Monday, December 29, 2014

Student of the Week: Frances Sehres

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This week we turn our attention to a very special Manhattan Trade School enrollee — Frances Sehres, a dressmaking student whose main card is shown above (with what appears to be a perfect coffee stain splotch preserved at the center of the bottom edge). What's so special about her? This: The Manhattan Trade School for Girls began operations in November of 1902, and Frances's card shows that she was admitted to the school on Nov. 3 of that year, so she was apparently one of the school's very first students.

Interestingly, Frances's birth date is simply listed as "1888." The other Manhattan Trade School cards in my collection show a specific date. But the most intriguing nugget of information on this card is notation that Frances was referred to the school by Miss Lillian Wald. This name meant nothing to me, but longtime PermaRec volunteer researcher Catherine Bloomquist recognized it. It turns out that Wald was a pioneering humanitarian nurse who in 1893 founded the Henry Street Settlement, an important New York City social service agency that still exists today. In the 1940s, the Henry Street Settlement spun off the Visiting Nurse Service, which is also still in operation today.

Wald's original goal was for the Henry Street Settlement to provide services for poor immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side. But Frances's card shows that she lived on East 63rd St. and then in the Bronx, both of which are far from Henry Street, so it's not clear to me how Frances's life intersected with Wald. It's possible that the Settlement had expanded its operations throughout the city by 1902, but I'm not sure — a subject for further research.

The school's recordkeeping system was apparently a bit of a work in progress at the beginning. The card that would normally show a bevy of grades and teacher comments was barely touched in Frances's case:


Of greater interest is Frances's employment record, which is spelled out on the next two cards:

3 4

Lots of interesting stuff here. For starters, Frances's first job, for the "Singer Co." — presumably the Singer Sewing Machine Company — began on Feb. 8, 1904 (in other words, toward the end of her schooling, which would have been standard procedure at the school). She continued working for Singer on and off through 1905 through 1909, then had a series of non-Singer jobs later in 1909, and finally had a bunch of additional jobs in 1913 and ’14. The final job in her employment record is dated Nov. 11, 1914 — nearly a dozen years to the day after she entered Manhattan Trade. This shows that students were maintaining long-term relationships with the school right from the start — a remarkable phenomenon that's also documented in many of the report cards from the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s.

In addition, look at the "How Found" column. For many of the jobs, the notation is "MTS" (i.e., Manhattan Trade School, meaning the school arranged the job for Frances), but many others have "Self." This means Frances obtained many of these jobs on her own but nonetheless kept the school apprised of her employment activities — another indication of the close bond between the school and its students, right from the start.

And how were Frances's work experiences? Surprisingly, there's no feedback — either from Frances or from her employers — until one of her 1909 gigs. It's possible that the school hadn't yet adopted its eventual system of recording this type of feedback in its early years. Anyway, here are the cards with the employment related commentary:


That first entry, which refers to one of Frances's stints at Singer in 1909, indicates that a supervisor was not thrilled with her, and also includes a doozy of a dated put-down (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

Miss ______, head of the Sample Department, said, "Franny was never very satisfactory. Was not interested in her work. Never tried to advance — unambitious and was insubordinate (insisted on using the front elevator!) and impertinent in manner. Was not dismissed, but we were glad to have her go and never could return."

Imagine — a mere laborer using the front elevator! It's interesting that Singer kept Frances on for so many years despite this apparent dissatisfaction with her. Sounds like sour grapes after she left, no?

As for the assessment of Frances being "unambitious," that's demonstrably false, as shown in a series of entries on this card:


The pertinent passages are as follows:

April 29, 1913: Has taken evening course in Lynch School — drafting, cutting and designing. Would like position with a wholesale house, ladies' or children's [clothing], as an assistant designer or pattern cutter.

May 5, 1913: Wrote [to] Lynch School for reference and told Frances to come to [illegible] School to talk with teacher.

May 12, 1913: Note from Lynch Art School: "Frances S. was a student in our Cutting, Fitting, and Design departments and we found her to be a very apt scholar and believe she would fill all requirements in either a ladies' or children's dress house, as a designer or pattern cutter."

That's all I have for Frances. If anyone knows more about what happened to her, please get in touch. Thanks.

(Special thanks to Catherine Bloomquist for recognizing the importance of Lillian Wald's name in Frances's file.)

