Permanent Record
September 19, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Paul Lukas found hundreds of Manhattan Trade School for Girls "report cards" from the early 1900's and has posted several of them online.

The full list of records he has is available here.
posted by gman (44 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, just found Lukas' blog with a ton more content.
posted by gman at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally teh awesome!
posted by Melismata at 2:57 PM on September 19, 2011

These are great. thanks for posting!
posted by travertina at 3:03 PM on September 19, 2011

Oh WOW! What a historical resource! What a find!
posted by strixus at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2011

More on the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, which is still in use as a school, but now as a city high school (that first link claims it is The New Manhattan High School Collaborative, but it may be outdated, as School of the Future claims it as their address).

Oooh, and here's the 16-minute documentary from 1911! Fuck yeah, internet!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Occupation: dead. They don't mess around.
posted by crapmatic at 3:09 PM on September 19, 2011

Today's article is the first in a series of five (one per day, rolling out over the course of this week). Subsequent articles will cover many of the things you folks are already discussing -- what happened the building, the 1911 movie about the school, etc.

-- Paul Lukas
posted by plukas at 3:14 PM on September 19, 2011 [20 favorites]

Welcome to MetaFilter, Paul! Fantastic find, great job on the follow-up and write-up!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2011

This is so damn cool - I'm glad they ended up in the hands of someone that treated them as something with the passion to follow up on the stories.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:24 PM on September 19, 2011

Occupation: dead. They don't mess around.

In all fairness, being dead does not leave time for much else.

But yes, awesome post from gman, and welcome to plukas. I love ephemera like this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did I mention I'm impressed?
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:29 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can't wait to find out more about Lucille Fasanella--she sounds like she may have been quite a handful.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:38 PM on September 19, 2011

This is fascinating! Thank you for posting!
posted by pecanpies at 3:49 PM on September 19, 2011

"Walks around as if she were dying—absolutely pepless."

Pepless is exactly how I feel this afternoon.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 4:00 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I shudder to think what my permanent record could hold if my school had collected this much detail, with this degree of bluntness! Amazing find, and too bad whomever marked the filing cabinet to throw away didn't realize what a treasure they were discarding.
posted by superna at 4:08 PM on September 19, 2011

Wow. Just wow. I watched the film that filthy light thief linked to, I watched the version without commentary, and there was something about the tone of the film, and especially the ragtime girl's chorus soundtrack, I just couldn't help it, I burst into tears. I thought of my own days living next to the LA Garment District, and watching the lives of abject poverty of immigrants working in sweatshops even today. I thought of the misery that these women would have suffered without being taught even the most modest skills that put them only a step above sweatshop workers. And then I noticed the date on the film and wondered about the girls across town who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Then I rewatched the film with the commentary turned on. I was astonished, particularly at the end, where it dealt with these specific issues. This school was part of the progressive workers' union movement. I don't want to spoil it for you, so I highly recommend watching the film and commentary for some amazing context to this story. This isn't just the story of some girls and a school, this is a story that changed the course of history.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:18 PM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's amazing, the kinds of things thought to be kosher for evaluation:

S[elma]'s fa[ther] came in. Typical overfed Jewish silk salesman with no tacitumity. He has some very good instincts however, and is really a good father.

Physical defects: grossly overweight. Does not follow diet given by Dr Lang.

Poor skin. Quite plain. Depressed looking. Spineless.

posted by UbuRoivas at 4:20 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Paul Lukas has been one of my favorite writers since his Inconspicuous Consumption column in the New York Press back in the 20th century. Shamefully, I have not caught up on his blog.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:28 PM on September 19, 2011

This is amazing. Thank you, and thank you also for joining us, Paul.

At my favorite job of all time -- working in my college's archives -- I had to sort through a number of pasteboard student records of young women from the 1890s-1910s, in order to put them away for storage. I also wangled some time to just read them. Like these, they were a general record on the life of the girl involved, including comments, notes, clippings and wedding announcements. I have never had a better education on a woman's daily life in a different era.

