Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student of the Week: Vanice Greco

For all documents, click to enlarge

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.

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