Friday, June 1, 2012

great grandma bee005.jpg
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wilson

The last entry here on the blog was a follow-up on Eva Rosencrans, one of two Manhattan Trade students whose stories I told in my latest full-length Permanent Record article on Slate. Today I have a follow-up item on the other student profiled in that article, Bee Zelin (shown above with her great-grandson, Spencer, in 1998, when Bee was 88).

In the Slate article, I wrote, "Bee was a solid student at Manhattan Trade and went on to hold a series of dressmaking positions in the 1920s and '30s (one of which entailed a bit of drama regarding her wages). I realize that some readers don't get around to clicking on all the links in a story, and even those who do click can have difficulty reading the handwriting on the report cards. So here's a transcription of the pertinent section from Bee's employment file:

Jan. 5, 1932 [note from placement counselor]: Has worked approximately one week and has not been paid yet. Suggested Leagl Aid Society.

Jan. 7, 1932 [from employer]: Owe Beatrice $21, which she knew would be paid by the end of this week. I suppose she didn't mention the little suit I gave her. — Felice Cotin

Jan. 8, 1932 [from Bee]: Gave me inexpensive suit that was given her and that she could not wear. Pays all other bills at once, even $45 to advertisers. Think she should pay me.

Jan. 13, 1932 [from Bee]: Received $19 from F. Cotin. Promised the rest of it tomorrow. Did not get assistance from Legal Aid in order to obtain money.

Feb. 2, 1932 [from Bee]: F. Cotin still owes me $19.25.

April 13, 1932 [from Bee]: Suing F. Cotin for salary owed.

As you can see, Bee wasn't she about standing up for herself. When I interviewed her daughter-in-law and granddaughter for the Slate article, they both said they didn't know anything about this incident but that it sounded "very much like Bee," whom they described as a tough customer on several different levels.

"She was a very stern disciplinarian to her own child, and also as a grandmother," said Babara Zelin, Bee's daughter-in-law. The big exception appears to have been Spencer, her great-grandson, who's in Bee's arms in the photo at the top of this entry. "She was much more relaxed with him," Barbara told me. "My kids certainly weren't allowed to throw toys all over her house like he was! When I saw it, I couldn't believe it. Like, 'You're letting him do what?' "

I'll have more to say about Bee and Eva in the coming days. Hope you'll all keep checking back to read more.

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