December 6, 2012

Plate Dinners

Filed under: found in the archives, the process of archival processing — susanwoodland @ 4:05 pm

We’ve processed hundreds of boxes of Federation Finance and Budget boxes, and have hundreds more to bring in.  The files in these boxes, once made available for research, will provide enormous amounts of data on every aspect of the social service agencies in New York City during most of the 20th century.  I’ve been surveying 68 boxes of poorly described material that arrived this week, and have found the following groups of records: audited agency files, other financial reports mostly arranged by agency, 5 boxes of bound reports labeled, “Financial Experience of Affiliated Societies” circa 1939 – 1970s.  Some of these groups of records, which fall into the structural hierarchy we are creating for the Federation papers, run throughout the tenure of a specific budget director.  Jerome L. Saltz, who we’ve written about in the past, worked as Budget Director of Federation for 30 years; on his retirement in 1971 Jack Applebaum succeeded him for a few years, retiring himself in 1977.  All of the boxes we’ve brought in in the last few weeks were put into storage by Applebaum’s successor, Philip Friedman, and at first appeared to be his budget files but in fact they precede him almost entirely.

Part of the challenge (and fun) of working with these records is figuring out what things are.  It usually becomes clear by simply looking at the folder titles, but sometimes it takes a bit more work to go through enough folders to figure out what the overall group is, if there is another box with similar files even if the box label is different, if the files are of permanent archival value, and how the files were originally arranged within the department that created them, before the order was disturbed when they were packed up and sent to storage.

Among the poorly described materials we are discovering in these 68 boxes are Budget department subject files which cover the full range of activities within Federation, mostly during Saltz’s leadership of that department.  2 files jumped out at me today from among the subject file boxes.  One I’ll discuss in a future post.  The other file is titled, “Trades Division, 1969-1970”.

The box is filled with folders filed by name of department within Federation, and contain detailed worksheets, memos and other information documenting the expenses of each department and division for that one budget year.  Within the fundraising division for many years the groups that raised money through industry dinners were referred to as “Trades”.  We have barely touched the surface of these trade groups – there are many boxes still to be looked at, that appear to have originated in that department – so we don’t yet know much about these trade groups.  The folder titled, “Trades Division”, 1969-1970 includes a carbon copy of a list of the different trade groups that had what was referred to as “plate dinners” that year.   This simple list of trade groups is wonderfully evocative of a very specific place and time – when certain industries in New York City had enough Jewish employees to make such dinners possible.

budgets trades plate dinners 100

It’s hard to remember a time when garages and open air parking lots employed a large number of Jewish men.  Or meats and poultry.  Handwritten on one of the two copies of this document in the file, pictured above, are “Stamps & Coins” and “All Automotive (excluding taxi)”.  If the document were undated, I would have assumed it was from longer ago than 1970.

Another list in the same folder is a list of  “combined dinners”, some form of fundraising event different from the plate dinners – apparently several trade groups, perhaps smaller ones, planned their dinners together.budgets trades combined dinners 100

The pairings are lovely – Cotton Goods with Rayons; Artist Materials with Brushes & Bristles; Grocers with Beverages & Syrups.  I hope that when we start to work on the Trades department’s own files, some of the terminology as well as the specific work of the department will become more clear.  Once we figure something out, we can describe it in our finding aid, as an aid to researchers.  The answers, as always, are with the files themselves.


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