The news-boy is said to be a type of American independence, and however much we may object to some of his characteristics, still we must confess to the resemblance. From his earliest infancy the news-boy is accustomed to depend upon himself. His first recollection of home is a ceaseless struggle for something to eat. When other children are in the nursery or the playground, he is trafficking and peddling in the streets; his scanty meal depending upon his daily success. As he advances in years, his intellects prematurely gain development; he is quite precocious in his comprehension of debit and credit; and he is grown into a man of business, while other lads, of a more favored class, are spinning tops and flying kites.
Elbowing his way through jostling crowds, and gaining a market for his wares by the mere force of his lungs, he acquires a wonderful aptitude in the tricks of trade; and early becomes a match for his older exemplars in business, and can detect a “green one” with instinctive intuition.
He can rival our most enterprising editors in investing old news with the air of novelty; and a trick practiced upon a stranger, is quite a subject of delectation to his accommodating conscience. With a habit of forecast which has grown into second nature, he scrupulously reserves a floating capital sufficient to start in business with on the following day; he is essentially self-helping; the Insolvent Debtor’s Act offers no “benefit” to him. Bankruptcy presents him with no escape from pecuniary obligations; a failure in business to the news boy is followed by the penalty of unsatisfied hunger, or a dwelling in the vagrant’s cell.
His habits of living are regulated by the amount of his disposable capital. If he is put to it he can live upon sixpence a day; but when his earnings are more liberal, his keen zest for enjoyment finds a ready requirement for all surplus revenue. He takes his meals in coffee cellars and eating houses, and he makes his lodgings wherever he can find a nook; in an entry, in an empty packing-box, in a wagon, or in the alleys and streets that abound in the vicinity of the various newspaper offices. Sunday is his harvest day, and frequently he will realize a dollar by the pursuit of a calling which so scandalizes the devout. With this fund in his possession he feels all his importance: he must go to “the Play,” or have a grand supper, or visit the Long Island Races, or gamble, or have a run to Hoboken, or get up a “spree.” So long as the “M. P’s.,” (Metropolitan Police) and the missionaries let him alone, and he has his floating capital secure to begin the morrow with, he is indifferent to all earthly matters.
He is naturally rough, and the kicks and cuffs of the world have not tended peculiarly to mollify him; he has received no kindness from the human race, and he has no internal impulse to render any show of gentleness in return. His life has been past in learning the great lesson of self-help, and he has learned very little else that is good. The world has never shown any care for him, and, to use his own expression, he does not care “a pig’s foot” for the world. He is conscious that in one of the underlying strata of this great city– far down, to be sure–he is needed; and there is a living for him to be acquired by his natural sharpness. He does not look for help– and indulges in no morbid sentimentalities upon his “unhappy lot.”
Churches and schools he has but little acquaintance with. How should he? What opportunity has ever been afforded him to derive benefit from either? It has been with him, twenty-five per cent profit or a turn in the Tombs as a vagrant. Yet our news-boys manifest many kindly and generous traits. We have known their last pennies, when bankruptcy was imminent, to be shared with a distressed mate. They frequently display a laudable thirst for knowledge. Those engaged in the newspaper offices are frequently applied to by these boys, to inquire after teachers in order to learn to read. And who doubts that there is something in them, in spite of their humble life, which reaches out toward the Unknown and the Eternal. Vague passing instincts perhaps, a breath, a mere aspiration; –yet an evidence of that soul–solemn and immortal, which lives in the poorest outcast boy, as in the best and most cultured of society.
Such lads as these are WORTH SAVING. Many would make keen, industrious, enterprising men. Give them a chance to learn; get them out of their vagrant, homeless habits; show them that there are some in the world who take an interest in their welfare, and are trying to bring some of the great influences which are everywhere redeeming society, to bear even on them, and see whether the news boys will not turn out a due proportion of good citizens.
The News Boys’ Lodging-House, No. 128 Fulton Street, corner of Nassau, was established by the members of the Children’s Aid Society, March 18th 1854, C. C. Tracy being appointed superintendent. The object is to provide for homeless boys; the charity, however, has been more particularly absorbed for the location of the building by lads, who are engaged in selling newspapers and periodicals.
