The following article was originally published in the December 22 issue of the New York Times, in 1860.
THE CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETY.; The Newsboys’ Lodging Room—Its Occupants—A Speech from Paddy—A Few Stern Facts.
There is something about childish poverty that touches the heart of every true man. We have no right to assume that a poor child is necessarily lazy or vicious, and the youthful sufferer seems to represent to us, for the time, social evils of whose distant influence it is the innocent victim. In this City there are thousands of children who are homeless, destitute of clothing and of money, beyond the reach of the older means of Christian influence, and fast drifting way towards that dismal swamp from whence come the robbers, the prostitutes, the murderers of society.
The boys are made keen, bright, and smart by neessity [sic]. The girls, unless necessitous, are tempted as the boys are, though they have not before them, as the thers have, even the possibility of a noble future if once they have plunged into a career of vice.
We have frequently spoken with warm commendation of the Children’s Aid Society, which has been organized for the relief and redemption of this class of our City poor. One of its features is the Newboys’ [sic] Lodging-house, in Fulton-street, — where cheap lodgings are provided, and evening meetings are held for the improvement of the boys. A sketch of an evening lately spent there may be of interest, and serve to illustrate the general influence of the Association in this department of its labors.
The room contained some sixty boys, seated on benches and stools. Around it were lockers, in which each boy could place his surplus clothing, if he had any. On the walls were hung encouraging mottoes, such as “Cheer, boys, cheer;” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;” “Be content with such things as ye have;” and various Scriptural placarded sentences, encouraging to the virtuous and disheartening to the wicked; also engravings, and several colored pictures.
On an elevated platform were a matron, a melodeon and a bank. The first-named has charge of the devotional exercises of the boys, mends their clothes, and plays upon the second; while the third, as its name implies, is used as a receptacle for the surplus cash which the boys may be willing to save. It consists of an ordinary deal table, the top of which has a great number of slitted-holes, through which, into boxes within, the depositors can drop the change. This plan is found to work admirably. No boy can take the money so deposited unless a majority of the lodgers vote in favor of “specie payment.” One young lad has saved $150, another $100, and others in smaller sums, such as $50, $25, $10, and so on — sums which, though insignificant, possibly, to Mr. ASTOR, are of incalculable assistance to a boy who has no boots, coat or cap.
A peep into the sleeping-rooms satisfied us that the place was well denominated “lodging-rooms.” There are an upper and a lower room. The former is considered, in comparison, with the latter, as a cheap restaurant is with the Metropolitan Hotel. In it seventy boys can be comfortably lodged; the beds are like berths, one above another, and provided in each case with comfortable and sufficient bedding. In it are lodged irregular boys, and those who, coming for the first time, may not be perfectly free from all the [???]lls that dirty flesh is heir to; while the lower apartment is reserved for the cleanly, regular and never-away boarders, who prefer the iron bedstead, the more lofty ceiling and perfect security from vermin.
Adjoining these rooms are adequate bathing accommodations, in which, with hitherto unaccustomed joy, the boys delight to swash.
As we reentered the room where the boys were seated, Mr. BRACE announced that he and one or two others would make a few remarks, they could all have a sing, and then gratify their palates by some goodies which a kind friend had thoughtfully prepared for them. In his usual happy manner Mr. BRACE spoke to them, familiarly teaching and pleasantly advising them, so that one and all were evidently pleased to hear him, and in no way considered him a bore. In fact, it requires a peculiar person to manage and talk to these boys. Bullet-headed, shorthaired, bright-eyed, shirt-sleeved, go-a-heud boys. Boys who sell papers, black boots, run on errands, hold horses, pitch pennies, sleep in barrels and steal their bread. Boys who know at the age of twelve more than the children of ordinary men would have learned at twenty, who can cheat you out of your eye teeth, and are as smart as a steel-trap. They will stand no fooling; they are accustomed to gammon, they live by it, — and yet we could not fail to notice that the steady, earnest, faithful year-by-year work of Mr. BRACE in their behalf had so rooted him in their esteem, that let him say or do what he chose, he could not wrest from them the conviction that he loves them, and would cheerfully do anything in the world to aid them and ameliorate their condition. We pity the man, or body of men, who should in any way do bodily ill to Mr. BRACE; he would find soon upon his heels a set of young avengers, from whose clutches he could not escape, and who would visit upon him chastisements most summary and severe. No audience that ever we saw could compare in attitudinizing with that one. Heads generally up; eyes full on the speaker; mouths, almost without an exception, closed tightly; hands in pockets; legs on the desks, or over a neighboring pair; no sleepers, all wide-awake, keenly alive for a pun, a point, or a slangism. Winding up, Mr. BRACE said: “Well, boys, I want my friends here to see that you have the material for talkers amongst yourselves; who do you choose for your orator?”
