of Maryland published the first issues of the Maryland Educational Journal, writers lamented the poor air in the schools and its negative effect on student health and attention.  In the February 1906 issue, B.B. Owens the Supervisor for Public School Building in Baltimore asked, “who shall estimate the injury done to parent and child when they realize that health or a life has been sacrificed through neglect or indifference of the State?”(1) Such rallying cries to educators resulted in changed expectations of school architecture projects in the following decade.

When Baltimore school authorities sought to improve air for children they could look to the open-air movement, gaining traction in the United States after first appearing in the Waldschule or “forest school” of Germany, but they could also look closer to home. The Hospital for the Relief of Cripple and Deformed Children (later renamed The Kernan Hospital) had sent children to the country for fresh air since 1899.(2) Some private schools were able to follow their example, building near parks or on the outskirts of Baltimore; however, public schools had a more difficult time acquiring land and may have looked to strategies developing in cities such as New York and Chicago.

The Mountain Hospital

The Mountain Hospital, Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, ca 1909.*

Tent Wards at Mountain Hospital, Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, ca 1909. From The Fourteenth Annual Report of the Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, 1909, PAM 13269, MdHS (reference photo)

Tent Wards at Mountain Hospital, Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, ca 1909.*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hospital had a city location in a converted house, but for fresh air treatment they also ran a “Mountain Hospital.” The hospital treated illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis of the bone, and doctors had long encouraged open-air treatment in the mountains for tuberculosis.(3) Yet, space was limited in the treatment program and only children who contracted disease could benefit from the fresh air.  With the spread of the open-air movement educators began to question if schools could provide fresh air and prevent children from contracting disease at all.

Open Air Class Room, The Park School, ca 1915. From "The Park School (Incorporated), May, 1915, PAM 7165, MdHS.(reference photo)

Open Air Class Room, The Park School, ca 1915.
From “The Park School (Incorporated), May, 1915, PAM 7165, MdHS.(reference photo)

Roland Park Country School

Main School Study Hall, Roland Park Country School, ca 1916.***

In 1912, the public schools began to construct open-air classes for children who were weak, malnourished, or had been exposed to tuberculosis, but were not yet infected. These classes, on the roofs of School No. 22 and 6 and in the yards of older schools, had greater expanses of windows than the average classroom. Medical professionals believed cold fresh air provided the best treatment for health and encouraged teachers to open these windows year round. These spaces also provided rest areas for naps and small kitchens for the extra food the children received.(4)

The first open-air class at the private Park School may have resembled the open-air structures in the yards of public schools, but the outlook included broad open spaces and trees. (In contrast, the open air class at School No. 75 looked out on a fire escape.) Roland Park Country School made a firm commitment to open-air education with their new building in 1916 which featured classes, a study hall, and a gym with walls of windows designed to open as far as possible.(5)

Despite the enthusiasm for fresh air, open-air classes proved unsustainable, and over time teachers opened windows less frequently and arcades were enclosed. Schools with suburban property could continue to emphasize their location and access to nature. In the city where access to nature was more restricted, the formal organization of public school open-air classes persisted longer with the last classes disbanding in the early 1940s.(6)

(Laurin Goad)

Laurin Goad is a Doctoral Candidate at Pennsylvania State University. Her dissertation focuses on open-air schools in the early twentieth century. Laurin was an MdHS Lord Baltimore Fellow in 2016.

Sources and further reading:

*Photographs are from The Fourteenth Annual Report of the Hospital for the Relief of Crippled and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, 1909, PAM 13269, MdHS (reference photos).

**Photograph from The Park School (Incorporated), May, 1915, PAM 7165, MdHS (reference photo).

***Photograph from Roland Park Country School – Views, ca 1916, BCLM Photoprints, Legal, Box 10, MdHS (reference photo).

(1) Owens, B.B., “Classroom Ventilation,” The Maryland Educational Journal. Vol. 1, No. 6 (February 1906): 20-23.

(2) Annual Report of the Hospital for the Relief of Cripple and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Company Press, 1899), 22.

(3) Annual Report of the Hospital for the Relief of Cripple and Deformed Children of Baltimore City, (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Company Press, 1899), 13-15. For other discussions of tuberculosis treatment in the United States see Daniel Freund, American Sunshine: Diseases of Darkness and the Quest for Natural Light and Cynthia A. Connolly, Saving Sickly Children: The Tuberculosis Preventorium in American Life, 1909-1970.

(4) Eighty-Fourth Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore for the Scholastic Year Ending June 20, 1913, (Baltimore: Meyer & Thalheimer, 1914), 137-138.

(5) Roland Park Country School: Fiftieth Anniversary, 1908-1958. (Baltimore: Roland Park School, 1958), 7.

(6) One Hundred and Eleventh Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of Baltimore City to the Mayor and City Council Scholastic Year Ending June 30, 1940 and the Fiscal Year Ending December 31, 1939. (Baltimore), 76.

Discussion

2 Responses to “The Search for Air in Baltimore: Open-Air Education at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century”

  1. You identified that Baltimore’s Hospital for the Relief of Cripple and Deformed Children had a “Mountain Hospital”. Do you know where that location was? I am looking for one in or around Blue Ridge Summit, PA.

    Thank you!

    Posted by Stacey | 23. Sep, 2017, 5:48 pm

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