Thursday, September 29, 2011

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If you've been trying to access the Slate series and haven't been able to do so, the explanation can apparently be found above. Slate unexpectedly (at least to me) unveiled a new page format today, one consequence of which is that the Permanent Record series has become a complete mish-mash. The old URLs for the articles no longer work, and I don't want to give out the new URLs yet because the content is all jumbled up -- photo links are in the wrong places, entire swaths of text have disappeared, etc. A serious mess -- extremely frustrating!

I know some of you were taking your time to get through the series, or had bookmarked it with plans to read it later. Well, now you can't. Yes, that really stinks. Even worse, the editor and art director who produced the series both left Slate just as the articles were being published, so now the whole project is orphaned. Grrrrrr. I've sent a note to Slate's ed-in-chief, asking for the content to be corrected, restored, or whatever. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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It was exactly 15 years ago today -- Sept. 28, 1996 -- that I attended my friend Gina Duclayan's 30th birthday party, which was held in the gymnasium of the old Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan (shown above). It was during that party that I came across a discarded file cabinet filled with old report cards. I didn't realize it at the time, but Permanent Record was born that day.

So happy birthday to Gina, and happy birthday to Permanent Record -- forever linked in my mind.

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I talked about Permanent Record on the radio yesterday, on WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show." The audio of the segment is embedded below.

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I'm about to take a short vacation, which means I probably won't be posting here over the next week or so. But I'll definitely be updating this site in the weeks and months to come, so sign up for the RSS feed or e-mail notifications (both of which are available at the top-right of this page) if you want to stay abreast of new developments. Thanks.

Monday, September 26, 2011


The woman on the right is Donna Protter. She and her mother, Lucille Fasanella, were profiled in the third article in the Slate series (Lucille is the one who saved her beautiful sample book and was flagged as a "troublemaker" by the school's staff). On the left is my friend and researcher extraordinaire Diane George, who found Donna and her family about six months ago.

Donna and Diane were among the 20 or so people who joined me for a Permanent Record party this past Saturday. I was so busy talking, thanking people, and generally feeling happy that I didn't take nearly as many photographs as I should have, but here are a few shots.

These are my longtime friends Daniel Radosh and Gina Duclayan:


It was at Gina's birthday party back in 1996 that I found the report cards, so it's not a stretch to say that the entire project started with her. She and Daniel took a large batch of cards that night, saved them for over a decade, later donated them to me for the purposes of this project. I'm super-grateful to them for all their help and support.

The two guys in this horribly composed photo are Kenny Lauterbach (on the left) and Matt Weingarden:


They're the other two friends were took some report cards that night back in 1996. They too saved their cards for more than a decade and then donated them to me. Matt has been one of my closest friends for many years, but I hadn't seen or spoken to Kenny in ages until I decided to pursue the Permanent Record project.

This is Dr. Robert LaPorta, the son-in-law of Marie Garaventa, whose report card was featured in the first and second installment of the Slate series:


Robert's wife is Doretta LaPorta, Marie's daughter, who I interviewed extensively for the series. Unfortunately, Doretta wasn't able to join us on Saturday because of a family emergency, but I was extremely happy that Robert came in her stead. They were both incredibly gracious about having a stranger visiting their home and asking all sorts of personal questions.

Many people who read the Slate series mentioned how much they liked the photo interface. That tool was designed by this guy, Slate designer Jeremy Singer-Vine:


Jeremy actually left Slate before the series was published (he took a new gig at the Wall Street Journal) but continued to work on the project during our final week of production, on his own time. I can't thank him enough for all his contributions to the finished product.

There were lots of other people in attendance, but I didn't get decent photos of them. Still, it was a great time, and a nice way to conclude this phase of Permanent Record.

I say "this phase" because I hope to continue researching and writing. Maybe there will be a book, or maybe there will be more Slate articles. And there will definitely be more material here on the blog. Stay tuned.

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I'll be discussing Permanent Record Tuesday morning on "The Brian Lehrer Show" (WNYC radio). My segment is due to start at 11:40am Eastern. You can access the live audio here, and I'll link to the archived audio once it's up on the WNYC web site.

