Say hello to the Chevy Chase Bank Check Card Man!

x20121201
This foam, fabric and plastic costume was used in the mid-2000s to advertise Chevy Chase Bank’s check card services.  It measures 5’6″ tall and 18″ deep, and features check-card-replica info on the front and back (including ‘valid’ dates 2003-2006, and the name “Mr. I.M. Convenient”) and an exceedingly happy expression.  The lucky wearer peered out through the black mesh inside Mr. Convenient’s smile.  The full costume included red shoe covers and large white gloves, though those were lost before donation.

x20121201-4

Chevy Chase Bank was founded in 1969 by B.F. Saul II, grandson of B.F. Saul I, whose eponymous real estate company (founded in 1892) is still in business.  As the bank’s name implies, it was a local company, based in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.  Originally called the Chevy Chase Savings & Loan Association and later Chevy Chase Savings Bank, the company was renamed Chevy Chase Bank in 1994, and local residents may remember the distinctive red-brick, columned-front bank branches that popped up around the area in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Mr. Convenient and his friend, a seven-foot-tall walking ATM (which costume, alas, we do not have), were sent out to bank-related events and openings, and participated in various public and charitable activities.  For example, I found this awesome photographic evidence of Mr. Convenient playing basketball, at Towson University’s “Annual Mascot Madness” in 2009. There seem to have been a few other copies of Mr. Convenient out there, but it’s clear that, basketball-playing or no, our guy got some action; one of the interior shoulder braces has broken off, and the plastic eyeballs are scratched and chipped. (Other than that, the costume is in pretty good shape.) The large armholes on the sides, and an open bottom, allow for some movement, but I imagine that the humans who portrayed Mr. Convenient had their fair share of mishaps nonetheless.

An inside view, as it were

An inside view, as it were

The bank was acquired by Capital One Bank in 2009, and in 2010 the Chevy Chase name was officially removed from use.  In 2012 the B.F. Saul Company donated this costume, and other 1990s-2000s bank-related ephemera, via James M. Goode, the company’s historian and archivist, and his assistant Peter Penczer; the latter kindly modeled Mr. Convenient for us, as seen in the photo below.

x20121201-7

Once the bank changed owners and names, the check card mascot was no longer needed – at least not by the bank.  As an historical artifact, he can still be a contributing member of society!  Of all the past-businesses-related pieces in our collections, this costume probably has the best visual impact.  After all, not every artifact smiles back.

x20121201 closeup

 

Advertisements

We base many of our memories on food; not just what we ate (and how it tasted), but also where, and with whom.   Restaurants are often an important part of our memory banks, and when an old favorite closes its doors, it can trigger reminscences both good and bad.  We recently had a call from a woman who just could not remember the name of “the restaurant on Rockville Pike with the giant salad bar,” and it was driving her and her friends crazy.  (Staff memories, rather than our collections, solved that one: it was Phineas.)  Online, there are many forums and blogs dedicated to “do you remember” this restaurant, or that neighborhood cafe.  Next time you need to start a  conversation with a long-time county resident, ask if he or she remembers, say, Farrell’s, or Rickshaw, or the Anchor Inn.

How do museums reflect those memories?  Thankfully, restaurants contain more than just food.  (Although we do have a few once-edible items in our collections.)  Here are some of the material remnants that we use to help preserve, and bring back, memories of restaurants past.
064100a

086johnson001

Photographs.  Late 1960s interior and exterior views of Mr. T’s On the Pike, located on N. Washington Street in Rockville.  George W. Johnson (seated) opened his general store in 1918; over the years it evolved into a well-known tavern and restaurant, which he operated until his death in 1971.  The office building at right, in the street view, is still standing, but Mr. T’s was eventually torn down and is now the site of Hickman’s Exxon (another long-time Rockville establishment, but we’re talking about restaurants today, not service stations).  Photo of Mr. T’s donated by Charles Brewer.

