The Sunday porch: Miss Kale’s

Miss Kale's house, via LoC“Washington, D.C. The home of Miss Norma Kale, a Woodrow Wilson High School English teacher,” October 1943, by Esther Bubley, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

What a charming, patchwork quilt of a house: a Gothic window, a Dutch Colonial Revival shape, and a couple of Greek columns. The screened porch angles away from each side of the door. There are climbing rose canes around the downstairs windows.

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The specific location is not given.  The Palisades neighborhood in northwest Washington comes to mind.  It still has old tall trees and funny little houses set among them. But much more of the city must have looked that way 70 years ago.

Bubley took a large number of photographs of students and teachers at Woodrow Wilson High School — including several of Miss Kale grading papers at home and hosting the editors of the student newspaper in front of the fire in her living room.

Two of the pictures also include an elderly man, who may have been her father; she was about 40 at the time.

Miss Kale and students, via LoC“Miss Norma Kale. . . greeting some of her students who have come to her home on a Sunday afternoon.”

I like the old concrete and wire fence and gate too.  It looks like the posts go up to support an arbor over the gate.

Sadly, an In Memoriam page in the 1956 Woodrow Wilson yearbook said that Miss Kale had died in March of that year. It noted that “Miss Kale placed importance on nature and the worth of human character, rather than on material possessions.”

. . . I love
this garden in all its moods,
even under its winter coat
of salt hay, or now,
in October, more than
half gone over: here
a rose, there a clump
of aconite. . . .

James Schuyler, from “Korean mums

8 thoughts on “The Sunday porch: Miss Kale’s

  1. It looks like she is wearing the same stylish frock indoors correcting papers as the image at the gate. And that appears to be a tea trolley that she is using. Not the most comfortable set-up. Wonder if that was done for the photog and she usually sat at the kitchen table? The house is absolutely wonderful. I am ready to move in!

  2. I found Miss Norma Kale and her parents in the 1940 Census records on (misspelled Kaler; the mother may have been dead by 1943). The home address is 5527 3rd St So, Arlington, Virginia, which is in the Glencarlyn neighborhood on the western outskirts of the county; probably still fairly rural in 1943. Went to Google Street View. Remarkably, the crumbling old concrete fence where Miss Kale greets her students is still there–and still crumbling–though minus the gate. But the house looks quite different. The real estate listing on Zillow says the house was built in 1890. If it is still the same house, it has been given a complete facelift (new facade).

    Sorry to hear that Miss Kale died so relatively young (have not been able to find her on Find A Grave; was wondering if she had had a late in life marriage). She must have left enough of an impression on her students to be so remembered in the yearbook, certainly enough to get her students to come that far out to see her on a Sunday afternoon during a time of gas rationing. I had been Googling her name to find out what had happened to her and some of the students profiled at Woodrow Wilson High School by Esther Bubley. The girl in the middle of the gate photo, Sally (Dessez) Miller, who was one of the top students at Wilson High and evidently a favorite of Miss Kale, died of cardiac arrest in October 1995, age 69.

    It’s depressing to realize that even the young people in this photo essay are now mostly all gone–that year’s seniors including Sally Dessez would have been born in the same year as Queen Elizabeth II. Still, we are very lucky to have these photos, which are wonderful social documents of everyday life in Wartime Washington. If not for Miss Bubley, these would not exist, and the people in them, and the stories of their lives, would be lost to us. Nobody was toting around cameras on mobile phones in those days, and nobody at the time would have thought to take pictures of such mundane activities as a Sunday visit to a beloved teacher even if they did.

  3. It is the same house. After posting my first reply, I saw the additional smaller photo on Zillow. The second picture shows the back side (garden side) of the house, including the section with the gambrel roof and cathedral window. Still can’t believe that that crumbling concrete fence is still there in the front. Would think somebody would have replaced it. Thankfully, no one has. Maybe somebody should send the current owners a link to the 1943 photos.

  4. Last post, I promise.

    Bad news. The more that I look at the two photos on Zillow, the more that it looks like that they are for two different houses at the same address. The Kales’ 1890/1943 house was much lower-slung and had a more rambling structure than the current house. Meaning that the second picture (watermarked 2012), which I thought was of the back/garden side of the current house, is actually the original house that must have been torn down after the property last sold in 2012 and replaced by the house in the first picture, which is taken off of Google Street View (captured Aug. 2019). A Google Earth satellite view of the property seems to confirm that the original rambling manse is no more. And yet the new owners kept that old crumbling concrete fence out front (and have made no real attempt to repair it).

    So it is no longer possible to visit that “charming, patchwork quilt of a house” as you called it (a sad loss of a fine specimen of eccentric vernacular architecture). But one can still go up to and through (if you dare) that archway where Miss Kale is seen greeting her students. The relentless forward march of progress has its occasional consolations.

    Please feel free to consolidate my three postings if you wish.

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