Monday, March 4, 2013


Reader Donna Mitchell spotted this 100th-birthday notice in Newsday the other day. As you can see, Jennie Scotto "attended seamstress school at Manhattan Industrial Trade School." As longtime Permanent Record readers know, that's the Manhattan Trade School for Girls (the school changed its name sometime around 1930) -- the school whose report cards I found in a discarded file cabinet back in 1996.

Was Jennie's report card among the ones I found? No, unfortunately -- I don't have a record for her. Based on the birthday notice, however, she's led an interesting life. I'm particularly intrigued by the mention of her having been "chosen to design and alter Eleanor Roosevelt's dresses." Was this in any way connected to Manhattan Trade, or was it something that happened many years later?

Let's do a little math: Jennie was born in 1913. Most Manhattan Trade students entered the school after eighth grade, roughly when they were 14, and stayed for two years. So Jennie probably attended Manhattan Trade from about 1927 through 1929, give or take.

Franklin Roosevelt did not hold elective office for most of that period (he became Governor of New York in 1929 and became our 32nd President in 1933), but he was already a prominent man, having served as a New York State Senator and Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and having been James M. Cox's running mate in Cox's unsuccessful Presidential campaign of 1920 (Cox lost to Warren G. Harding). So while Eleanor -- who married Franklin in 1905 -- was not yet a national icon during the time Jennie attended Manhattan Trade, she was nonetheless a prominent society woman. It's not far-fetched to imagine some sort of school contest in which the winner would get to work on Eleanor's dresses.

Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady from 1933 through 1945. It's unclear from the birthday notice if Jennie worked on her dresses during this period, but it seems unlikely, since the notice mentions that she earned an accounting certification and worked for a plumbing company in that capacity. Sounds like she left dressmaking behind. My hunch is that her work for Eleanor Roosevelt was connected to her time at the school.

Either way, this marks the second instance of a Manhattan Trade student doing dressmaking work for a future First Lady. The first one was Eva Greene, who designed Mamie Eisenhower's inaugural ball gown.

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