The Baby Brigade’s Brilliant Businesswoman

November 28, 2018 |  Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Baby Brigade’s Brilliant Businesswoman

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When we think about women who left an impact on American history, names like Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Margaret Sanger come to mind. Without a doubt, all of these women have rightfully reserved their places in American history as intelligent and powerful individuals who have left an impact not only on American history but also women’s history. However, it is inevitable that certain narratives have notably been excluded and understated because history up until relatively recently has been written predominantly by white men. It makes one wonder — how many successful women of varying backgrounds have contributed to the development of our nation but were forgotten to time? There is no doubt that there are thousands of unique stories about women who have left huge impacts in fields like women’s rights, education, business, and science without receiving any sort of national recognition. It would be impossible for me alone to chronicle the untold stories of every American woman who deserves their moment of recognition among the public, but there is one woman whose success story is seldom told that I believe still holds a powerful underlying message for American women today. That person is Fanny Elizabeth Schoenfeld Sweeney, and she is my great grandmother.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Her story starts before her birth. Her parents, my great great grandparents, were Jewish Immigrants who came to America  in an effort to escape the increasingly violent anti-Semitism that was sweeping across Europe in the late 1800s. Her father, Isidor Schoenfeld, was a Jewish jeweler from the rapidly ailing Austria-Hungary who came to America in 1885. Her mother, Betty Schoenfeld, nèe Köhn, was a Jewish girl who immigrated to America with her family from Germany in 1887. The two met, married, and had Fanny Elizabeth Schoenfeld in Indiana during the year 1895. The newly formed family would then move Manhattan briefly, only to return to Indiana in 1915. Here is where the story really gets interesting.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In her youth, Fanny Schoenfeld had taken up the occupation of a government shorthand reporter, or stenographer. Famous for the speed and accuracy with which she was able to detail passages in shorthand, her and her mother would travel the country for stenography competitions, which she regularly won. These national speed competitions would test stenographers’ abilities to capture both literary text and spoken word with accuracy and swiftness. The year 1914 would be momentous for new upstarts in the field of stenography. Nine individuals, all under the age of 20, would defeat experienced national champions and sweep almost every category of the National Speed Competition in Atlantic City. These nine kids would be affectionately titled “The Stenotype Baby Brigade”, after a veteran in the field let out an exasperated sigh and exclaimed, “What the hell is this, a baby brigade?” At age 19, Schoenfeld became the world record holder for fastest stenotype in the 175-word competition and the 200-word competition, only losing in the court testimony competition because as she states in an article from the Associated Stenotypists of America Journal in 1961, “not one of us had any court experience and we were unfamiliar with the technique.”

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It would be through her time as part of the “Baby Brigade” that she would meet who would become my great grandfather, Joseph Lee Sweeney. My Great Great Uncle, Allen Sweeney, happened to also be a member of this young group of stenographers taking over the field and it was through him that the two met. Some time between wiping the floor with the old men she competed against in stenotype competitions as a teenager and holding a job as a court reporter, she was able to find the time to marry my great grandfather Joseph Lee Sweeney in Indiana, have my grandmother Helen Marie Tynan, nèe Sweeney in 1918, and move back to Manhattan to start and become the president of the stenotype reporting company – Master Reporting Company, Inc. We love ourselves a working woman.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Backed by 18 employees and a loving and supportive husband and vice president, this young Jewish girl born to immigrants in Indiana would become one of the most successful businesswomen in the United States and one of the best stenographers of her generation. She was known as a wonderful bipartisan stenographer by members of the American government, and was frequently employed by both democrats and republicans to be the official shorthand reporter for major political events. She became the go-to for congressional and presidential events from 1930 up until her death in 1961. She was the official shorthand reporter for the Democratic National Convention in 1936 that would nominate FDR and Vice President Garner as well as the official stenographer for the Republican National Convention in 1932.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 From Calvin Coolidge to JFK, Fanny Schoenfeld Sweeney established a formidable enterprise as a world-class stenographer and businesswoman. Though her story may be unique, she is without a doubt not the only woman to have lived a unique life. Imagine how many women, African Americans, Jews, Asian Americans, Latinos, LGBT+ and other underrepresented groups of individuals have stories just as exhilarating and potentially influential to our understanding of American history. During this time of deeply divided conflict in our country, it is important to remember that we as Americans would not be here today if it were not for the contributions of those who came before us, and those who came before us consist of a group just as diverse as those who are learning about them today.


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