“Paddy, Paddy,” shouted one and all. “Come out, Paddy. Why don’t you show yourself?” and so on.
Presently Paddy came forward, and stood upon a stool. He is a youngster, not more than twelve, with a little round eye, a short nose, a little form, and chuck full of fun.
“Bummers,” said he “snoozers and citizens, I’ve come down here among ye to talk to yer a little. Me and my friend BRACE have come to see how ye’r gittin’ along, and to advise yer. You fellers what stands at the shops with yer noses over the railin,’ smellin’ ov the roast beef and the hash — you fellers who’s got no home — think of it how we are to incourage ye. [Derisive laughter, “Ha-ha’s,” and various ironical kinds of applause.] I say, bummers — for you’re all bummers — so am I [great laughter] — I hate to see you spendin’ your money on penny ice creams. Why don’t you save your money? You feller without no boots, how would you like a new pair, eh? [Laughter from all the boys but the one addressed.] Well, I hope you may get ’em, but I rayther think you won’t I have hopes for you all. I want you to grow up to be rich men — citizens, Government men. lawyers, ginerals and influence men. Well boys, I’ll tell you a story. My dad was a hard ‘un. One beautiful day he went on a spree, and he come home and he told me, where’s yer mother, and I axed him I didn’t know, and he clipt me over the head with an iron pot, and knocked me down, and me mither drapped in on him, and at it they went. [Hi-hi’s, and demonstrative applause.] Ah! at it they went, and at it they kept — ye should have seen ’em — and wilst they were fightin’. I slipped meself out the back door, and away I went like a scart dog. [Oh, dry up! Bag your head! Simmer down!] Well, boys, I wint on till I kim to the Home for the Friendless,’ [great laughter among the boys, who are rather down on that institution,] and they took me in, (renewed laughter,] and did for me, without a cap to me head or shoes to me feet and thin I ran away, and here I am. Now, boys, (with mock solemnity.) be good, mind yer manners, copy me, and see what you’ll become.”
At this point the boys raised such a storm of hifalutin applause, and indulged in such characteristic demonstrations of delight, that it was deemed best to stop the youthful Demosthenes, who jumped from his stool with a bound that would have done credit to a monkey, and was soon involved in a scrimmage with a big boy who believed all Paddy had said, with the exception of the “iron pot.”
At this juncture huge pans of apples were brought in, and the boys were soon engaged in munching the delightful fruit, after which the matron gave out a hymn, and all joined in singing it, during which we took our leave.
This is but a specimen of the way in which these boys spend their evenings. At other times they are read to, talked to, legitimate games are played, stories are told, letters from old companions who have gone out West are read, and occasionally a returned agent recounts his experience in the far-off country, and excites their desire to participate in the comforts of a new home.
The boys, who are literally self-supporting, regard this lodging-house as their home, and the managers stand in the relations of father and mother. No one is compelled to go there, and no one is denied a bed. If flush he pays a cent for it — if out of funds he is trusted. Oftentimes the regular lodgers find poorer boys in the street, take them to the lodging-house, pay for their bed, beg for them an outfit, and give them a lift which may be the making of their fortunes and the establishment of a successful boot-black box, or a trading armfull of papers.
We have neither space or time to follow the ramifications of the workings of this Society in other directions. The German and Italian schools are well arranged, carefully tended, and most beneficial in their results. In these times hundreds of children are thrown upon the cold charity of the City, who at other seasons can live with their parents. This Society can do a great deal, and is doing wonderfully, but its energies are not half developed, simply from the lack of means. Does not this channel of Home Missionary work commend itself to the benevolent citizens of New-York? Is it not worth an effort to save these boys and girls from lives of sin and shame? Already several thousands have been taken to the West, settled in good homes and put on the track of future usefulness and possible greatness. Thousands more want to go — to go away from the temptations, the poverty, the privations and the wickedness of this modern Sodom, and to begin anew in a land where crowds are less frequent and chances more numerous. Money, books, clothes, provisions, coal, bedding of all kinds — anything and everything that man can use or woman need will be cheerfully received, thankfully acknowledged, and fittingly applied. Now is the time to do good, if ever; ten dollars or ten bed-quilts given at this time will be of more actual service than ten times that amount given next Summer, and we earnestly recommend this enterprise to the investigation, the liberality, the patronage and the sympathy of the public, feeling sure that a better channel for conveying bounty to the deserving poor cannot be found here or elsewhere. “Whoso giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord.” Verbum sapienlibus. Nuff ced.