Permanent Record began as an inquiry into the stories behind the nearly 400 old report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls that some friends and I found in a discarded file cabinet back in 1996. Over time, the project has expanded to include coverage of other found objects with interesting stories to tell, and it's now been quite a while since I've written about the report cards.
That's going to change, at least for a bit, beginning today. There are still hundreds of report cards that I haven't written about or investigated. I don't have the time these days to track down and interview the students' descendants, but the report cards still offer a wealth of information that's worth documenting and sharing. So my plan to is choose at least one student per week and take a closer look at her school record, and whenever possible I'll choose students whose records have some particularly interesting documents or commentary. I'll still include coverage of lost class rings, messages in bottles, and all the other stuff that has become part of PermaRec over the past few years. But I want to get the report cards back into the project.
We're beginning today with Katherine Gausser, whose main card is shown above. As you can see, she was born in 1898 (which means she's now either deceased or setting some seriously longevity records) and lived on East 108th Street in Manhattan. Her father was a leather finisher. She began attending Manhattan Trade in July of 1912, when the school was at the second of its three locations — a building on East 23rd Street. Katherine was 14 at the time, pretty much the standard age for the school's enrollees.
The "Department: Novelty" notation at top-right means Katherine's chosen trade was decorative novelty box making — one of the "glue trades" that the school taught. Most students went with one of the needle trades (dressmaking, sewing machine operation, millinery), which tended to pay better. Those who chose the glue trades often did so because they weren't sufficiently handy with a needle and thread. It's not clear if that was the case with Katherine, or if she simply preferred box making.
This next card shows Katherine's grades and teacher comments:
Katherine's grades were mostly "G" (good) and "F" (fair). In additional to "Novelty," she also took a class in another glue trade, "Sample Mounting," which involved pasting fabric swatches and other samples into catalogs. A note at the bottom commends her "excellent class work and attitude."
The next card shows Katherine's work record. Many of the school's students used the school's job-referral service to procure many positions over the course of several years, but Katherine apparently only obtained one job via the school — a "Nov." position (again, this refers to novelty box making) that she held for only six days:
Why did Katherine leave the job so soon after starting it? A hint is offered on the next card, which has commentary from the school's job placement office:
That handwriting is hard to read, so here's what it says for the entry on Oct. 7, 1913 (the day after Katherine's last day on the job). I've spelled out some abbreviations for the sake of clarity:
Miss [illegible] criticized some of her work (which on the whole was not bad). She told bookkeeper she was not coming back. Said nothing to anyone else. Wrote [to] girl for explanation.
A week later, on Oct. 14, there's an entry that's harder to read because the ink has faded, but here's what I can make out:
Did not get along well because place [several illegible words]. It took her all day to make one little box.
As you can see, Katherine was later told that she would not receive a diploma because she "failed to report an additional experience." This was because the school required students to perform adequately in the workplace before earning their diplomas, and Katherine's six-day position apparently did not meet that standard.
But here's the kicker: Katherine's file also includes a letter from her mother. It was written on Oct. 12 and received on Oct. 17 — right in the midst of the placement office's inquiry as to why Katherine had left her job:
Again, the handwriting can be difficult to read, so here's a transcription (I've once again spelled out some abbreviations and made other minor edits for the sake of clarity):
Dear Miss Adams,
Katherine left the place for the simple reason that they let her sit idle for several hours a day. There isn't much money in that. And when she asked for work, why it was too much bother, or "Oh, are you finished again?" Very encouraging, is it not? And the Manhattan Trade School, that is very little credit to a girl in that place, and I dare say it won't be, to my estimation, anywhere. So I have fully decided to take Katherine out of the business entirely.
Mrs. E. Gausser
Wow — that's a doozy of a letter! It's rare to find something so critical of the school in any of the student files. It's a shame that Katherine's relationship with Manhattan Trade ended on such a down note, especially after she was commended for her class work.
That's all I have for Katherine, but many more students' records await. Stay tuned.