018017a

Postcards and advertisements.  This circa 1940 postcard advertises Sunnyside View, a roadside all-in-one convenience stop on Route 240 (now Route 355) near Clarksburg.  The illustration includes a helpful sign, “LUNCH,” on the cheerful yellow building, and the text on the back informs us that Sunnyside offered travelers “Rooms – Cabins – Chicken Dinners – Steak – Ham – Lunch – Home Cooking.”  Postcard donated by Tim Parker.

064280aHere’s a more recent postcard, circa 1980, advertising Emperor Ming Cuisine & Cocktails in Rockville.  The images on the front show the interior and exterior of the restaurant; the text on the reverse does not provide details on the menu, but it does tell us that it opened in 1972, and was owned and managed by Irene K.Y. Wong.  Postcard donated by Carol Cummings.

gc0143
Servingware.  The Cabin John Bridge Hotel, on what’s now MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John, was Montgomery County’s ‘destination dining’ experience at the turn of the last century.  Started in the late 19th century by German immigrants Joseph and Rosa Bobinger, and eventually taken over by their sons, the Hotel boasted well-appointed dining rooms, and had its own china pattern featuring an image of the namesake Bridge.  (In fact there were two similar patterns; pieces marked simply “Cabin John Bridge Hotel” are earlier, and pieces featuring an entwined “BB” are later.)  Patrons came from far (thanks to the trolley) and near to enjoy fine dining in Cabin John. All things come to an end, however; the Hotel closed in 1926, and burned to the ground in the early 1930s.  Many surviving examples of the Hotel’s china, including the broken serving dish above, have been found in the yards of homes built in the area after the Hotel’s demise.  We have several different pieces – some whole, some not – in our collections, but as an almost-archaeologist I rather enjoy the broken dishes dug up while gardening, and chose this option for today’s post.  Serving dish donated by Carolyn Bryant.

 

gc0164-2
Souvenirs and promotional items.  Here’s a small ceramic coffee mug, given to Boy Scout leaders from the National Capital Area Council who attended the 1974 Round-Up.  The front features the BSA logo and the motto “Prepare for Life ’74;” the back includes the sponsor’s logo: Gino’s, a restaurant chain started in Baltimore in the late 1950s.  This particular mug belonged to Jim Douglas, Cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 782 in Wheaton Woods.  I’ve seen references to a Gino’s restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, near present-day Glenmont Metro Station; can any blog readers confirm or deny that this was the same chain?  Mug donated by Patricia Douglas.

 

Menus.  All the items above are well and good, but what about the food that was served at these restaurants?  Menus are one of the clearest ways to get at the actual dining experiences of the past, short of cranking up your time machine.  We have a few menus in the artifact and archival collections; for example, here’s the “Junior Dinner” (“for children under 12 years”) on offer at Hot Shoppes* on Sunday, September 26, 1943:

Hot Shoppes childrens menu 1943Chicken Noodle Soup or Chilled Papaya Juice.  ~  Chopped Sirloin Steak, Hot Shoppes Style, 55 cents. Old Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Toast Cube Crust, 55 cents. Baked Swordfish Steak, Mushroom Sauce, 55 cents. ~  Yellow Squash; Celery Cabbage with Russian Dressing; Tomato and Eggplant; Garden Salad Bowl; Potatoes Hashed in Cream; Green Snap Beans. Rolls and Butter. ~ DESSERTS: Orange Layer Cake; Fresh Fruit Sherbet; Hot Fudge Cake Square with Whipped Cream; Fresh Apple Sauce with Whipped Cream and Cake Fingers.  ~  A&W Root Beer, Milk or Lemonade.

*Unfortunately the menu does not indicate a specific Hot Shoppes restaurant, but it may have come from the Bethesda restaurant.  Menu donor unknown.

…And now it’s your turn, blog readers.  I’ve no doubt left out your favorite local restaurant (not on purpose, I promise!) and the memories therein. So, help out the Historical Society and fill our comment section with restaurant reminiscences!

P.S. Fans of menus and historic meals – don’t miss the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced menu transcription project.

 

The Historical Society has a large collection of local-business-related ephemera in the Library collections, the contents of which – though seemingly mundane – provide a detailed glance into the everyday lives of County residents.  Let’s take one of those glances today, shall we?

