Sunday, February 1, 2015

Student of the Week: Kate Abrescia

For all documents, click to enlarge

Today we're going to examine the student record of Kate Abrescia, who studied dressmaking at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in the early 1930s. The most interesting entry on her main card, shown above, is at the top-left corner: "Do Not Place." We will soon find out why.

But before we get to that, let's look at Kate's grades and teacher comments, which were generally quite good. Note that she routinely made the Honor Roll, and that she received lots of positive commentary from her teachers (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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Additional approving commentary can be found on this next card, where Kate is lauded for "[carrying] out directions without constant supervision" and described in an array of glowing terms, including "completely honest":


But things apparently began to sour between Kate and school when she was sent out for job referrals. Here's here employment record:


The first problem involved a lingerie job in April of 1934 for a Miss Van Hasslacher. According to the "Reason for Leaving" column, Kate left the job because she "did not like the work," but a not in the next column indicates that she left without telling her employer that she was leaving. She apparently left another job because she was "not quick enough in fagotting" (a kind of decorative stitch technique) and left yet another because it was "out of the way and did not like working in an apartment."

Further problems are spelled out on this next card:


Here are some of the entries from this card (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms and filled in a few missing details for the sake of clarity):

April 27, 1934 [comment from employer upon Kate's departure from job]: Does beautiful work but is slow. I thought she would work out nicely. — Miss Van Hasslacher

Dec. 19, 1934: "Hemmed" and "hawed" about going to a job immediately. Wanted to know if she could go the following morning because she had to stay out home [because] mother was out.

April 2, 1935: Independent. Unreliable. Fussy. Uncooperative. AB [Althea Borden, the job placement secretary] refused further placement.

Jan. 10, 1935: Very sorry about her disagreeable attitude. Wouuld like to be placed.

Jan. 14, 1936: RP [apparently a school administrator] wrote that we cannot take the risk of letting you handle one of our jobs. Suggest you watch the New York American ads [this was one of New York City's many daily newspapers at the time] and register with the New York State Employment Service. Best wishes to you.

Wow. And that's how "Do Not Place" ended up at the top of Kate's file. In a few short years she went from teacher's pet to persona non grata and was basically told to fend for herself — in the midst of the Great Depression, no less. I suspect there may be more going on here that is spelled out in Kate's file, but her story nonetheless shows the high standards the school expected when it referred girls for employment.

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

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