• • • • • • • • •

Update: Last week's entry on Fannie Panio prompted PermaRec reader Joe Lombardo to do a bit of research. He found Fannie in the 1940 census, where was listed as being married to a man named John Verdigi. Their household included two children; Fannie's mother, Catherine (this name matches the name listed on Fannie's report card), and another relative from Fannie's side of the family.

Joe also found a death notice indicating that Fannie died in 1997 (she would have been 87) and that she and John had one additional child after 1940. Interestingly, the death notice lists Fannie as "Philomena" and John as "Giovanni," but birth date matches Fannie's report card and the first two children's names match the ones on the 1940 census entry, so I'm fairly certain that this is indeed our Fannie.

Good work, Joe — thank you!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Student of the Week: Fannie Panio

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Our latest Manhattan Trade School student is Fannie Panio, who was born in 1910 and attended Manhattan Trade in the mid-1920s. As you can see above, her father did not work (his occupation is simply listed as "Home") and her mother worked with flowers — we'll be referring back to that information shortly, as it relates to a bit of drama that's documented in Fannie's file.

Fannie's student record is particularly interesting because she was was in line to receive financial aid from the school. So her record packet includes the following card, which lists the Panio family's income and expenses:


As you can see, the Panios lived in a four-room apartment with a monthly rent of $15 (!). Fannie's brother Sam was the family's biggest breadwinner, earning $15 per week as a bootblack.

The back of the card explains why Fannie was recommended for financial aid — she needed dental work done and couldn't afford it:


Here's a transcription of the notes at the bottom of the card (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

March 20, 1924: Miss Franc [a teacher] referred the case. Fannie should have teeth fixed, and as father does not work, Miss Franc feels the family probably cannot afford to have this attended to.

March 21, 1924: Talked with Fannie, who says her father has not worked for five years (has sore in side). Mother makes flowers. Brother is bootblack. Fannie works on bead work from 4:30 - 8 p.m. Unable to afford dentist — suggested Dental Clinic. Promised to visit house. As neither Mr. nor Mrs. Panio speak English, suggested Secretary come at noon or after 3:30, when sister, 11 years old, is home.

And sure enough, someone from the school visited the Panio home four days later, on March 25. The next card tells the story of that visit:


The card reads as follows:

Visited — family lives on first floor of a shabby Italian tenement house. The rooms themselves were clean and neat. Mr. Panio was playing cards with another man. Mrs. Panio was hanging up the wash on the roof. She showed Secretary the fancy flowers she makes, for which she gets 85¢ a gross, and also some bead work which Fannie does, for which she earns $2 or $3 weekly. The brother works at the bootblack parlor in Grand Central Station. He earns $15 [per week], which he gives to his parents, and tips, which he keeps for himself.

Mrs. Panio would like to have Fannie's teeth fixed but can't afford to do this. Mr. Panio is ill — he has a growth in his side, which he should have removed — he is afraid, however, to have an operation. He has not been able to work for five years.

Secretary said it might be possible for us to send Fannie to the Dental Clinic and pay for this after Committee Meeting. — Reported to Miss Franck [whose surname was spelled "Franc" on the previous card but appears as "Franck" hereafter — PL]

And how did things turn out with Fannie's teeth? The next two cards tell the tale, which includes a new wrinkle regarding the Fannie's and her brother's work activities. Apparently they did not have working papers:

6 7

Those two cards read like so:

April 3, 1924: Committee decision — pay for necessary dental work and refer to proper agency regarding children in family working illegally after school. Reported to Miss Franck — sent for Fannie and told her to go to Miss Cutting [another teacher] on April 7, 1924, regarding a pass for Dental Clinic and to bring estimate of work to Secretary.

April 8, 1924: Consulted Mrs. King [of the] C.O.S. [Charity Organization Society], who advised referring case [regarding the illegal child labor] to Jefferson District Office.

April 9, 1924: Reported case to Jefferson District Office.

April 10, 1924: Miss Spence (Charity Organization Society worker) visited Manhattan Trade School regarding case. Explained situation to her.

April 28, 1924: See letter from Charity Organization Society.

April 29, 1924: Miss Spence (from C.O.S.) at office. Reported to her regarding working papers — child can work Saturday but must stop at five other days.