The class difference makes for a sharp contrast to the records I read, though, so I'll be reading these with particular interest.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:29 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Their mission was to get these girls jobs. Anything that could negatively affect their ability to do so would just be part of the mission, I would think. A healthy appearance is still a part of getting hired."
posted by bleep at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating. And I am so glad that my report cards have never said anything about my hair, skin, weight, or lack of pep.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:34 PM on September 19, 2011

Holy crap - the very first one (Marie Garaventa) lived around the corner from my house! And her married name rings a bell, I wonder if I knew her grandkids or something.
posted by shrieking violet at 4:35 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Their instructors didn't just give F's, they gave F-minuses. Hardcore.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:15 PM on September 19, 2011

Ooh! One of my favorite American historical figures, the trade unionist, suffragist, pacifist, and lots-of-other-things-ist Leonora O'Reilly, taught at the Manhattan Trade School in the first decade of the 20th century. It makes me wonder who the other teachers were. Were many teachers affiliated with organized labor? And if so, did that affect how employers looked at trade school graduates?
posted by craichead at 5:36 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

LOVE THIS. Just posted it to one of my Jewish genealogy listserves too, which is populated by old fogeys, in hopes someone will know more about the names on the list.

I was struck by how many Sephardic Jewish surnames were on that list, like Aboulafia and Seixas. One of the twelve sample records is from a Sephardic girl too. The Sephardic community in New York was not very big.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:39 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wonderful treasure trove, thanks for sharing.
posted by mareli at 5:44 PM on September 19, 2011

It's amazing, the kinds of things thought to be kosher for evaluation:

"Kosher", eh?

Anyway, I'm pretty sure these very same things are used to evaluate kids today--the teachers just don't write them down. Which is worse in a way, since you can't fight against things people not only don't say but even pretend to themselves they aren't thinking.
posted by DU at 6:44 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

this is amazing - thanks!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:52 PM on September 19, 2011

Great post!

Paul is also responsible for heading up one of my favorite blogs, Uni Watch (dedicated to extremely obsessive-compulsive analysis of sports uniforms). Every day, Uni Watch is a great read.

Thanks for the heads up on this Permanent Record post. Very cool.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:49 PM on September 19, 2011

Even progressives then, so prone to the ethnic condescension, the social control.

Fascinating stuff, looking forward to wading through the content.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on September 19, 2011

I hope that sometime in the mid-to-late 21st century, some enterprising young person finds a stack of Lukas' Beer Frame zines (stuck into a pile of gutted iPads). I'm sure that those would tell a story almost as good as these report cards.

So, so good. I wish I had kept mine.
posted by JDC8 at 9:32 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

JDCB, I've still got a bunch of copies of Beer Frame saved (along with Thrift Score!) that I will never ever throw out!

So happy that someone like Paul Lukas found these and is sharing them.
posted by vespabelle at 11:01 PM on September 19, 2011

I was thinking "the more things change ..."

DU: "Anyway, I'm pretty sure these very same things are used to evaluate kids today--the teachers just don't write them down. Which is worse in a way, since you can't fight against things people not only don't say but even pretend to themselves they aren't thinking."

We actually were just discussing last night new programs in our district to reach out to students in a variety of ways -- our school nurses have done training in tackling child and family obesity; some local sororities do "dress for success" with our girls, as does a men's group for our boys; as our ESL population is rising dramatically, we're talking about how we reach those families and make sure the norms of schools in the U.S. are understood and that the parents can be involved in their children's education (we have 41 languages in a district of 14,000 students, which actually isn't that high, but it's rising). We have programs in place that teach self-regulation and self-control; we have job skills training programs, starting with "use an alarm clock"; this year we have a new "life skills" program at the junior high level that's like "home ec for the 21st century" -- cooking, sewing, yes, but also fixing a leaky faucet, caring for a child, patching a hole in the driveway, all kinds of things.