Friday, September 23, 2011

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On the left is an 18-year-old girl named Mary Lorang; on the right, a baseball player named Carmen Fanzone.

These two people, who never knew each other, helped bring some closure to Permanent Record -- at least for me. Their stories are told in the series' final article, which is up now on Slate.

My thanks to everyone who's offered feedback on the project. Many of you have asked what will happen now that the Slate articles have been published. For now, I plan to keep updating this blog periodically, and it's possible that the project may continue in another medium -- stay tuned.

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I discussed Permanent Record yesterday on Minnesota Public radio. You can listen to the segment here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

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The card you see above comes from the file of a student named Selma Kaufman, who attended Manhatttan Trade in the 1930s (you can click on it for a larger version). The entry for Sept. 14, 1934, begins with: "Selma's father came in. Typical overfed Jewish silk salesman, with no taciturnity. He has some very good instincts, however, and is really a good father."

Yeah, those Jews, always with the good instincts. I must say, I'd never heard of the stereotype of an overfed silk salesman before, nor had I ever encountered the word "taciturnity."

The Manhattan Trade report cards are filled with offhand commentary like this -- sometimes offensive, sometimes heartbreaking, always fascinating. Today's Permanent Record entry on Slate focuses on this commentary. Check it out here.

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I'll be discussing Permanent Record today (Thursday) on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning Show. I'm told I'll be on from about 10:40-11am Central Time. You can access the live streaming audio here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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One reason the Permanent Record project has been so interesting is that I was lucky enough to have found report cards from a school that was extremely well documented. The book whose cover you see above was written in 1910 by one of the school's founders, and it explains a lot about the school's founding and early workings. The whole book is available online, as is one of the school's early annual reports. Even better, a 16-minute silent film about the school was shot in 1911 (if you have a few minutes, it's definitely worth watching). All of these resources helped me understand and interpret the information on the report cards.

The history of the school is the subject of today's Permanent Record article on Slate. Along the way, we'll take a look at a few students and their descendants, and we'll also see what the school building is like today. The article is available here.

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Special Event: This Saturday, Sept. 24, I'll be hosting a small Permanent Record gathering in Brooklyn, New York. Attendees will include some of the family members I've interviewed, some researchers who've assisted me during the project, some people from Slate, and so on. We have room for a few more people, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting to have some readers on hand. If you'd like to attend, get in touch and I'll give you the details.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Last Friday I showed you a photo of Doretta LaPorta posing with her mother's report card. Today I have a short video clip of Doretta talking about her mother and the report card.

Doretta and her mother -- and how I tracked them down -- are the focus of today's Permanent Record article over on Slate. You can check it out here (click on the "2" at the top of the page).

Monday, September 19, 2011


What you see above is how the Manhattan Trade School report cards look today (well, about 25% of them -- I have three additional boxes). When I first acquired them back in 1996, each individual student's file was stapled together, and they stayed that way until I began the Permanent Record project about two years ago, at which point I removed the staples so the cards would be easier to work with. Some of the cards have little rust stains where the staples had been.

I thought about saving the staples. A serious historian or conservator would have done that, right? Historic staples! But that seemed like a bit much, even for me, so I just threw the staples away.

Anyway: The Permanent Record series on Slate finally kicks off today, and the first installment is all about the cards and how I acquired them. The series begins here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

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The first entry on this blog showcased the report card of a student named Marie Garaventa. What you see above is Marie's daughter, Doretta LaPorta, holding that report card -- a tangible link to her mother's life.

As I've explained before, the principal research challenge of Permanent Record has been the fact that Manhattan Trade was a girls' school, so most of the students got married and changed their names, making it very difficult to track them. Over the past two years, I've made contact with fewer than 20 families. Some of them opted not to speak with me; others were happy to talk but live far away, so I had to interview them by phone; and then there were those, like Doretta, who I was able to meet in person.

At some point in the process I got in the habit of having these people pose with their loved ones' report cards. I wish I'd done it from the beginning -- there were a few who I missed and haven't had a chance to revisit. The ones who I did photograph are shown here:

All of these people will be profiled in the Permanent Record series on, which will kick off on Monday. I'll keep posting a few items here on the blog, but for the most part I'll let the series speak for itself next week. Thanks for reading.