There’s something pleasantly formal about late 19th-early 20th century business correspondence.  Even bills for butter have a certain air about them; for example, here’s the heading on a 1904 bill from the Carson Ward Store, Gaithersburg:

MCM37 header
“Gaithersburg, Md., July 7, 1904. Mrs. M.A. Hutton, Bought of Carson Ward, Dealer in General Merchandise.  Boots, Shoes, Paints, Oils. Country Produce at Market Prices.  Specialty, Dynamite.”  (Mrs. Hutton owed $2.95 for butter, a whitewashing brush, 8 pounds of Plaster of Paris, and a 10 gallon jar.)

In contrast, here’s a bill produced by the Rockville company of Clagett & Gandy, painters and paperhangers.  Though it’s a less expensive version – on which the proprietors must fill in their business name – than Mr. Ward’s, the pre-printed generic form nevertheless has style.

MCM40
“July 15th, 1927.  Mrs. Poole, Autrey Park Md. To Clagett & Gandy, Rockville, Md.  To papering two rooms and hall: 66.00. Taking of[f] old paper – Pointing up and sizeing [sic] walls: 25.00.  [total] $91.00  Received Payment in full Edw Gandy.”  Edward Gandy (1871-1955) and Joseph Clagett (1871-?) were neighbors in east Rockville.  Census records identify them as “painters,” and Mr. Gandy’s obituary describes him as “the surviving partner of a 50-year-old painting and paperhanging firm Clagett & Gandy Co.”

The customer, “Mrs. Poole, Autrey Park, Md.”, was Annie Evelyn Jones Poole (1858-1936), widow of John Sprigg Poole (1846-1914).  Both were Montgomery County natives, who lived in DC as adults.  Although the 1920 and 1930 censuses list Mrs. Poole and her daughters as DC residents, by the late 1910s the ladies had acquired a summer home, just south of Rockville in a neighborhood known as Autrey Park.

1890 map - click to view. To orient you: Rockville is off the detail view to the left; the "fairgrounds" at left is the general site of Richard Montgomery High School; "Halpine" at right is near Congressional Shopping Center.

Detail of 1890 map – click to view. To orient you: Rockville is off to the left; the “Georgetown and…” road is Rockville Pike; the “fairgrounds” at left is the approximate site of Richard Montgomery High School; “Halpine” at right is near Congressional Shopping Center and Halpine Road.

Autrey Park, and the slightly later Autrey Heights, were two small, late 19th century developments, conveniently located along the Washington-to-Frederick Road (Rockville Pike/Route 355) and the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad.  The detail, above, from the 1890 Real Estate Map of the Metropolitan Branch (by Fava Neff & Co.) shows multiple streets in both Park and Heights, but this may have represented a hopeful (and non-forthcoming) future rather than reality.  However, the neighborhood had enough of a presence – probably assisted by the Autrey Park railroad stop on the Metropolitan Line – to maintain name recognition from the 1890s through the 1920s. The name itself comes from Caleb Litton’s 1722 land patent, variously written as Oatry, Oatre or Autra.

Mrs. Poole’s Autrey Park summer home was right on Rockville Pike, on the east side, in the general vicinity of present-day Woodmont Country Club.  (Woodmont’s then-owner, Joseph Bradley, insured his home “in Autre [sic] Park” in 1912.)  Rockville society columns in the Washington Post note Mrs. Poole’s removal to her summer home as early as 1917.  In 1927, the year of our paperhanging bill, the Post informs us on June 19 that “Mrs. J. Sprigg Poole and her daughters, Miss Martha Poole and Miss Katherine Poole, have reopened their home on the Rockville Pike after occupying an apartment in Washington since fall.”  On October 16 of that year, “Mrs. J. Sprigg Poole has closed her summer home at Autrey Park and is occupying an apartment in Washington until spring.”

Annie E. Poole, circa 1915.  Donated by Martha and Kitty Poole.

Annie E. Poole, circa 1915. Donated by Martha and Kitty Poole.

Other than these bare facts, I haven’t yet discovered much more about the family’s home (which is no longer standing; for those of you not familiar with Rockville Pike, picture a car dealership there instead).  When was the house built?  What did it look like?  And, relevant to this 1927 bill, how was it decorated?

