A long-lost stash of Depression-era school records

Fifteen years ago, Brooklyn writer Paul Lukas came across a treasure trove of ephemera: a stash of 1920s and 1930s records from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls on East 23rd Street.

Though the girls have probably passed on and Manhattan Trade School is long-defunct, Lukas took on the task of tracking down each student, learning as much as he could about their post–vocational school lives.

The result is a fascinating website called Permanent Record, plus a series of articles that will launch on Slate.com on September 19.

The cards on their own provide intriguing clues about each student, such as Domenica Castiglia (above).

Her record notes that she’s Italian, was born in 1914, and left Manhattan Trade in 1931—sent to work in the city’s thriving garment industry at just 17.

The occupations of the students’ parents also tell us about 1930s New York City. Dominica’s father was a “ship-polisher—a profession that no longer exists in New York City,” writes Lukas.

Take a look at the blog to browse other student cards and info on the school itself (the striking Gothic structure at left).

[Card image used with permission]

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12 Responses to “A long-lost stash of Depression-era school records”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    An interesting rescue of these old records. Often ephemeral documents give a different view of history, or record information that would otherwise be lost. I love the opportunity for research and speculation, and that is why I collect and often write about old documents and papers.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’m with you. I find these things fascinating from so many angles.

  3. Josie Says:

    I’m trying to find out exactly what a ship-polisher (or ships-polisher) did. So far I’m not having any luck. A Google search turned up just one reference to a “Ships-Polisher” which was apparently one step up from Qualified Journeyman, but there’s nothing else, so that isn’t very helpful.

  4. Josie Says:

    But your post was about the discovery of the historical school records, and that is fascinating. Thank you.

  5. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Fascinating to see these old pictures and memories come up. How much more is lying in a cabinet somewhere in New York City? Amazing, what’s still out there. And usually discarded to the garbage when the tenant drops dead, as I’ve seen happen countless and countless times.

  6. Bob Says:

    I actually found a ton of these cards like these being thrown out by the school on 12th Street near Avenue A. They were pretty old, 1930s and 1940s if I remember correctly, but they didn’t have pics on them like some of those. I took a pile, but there were literally thousands of them in the trash. Sad to know they were all carted away, but as a pack rat I barely had the room for the 100 or so I took. If I find them amongst my stacks of stuff I will get in touch with that guy and see if he has any interest in using any of them.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      What a find! I think he’d be interested. At some point, I suppose all of our personal files and information will be discarded curbside.

  7. Maury Schott Says:

    Being Italian and looking closely at the handwritten name, I think this young lady’s first name is “Domenica” with an “e”.

  8. Upstate Ellen Says:

    What a fascinating website! It seems to me that these school records would have some value for family historians. I would love to see my parents’ or grandparents’ report cards; it would provide a better understanding of how they lived.

  9. petey Says:

    luc sante published ‘Evidence’ out of old NYPD photo-plates which were being tossed. as myk says, the stuff you find thrown out!

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