Elisabeth Irwin with a student in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown.
Elisabeth Irwin and Katharine Anthony in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown.
The building in 1923. Source: Bethlehem Chapel Architectural Forum (Feb. 1923) via Avery Library, Columbia University.
The school later expanded into these two row houses, 2016. Photo by Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
In the early 20th century, Greenwich Village attracted a large number of artistic and socially progressive residents, among them many like-minded gay men and lesbians. One of the most notable and enduring Village cultural institutions is the Little Red School House, often considered the city’s first progressive school, founded by reform educator Elisabeth Irwin (1880-1942).
As early as 1912, Irwin worked at revising public school curricula, and started her progressive “Little Red School House” curriculum in 1921. With the threat of public funding cuts, she was urged to found her own private, independent primary school. In 1932, the school moved into a former chapel building on Bleecker Street. A high school (now Elisabeth Irwin High School) was added at 40 Charlton Street in 1940. Irwin continued to direct the school until her death.
Her partner of 30 years was Katharine Anthony (1877-1965), a social researcher and feminist biographer. They lived nearby at 23 Bank Street and were members of the feminist Heterodoxy Club.
Architect or Builder: George B. Post & Sons
Year Built: 1918
Paula Martinac, The Queerest Places: A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997).
South Village Historic District Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2013).
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