It's a cruelty if you have children coming to school whose parents don't bathe them, or dress them for the weather, or feed them properly not to attempt to address those issues in a sensitive, culturally-aware way. And it's a cruelty to send kids out into the world under the assumption that they all know HOW to be a good employee. People don't spring full-formed into the world knowing how to pay rent and get telephone service and wear appropriate clothes for a particular job. Some of us can navigate the world to figure that out -- ask parents, ask friends, ask mefi -- others don't even know where to begin.

Anyway, love this post, and fascinated by its parallels to today.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I kept my Beer Frames. It was a real thrill when Paul wrote about a product I had found in the giant 99 Cents Only store on Wilshire in L.A. and mailed to him--aerosol desserts, for dieters. A lot of that great Beer Frame stuff ended up in his book.

There were so many terrific writers in the last great zine era. It's nice to see one of them getting paid for producing the type of obsessive social history research that might just as easily become a 96 page special issue printed after-hours at a friend's copy shop and loosely "distributed" in record stores.
posted by Scram at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2011

our school nurses have done training in tackling child and family obesity

I find that extremely inappropriate, that the public school would presume to "tackle" the physical characteristics of a family. It's wrong on several levels:

* It shouldn't be the place of the school to get themselves involved--without consent I am guessing in most cases--in private health matters. The school system already doesn't do their primary job (educating students) well enough; why in the world do they feel they should expand their job description to Health Care Provider for the Entire Family?

* "Tackling" the way a person looks is almost certainly going to be perceived by that person as humiliating and shaming. And, while I know that our society INSISTS that obesity is a medical condition to be treated, I believe, after extensive observation, thinking, and actually bothering to read many of the studies done about this topic, that it is in most cases not directly a health threat. The emotional stress from social ostracism and shaming, and the physical stress of yo-yo dieting* however, ARE threats to health.

* And before someone leaps in with "well don't yo-yo diet then!": That's almost always the kind of dieting that it going to occur; very very rarely does someone simply go on one diet and then keep it off. And this is despite the extensive social pressure to conform one's body size to the current fashion (which masquerades as "the healthy way to be"). Obesity does not have any reliable proven "treatment" method that actually works, long-term.

Many if not most people in our society are totally dedicated to the belief that fat is unhealthy, and that other people's fat is their business. I don't believe either of those is true.
posted by parrot_person at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2011

"It shouldn't be the place of the school to get themselves involved--without consent I am guessing in most cases--in private health matters. The school system already doesn't do their primary job (educating students) well enough; why in the world do they feel they should expand their job description to Health Care Provider for the Entire Family?"

Always with consent -- it would be illegal otherwise, they're minors -- and for many of our families this is the only access to health care services that they have.

The families come to the nurse for help. Typically the nurse doesn't approach the student or family, unless protective services is already involved and health care access and care is an issue relating to the neglect case, and then it's done through the social worker. Many of these families realize they and/or their kids aren't healthy, but they don't have any other access to medical services except through the schools. We do receive specific grants to provide community health services.

And why is that all through the schools? Because social services in the U.S. are thin to non-existant; in many cases, nobody takes care of our poor children except the schools.

If this kind of provision for medical services through schools offends you, wait until you find out what sorts of medical services public schools are required to provide by law to students with I.E.P.s. Nutritional counseling is the tip of the iceberg. We're comprehensive medical service providers for the most severely disabled children in America. Not hospitals. Not doctors. Schools. We provide so many medical services that we have a four-person Medicaid department to bill Medicaid.

You may not be aware of this, either, but school is where an awful lot of kids get the majority of their food. It's not so much that we keep "expanding our job description" but that it keeps getting expanded for us, as more and more services to help the poor are removed, and someone decides, well, at least poor children should still get this, let's do it through the schools.