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Special Event: Next Saturday, Sept. 24, I'll be hosting a small Permanent Record gathering. Attendees will include some of the family members I've interviewed, some researchers who've assisted me during the project, some people from Slate, and so on. We have room for a few more people, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting to have some readers on hand. If you'd like to attend, get in touch and I'll give you the details.

Thursday, September 15, 2011



December 3rd, 1915, was apparently a busy day for Miss Beagle, who ran the job placement office at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls -- or at least it was busy for her assistant, who had to type up at least two letters, as you can see above. I suspect there were several other similar letters sent out that day.

As you can see, both of these letters are addressed to students who had failed to claim their diplomas. Here's the backstory: After students at Manhattan Trade completed their coursework and training, they were required to demonstrate a proficiency in their chosen trade (dressmaking, millinery, or whatever) in the workplace. Only then could they apply for a diploma. Apparently some students didn't bother with this step and simply kept working. The letters shown above appear to be part of a broad attempt to contact past students who were diploma-eligible.

"Proficiency" in a student's trade was usually deemed to have been established after a year. One of the letters shown above was sent to a dressmaking student named Margaret Griffin, who had been finished her coursework way back in 1910 -- more than five years before Miss Beagle wrote to her. She responded with the following letter:

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It's a little hard to read, so here's a transcription:

Mr Dear Miss Beagle,

Received your letter. Thought I would get an opportunity to go down and see you personally, but have been so busy. So I dropped these few lines letting you know that I would be delighted to receive a diploma.

I have worked in Lord & taylor for two season and went to McCreary last October, a year ago. Thanking you for your past kindness I remain

Margaret Griffin

According to Margaret's file, she received her diploma on January 14, 1916.

The other letter was sent to a decorative boxmaker named Jennie Guaraglia. Her file contains no indication of any response to the letter, and it appears that she never applied for or received her diploma.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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Yesterday I told you a bit about Anneliese Stark, whose report card I found on the web while doing some research. The photo you see above shows her in 1940, when she was 19.

Anneliese -- whose name is now Anneliese Smith -- now lives in an assisted-living facility in Baltimore. She is the oldest living graduate of the Manhattan Trade School for Girls that I have encountered (although the school had changed its name to the Manhattan High School of Women's Garment Trades by the time she attended). Her grandson, Frank Diller, who had posted her report card on his blog, graciously arranged for me to interview her over the phone a few weeks ago. We talked for a little over 15 minutes. Here's how it went:

Permanent Record: Frank, your grandson, explained to me that when you attended the trade school, you were living in a home for girls [essentially an orphanage], is that right?

Anneliese Smith: Yes, that's right, after my mother died.

PR: Was that home in Manhattan?

AS: It was in the Bronx. 318 Mosholu Parkway.

PR: You remember the address!

AS: Yes, it was a millionaire's home, and they took care of 28 girls. They were 12 to 18 [years old]. I think it was about five or ten millionaires who sponsored that home.

PR: Were you already attending the trade school when you began living there?

AS: No. I had missed two years of school because I'd been taking care of my mother, who was sick. [Anneliese's mother died of throat cancer when Anneliese was 13.] Nobody even bothered to see whether you were in school at that time. And then when I went into the home, that's when I started school again. They sent me right to the trade school.

PR: Did any of the other girls at the home go to the trade school?

AS: No, I was the only one.

PR: Do you know why they decided to have you go to a trade school, instead of a conventional high school?

AS: I guess because I had missed so much time.

PR: And when you entered the school, what trade did you choose to focus on?

AS: Well, I was interested in cooking, baking, stuff like that. So it was cafeteria management, I think it was called. But I took all the other courses also -- math, science, all that stuff. It's all there on my report card. I hadn't seen that in years until my grandson found it when I was moving.

PR: They were still teaching sewing and dressmaking at that point, right?

AS: Oh, yes. And they had beauty shop also. Teaching how to cut hair and all that.

PR: But you were more interested in cooking.

AS: I didn't really know what I wanted, honestly.

PR: Well, very few people do at that age. What do you remember about the school? Do you think it was a good school, and a positive experience for you?