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, carefully chosen wallpaper was an important element of an elegant, wealthy home. By 1900, improved production and lower costs put wallpaper within reach of  even more homeowners, who papered their walls, closets, attics, bathrooms, and even ceilings.  Wallpaper sample books, called things like “Correct Wallpapers for Year 1918,” encouraged the purchase and installation of up-to-date designs.

If only Mr. Gandy had been more specific on his bill!  Where was Mrs. Poole’s wallpaper purchased – who designed it – what did it look like?  (And what kind of paper did it replace?) Alas for this wallpaper fan, our 1927 Sears catalog reprint notes only that aspiring decorators should send away for a sample book, promising “timely stylish designs . . . stripes, two-tone emboss, Tiffany tints, floral patterns, ornamental panels, brocades, Lincrustas, sanitas and tile papers” – but no actual images of the papers themselves.  Thankfully, the online collections of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum can furnish our imaginations with some options (click on the links to view).  Did Mrs. Poole choose stripes, a floral pattern, something thematic, or perhaps a scene or a decorative friezeBold colors, or subtleClassically inspired – perhaps a reproduction of an older pattern – or something a little less formal?  Was she a William Morris fan, or did her taste skew more modern? Seriously, I’d love to know – if anyone remembers the house, fill me in.

(…Sorry, I can’t resist one more wallpaper option: this pastoral pattern is dated 1927, and seems appropriate for a summer home in what was then the gently-rural suburbs. Perfect!)

Today we have a rather unusual pair of three-wheeled roller skates from the early 20th century.  They are made of metal, with hard-rubber treads on the wheels; each skate is 16 inches long, and weighs three pounds.

DSC03970

These babies were donated to us in rough shape; they were found in a Rockville basement during a building demolition (more on that in a bit).  The metal is rusted; the orange and black paint, what’s left, is flaking off; the rubber treads are deteriorated, dented and flattened.  Any original marks or labels are long gone.  One skate is missing its adjustable toe-cap, and the cap that remains is bent out of shape and useless.  Presumably there was some kind of strap at the rear, now gone, for the wearer’s ankles.
DSC03969

Without a maker’s mark, their general history is proving elusive.  The only other example I’ve found is this skate, in rather better condition – contrast the curled-down toe-cap, and the shinier paint job, with our pair – but still without a name.  My 1902, 1908 and 1927 Sears catalog reprints only advertise ‘regular’ strap-on quad skates (invented in 1863; earlier skates were in-line); no three-wheeled jobs to be had.  However, a patent search revealed a number of three-wheeled skate designs – similar to ours with one in front, two in back – all from the 1910s.  None are an exact match to our pair, but the concept (which never took off, I guess; this style, at least, appears rather cumbersome) seems to date to that decade.

A flat tire

The specific history of the skates is a little easier to trace.  Our catalog records indicate that they were donated by the Rockville Urban Renewal Project in the early 1970s, after being found in the basement of “Stein’s Store” during demolition.  The problem is that there wasn’t a “Stein’s Store.”  Presumably our cataloger meant either Stern’s Modern Furniture or Steinberg’s Department Store.  I’m inclined toward the latter, because Morris Stern opened his first store in 1926, perhaps a little late for our skates, whereas Steinberg’s opened in 1908.

Let’s say Steinberg’s, then, for now.  Lithuanian immigrant David Steinberg opened his grocery store in 1908, quickly adding clothing and accessories to his stock; the name was changed to Steinberg’s Department Store around 1930.  The building, which included the store on the ground floor and the family’s apartment above, was on East Montgomery Avenue in downtown Rockville. David and Bertha Steinberg raised three sons in their home over the shop: William, born 1910; Isadore, born 1913; and Joseph, born 1916.  The family (including son Joseph) ran the Department Store and several other shops until the 1960s, when Urban Renewal came and the old downtown shopping district was torn down to make way for a mall (now demolished in its turn). Steinberg’s was one of the last old buildings to go; it was razed in 1972.

064071b

Steinberg’s Department Store, the three-story brick building in the foreground, shortly before it was demolished in 1972. The building under construction is the Americana Centre. MCHS Library collections.