But yes, go ahead and read the existence of the services that families want and voluntarily access as the public school shaming children. They received the training because it was becoming the number one thing students and families asked them about, and they wanted to be better-educated to provide help. Sorry I poked your hobby horse.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Their instructors didn't just give F's, they gave F-minuses. Hardcore.

Don't know if that was a joke... but I'd imagine that F means "fair" not "fail."

Even progressives then, so prone to the ethnic condescension, the social control.

I see that, but the investment they made in these girls' lives is incredibly moving. Tracking the women's success and failure for years even after graduation, offering professional and personal advice. Seeing all that in the form of these short, careful notes on index cards is just remarkable.

You're doing good work, plukas. What a shame all the report cards couldn't have been rescued.
posted by torticat at 7:03 PM on September 20, 2011

Oh, it totally is, I just get historian hat on sometimes and it is important to recognize that we can't shed the biases of our time, no matter how good our intentions.
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on September 20, 2011

Oh yes, you're just poking my hobby horse. It has nothing to do with my personal experience of school staff "helping" me by weighing me in front of other children, with neither my parents' nor my consent, as a child. And I read about similar and worse things occurring all over the country in the guise of "help". Weight as a health issue is the way that hatred of fat people can be framed as compassion instead.

Thankfully, Washington state provides health care for its poor children, 100% free and at clinics, not schools.
posted by parrot_person at 10:04 PM on September 20, 2011

Miko, I don't think you're giving those people enough credit. They were actively trying to change the biases of their times. I'm going to take some considerable effort to accurately transcribe the ending of the film commentary from the film about this school, written by Jennifer M. Bean, about the people and the goals surrounding this schol.

--- of these instructors was Cleo Murtland who I mentioned a few moments ago and who was head of the mathematics department at the school at the time. I'll mention now that two years after this film was made, she accepted a position as Assistant Secretary to the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education which met in Michigan in October 1913 to discuss the question of "how the work of giving vocational training to women and girls could best be accomplished."

One year after that, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson himself appointed Florence Marshall, the current director of the Manhattan Trade School for Girls to sit on the newly formed National Education Committee, the focus of which was to investigate educational methods and to "report the need for Federal Aid in the work of vocational schools." Now the need for vocational education of the type pioneered by this very curriculum in this film that we are watching was indeed dire as a means of offering an alternative to young girls faced with the deadening conditions of factory life. But the need to transform the oppressive of environments that the girls in our film are striving to avoid was equally dire. In this sense, it is important to remember the efforts of the National Women's Trade Union League, formed in 1903, just a year before this school in Manhattan opened its doors. The League argued relentlessly for legislative reforms, in particular the eight hour day, the minimum wage, and protective legislation.

It was also involved in the campaigning for women's suffrage, among both male and female workers. But above all, perhaps, the League demanded safe working conditions for women, it sought to eliminate sweatshop conditions, and played a critical role in supporting strikes like the 1909 Uprising of Twenty Thousand and the New York City and Philadelphia Shirtwaist Worker's Strike.

As with so many historical occasions, however, it is in fact tragedy, that throws into relief the issues at stake. And here I'm referring to the tragedy that took place in early spring 1911 near Washington Square in New York City at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a company which employed mostly young female immigrants who worked 14 hour shifts, during a 60 to 72 hour work week, for a wage of $1.50 per week.

In the afternoon of March 25, 1911 a fire began on the 8th floor of the factory. The 10th floor was alerted, but the workers on the 9th floor remained unaware, and by the time the girls realized the building was ablaze, the managers and owners had fled to the roof. The problem with this was that the only exit door for those in the 9th floor workroom had been locked, ostensibly to prevent the workers from stealing materials or taking breaks, and to keep out union organizers. The death toll of the young women burnt to death while trapped in the workroom that day was 146.

Given the public fervor generated by the Shirtwaist Factory Fire, it is reasonable to assume the film we have been watching was produced, in part, as a means of introducing the public to other gains being made in young immigrant working girls' futures.. And the film itself is geared towards hope, the hope of a better future and a happy ending achieved through the positions earned in this film by Millie and Rose, Miram, Sadie, and Mary, as a result of their education.