April 28, 1924 [listed out of chronological sequence, so date may be wrong — PL]: Sent for Fannnie. She will go to dentist the following day.

May 12, 1924: Telephoned Miss Franck. Fannie will go after June 1st, as Dental College is having examinations now.

June 10, 1924: Fannie is to go back Saturday for estimate of work and then report to Secretary. Will take out summer working papers.

Nov. 11, 1924: Fannie attending school regularly. Did not need assistance.

Wow — there's a lot to process there. One thing at a time:

1. So the school agreed to pay for Fannie's dental work, but did that even turn out to be necessary? The last entry reads, "Did not need assistance." Hmmmm.

2. The whole bit about the school arranging an intervention because of the children working illegally was interesting and unexpected, no? Here are two documents that appear to be related to this, both involving the school's contact with local social service agencies:

9 8

I haven't seen documents like these in any of the other students' files, so I'm not sure what to make of them or how they fit into the larger storyline of the school and its students.

3. The April 28 entry refers to a letter from the Charity Organization Society. That letter, which was apparently written by the Miss Spence who's referred to in several of the preceding entries, is included in Fannie's file. It's typewritten, so I'm not going to transcribe it. You can just click to make it large enough to read — and it's definitely worth reading:


Wow. So according to Miss Spence, the family could probably have afforded Fannie's dental work all along, and Fannie was just playing a ruse to avoid going to the dentist! Well, who among us hasn't resorted to semi-desperate measures to avoid the dental chair?

Finally, you may have noticed that I haven't yet included Fannie's grades or employment record. Here they are — I left them for the end because they both unremarkable:

2 11

That's all I have for Fannie. If anyone knows what became of her, please get in touch. Thanks.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Very Special Project: Baltimore Brick by Brick

The notebook shown above belonged to a high school student named Dorothy Bolden, who apparently used it in her English class in 1963. It's one of many objects that have been discovered in the course of a remarkable project that's unfolding in Baltimore.

The project is called Baltimore Brick by Brick, and it's a great example of what's called "unbuilding" or "deconstruction." It basically works like this: A group called Details Deconstruction has been given access to a blighted block of abandoned houses in East Baltimore. Instead of just demolishing the buildings and sending the demo'd materials to a landfill, they're taking the buildings apart — brick by brick, floorboard by floorboard, and so on — and making the materials available for resale and reuse. Along the way they're finding all sorts of interesting objects and artifacts, which they're documenting on the project's website. It's all very Permanent Record.

The notebook shown above was featured in the website's "Friday Finds" section, a weekly tally of found objects that's updated each Friday. (You can see the full entry regarding the notebook here.) There's also a gallery of the various wallpapers that have been found in the houses, a section devoted to the various people who lived at a given address, a closer look at the bricks that are being salvaged, and more. It feels like a really special project, and I encourage all PermaRec readers to poke around on the website, which is full of fascinating details. It's totally worth your time — trust me.

(Big thanks to Spencer Mierzejewski for letting me know about this one.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student of the Week: Vanice Greco

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Our Manhattan Trade School student this week is Vanice Greco, who was born in March of 1917 and could therefore still be alive today at the age of 97. Her main card is shown above and has several notable aspects:

1. According to the card, Vanice lived in "Astoria, Long Island." Now, Astoria is a neighborhood in Queens, and Queens is indeed part of the land mass of Long Island (as is Brooklyn, for that matter), but Queens is never referred to as being part of Long Island these days because Queens is part of New York City while the term "Long Island" is usually understood to mean the suburban counties of Nassau and Suffolk. But the Manhattan Trade School report cards routinely append the Long Island qualifier to assorted Queens neighborhoods. Interesting.

2. A note at the top indicates that Vanice was a union member. Although the note is not accompanied by a date, it was almost certainly added after Vanice graduated from the school. Like many of the Manhattan Trade students, she used the school as an employment resource for several years after her schooling, and she apparently became a union member along the way.

3. Vanice's parents were both cigar makers. This occupation is listed quite a bit in the report cards for various students' parents — cigar production must have been a sizable industry in New York back in the 1920s and ’30s. To my knowledge, no cigars are produced in the city today.

4. In the lower-left corner of the card, under "Physical Defects," is the following note: "Had nails 3 times during course!" I believe this means Vanice's nails were unsatisfactorily dirty or otherwise unkempt on three different occasions.

