Permanent Record

Fifteen years ago, Paul Lukas came into possession of school records for 395 students who attended the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in the 1920s. The records are more than just grades; they are snapshot of what like was like for young women in New York at the time, mostly daughters of poor immigrants.
Students did not receive their diplomas until they demonstrated a proficiency in their trade. The school helped them achieve this by establishing a job placement office that arranged employment for the girls after they finished their training. The girls were instructed to report back to the schoolabout their work experiences, and the employers were encouraged to report back on performance of the girls, and all of this information was recorded in the card packets. So these aren't just scholastic records—they're also employment records. Much like the teachers' assessments, comments from the students' employers run the gamut from encouraging ("Thank you for sending me such a smart little girl—she is all I would desire and does your school credit in every way") to heartbreaking ("Terrific odor of perspiration, have to lay off").

Lukas is in the process of finding the families of the women to share the information. In the first article of a series at Slate, he gives an overview of the records and the story of how he got them. Future installments will tell the stories of twelve of the women in the records. Link

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