Though a lot of the skates’ poor condition can be attributed to basement-living for 50-odd years, the fact that there are pieces missing leads me to believe that they weren’t just forgotten store merchandise – these were used.  The proposed date of the skates, and the ages of the Steinberg sons, are a nice match; I think these were enjoyed by one or more boys, tooling around the sidewalks of Rockville.

***

These simple, if slightly mysterious, roller skates could serve as the jumping-off point to a wide variety of stories:  The history of roller skating.  Patents and inventions. The effects of time on metal and rubber.  Urban Renewal’s impact on the City of Rockville.  The life of the Steinberg family, the first Jewish family in Rockville.  The problems caused by a simple typo or mis-transcription (“Stein’s Store”) when researching the past.  So many directions to go in!  I charge you, blog readers, to look at objects both familiar and unfamiliar and think about the many stories, big or small, they can tell.

October is American Archives Month, declared by the Society of American Archivists as “an opportunity to raise awareness about the value of archives and archivists.” Before you rush out to celebrate by visiting, and perhaps donating time and money to, the archival repository of your choice, take a moment to read today’s blog highlighting one of the many fabulous items in the Historical Society’s archives.

The Sween Research Library’s archival collections include an incredible variety of resources: diaries, letters, audio recordings, research notes, directories, minute books, theater programs, yearbooks, land deeds, diplomas, insurance records, newspapers both big and small . . . . The list goes on. I originally planned to put several brief examples on today’s blog, but everything I chose seemed so blog-worthy that I decided to stick with one, and save the rest for future posts. So without further ado, here is Hiram Grady’s account ledger for the years 1903-1906.

Mr. Grady (1841-1911) was a coachmaker and wheelwright. He worked in the eastern part of the county until the mid 1880s, when he settled in Rockville. The 1900 census shows Hiram Grady, Wheelwright, living in the town of Rockville with his second wife Harriet (1853-1903), daughter Olive, and granddaughter Mary Gandy.

The account ledger includes an index of names in the front; each customer has his or her own page, listing goods and services by date, as well as notations on payment. (Some account books in our collection are organized alphabetically; this one is not.) Around 200 people and organizations are included, most from the Rockville area; the customer list includes men and women, doctors and dentists, reverends and merchants, farm owners and farm workers, even the Montgomery County Commissioners (precursor to the County Council) and the Rockville Cemetery Association. Just like today, almost everyone had a vehicle that occasionally needed expert attention.

The ledger shows that Mr. Grady’s work encompassed more than making and repairing vehicles. His invoice letterhead (conveniently tucked inside the book) notes that painting and trimming will be “promptly attended to” along with repairs. On July 17th, 1905, the Rockville Mayor and Town Council paid $2.50 for a “frame for grind stone” (well, technically they received said merchandise on the 17th; they paid, in cash, on the 21st); other services include sharpening and repairing blades, such as saws, grain cradles, and even lawn mowers. Grady’s credit system seems lenient; several pages note an “amount carried over” from the previous year, and often months go by before a client settles up his or her bill.

Here are two contrasting customer pages – below, our own John Dawson (who lived in the Beall-Dawson House, our museum), noted in the 1900 census as a farmer; and above, Ed Brown, “Colored,” who may be one of two African-American gentlemen of that name in the Rockville area, both listed in the 1900 census as farm laborers. (Click on the images to enlarge and read!)

Mr. Brown paid $2.00 for a “pair [of] shafts” – that is, the long poles that connect a vehicle to the horse(s). They were ordered or delivered in December 1905, and paid for in cash four months later. Compared to many of the other pages, this is a pretty short list; perhaps Brown usually patronized a different shop, or perhaps he could take care of most of his repairs himself.

Mr. Dawson’s page is more complex, with a variety of wagon and buggy parts plus some saw-sharpening. Payment over the two years occurred in small amounts and, interestingly, was made in both cash and corn – one barrel (bbl.) on January 30, 1905, and two barrels on March 31, 1906. At the bottom of the page is noted “[Remainder] Transferred to other book page 56.” As a farmer (as opposed to Mr. Brown, who worked on someone else’s farm), Dawson was in charge of a variety of equipment as well as his own family’s vehicle(s); like many other customers, he appears to have kept a running tab with this frequently-patronized business.