Now let's take a look at Vanice's grades (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):


As you can see, Vanice's grades were generally solid, although there's a note about her being "careless about [her] personal appearance."

This next card provides an assessment of Vanice's character, attitude, and work competency:


Everything here is quite positive, except for a reference to Vanice's "bad complexion." First the note about her nails, then the disapproving mention of her "personal appearance," and now this — it's almost as if the school's staff felt compelled to include a negative comment about Vanice's aesthetics at every turn.

Next up is Vanice's employment record:


Take a look at the second entry, for an employer named Ruth Strauss. The card indicates that Vanice went to work for her on Jan. 2, 1935. But under "Reason for Leaving," there's a note dated Jan. 2, 1935 — the same date she supposedly started working — which says, "Offered $5 [per week], refused position." So Vanice was apparently sent to work for Ms. Strauss but turned down the job when she learned how little she'd be paid.

But there's also a notation in red, dated Jan. 4, which says, "See note." The note being referred to there can be found on this next card:


Sure enough, there's a big note in red (meaning it's from an employer), dated Jan. 4. Here's transcription, with a few abbreviated terms spelled out for clarity:

Vanice was offered $10 [per week]. But upon questioning her regarding the mechanical stitching she told me should could not do that, and then I said I could get a continuation school girl capable of finishing and [sewing machine] operation for $5 [per week]. Vanice misinformed [the] school regarding what I said. — Rush Strauss

In other words, Vanice claimed that she turned down the job because the pay was too low, but the employer said Vanice didn't have the skills to merit a higher wage.

A few months later, the following sequence played out:

March 13, 1935: Not heard from since Jan. 2, 1935 [when she turned down the Ruth Strauss job] although [illegible] was sent March 7, 1935. Taken off applicant list.

March 25, 1935: Please keep me on the applicant list, as I am not satisfied with my present position.

April 3, 1935: You are off the applicant list. I waited two and a half weeks for your reply. Besides, I cannot keep you in mind while you are working. — AB [Althea Borden, the job placement secretary]

That's Vanice's complete student file. If anyone knows anything about her or her family, please get in touch. Thanks.

Meanwhile, coming soon: two very inspiring contemporary stories that have nothing to do with Manhattan Trade. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Student of the Week: Edna Farrel

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For the second consecutive week, we're going to examine the Manhattan Trade School student record of a girl named Edna. Last week it was Edna Carrington; this time around it's Edna Farrell, whose main card is shown above. As you can see, was born in 1912 (and is therefore likely deceased, or else turned 102 just a few weeks ago) and grew up in Harlem.

There are two notable entries on this card. First, Edna's father, George, is listed as a sheep butcher. That's an interesting degree of specificity — I have several other cards that list a father's occupation simply as "butcher," but a sheep butcher seems unusually specialized.

Also, look at the upper-right corner, which is where the student's chosen trade is listed. For Edna, it shows two entries: one year of "Nov.," which is novelty box making (one of the "glue trades" that the school taught), and one year of "B.C.," which is beauty culture, a course of study that the school added in the late 1920s to supplement its longstanding focus on the needle and glue trades.

Normally I'd turn this card over and take a look at Edna's grades, but first I want to look at another card from her file — take a look:


The information here is sparse but telling. The card lists Edna's IQ at 77 and her "basic age" at seven years. It also says she "failed reading, arithmetic, writing [and] composition in upper elementary grades."

So how did this supposedly intellect-challenged girl who failed her way through grade school do in her classes? Let's take a look at her grades (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):


As you can see, Edna did just fine — and often a lot better than fine — in all of her classes, including English and arithmetic. She also repeatedly made the Honor Roll and was described as an "intelligent worker." Not bad for someone with a "basic age" of seven, eh?

Meanwhile, look at the top of the card — "Novelty" was crossed out and replaced by "Manicuring." Similarly, the middle of the far-right column has a notation indicating that Edna "trans. to Manic." This reinforces what we saw on the first card — Edna took one year of novelty box making and one year of beauty culture.

