Smithsonian Acquires American School Artifacts

November 18, 2014

Inkwells, slate boards and penmanship books are among the almost 800 objects reflecting education in America that were recently acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The objects are a gift from Richard Lodish, a former educator at Sidwell Friends. Inspired by his time as a teacher in Cleveland and headmaster of the Lower School at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md., he began purchasing education artifacts in 1966.

The “Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection,” as it will be known, includes two 18th-century hornbooks that were used as teaching aids, consisting of a leaf of paper showing the alphabet mounted on a wooden tablet and protected by a thin plate horn; a set of tuition cards for black students attending school in the Jim Crow South; geography samplers produced in 19th-century women’s academies; an early set of kindergarten materials by Milton Bradley; an original printing plate for a McGuffey Reader and corresponding reader; a math toy known as “Consul, the Calculating Monkey”; examples of classic penmanship workbooks for all major writing systems Spenserian, Palmer, Payson, Dunton, Scribner national and Harpers; and a collection of more than 900 Rewards of Merit, certificates, cards and medals presented to students to recognize classroom achievements.

The collection represents approximately 250 years of educational materials. The earliest objects in the collection are the 18th-century hornbooks, and the most recent are painted school-crosswalk signs dated 1944 to 1960. The museum already owns approximately 3,000 additional objects related to education, including those for teaching math, educational toys and lunchboxes.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit or call (202) 633-1000 for Smithsonian information.