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Neilia Biden photo among relics of Syracuse school district's history

A smiling woman displays an old, black and white class photo.
Ashley Kang
Bellevue Elementary School Principal Lessie Williams brought a 1966 class photo featuring President Joe Biden's first wife, Neilia Biden, who taught at the school from 1964-68, to display during the district's 175th anniversary event held at Salt City Market, May 8, 2023.

Syracuse city school representatives marked the district’s 175th anniversary with a display of artifacts from the system’s history. The district's official founding is said to be May 8, 1848.

A Monday celebration at Salt City Market featured several yearbooks, vintage memorabilia and old photographs, including an image of Joe Biden’s first wife. 

The 1966 class photo featuring Neilia Biden came from Bellevue Elementary School's Principal Lessie Williams, who brought in the photo and a Bellevue Heights School plate. Biden taught seventh grade at the school, and its said Joe Biden, who attended Syracuse University law school, would often stop by at the end of the school day.


Salem Hyde Elementary Principal Becky Groat brought a photo album from 2001-2002 and school memorabilia, including a vintage school pennant and beanie.  

The Syracuse City School Library System displayed a robust collection of past articles, organized by school. That’s where staff, officials and alums attending the celebration could learn of the district’s notable students and meaning behind each school’s name,

That includes Huntington PreK-8 School, which is the only one in the district named for a woman, after Aria Sargent Huntington. She is credited for her auxiliary work, developing a shelter for unprotected girls and even founding Syracuse Memorial Hospital. She was also the first female elected to the Syracuse Board of Education, in 1889.  

 The items shared are just a kickoff to what Superintendent Anthony Davis said will be a year-long recognition of the district's rich history. The district formed a partnership with the Onondaga Historical Association to develop a traveling exhibit, and when class is back in session, officials plan to incorporate each school's unique history into lesson plans.