Edna's file also includes the record of the jobs that the school arranged for her:


There are several points of interest here. One at a time:

1. All of the business are categorized as "B.C.," which presumably once again refers to beauty culture. One of Edna's employers was called Ralph Beauty Shop, so that fits. But the first business was called Stewart's, which was probably a Stewart's Candy Shop (a popular chain at the time), and the final entry is for a medical center, neither of which fits in the beauty category — yet they're both listed as "B.C." There's also a "hairdresser" reference, but it's unclear which entry it's referring to. Hmmmm.

2. At Ralph Beauty Shop, Edna was a finger waver (this refers to the then-popular hairstyle known as a finger wave), oil shampooer, and manicurist.

3. Edna left the job at Stewart's because it was "too far" — not surprising, given that she lived way uptown in Harlem and the job was in Brooklyn. (By coincidence, the address listed for the job, 221 Flatbush Ave., is a short walk from where I live — or it would be, if it still existed. There's no longer any building with that address. The street numbers on adjacent buildings on that block now jump from 215 to 227.)

4. The notations in red are comments from one of Edna's employers — Ralph Beauty Shop. Oddly, they're out of chronological order. I've put them in the proper sequence and transcribed them like so:

March 18, 1931: Very slow. Takes 50 to 60 minutes for a manicure.

Dec. 21, 1931: Here. OK. [This is a common entry in the work records. It means the employer is basically affirming to the school that the student is showing up for work and performing adequately. — PL]

Oct. 31, 1932: Fair worker.

March 8, 1933: May have to cut Edna's salary to $10 [per week]. Business is very bad.

The final red entry, "Ref. by Mr. Ralph," suggests that Edna got her job at the medical center on Riverside Dr. as the result of a referral from Mr. Ralph, the beauty shop owner.

Edna's file also includes a sheet of paper that may have been a transcript. This sheet appears in a handful of the other student records in my collection, but I haven't been able to suss out its purpose. As you'll see, it's a frustrating document — cut off at both sides and only partially filled out:


That's all I have for Edna. If anyone has more information about her, please get in touch.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Student of the Week: Edna Carrington (aka Mrs. F. Meyer)

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The latest Manhattan Trade School student whose record we'll be examining is Edna Carrington. She differs from our previous students of the week in at least three important ways: (1) Her report card includes a photo, which makes her story much more evocative. (2) She was born in 1917, which means there's a vague chance she could still be alive. Interestingly, her date of birth was revised at some point, from Feb. 4 to April 15. (3) She was black, and apparently Caribbean. In the "Nationality" field, near the upper-right corner of the card shown above, it says "English (West India)."

As you can see, Edna's card also includes a prominent black dot. This was standard on the cards of all the black and Hispanic girls in my collection — literally a black mark on their records. The dot system was instituted before the school began including photos on the girls' cards (and was retained even after the photos became part of the cards' protocol), so it was a quick way of identifying students of color. At first this seemed horrifying, but I eventually determined that it was more of a "Handle with Care" warning to the school's staff, because the school wanted to avoid sending the girls to work with employers who were known to have issues with minority students.

There are several other notable things about this card:

• Toward the bottom is a notation indicating that Edna wore glasses, although she didn't wear them for her photograph.

• There are several notes regarding Edna's home life, where she was raised by a single mother. She had three younger siblings, and the family lived in a three-room apartment, which was apparently visited several times by the Board of Child Welfare. (As we'll see on a subsequent card, this doesn't indicate that anything problematic was taking place in the home.)

• Edna was one of the students who stayed in touch with the school long enough for her eventual married name to be added to her student record. As you can see at the top of the card, her husband's name was F. Meyer.

• Toward the middle of the card is a note indicating that Edna gave birth to a child on April 25, 1937.

• This card features a jumble of many different people's handwriting, but the first person to fill out Edna's name, address, and parents' names and occupations had seriously beautiful penmanship. Gorgeous to look at!

So that's the first card. Now let's turn it over and take a look at Edna's grades and teachers' comments (remember, E = Excellent, G= Good, F = Fair, P = Poor):


As you can see, Edna generally got solid grades and was very well liked by her teachers (although the repeated "fine type Negro" comment is distressing to see).

The school arranged employment for Edna, just as it did with other students. Here's her work record:


The first and third entries are both for an employer called the Margalo Dress Shop. The third entry includes the following notation: "Edna says she gave notice, but employer says she fired her. See above." That apparently refers to the note at the top of the card, written in red (meaning that it's a comment from the employer): "Very dirty — spoken to several times about taking baths. Leaving Saturday, April 13." Yikes.

