The second half of a photo-essay, written around 1940, about the Children’s Aid Society’s Newsboys’ House. (Read the first half here.)
THERE ARE NO ALGER BOOKS IN THE LIBRARY…..
….but the the celebrated rags-to-riches romanticist spent plenty of time in Newsboys’ House, seeking atmosphere. A gentleman of eccentric turn, Alger used to haunt the streets of Manhattan after dark, disguised in flowing cape and false whiskers, rounding up vagrant youths whom he would escort to Newsboys’ House. Of a social turn of mind like Dickens, he helped stamp out the vicious “padrone” system (suppressed by the Italian government in 1873) through his book, “Phil the Fiddler.” Today’s Transient youths are less interested in the fabulous histories of Tom the Bootblack, Dan the Newsboy and others of that illustrious ilk than they are in keeping body & soul together. The library, gymnasium and other facilities of Newsboys’ House make for a pleasant and congenial club like while waiting for a “break.” Newsboys’ House has a capacity for 100 boys, and is usually at least 95% full. The average stay is 12 days. Some boys only stay a night, others remain until they are 21, when they must find accommodations elsewhere. On an average 1,600 boys are accommodated each year, but at the bottom of the Depression the figure rose to 4,000. Usually not more than one of the hundred or so boys is actually a newsboy. Most of their are either jobless or work as factory hands and errand boys. They come from every State in the Union and even from foreign countries, but most of them are from the farms and mill-towns of the South and West, where the going is hard. Many are sent back home by The Children’s Aid Society if circumstances warrant such action.
LIFE AT NEWSBOYS’ HOUSE BEGINS AT FIVE P.M.
Residents at Newsboys’ house may lie abed till eight o’clock, but breakfast is from 7:15 to 7:45 and the lazy go hungry. Paying for a private or semi-private room gives you the privilege of sleeping Sunday mornings, however. After breakfast the old brick building at 244 William Street (formerly the Shakespeare Hotel) is virtually deserted, as the boys are either at work or job-hunting. But at five P.M. they start coming in, along with new boys dusty from travel. First thing a new boy gets is his supper, after which he must report immediately to the Fumigation Room. There his clothes, from head to foot, are fumigated while the youth himself takes a shower. Life in the Recreation Room is gay and pleasant, with impromptu concerts given by those addicted to the banjo or mouth organ. Smoking is permitted, but few of the boys can afford cigarets [sic], and “bumming” them from passers-by is discouraged. The use of liquor in any form is “not approved.” General gaiety prevails nevertheless, for this is the chief social gathering-place in the club. Here Southern drawl and Western twang mingle in noisy conviviality as the boys make new friends and discuss prospects. To date, nearly 300,000 boys have stayed at Newsboys’ House. Among its more illustrious alumni is Sam Rosoff, subway builder. Another ex-boy is now studying medicine and working part-time in Newsboys’ House as a counseller [sic]. Many of the boys, after they get jobs, are able to pay back their keep. This practice is encouraged, and vouchers are kept for every free meal and night’s rest.
TO HELP THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES…..
….is, and always has been, a fundamental policy of The Children’s Aid Society. Hence the custom of having “free” boys sign vouchers, payable later in installments if feasible. Hence, too, the laundry facilities in the basement of Newsboys’ House. Here, each night after supper, youths weary from the road or from pounding the pavements strip to their underwear and put on a mass demonstration in personal cleanliness. The stains of travel are erased, and clothes made fresh for another day of job-hunting. Laundry tubs, hot-air drying racks and electric irons are provided. Pants likewise are pressed here, though a few boys prefer the old custom of pressing them under the mattress. Occasionally a Negro youth of more than average ambition will run a private valet service on the side, pressing pants for a few cents or a handful of cigarets [sic]. Mostly the laundry-work is done by the individual, however. Medical and dental care is provided free, medical examinations being compulsory for all new applicants. No vocational training is given, but boys are sent to the CCC or the Children’s Aid Society’s Bowdoin Memorial Farm in Dutchess County, N.Y. A job placement bureau operates efficiently, but in New York as elsewhere, jobs are scarce. A vocational guidance test is given each boy following his first interview. Attendance at night school is strongly encouraged, and in some cases part scholarships to educational institutions are provided.
The youths at Newsboys’ House are of all races, creeds and colors, for it is the policy of The Children’s Aid Society to care for all alike. And since The Society is non-sectarian, there are no religious services at Newsboys’ House. Most of the boys are white Christian Americans of native stock. Some have good family backgrounds, including attendance at military and preparatory schools. A few have been to college, though college graduates are rare. It is safe to say that few of them continue their life of transience to become Bowery derelicts. About one-third of the boys leave after four days. Some go back on the road, knowing that the latchstring is out the year round, should they want to return. They know that a helping hand awaits them, as it has since Newsboys’ House opened its doors in 1854 with rates of 6¢ for a bed and 4¢ for supper. In those days the only rules were: “Keep order and keep clean.” Today things are more complicated, and more expensive. But while boys are asked to pay (if they can) 50¢ for a night’s lodging and three meals, the per capita cost is actually $1.35 to The Children’s Aid Society. And it cost at least $100 to furnish one of the private rooms with all its full complement of furniture — wardrobe, desk, bed, mirror, chair, floor-lamp, easy-chair, rug and drapes to match, and electric wall outlets for radios etc. It is significant that many ex-boys return to the tall building on Williams Street as members of its “Byways Social Club,” an organization of former members with its own clubroom including leather settees and an artificial fireplace. There is probably not another place like Newsboys’ House in America, where young men can life so cheaply, without having to make their own beds or even clear their own dishes from the table, this work being done by hired help and “free” boys who take turns doing chores.