Other fun things to learn through this ledger: Here’s an “exploded” carriage diagram, showing some of the basic parts refered to throughout Mr. Grady’s notes.  Curious about the price comparisons between 1905 and 2012? Unfortunately the Consumer Price Index calculations don’t work for dates before 1913, but some less formal sources are available, and they can make these ‘old-timey’ account entries more immediate; for example, the Town Council’s super-cheap-sounding $2.50 purchase would be around $60 in today’s money.

Mr. Grady’s ledger is but one example of the goodies to be found in our archives; I’ve featured many before, and there are more to come. So don’t forget about the MCHS Archives when you’re doing your local history research.  We are small but mighty!

John Ignatius Ward (1895-1963), oldest son of Ignatius H. and Alverta Davis Ward, grew up in Damascus and Gaithersburg. His father was a carpenter; John went into sales. The 1920 census shows him living at home with his family on Walker Avenue, with the occupation “clerk, store.” His 1917 draft card (which calls him “Johnnie”) is more specific, naming his employer as Carson Ward.

The Carson Ward general store stood at the corner of Frederick Road (Rt 355) and Brooks Avenue in Gaithersburg. (Carson was John’s second cousin, through mutual great-grandfather Ignatius Pigman Ward.) Mr. Ward’s store has been featured on the blog before, in the form of a 1919 “Season’s Greetings” postcard. I hadn’t paid much attention to the people shown in the photo, but the image’s donor identified them for us and, sure enough, there’s our boy Johnnie, second from the left.

Everyone else in front of the store – including fellow clerk Russell Plummer, at the far left next to the truck, and Carson Ward himself at the right – is pretty casual, but John Ward is standing at polite attention, feet together, hands behind his back, collar high and starched, looking ready to serve.

A few years ago Mr. Ward’s son donated a set of five course books owned by his father: Volumes IV-VIII of The Art and Science of Selling, published in 1922 by the National Salesmen’s Training Association. Each volume is inscribed on the flyleaf, “John I. Ward, Gaithersburg, Md.” Volume VII (“Making the Sale”) has pencil notations next to some headings, perhaps from John’s careful study.

How-to sales courses and books were popular in the 1910s and 1920s as the sales industry, “a uniquely American story” according to author Walter A. Friedman (Birth of a Salesman), took a place of prominence in our economy: “By the 1920s, sales management had ‘arrived.’ American businesses recognized salesmanship as an essential component of modern strategy.” The National Salesmen’s Training Association – one of many such companies that promised to improve your technique and fatten your bank account – advertised its free book, Modern Salesmanship, in “Popular Mechanics” throughout the 1920s, with rhetoric that is entirely familiar to us today (though perhaps the word choices are a little different): “If you will learn these principles, there is awaiting you a brilliant success and more money than you ever thought of earning. . . . In this book [men have] found an easy way to go from low pay to big earnings. . . . We are not making any extravagant claims about what we will do for you. We don’t have to. The records of the real successes for which we are responsible are so overwhelming a testimonial of the fact that any man of average intelligence can become a Master Salesman that we are willing to leave the decision entirely up to you.”  (A little fancier than today’s hand-written-sign-on-the-telephone-pole favorite, “Make Big Bucks at Home!”)

It’s not clear whether John Ward intended to try his hand at traveling salesmanship, or if he simply hoped to use the books’ persuasive techniques on the customers at Carson Ward’s store (or maybe to open a store of his own); his career between 1920 and 1930 is unknown. In 1928 he married Mary England of Rockville, and moved to that town; in 1930 he was employed by the Census Bureau; in 1938 he started at the Washington Loan & Trust branch of Riggs Bank in DC, where he worked until his retirement in 1960. Something about Mr. Ward’s attentive stance in the 1919 photo makes me imagine an earnest, serious young man, hoping to better his prospects through the Art and Science of Selling – less Harold Hill, more George Bailey. . .but I am the first to admit the dangers of building a narrative around a photo, some census data, and five well-read textbooks.