AS: I think it was, yes. I enjoyed being there. The teachers were very nice. One time they took us up to Rye -- Rye, New York -- where there were rides and things like that.

PR: Oh, Rye Playland?

AS: Yes, that's right. That's where we were. We had a great time. We had a picnic first, and then we enjoyed the rides.

PR: It was still exclusively a girls' school at that point, right?

AS: Yes it was, mm-hmm.

PR: And the teachers and instructors -- were they all women?

AS: Yes, I think they were, yes.

PR: So there were really no men anywhere in this building.

AS: No, not really.

PR: After you finished your education, did the school help you find a job?

AS: No, I went to Pratt Institute for a year.

PR: Oh! And what did you study there?

AS: Same thing -- cafeteria management. But I never followed through with it.

PR: You never went into that field?

AS: No. I went into the service [the Army] when I was 21. After that, I did work at Stouffer's restaurant in New York for a while.

PR: Was that before you went into the service?

AS: Yes. It was on Fifth Avenue -- I think near 42nd Street. I don't know if it's there anymore.

PR: I don't think it is.

AS: But Stouffer's dinners!

PR: Yes, those are still around. What did you do at the restaurant?

AS: Whatever was needed. I was in training. I worked there for, oh, I guess it must have been almost a year. And after I came out of the service, I worked at Chase National Bank.

PR: Later on, when you were married and cooking for your family, do you think the skills and some of the things you learned in school…

AS: Oh yes, it was helpful.

PR: So even though you didn't go into a restaurant career, your experience at the trade school helped you in later life.

AS: Yes, it did.

PR: Did you maintain any kind of contact with the school over the years?

AS: No, I didn't.

PR: I've seen your report card, but do you know if you saved any other artifacts or paperwork from your time at the school?

AS: I have my yearbook, but that's about all.

PR: Really?

AS: My grandson has it someplace, yes.

PR: Wow. I'll have to ask him about that. Would it be okay if he showed it to me?

AS: Yes, that would be fine.

PR: Anything else you remember about the school, maybe about the building itself?

AS: It, it -- it didn't look like a school. It looked more like a warehouse, I think. It didn't feel very scholastic. But they had a cafeteria on the first floor, where people would come in to eat, and we served ’em.

PR: Well, I don't know if it looks like a warehouse, but the building is still there, and it's still a school, although it isn't a trade school anymore. Now, when they were teaching you cafeteria management, what sorts of things were they teaching you?

AS: We did all the cooking, and then we served the lunch.

PR: So you were feeding the other students?

AS: No, we were feeding people who'd come in from outside.

PR: Oh -- so people in the neighborhood could go to a coffee shop, or a diner, or whatever, or they could come get lunch from you?

AS: Yes. We always had soup and salads, hot food. Rolls, cakes, and pies.

PR: And would you be supervised by the school's staff?

AS: Yes. Miss Johnston.

PR: Would you or the other students come up with recipes, or were they given to you?

AS: They were given to us.

PR: And at that time, were you thinking, "This is good food, we're serving a good meal"?

AS: Well, at the time I was upset because I'd lost my mother, and I went on a hunger strike. So that was rough on a teacher. She had to coddle me and make me eat.

PR: Now, you were commuting all the way from the Bronx to East 22nd Street. Was that a long commute?

AS: Yes, it took about 45 minutes to an hour. I used to ride the train, the subway.

PR: On the back of your report card, there are signatures from…

AS: From Miss Cole.


PR: And who was she?

AS: She was the superintendent of the home. She was wonderful -- oh, she was so good to me.

PR: And she signed your report card because she was your legal guardian.

AS [starting to sound a little tired]: Yes.

PR: I want to thank you so much for sharing your time and your stories with me.

AS: Oh, you're welcome. I hope I've helped you a little bit, I don't know.

PR: Oh, you have. Thanks again.
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And there we are. I actually learned a fair amount from Anneliese. For example, I hadn't known that the school was offering cafeteria management or cosmetology instruction in the late 1930s. I also didn't realize the school had a retail lunch operation. Some years earlier, when Manhattan Trade's vocational training centered on garment work, a small dress shop, selling the students' creations, had operated on the school's first floor. Perhaps the lunch business replaced the dress shop as the school's vocational focus shifted, or perhaps the two retail outlets coexisted. Another mystery for another day.