Interestingly, Edna's file also includes a note from this same employer, dated April 4, 1935 (nine days before she was apparently dismissed for lack of cleanliness):


It reads as follows:

Manhattan Trade School:

Edna Carrington came here the first part o January and left the 1st of February or thereabouts.

She came back here to work April 1st.

Yours truly,
Margalo Inc.

No mention there of the cleanliness issue. It must have come to a head over the next week or so.

Also of note: If you scroll back up to Edna's employment record, you'll see that the last entry is for a "W.P.A. Project" job. It says that she found the position via "Home Relief," which was the principal New Deal welfare program during the Great Depression. The pay — $16.50 per week — appears to have been better than what Edna had earned during her previous gigs.

Edna's student packet also includes a salmon-colored card. Some of the student files in my collection had this card, some didn't. It appears to be a basic summary or assessment of the student, which in Edna's case was generally positive:


Three notable things here:

• Someone felt the need to write, "Skin not terribly dark, but full of blemishes." Sigh.

• Someone also wrote, "Superior type." The school's report cards were full of these "type"-based assessments — fine type, decent type, quiet type, and so on. I'm pretty sure this was all just a form of lazy, reflexive social profiling, not a strict classification system.

Toward the bottom, the card indicates that Edna's mother worked to support the family, but then that part was crossed out. Did the mother lose her job, or become ill? In any case, the next line says that Edna "would like a job as soon as she can get one," presumably so she could become the family's breadwinner.

If we turn this card over, we learn more about the visits to the home by the Board of Child Welfare:


In case you have a hard time reading that, here's a transcription (I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

Dec. 21, 1934: Board of Child Welfare pays $45 a month for two youngest children. Rent is $5 a week. Mother has not worked in two years.

Sept. 13, 1935: Child Welfare pays only $25 a month now.

March 17, 1938: Married Oct. 14, 1936.

So that explains the Child Welfare Board visits. But I'm more interested in the last entry — the one about Edna's marriage. Remember, the first card in her packet indicated that she gave birth to a child on April 25, 1937, which is six and half months after the date listed for her wedding. So her child was either significantly premature or conceived out of wedlock, which would have been scandalous in those days.

It's also noteworthy that the news about the 1936 wedding was apparently conveyed to the school in 1938. So Edna must have been out of contact with the school for a while and then circled back. Why? She was apparently looking for work again:


It's interesting to see that Edna wanted to work even after marrying and having a child. Most of the students whose lives I've researched stopped working once they began a family, but this was during the Depression, and we've already seen that Edna had obtained a job via Home Relief, so times were apparently tough for her and her husband. Still, Edna's employment record (the yellow card we looked at earlier) doesn't show any work during 1938, so the school apparently didn't arrange any jobs for her during this period. This doesn't necessarily mean she didn't work; it just means the school didn't find a job for her. By that fall, she'd drifted out of the school's orbit once again:


That's the end of Edna's student record. Interesting stuff, right? Since we know Edna's married name, she would probably be relatively easy to research, although I don't have time pursue that now. But if anyone else wants to pick up the baton, please feel free.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

PermaRec Book Club: Paper Love

I was listening to All Things Considered today during my daily bike ride in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (yes, I have a radio on my bike) when I heard a story tailor-made for Permanent Record.

They were interviewing an author named Sarah Wildman, who has a new book called Paper Love. It's about how she found a cache of love letters that her late grandfather had saved. But the letters weren't from her grandmother; they were from a woman named Valy, who had fallen in love with Wildman's grandfather when the two of them were medical students in prewar Vienna during the 1930s. They had a whirlwind romance and had planned to escape Vienna together when the Nazis annexed Austria, but he ended up leaving with his family while Valy was left behind.

As Wildman read the letters, she began realizing that the story they told didn't quite jibe with the family history she'd been taught over the years. She also became fixated on Valy and on what had happened to her. Had she been killed in the Holocaust? Had Wildman's grandfather felt guilty about leaving her behind?

Wildman's grandfather had passed away by the time she found the letters, so she couldn't ask him to fill in any of the details, and her grandmother refused to say anything about the letters except to acknowledge that Valy had been her husband's "true love." So Wildman began researching — an effort that took her several years and across several continents. I haven't yet read the book, but apparently she hit some kind of paydirt at the end of her project.

