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Toddlers in Tiaras of Yesteryear

Dec 17, 2013 3:56 PM | 2 comments

Brooklyn has crowned many a beauty queen in its day. The Queen of Beer? Yes. The most beautiful grandmother? Of course! It turns out Brooklyn was crowning beauties of all ages. The Infants Home of Brooklyn, originally located in a private home at 1356 56th Street which was later demolished to make room for a new, more permanent building, hosted an annual beauty pageant to crown the Queen of Tots.

The Infants Home opened in 1919 as an emergency shelter for five children left homeless by a fire in Borough Park. It was specifically a home for Jewish children until a 1947 plea by the Welfare Commission which asked the home to operate on a non-sectarian basis. It was neither an orphanage nor a children's hospital, rather a place for children during early life emergencies: a parent's sudden death, a broken home, or a mother's long or incurable illness. Initially the Infants Home of Brooklyn only took children up to six years of age. By 1970, however, the home had expanded and was accepting emotionally disturbed children as well as those up to nine years old. Today, 1356 56th Street is the site of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, an organization that provides social services to New Yorkers in need. 

Infants Home of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1931 

Desk Atlas, Borough of Brooklyn, 1929

What goes into crowning a Queen of Tots, you might ask? I asked the same question. As I began digging through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives in search of the Infants Home's regal past I began to uncover some fantastic images of daily life. Admittedly, I couldn't find anything about the judging criteria. Therefore, I've created my own.

The Queen of Tots is always modest.

Pardon Us for a Moment, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954

"Pardon Us For A Moment!" the caption of this 1954 photo reads, "It's time out and back to the camera for these youngsters, determined to stay on schedule." The infants went through an average of 22,000 diapers a month. Goodness.

The Queen of Tots must comport herself appropriately at parties.

Parties Galore, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954

The children celebrated birthdays with chaperones from Brooklyn College who were working toward degrees in child care. What's more, the Infants Home of Brooklyn was a recipent of generous donations from the public. The 1954 charity ball had an expected attendance of 3,000. We can only hope that every one of the 3,000 attendees wore one of the fantastic hats pictured above.

The Queen of Tots works to beautify her community.

The Scrub Team, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953

From left to right; Peter, 4, Fanny, 5, and Melody, 5, work to clean their wading pool before the hot months of summer. The little boy on the far left isn't listed in the caption. You can see from the red grease pen that he was cropped out of the photo that eventually appeared into the paper. Apparently white was in that summer.

The Queen of Tots is always selfless.

America's Sweet Tot, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1951

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954

"Linda is offering Barry his choice of sweet." An informal holiday, the Sweetest Day, was held in 1951. Gifts were distributed around the Infants Home and throughout other orphanages in Brooklyn by the Sweetest Day Committee. Another little girl shares her ice cream (or some other spoon-appropriate food) with a very smug looking doll.

The Queen of Tots must be a law abiding citizen.  

"Toby is the belle of the bathers, Toby is the best on the beach. Dressed in a bathing suit just a bit snug, everyone says she's a peach. When in the pool she's a corker and swims out of every guy's reach. Toby's the belle of the bathers, Toby's the best on the beach." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1952

Playing in their wading pool (cleaned by their own hands, no less) was a welcome respite from the summer heat. The above caption goes on to state that Toby, the aforementioned peach, fell for the pool lifeguard, four-year-old Anthony. Oh, young love.

Rivera in Borough Park, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954

For those who weren't in the market for a water bath (perhaps those who had yet to learn to eat on their own, let alone swim) a sun bath might have been more appropriate. Nurses supervised the infants in their special rooftop solarium. A glass roof protected the infants from the elements. After all, a windburn does not a queen make.

There she is, the Queen of Tots!

Queen Crowns Queen, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954

In 1944 it was Iva! Iva was crowned by Hollywood icon Carole Landis.*

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1947

In 1947 it was Linda!

Just Barbara, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953

In 1950 it was Barbara, and on her first birthday, no less!

Queen of Tots, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1951

In 1951 it was 10-month-old Judy! Ain't she a beauty!

Royal Treatment, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953

In 1953 it was Rose. She was given the royal treatment by five-year-old Frieda.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1948

Although some girls may have grown too old to compete for the title of Queen of Tots, there were always more crowns to snatch. The Infants Home of Brooklyn hosted beauty contests for teenagers as well. Adele Lubroth was the Queen of the Cabaret Night Festival in 1948.

The Infants Home of Brooklyn is no longer there. However, you can't walk past the building without feeling like you're standing in the presence of royalty. A marker still hangs over the door denoting the building's important and, need I say adorable, past.

* * *

*Carole Landis, a Hollywood icon of the 1940s, came to crown the 1944's winner. When I pulled the above photo out of the archives I was unfamiliar with Ms. Landis. I am not a scholar of old Hollywood. I wrote her name on a Post-It and descended into the "Morgue" to see if I could dig up any information on her life.

"Morgue". "Dig up". Unintended puns that, sadly, shed some light onto the topic of my next entry. Stay tuned.


12/18/2013 10:57:11 AM #

Wonderful essay and pictorial tour of the "Queen of Tots".  I'm glad that I had an opportunity to visit, as I was born in 1955 and I can just imagine some of my slightly older peers in these pictures. "Pardon Us For A Moment" is perhaps my favorite - love the image - so reminiscent of a simpler time, and not a cell phone in the picture!


12/26/2013 11:41:07 PM #

Wow! I can't believe they have been crowning babies that long. Pretty interesting.