After speaking with Anneliese, I asked Frank about the yearbook. He found it and was then kind enough to loan it to me. You can see Anneliese's senior photo at the bottom-right corner of this spread. Unfortunately, the yearbook doesn't have much additional information about what the school was like during this period -- it's mostly just head shots, a few poems and essays, and a long list of boosters.

One last thing: Frank told me that when Anneliese turned 16, Miss Cole -- her guardian at the orphanage -- recommended that she visit her father, whom she hadn't seen since her parents had divorced years earlier. As Frank described it to me, "She went to his apartment and knocked on the door. Her father opened the door and promptly shut it in her face. Anneliese heard a woman in the apartment ask who was at the door. 'No one,' her father replied."

Frank has assured me that it's fine to share this story, but I couldn't bring myself to ask Anneliese about it. It just seems too heartbreaking. So here's a teen-ager who had to overcome the death of her mother and the rejection of her father, yet managed to build a life and a family for herself. It's an inspiring story -- she must have been very strong. My sense of it is that she still is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Although I typically use the term "report cards" when referring to my collection of Manhattan Trade School student files, that's really a bit of a misnomer. These cards weren't sent home for parental review, and they contain all sorts of information that wouldn't normally be found in a standard report card. My cards are really the students' permanent records -- the files that are kept at the school and never shown to the students or parents.

I always assumed that Manhattan Trade used conventional report cards as well, but I'd never seen one until I stumbled across the one shown above, for a student named Anneliese Stark. (The school name at the top of her card, Manhattan High School for Women's Garment Trades, was the third of the four names the school would have during its 90-year history, but it was still essentially Manhattan Trade.) It was posted last winter on a blog maintained by Anneliese's grandson, Frank Diller. I came across his blog post while doing some routine Google research on the school.

I got in touch with Frank and explained my project to him. He was kind enough to tell me about Anneliese's life story. Here's the short version: Anneliese was born in Stuttgart in 1921, the youngest of three children. Her father came to America in the mid-1920s and then sent for his family. By the time Anneliese was 13, her parents had divorced, her father had distanced himself from his children, and her mother had died of cancer, so Anneliese was placed in a girls' orphanage in the Bronx, where it was decided that she should attend Manhattan Trade. She later attended Pratat Institute in Brooklyn, joined the Army during World War II, and then married and raised a family in the Baltimore area.

But here's the best part: Anneliese is still alive. She's in an assisted-living facility and turned 90 last month. Frank said he thought she could handle a short interview and agreed to ask her if she'd be willing to speak with me on the phone. She said that would be fine, so I recently called her. We talked for about 20 minutes.

This raised a question for me: Should Anneliese's story be included in the series of Permanent Record articles that will be appearing on next week? After all, I'd been wanting all along to match up a Manhattan Trade report card with a living student, and here was a chance to do just that.

But the more I thought about it, the more Anneliese seemed like her own separate category. For one thing, her report card was never in my possession. In fact, it had been in her possession all along, so it's not as though I was reuniting this card with its long-lost subject, which is what I had hoped to do with this project (and am still hoping to do, although the odds now seem rather remote). Also, Anneliese's conventional report card contains much less information than the permanent records in my collection, so there wasn't any compelling commentary to ask follow up on, no unresolved storylines to ask about.

I don't mean to suggest that Anneliese's story isn't fascinating -- on the contrary, it is. But I ultimately decided that it belonged here, on this blog, instead of in the Slate series. I'll present a transcript of my interview with her tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2011


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The letter shown above appears in the file of a dressmaking student named Lillian Greenberg, who attended the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in 1915 and ’16. It's a little hard to read, so here's a transcription:

May 7, 1923

Dear Miss Inglee,

No doubt you will be very much surprised to hear from me. I am a graduate of the dressmaking department in the year of nineteen hundred and sixteen. In all these seven years I have been connected with three firms which you have record of in your files. As my record is of excellent standing, I am taking the liberty of asking your advice in the following matter.