The ability to earn money, however, takes money. And the money necessary to support this school depended from the outset on its supporters and benefactors. As such, the history this film tells is also the remarkable history of philanthropy in American culture. And with that said, I think it is finally once again, a tragic event that could be telling for us, the event in this case being the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg at 11:40PM on the night of April 14, 1912 and sank two and a half hours later. Among the passengers traveling on the ill fated Titanic that night was Mr. Benjamin Guggenheim, who left behind to America two important legacies, one in the form of his daughter Peggy, whose name is synonymous with the development of Modern Art in the 20th Century. The other, however, took the form of a monetary gift. Discovered when his will was read, it divided his money among the causes in which he believed, the largest donation of which was bequeathed to the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.


So think about those times, and the immigrants who fled Europe on the verge of WW1, and how they faced a life of exploitation and discrimination. And these people, who lived mostly in slums segregated by nationality, received the help of the wealthiest upper-class, formed a movement that changed how education was given to Americans, and how they workplace would operate in the 20th century. It's a battle that we are still in the midst of today. I think the progressives of the era can be excused from any accusations of bias, instead, they gave these people who were the subject of bias, the tools they needed to shape the world as they, not the upper class, saw fit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:51 PM on September 20, 2011

So think about those times, and the immigrants who fled Europe on the verge of WW1, and how they faced a life of exploitation and discrimination. And these people, who lived mostly in slums segregated by nationality, received the help of the wealthiest upper-class, formed a movement that changed how education was given to Americans, and how they workplace would operate in the 20th century.
The thing about progressive reform is that there was a fine line between "help" and "control." One of the big insights that progressives had was that society was interconnected. If immigrants were starving, disease-ridden, and very, very angry, and if you happened to live in the same country and in many cases the same city as these miserable, infuriated immigrants, then there was a chance that you would catch their diseases, get robbed by them, or be injured or killed when they resorted to revolutionary violence. Progressivism was an attempt to diffuse some of the grievances of the poor but also to assert middle-class authority when it came to shaping solutions. Within immigrant communities, there were plenty of people whose solution to the problem of poverty was to redistribute wealth and end the capitalist exploitation of labor, rather than to train poor young women to be respectful, obedient, attractive, industrious low-wage workers.

This is something that has been debated to death by American historians, and I think most historians agree that there was at least an element of social control involved in progressive reform. That doesn't mean that the reformers were insincere: they were clearly genuinely appalled by the suffering of the immigrant poor, and they saw themselves as allies who wanted to help the poor better themselves. But they also feared the immigrant poor and wanted to make sure that these problems were addressed in ways that didn't threaten the status of the middle class.
posted by craichead at 5:16 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Miko, I don't think you're giving those people enough credit

Oh, no mistake, I'm absolutely aware of the accomplishments of the Progressive era and the ways it fundamentally shaped many of the basic values and expectations we have today. I'm fervently thankful for many of the structural and social reforms of the period, which were a great improvement, IMO, on Victorian social standards, and it's one of the most interesting periods in American history, and one which I've studied a fair bit, in both professional and academic settings.

My offhand comment maybe presumed a bit more shared background than we have here, but craichead nicely described where my perspective was coming from. At the same time that liberals (like me) today generally tend to view the Progressive era as one of unalloyed good, and recognize that many major strides such as female suffrage and worker's rights (to the extent they still exist) owe much of their existence to this era, there are legitimate critiques which can be made of both the assumptions and economic understandings that underlie the movement.

If you look at the basic impulse to help people 'improve their lives,' it is indeed generally thought of as a good one. But it's also important to consider the power dynamics behind the definition of an 'improved life.' Who defined what a 'better life' looked like? Who identified the people who were falling short of this better life, and on what criteria? Who decided what their specific deficits were? Whose values were reflected in the interventionist programs developed to mitigate those deficits? What sort of ultimate outcome of these interventions would be considered as 'success'?

