Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slate’s Series on Recovered Report Cards

Late last year, Paul Lukas from Slate released a series of articles chronicling his discovery of old report cards from a girl’strade school in New York City and the subsequent search to return the cards tothe students’ families.  Lukas discovered the old report cards in 1996 sitting in a box of soon-to-be discarded materials at Stuyvesant High School.  Many of the report cards dated back to the early 1900’s so Lukas kept the report cards sensing that they had significant historical value.  More like detailed school records, the cards contained information including the girls’ subsequent employment history, correspondence from school personnel, and notes about the girls from teachers, social workers, and doctors.  Many of the girls were from immigrant families, but the cards revealed that there were also black students, one Hispanic, and one Native American student, each marked with a black dot, which Lukas believes to be a warning system to protect the students from job discrimination.  In the series, Lukas threads the stories of several girls together to give a glimpse of the nature of the garment industry in which most of the girls found themselves: “difficult, usually short-term, and almost always low-paying.”  My own research on legal aid also reveals that smaller manufacturers and jobbers also failed to pay women’s wages entirely.  That the girls’ employment stories were so meticulously documented by the school’s placement office makes Lukas’ find that much more important.  Lukas’ intuition about keeping the cards for their historical value was spot-on as what emerges from his discovery is a rich source of immigrant, education, and working class history.  A number of these documents are now available to view on-line.