July 25, 1899: “Newsboys Act and Talk”


Fight and Champion Their Cause in Mass Meeting.


Strikers Beat Grown-Up Boys and Men Selling the Boycotted Papers, and Tear the Papers to Pieces.


The striking newsboys held a rousing mass meeting in New Irving Hall, on Broome Street, near Norfolk Street, last night. They were to have had a parade with a band of music prior to the meeting, but for reasons explained at the meeting by “Racetrack Higgins” this feature of the demonstration was abandoned. Chief of Police Devery had refused to give the necessary permit.

“Racetrack Higgins,” known to race-goers, got the floor at the meeting toward the middle of a programme which developed no little oratorical talent among the boys. “Friends, Ladies, and Fellow-Strikers,” the lad began. And then he related how he had gone to the Chief of Police for a permit to parade with band music.

“Mr. Devery says to me,” said he, “‘go away, you slob,’ and I says, ‘Mr. Devery, don’t call me a slob. I’m trying to make my living. I ain’t so high in office as you, but some day I may be higher.'”

If the newsboys present could have had a vote last night, “Race Track Higgins” could have had any office in their gift, unless, perhaps, Dewey should have wanted it. Pandemonium of the kind that 2,000 newsboys, packed like sardines in a close hall can make, broke loose.

“Stick by me,” cried out the speaker, when the Chairman and some twenty Assistant Chairmen had rapped and shouted for order and threatened to disband the meeting or at least to put a dozen or so over-enthusiastic boys out of the hall; “stick by me, as your Chairman stuck this afternoon, and as he’s spoke to-night, and we well win out before Dewey comes home.”

“Three cheers for Dewey!” shouted one of the boys, and cries of “Dewey did it!” echoed through the hall, while the cheers were heartily given.

Over 3,000 boys blocked Broome Street before the meeting opened, and after the doors of the hall had been thrown open and every inch of available space, including window sills, had been filled with compressed young humanity, and the space over their heads was filled with noise, there were still 3,000 boys on the street, for they came from all directions. There were delegations from Jersey City, Brooklyn, Harlem, and all sections within the municipal limits.

The meeting was held under a call of the Newsboys’ Union, and “Nick” Myers, one of the larger boys, presided. He had his hands full to carry on the meeting, for every boy had something to say, and all talked at once. Joe Bernstein, the prizefighter, helped to keep order, and several lusty-voiced sellers of newspapers sat with the Chairman and the invited speakers on the platform. L. A. Snitkin was first introduced, and after the boys had given to him what they thought a sufficiently long and loud greeting, he managed to make himself heard while he said that he represented Assemblyman “Charley” Adler, who wanted the boys to know that while he couldn’t be with them, he was for them, and hoped and believed that they would win.

Frank P. Wood was next introduced as the “Well, well!” man of the baseball field. He told the boys that he was a “kid” once, and he was with them in their fight.

Ex-Assemblyman Philip Wissig’s voice proved equal to the occasion, when he was called upon. He told the boys that he had sold papers in 1860, and he was proud of them for showing the spirit they did in fighting for their rights.

“You are only the rising generation,” said he, “and if the older ones can’t support you, they can at least treat you fairly. Now keep up the fight. Don’t violate the law; don’t use dynamite, but stick together and you will win.”

A big floral horseshoe was presently brought out onto the stage, a gift from Mr. John J. Foley, to be given to the newsboy making the best speech.

“Mr. Symonds, President of the union,” the Chairman next announced, and a typical-looking newsboy stepped forward and read a set of resolutions calling upon newsdealers and advertisers to assist the boys in their strike. The boys got noisily restive during the reading, and the Chairman, rapping for order, said: “Don’t forget that this gentleman is the President of the Newsboys’ Union.”

Mr. Brennan, introduced as the oldest war horse in the business, told the strikers that they had the sympathy of the Newsdealer’s Association, and that he expected the association would take action looking to their assistance, and that they might have a public meeting to-night.

“Bob Indian” was the name by which the next newsboy speaker was known. He told how a committee went to Mr. Hearst and the owner of the Journal told them he couldn’t afford to sell the paper for less. “Bob Indian” said: “You see, he loses $100,000 a year.”

The Chairman at this stage requested that the newspaper reporters present shouldn’t quote the speakers as saying “dese” and “dose” and “youse.”

“Kid Blink,” an undersized boy, one of whose eyes is blind, was introduced as “our master workman.” Kid said, (“youse” and “do’se” omitted:)

“I don’t agree with you boys about going up and taking papers away from people. What we want is to stick together and not sell the Journal and World.

“Ten cents in the dollar is as much to us as it is to Mr. Hearst, the millionaire. Am I right, boys? [Shouts of applause.] We can do more with 10 cents than he can with twenty-five. Is it, boys? I don’t believe in hitting the drivers of the news wagons. I don’t believe in dumping the carts, same as was done in Madison Street last night. I’ll tell you the truth. I was one of the boys that did it, but it ain’t right. Just stick together and we’ll win. If we did it in ’93 we can do it in ’99. Is it, boys? [“It is,” came back in loud response.] Now, you all know me, boys, don’t you? [“We do! We do!”] Well, we’ll all go out to-morrow and stick together, and we’ll win in a walk.”


“Crazy Arburn” and “Annie of the Sun office,” the only woman in the audience, (excepting two women reporters,) were called upon to speak. “Crazy” told how a man had attempted to bribe him with $2 to sell the “yellows.”

“Annie” was interrupted by a great cheering, during which one of the Sergeants-at-arms was shouting to some unruly spirit: “Hey there, Socks, shut up, will yer?”

“Annie” was shy, but she managed to put on a bold look, and she came forward under the beaming encouragement of a representative of the Sun’s staff, and said: “All I can say, boys, is to stick together and we’ll win. That’s all I’ve got to say to you.”

“Hey, there,” shouted the Chairman to a bunch of boys standing on the chairs, “Take life easy. Sit down and it’ll come to you.”

The boys sat down, and a Mr. Fitzsimmons, a newsdealer, gave some words of encouragement to the boys. “Now, here, you boys all know what you’re up against, and if your intellect ain’t wide enough for it to be drove in, I’ll tell you. You just get these papers two for a cent or don’t sell them.”

Joe Kiernan, a picturesque little fellow, was put up on the Chairman’s table, and he sang a song. He held his audience without any assistance from the Chairman, which led one of the young women reporters to remark that “Music hath charms.”

It was pretty hard to tell whether “Kid Blink” or “Race Track Higgins” should get the horseshoe. Higgins threw some humor into his speech. He told how the Journal offered a boy $2 a day if he would sell papers, but he said “the kid wouldn’t take it because the Journal refused to contract to pay hospital expenses.”

The meeting broke up after a two hours’ session, without a single fight and amid enthusiasm. Policemen kept order outside, but they seemed in sympathy with the boys, who appeared to give them more amusement than trouble.

Source: “Newsboys Act and Talk.” The New York Times, 25 July 1899, p. 3.