Here's the All Things Considered interview with Wildman (if the audio player doesn't show up on your browser, you should be able to access it in the links that follow):

You can read a partial transcript of the audio report here, you can access an excerpt from the book here, and the book is available for sale here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Student of the Week: Annie Seixas

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The Manhattan Trade School student whose record we're examining this week is Annie Seixas. As you can see above, she was born on Jan. 29, 1895, and grew up in Harlem on West 120th Street before moving to Lenox Avenue — or, as it's now also known, Malcolm X Boulevard. Interestingly, the notation in the upper-right corner indicates that she studied novelty box making and millinery, but the note at the bottom of the card says she received a certificate in "costume sketching," a term that I don't think I've seen used on any of the other Manhattan Trade School cards in my collection.

Annie's school and work records are, frankly, unremarkable. She appears to have been a good student and a steady worker, as you can see in the series of cards I'm about to present. The most interesting thing is the very last notation on the last card in this series:

2 3 4 5 6 7

That final entry, dated Nov. 10, 1919, reads, "Came down to Manhattan Trade School two weeks ago to take exam for substitute license." Note that this was more than three years after the previous entry in Annie's file, and seven years after she'd been granted her diploma. She would have been approaching her 25th birthday. And she was apparently applying for a license to be a substitute teacher — interesting!

Annie's file also includes a letter that she wrote on Nov. 5, 1919. It was addressed to Miss Beagle, who was the school's job placement secretary at the time:

8 9

The handwriting, while lovely, can be a bit difficult to decipher, so here's a transcription:

Dear Miss Beagle,

I saw Janet Jacob the other evening and she told me that you were waiting to hear from me. I am truly sorry for the my seeming neglect to communicate with you but I supposed you would hear that I had been down to see Miss Marshall [the school's principal — PL] and had even taken the examination for a substitute license.

I do realize that I should have thanked you long ago for letting me know of the examination, so will you accept my apologies and at the same time my sincere thanks for your remembering me.

When I visited the school two weeks ago, it was my first peep at the new building and I was so glad to see that at last you had a home worthy of all the good work that is being done there.

I am waiting now for a reply from the Board of Examiners and hoping, of course, that it will be a favorable one, and I am coming down to the school to see you just as soon as I can — that is, if a friendly chat will be permitted.

Yours very sincerely,
Anne Seixes

A few points regarding this letter:

• Note the reference to the school's new building. That's because Manhattan Trade had just moved to a custom-designed building at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 22nd Street in 1918, one year before this letter was written. Annie had attended the school when it was at its previous location, just around the corner on East 23rd Street. (The 1918 building is that one that the school used for the rest of its existence. It remains in use today as a high school, but its original identity is revealed by the "Manhattan Trade School for Girls" lettering that's chiseled into its fa├žade.)

• I love how Annie consistently wrote the word "and" diagonally. I don't think I've seen that before. Is that something that was typically taught a century ago?

• Unfortunately, Annie's file contains no indication of whether she was approved for the substitute teaching license.

My best wishes to everyone for a happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back with another Manhattan Trade student next week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Pass to Visit Nome

Photo from

One of the great things about Permanent Record is that sometimes I'll write about something evocative — a report card, a photo I.D. badge, or whatever — and a reader or commenter will do follow-up research to help tell that object's story. Something similar happened to the Alaska novelist Dana Stabenow when she came across the 1945 military pass shown above, for a soldier named Norman Rambo.

Stabenow found the pass in an old copy of Ernie Pyle's book Here Is Your War, which she purchased at a local Salvation Army thrift store in Homer, Alaska. She was intrigued enough by the pass to blog about it on her website but didn't take things any further than that.

But one of her readers, Bobbi Schirado, did. She posted the following comment on Stabenow's blog post:

Checking on there were at least three and maybe four possible Norman Rambos — but using several other sources I’ve narrowed it down to this one:

Norman E. Rambo was born in 24 March 1915 in Iowa, enlisted at Ft. Lewis, Washington, graduated from high school, was single and as a civilian worked as a clerk. He was a resident of King Co. Washington. In 1930, he lived with his parents, Haven H. and Pauline Rambo at 8119 Latona St. in Seattle. His father was a policeman and his mother a saleslady in a department store. His SSN death record shows he died 19 May 2001. He played football and graduated from Ballard High School. A family marriage record indicates he married Marjorie Lou Christie in Nome, Alaska on 30 June 1946. A divorce was asked for by Marjorie L. from Norman E. Rambo in 1965. In 1970 the Seattle Times says Norman had a wedding license to marry Rita M. McSharry.