I’d planned to use this postcard for July anyway, but last week’s crazy wind-and-lightning storm made it a teeny bit more appropriate.  Though the card’s image of the Smithsonian Castle was probably intended to convey ‘Impressive Edifice at Night,’ it seems hilariously Gothic; no actual lightning bolts are striking the tower, but they’re gathering in those looming clouds!  All it needs is an imperiled girl with a billowing cape, running frantically away from the forbidding castle.

But on to the message.  The card is addressed to Miss Ethel Walters (actually Waters) of Gaithersburg, postmarked in DC on July 22, 1910, and signed Annie Bartle.  The rest is in shorthand. (Click to enlarge.)


This presented something of a problem.  Thanks to a few of the Society’s volunteers [Hi Dorothy!] I have some Gregg shorthand books in my reference bookcase, but once I got beyond the guessable  greeting of “Dear” I was stuck.  Happily, our Office Assistant volunteered her mother, the talented Diana Malament, who translated Miss Bartle’s message for us easily:

July 20, 1910.  Dear Ethel, Received a package from Helen.  Hope you are having a nice vacation.  Mr. Kelley is staying in our class; Mr. Barnes will leave the fifth of August.  When are you coming back to school?  Let me hear from you soon.  Annie Bartle 340 10 St SE

Nothing terribly earth shattering there, just your average over-the-break card to a friend. In this case, it’s the language, and the people, that tell us a little more.

Sixteen year old Annie Bartle can be found in the 1910 census on 10th St SE, living with her grandmother, a grocer.  Ethel Louise Waters was also born in 1894; she attended Gaithersburg High School and DC’s Strayer Business College.  In 1919, she married Merle T. Jacobs, and they raised their family in Gaithersburg.  (Their son Charles, and his wife Marian, donated this card, among others.)  Mrs. Jacobs worked for the Montgomery County Public School system for many years, as a clerk in the Superintendent’s office from 1916 to 1924, and as the principal’s secretary at Gaithersburg HS from 1934 to 1956.  (Below is the Superintendent’s Office staff, from the 1918-1919 Maryland State Board of Education report; if the image is cut off on your viewer, you can click it to see the whole thing.)


There are different official methods of shorthand (not including the ones invented by individuals for their own use), Pitman and Gregg being the most famous; they are still in use today, though in much more specialized ways.   I’d always associated shorthand, and the stenographers who used it, with the early 20th century, but it’s a much older concept than that; Samuel Pepys’ 17th century diary is in shorthand, and the Pitman method was developed in the early 1800s.  By the late 19th century stenography was an important skill, one that made you much more employable.  Business schools sprang up in cities across the country; in DC, where the Federal government was one of the main employers, they were particularly popular.  Strayer – where Ethel eventually studied – was founded in 1892, and opened a branch in DC in 1904.  The July 24, 1910 classified ads* in the Washington Post include an ad for Strayer’s “Special Summer Courses, day and night, in shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, civil service, &c.” as well as ads for other schools and shorthand courses. The “help wanted” section on the same date includes several ads looking for both male and female (slightly more for the former) stenographers and typewriters (the skill, not the machine).  Plus, rather touchingly, someone lost their Pitman shorthand book in Judiciary Park (sic) and offered a reward for its return.

By the early 20th century stenography was being slowly replaced by typewriting. Both skills, and the professions that used them, were also shifting from a male domain to a female one.  This chart shows the growing percentage of female “clerical workers” in the 20th century America, and this article in the London Review of Books (2008) cites examples of shifting attitudes toward shorthand’s appropriate gender.  Ethel and Annie took advantage of this new avenue for employment and independence by learning shorthand and other skills; though we don’t yet know what happened to Annie, Ethel put it to good use in her career with the school system.

*If you ever need an idea for a novel, read old classified ads.  Dozens of stories spring just from this day’s listings.  Other than an unfortunate emphasis on “colored” or “white” preferences, and a feeling that some ad responders are about to be scammed out of their life savings (you can make extra money by growing mushrooms in your cellar!), they’re pretty fantastic.