I am connected with the firm of Jos. Echstein for the past two years and due to the fact that there is going to be a change in the staff of the firm, I would not care to remain there any longer.

What I am desirous of asking your advice on, is just what are the qualifications for teaching a dressmaking class in the school.

If convenient, would ask that you kindly let me know by return mail as soon as possible, and would ask that you kindly do not get in touch with my present firm, as I would not want them to know that I am contemplating a change.

Hopeing to have the pleasure of hearing from you soon and thanking you in advance, I beg to remain

Very truly yours,

Lillian Greenberg
303 Broome St.

Interesting! I believe this is the only example of a student in my report card collection asking for a teaching position at the school. It's not clear if Lillian was hired. Personally, I doubt it (among other factors, she was about to turn 22 years old -- far younger than the school's other instructors), but a note at the top of her letter reads, "Wants her to come in Thurs.," so apparently her request was taken seriously.

My collection does include a case of a student who circled back to the school for a different reason, with a different request. It's one of my favorite storylines in the entire report card collection, but I'm saving it for the Slate series -- which, incidentally, starts one week from today.

Friday, September 9, 2011

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Here's another rare document: a small card that a student was apparently supposed to take with her when sent to her first work assignment by the Manhattan Trade School job placement office. (Manhattan Trade had changed its name to Manhattan Industrial High School around 1930, about four years before this card was filled out.)

The card is blank on the back, and there's indication that it was intended to be mailed. I think the girl -- in this case a sewing machine operator named Marie DeTuro -- was simply supposed to bring it to her first job and present it to the employer, who had presumably been told by the school to expect her arrival.

This is the only card of its type that I have. Nothing like it appears in any of the other students' files, and it's not clear to me why it was retained in Marie's. Did she forget to bring it? Did she return it for some reason?

I love the use of "Introducing" at the top of the card, as if Marie, about to begin low-wage garment job, were a debutante. Which, in a way, I guess she was.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

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I've talked a fair amount about how the Manhattan Trade School for Girls would arrange employment for its students, and how the girls and their employers were then encouraged to report back on each other to the school. But how was that reporting done?

The answer comes from the postcard shown above (the two images are just the two sides of the same card), which gives us a peek into the way the school communicated with employers. Out of the 395 student files in my collection, only two of them have a postcard like this one, so the cards were apparently discarded after the information from the employer was transcribed into the girl's record.

The original reports from the girls regarding their work experiences weren't usually kept on file either. I have such original documents from only one student: a dressmaker named Ella Seeber, whose file contains three postcard reports on her work assignments. Again, this information was routinely transcribed into the girls' employment records, and then the cards were apparently tossed away. It's not clear why three of Ella's cards were retained.

Note that the card at the top of the page is nearly 100 years old!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


One of the most engaging aspects of the Manhattan Trade School report cards is the way you can reconstruct certain storylines from the data in the files.

Take, for example, the case of the letter you see above, which is in the file of a dressmaking student named Henrietta Carter, who attended Manhattan Trade from 1910 to 1911 (note that her father was a "coaler" -- a nice term). How did that letter come to be written? Here's how we can reconstruct the pieces of the puzzle:

1. Henrietta, like most Manhattan Trade Students, was placed in a series of jobs. If you look in the far-right column of that card, you'll see each of her work assignments was given a number.

2. Those numbers correspond to the numbers in the far-left column of these cards, which have comments from Henrietta (marked with a check in the "Girl" column) and from her employers (marked with an x in the "Employer" column) regarding her work experiences. For example, on May 26, 1911, for employer No. 3, Henrietta reported that she was "Leaving because Miss P. is disagreeable and cross about work." If we go back to the list of employers, we see that employer No. 3 was a Miss Pilcher.

Are you following all of this?

3. Employer No. 21 was L.P. North -- the company whose letterhead is shown at the top of this entry. (As you can see on the letterhead, the company name was actually P.L. North, not L.P. -- a rare slip-up in the Manhattan Trade recordkeeping.) If we look at the comments regarding that job assignment, we see that Henrietta had said, "Want more money -- raised 5 mo. ago." And then it indicates that "H.B" had written to the employer.

