Monday, September 19, 2011

Report Cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls

Slate has this wonderful ongoing series on report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls. A journalist found a collection of postcards in 1996, and thirteen years later begins researching the women behind these records.
These stories are extraordinary. Many of them were poor and some had disabilities, yet many managed to provide for themselves and their families. They struggled with strange employers and low wages. Some of them got married and had children. Education for women was not always readily available, and so anything that allowed women to work as their own bosses made an impact on their lives. These are the sort of women who are often forgotten by history and their lives are harder to document because there are less primary sources, but this series of articles remind readers of their existence and realities, ones difficult and courageous.
In addition to this, seeing these report cards reminds readers how these were truly everyday people. Recently, I got to see my Grandmother's transcript and yearbook picture from when she was in college. It was striking to see her grades and classes, which were closer to mine than I realized. She had never mentioned how much music she had taken, or that her minor was in English (which was my major). Even her haircut managed to be both in style for the time and terrible embarrassing. I can imagine both the delight and surprise these report cards gave families, reminding them that even Mom or Grandma once had a class she just could not stand.

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