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 Slate.com 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.

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