4. H.B. was Miss Beagle -- Manhattan Trade's job placement secretary, to whom the letter was addressed. So Miss Beagle, responding to Henrietta's plea for more money, had apparently written to P.L. North, inquiring as to whether Henrietta could receive a raise. And F.T. North (perhaps the "Son" in the company's name?) essentially responded by saying that Henrietta was a bit of a slacker, that he'd already been lenient with her, and that all she really wanted in the first place was some "extra work she might do at home," not a raise.

And there you have it.

Want to go even deeper? Consider this: Henrietta was a dressmaking student (this is indicated at the top-right corner of her main card), so how did she end up working for a company making "Morocco cases and sample rolls"?

The answer lies in some of her work comments. At one point she had reported, "Dr. says I am too nervous for D. ["D" refers to dressmaking.] Would like to combine dressmaking with shipping." Then, 10 days later, "Dr. says must take something entirely different from dressmaking, such as nurse maid." And then, nearly two months later, at the bottom of the card, "Must not do any sewing!"

Fast-forward about four and a half years: Henrietta said, "Would like to try novelty -- too nervous for sewing." The term "novelty" refers to the making of fancy decorative novelty gift boxes. Three weeks later, the school had placed her at P.L. North -- not a novelty box operation, but not a standard garment-sewing job either.

And that's how Henrietta ended up making Morocco cases. And how she eventually complained about not getting a raise. And how her employer said she didn't really deserve one.

Now imagine untangling 395 of these puzzles, and you'll get an idea of what my report card collection is like.

Monday, September 5, 2011

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What do these two Manhattan Trade School report cards have in common? If you look at the two students' dates of birth (located in the upper-left portion of the cards, just under the street address), you'll see that they were both born on Sept. 6 -- which is today.

If Julia Paltrinieri is still living, she's turning 98 today. And Rose Desiderio (who later married and became Rose Carlucci), if she's still alive, will have 104 candles on her cake.

The reality, of course, is that both of these women are probably deceased. But you never know -- I've been unable to track down their families, so I can't be certain either way. Just to be safe: Happy birthday, Julia! And happy birthday, Rose!

Update: Reader Lloyd Davis did a bit of on-the-spot research and determined that Julia Paltrinieri died on August 15, 1999, a few weeks shy of her 86th birthday. R.I.P.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

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The report card shown above (it's the same card -- the two images show the outer and inner panels) isn't from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls. It's from P.S. 69 in the Bronx, which is where Peter Wunsch attended school while growing up in the 1950s. He had saved his report cards and was kind enough to scan this one and send the scans to me.

This document is more in line with what most of us think of when we hear the term "report card." It was sent home for the student's parents to review and sign. The Manhattan Trade student files, although I frequently refer to them as report cards, are actually the students' permanent records, and are filled with much more information than a standard report card. Still, conventional report cards like Peter's have something that the permanent records do not: a parent's signature. It may not seem like much, but sometimes something as simple as signature can be something to cling to, a cherished reminder of a loved one who's passed away.

"The reason I sent you this particular report card is it's one of the few in which I received a good grade in conduct," says Peter. He also sent along his second grade class portrait (that's him in the back row):

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Peter had some interesting commentary on this photo:

The teacher, Ms. Friedlander, wearing pearls, hosted a really early Sunday-morning AM radio show that we all listened to regularly.

The chubby boy on my left, Alan Friedlander (no relation), worked in the World Trade Center and was one of the 9/11 victims. There was a campaign earlier in the year to re-name P.S. 69, and Alan’s name was one of the nominees. I believe the entire naming is stuck in NYC bureaucracy. …

I notice in looking back that the then-middle class neighborhood was almost entire white. I always thought of myself as the outsider because I was the only Jewish person in the class. I never thought about how Cathy (Korean adoptee) or Mercedes (the tall Hispanic girl) must have felt.

I recently went back and toured the area. My father’s candy store is now a dental clinic and both the synagogue I attended and the movie theater are both Hispanic churches.

Unfortunately, I haven't saved any of my old report cards. Have you saved any of yours? If so, and if you're willing to share them, please send them my way and I'll feature them in a future installment of Permanent Record.