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Paper boys

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This ad has nothing to do with romance whatsoever. In fact, I'm not even sure it qualifies as a "personal," per se. The only reason I can justify even putting it in this blog is that it was in the personals column, though it shouldn't have been. (Well, the real justification, of course, is that it's my blog so I can post whatever I want!)


500 MEN AND WOMEN WANTEDTO SELL THE HERALD AND ALL OTHER NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS.
NO MONEY NEEDED.
GOOD REFERENCES SUFFICIENT.
Preference given to WIDOWS with children to support, MIDDLE AGED WOMEN in straitened circumstances, ORPHAN BOYS or GIRLS, and men who are crippled or unable to do manual labor.
Apply TO DAY, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M., to
GEO. F. WILLIAMS, Herald office.

Wow. This is so cool to me. First, it says something about the popularity of this column, that the advertiser (i.e., the publisher) thought the best way to get his job listing across was to post it here instead of buried away in the "help wanted" section.

But it's also really interesting because of the list of people to whom preference is given. Not that being a newsie was such a fabulous job; despite the claims of Horatio Alger novels, you weren't likely to go from rags to riches by selling newspapers. But the fact that they're still specifically reaching out to people who couldn't get jobs otherwise, and who needed even the small amount of money such a job could afford the most, is very striking. Especially because while the editor of the Herald wasn't, like, evil or anything, he wasn't exactly famous for his philanthropy or remote interest in the plight of orphan children or middle-aged women in dire straits.

Also notable is the part where they say no money is needed. That's odd too because newsies would buy the papers from a distribution center and then sell them off; so they actually would need money. No newspaper is just going to give out big stacks of papers for free, send people off into the city, and then hope that the sellers will actually come back at the end of the day with a portion of what they earned.

So what's going on? All I can think of - and this is, I suspect, the most likely scenario - is that there was some kind of strike going on amongst newsboys. There actually were strikes of this nature, which you all know, because I'm sure you all have seen Newsies. (No? Just me? Okay then.) I can't find one that happened at this time, but that doesn't mean anything. If it was short-lived, it might have never made the history books. But it seems to be the best explanation for this ad, especially because, as you'll note, it's not just for the Herald, but for all the papers, which suggests the owners were banding together to crush a strike.

So all those widows and crippled men and orphans are really just meant to be scabs. In other words, targeting this group isn't about philanthropy - it's about reaching out to people who are so desperate for money that they'll cross the strike.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge! ©2010 Pam Epstein

5 comments:

emma June 2, 2010 at 11:31 AM  

I saw Newsies! This is fabulous.

Krafty Like A Fox June 5, 2010 at 4:45 PM  

Actually, there was a newsie strike at the end of the 19th century. It was successful in New York (although they raised the price of the paper to newsies the newspapers agreed to buy back unsold papers at the end of the day), and spread to other cities. Elsewhere, I'm afraid, the newsies lost badly. I have a history book that talks about it packed away somewhere--I'll send you a reference when I find one.

Pam June 7, 2010 at 8:45 AM  

Krafty - Yes, in 1899 - that's actually what the movie was based on. I should have been more clear - there wasn't any strike that I know of in the year that this ad was placed. But I'd love to see that reference!

ASG June 29, 2010 at 11:00 AM  

You don't think it's a scam? It sounds a lot like "make money stuffing envelopes" to me. But maybe I'm just cynical!

Pam June 29, 2010 at 5:38 PM  

ASG - It could be...but the reason I doubt it is because the paper itself is advertising this. This was a pretty established paper that wasn't likely to be scamming its own constituency, you know?

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