The general definition of an improved life as the ability to work for hire in a capitalist economy, fund all your own family's expenses through work for hire, speak English, cook American food, marry and have a nuclear family, maintain the (somewhat arbitrary and definitely culturally defined) hygeine standards of the day, complete a certain level of state schooling and arrive at certain shared understandings of US political history and current conditions, and avoid involvement in resistance, protest, unrest, or even the assertion of ethnic values not in accord with middle-class white American values at the time. One can see in these trade cards - as you might expect - a strong identification with the values and needs of employers and the middle and upper classes in the evaluation and training of these young women. Much of what was both condemned and valued - in other words, much of what was deemed 'the good life' - is embedded in the judgements of the instructors and caseworkers:
"Needs watching." "Wastes time." "Irritable." "Cowardly." "Stubborn and surly." "Inclined to be lazy."Nervous type." "Careless in following instructions." "Mother is insane...father paralyzed, crippled, and a drunkard." "Low mentality, very timid and unstable." "Dresses suitably...rather cute." "Very slow worker, needs urging." "Needs extra attention, immature." "Poor hereditary background" "Father...typical overfed, Jewish salesmen with no taciturnity." "A bit spoiled, inclined to be lazy." "Very affected. Uses her eyes to attract, rather than to sew." "Too uppity." "Very unattractive. Extremely obese. 1 tooth missing. Will not follow prescribed diet." "Very fine girl. Refined. Intelligent.

The project of educating these young women was aimed to improve their lives, yes, but to do that by producing an obedient and productive worker who would not make too many demands for raises or time off for self-care or family. Those women who did not comply received poor marks and negative comments which clearly further hurt their chances for development. Personal interests seem not to have been an important consideration in the discussion of what kind of work these women would end up doing; the focus was on ability and productivity.

Again, not saying at all that programs of this era were a total negative, but it's worth thinking about the approaches that were not used, which were rejected on ideological grounds, or never considered at all. Some of the things we value today were not widely valued in this area - robust multiculturalism was definitely not supported in most programs of this kind. Ideas in feminism were treated warily in many cases. A general enthusiasm for expert leadership and science led to a vast overconfidence in the understandings of what were then some very nascent and clumsy social sciences, which categorized people in ways that likely limited their opportunities. And a Marxist critique would point out the major note that total economic overhaul to deal with injustice and inequality was never on the table - the Progressive era was meant to mitigate social ills and soften the hard edges of a capitalist economy by helping to forge a distinctly non-Communist, more palatably social-democratic middle ground in which the power structure, elite classes, and economic systems stayed essentially the same but the worst effects of capitalism were blunted.

I'd say many of these ills still plague our social service systems and, as noted above, education systems as well. It's not that I think we should condemn the Progressivists, but it is really important to reflect on the class assumptions and the limitations of that framework for the problems of our own time, and to consider the statements made and the values assumed by our own contemporary attempts at reform and change, and how those affect people's lives today.

So I commented about it because though I've been familiar with these criticisms for a long time, it's one thing to read and think about historians' syntheses of the biases of the period, but quite another to confront the bald, completely undeniable primary sources which reveal both the sincere effort and care on the part of reform workers, but also their embedded values and prejudices and how those reflected the general ideals of the Progressivist project.

I found this really good, succinct outline in somebody's syllabus that summarizes very well the rise, aims, and ends of Progressive era reformers.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Thanks for all the kind words and thoughtful feedback, guys -- great stuff.

It's particularly gratifying to hear that some of you were (and still are!) Beer Frame fans. If you look at the back cover of Beer Frame #9, top of the right-hand column, you'll find a small reference to the report cards that form the basis of Permanent Record. So you can connect the dots from there to here.
posted by plukas at 5:49 PM on September 21, 2011

Thanks, plukas. Great stuff.
posted by Miko at 6:27 PM on September 21, 2011

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