The News Boy’s Schoolroom
The first apartment is known as the school-room (see illustration at the top of this page), and is fitted up with writing-desks so arranged, that they can be moved aside in case a lecture is delivered. Here the boys congregate in the evening. Here is a free library of some three hundred instructive volumes, also a pair of splendid globes presented by Ayres and Fairbanks, of Boston, also an abundance of writing-paper, slates, black boards, newspapers, musical instruments; the walls are adorned with maps and pictures. Behind the melodeon (a type of button accordion), which is a very fine instrument, is a case containing some fifty daguerreotype portraits of news-boys, and it would be difficult the world over to find the same amount of character in the same number of faces. The extreme end of the room is occupied by the office of the superintendent and the wash-house, between which is the sliding-door opening into the lodging-room.
The prominent object, however, is the which is a heavy table, on the top of which are one hundred and ten openings that communicate with an equal number of little boxes, arranged in the table-drawer. Each opening is numbered, and the news-boy selects one, into which, from time to time, through the week, he deposits his surplus change. Once a week the drawer is opened, and every boy is at liberty to draw out “his pile.” Upon the arrival of this momentous evening a good number of the boys gathered at the rooms, and there was great excitement in prospect of the first opening of the bank.
Mr. Tracy was expecting some friends to be present on the occasion, and hoped to induce the lads to deposit in the Six-penny Bank; and accordingly waited some time–the boys growing gradually more impatient, and filling up the time in all sorts of sharpshooting.
“I move that the boy as has most tin in the bank gives a treat of oysters to all the rest,” said one little boy, mounted on a desk–a proposition which excited immense applause.
“I move coffee and cakes.”
“I go for that.”
“Half-past seven, Mr. Tracy.”
“Hold your hats!”
“Ready now?” etc..
Then, from all the large boys, “Oh now keep order–can’t you? Don’t you see, Mr. Tracy wants order? Order! Order! ” until the cries for order were rather more uproarious than were the cries of disorder before.
Mr. Tracy –“All the boys be seated now!”
Older boys to the smaller–” You keep order there!”
Mr. Tracy — “Now, boys, I will call the numbers, but I propose that Mick counts the money!” “No, no, sir–let every boy finger his own money here!” arose in a shout. “No. 1?” “Absent–gettin’ his dinner!” “No. 2?” “Here I be, sir!” “No. 3?” “Gone dead!” “No. 4?” “At his country-seat, gettin’ his winter lodgin’!” ( i. e . House of Refuge.) “No. 7?” “Gone to heaven!” “No 8?” “My eyes!–what a stock of pennies Barney has!–count it!–there’s an English ha’penny!–hurry up! two dollars two shillings!–No. 8 has got a check for the poor house!” “I make a move,” says Barney, having got his own money, “that the bank be closed!” at which there was a general laugh. “No. 12?” “Go ahead!–gone to sleep!” “No. 18?” “Don’t hurry the boy! Let him count his money! Put on your shirt, Paddy; han’t you got your money now?”
This kind of running fire was kept up during the whole time, the boys being in the greatest excitement. Some were found to have as high as $10 to $11 in the bank, and total amount drawn was about $69.
The Lodging Room
This room is lighted and ventilated by windows on three sides, containing fifty beds with room for thirty more. For all the advantages which the news-boy enjoys he is charged nightly six cents, and it is almost impossible to comprehend the real good which is accomplished by this most excellent charity.
Discipline is easily enforced among their rude spirits, and an appeal to their natural sense of justice has never been made by the superintendent that has not been responded to with cheerfulness, and however rude and careless these off-shoots of civilization and literature may be in their general conduct in the streets, they show that there is much good in their composition, and that under more favorable circumstances they would give promise of growing into good men.
The Results of this Experiment
This institution has now been in operation about one year and nine months, and is no longer considered an experiment by its founders, but by blending amusement with instruction has become popular with the boys, and singularly successful in winning them from their former habits, and in doing them good.
During the first year there were 408 different boys at the rooms, and 6,872 lodgings furnished. The usual number of lodgers in winter is, from 25 to 40. They come regularly to the evening school, and the informal religious meeting on Sunday evenings. The “Savings Bank” has proved very attractive and instructive to the boys, while they have been learning to save their money. At first the idea of their saving money seemed to them vague and impracticable. They knew they could earn money quite easy, and sometimes a pocket full; and they knew too, that they could spend it fast , but to save it was something they were quite strangers to, and in fact could see but little use in it. They were brought on however, step by step till they passed a resolution unanimously to close the Bank for one month, and on the 1st of Nov. 1854, twenty-four boys took out, as we have already described, the sum of $79.00.
Up to this time, they have saved of their little surplus earnings over $600, which has generally been well spent for clothing and such other things as they needed most. The news-boys now, though not models of propriety, are certainly greatly improved from what they were when the lodging rooms were first opened, and the enterprise is worthy of encouragement from the public.
Source: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 29, 1855
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