Newspapers from the 1950s thru the 1970s show that he sang tenor and was very active with the Seattle Chorale.

And it gets better. Just yesterday a new commenter chimed in on Stabenow's blog post. His name is Doug Rambo, and here's what he had to say:

Norman E. Rambo was my dad. How cool that you found something from his youth which I now found on the internet. He and my mother were married in Nome at the end of the War.

Now that's cool. I've had a few similar experiences during the course of Permanent Record, and I can tell you that they're amazing. Congrats to Dana on her find, and to Doug for following the trail of breadcrumbs that led him to connect with her.

(Big thanks to PermaRec reader Maureen Wynn for letting me know about this one.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Student of the Week: Genevieve Palisi

For all of today's images, you can click to enlarge

As I mentioned last week, I'm planning to feature one Manhattan Trade School student per week here on the site. Last week we looked at Katherine Gausser, whose student file included a rather snippy letter from her mother. This time around we're looking at Genevieve Palisi, whose student record includes some unusually pointed commentary about her demeanor.

As you can see above, Genevieve was born on Nov. 21, 1905 (so in the unlikely event that she's still alive, she'll be turning 109 years old this Friday). Her family lived in Brooklyn (first in Borough Park and then in Bay Ridge), and her father, Joseph, worked as a stevedore. The "Operating" notation at the top-right corner means that she Genevieve's chosen trade was sewing machine operation.

Genevieve was apparently a solid if unspectacular student, consistently receiving grades of "G" (good) or "F" (fair) for her school work:

3 2

Genevieve, like all Manhattan Trade students, had a job arranged for her by the school. The first of these, which you can see listed as the first entry on this next card, was a position at the H.E. Verran Co., where Genevieve worked from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24, 1920 — a period of seven weeks:


Why did Genevieve leave this job? The answer can be found on the following card. The first entry, in black, is from the school's job placement secretary; the next section, in red, is from the employer:


Here's a transcription of the black handwriting (I've spelled out some abbreviations and filled in some missing words for the sake of clarity):

[Girl is] in office. Very insolent. Evidently a bad influence for M. Cline and N. Bonica [apparently two other students who were working at the same company — PL], who were with her. After five weeks on weekly work at $14 [per week], she was put on piece work. Earned $4.23 on aprons in one week. "It was an awful place, so we left today." KE [the placement secretary — PL] asked why no report had been made before. Called Miss Mather.

Miss Mather was apparently Genevieve's work supervisor at the job site. The red notations that follow are what Miss Mather told the job placement secretary:

Girl is a ringleader. Can do good work when she wishes but seldom wishes to. She is a born leader, and this morning she had the whole workroom upset when she left. She is insolent and impudent, and trades on the fact that she does not need to work.

Wow. It's worth keeping in mind that Genevieve had just turned 15 years old when this discussion took place.

Now we're back to black ink, so this is the placement secretary talking:

Miss Marhsall [Manhattan Trade's principal] and KE [the placement secretary] spoke to girl about this report, and it was decided ot give her one more chance. Warned about making prompt reports.

As you can see from the next entry, Genevieve's next job also ended on a bad note. The entry is in red, meaning it's from the employer:

Girl left without notice. The girls in the workroom say she told them she was going to work with her sister. If it was a question of money, I think she should have spoken to me before leaving.

Interestingly, despite these difficulties, Genevieve stayed in touch with the school's job placement office for several more years.

• • • • •

You may have noticed something new about today entry: It has a headline. All previous entries on this site have been headline-free. I no longer remember exactly why I chose not to use headlines when I started the blog in 2011, but for some reason they seemed superfluous and I thought the site looked cleaner without them. Unfortunately, this has also made the site a bit harder to navigate, and has also made the site fare a bit worse in search engines. So I've decided to use a headline today.

I don't plan to go back and add headlines to all of the previous entries, and it's possible that I may end up going back to the headline-free format — we'll see. For now, let's consider it an experiment. Your feedback is welcome.