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tv   History of Newspaper Boys  CSPAN  May 27, 2017 10:04am-10:16am EDT

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visit our website, you can view our tv schedule, preview of coming programs, watch college lectures, museum tours, archival films, and more. american history tv at american history tv was at the annual meeting of historians in new orleans, and we spoke to the historian about what life was like for newspaper boys in the cities and the railroads at the turn of the 20th century. this interview was about 10 minutes. >> you have a forthcoming book titled, "crying the news: a history of america's newsboys." who were the newsboys? >> they were the children of the poor, to put it very simply. which meant they were immigrants.
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they were born. they were girls. they were old people. my definition of the newsboy is really broad. as one striker in 1899 says, these are negroes, old ladies, cripples and these are , my people. these are the ones selling newspapers in american cities from the 1830's into the 1940's. >> what was life like for them? >> in a word, life was precarious for newsboys. their earnings fluctuated with the headlines, the weather. they were vulnerable to violence and competition. at the same time, they had spending money. they had more leisure time because they worked during times when the paper would come out. so, you could gamble, go to the
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theater at night. they have the high and low of the business. working hard, being vulnerable, but also enjoying themselves. >> what were their living arrangements like? >> most lived at home with their parents. they had poor, working-class, tenant apartments. they would sneak out near newspaper offices. newspapers like to have them close at hand for extras, for work. and then some also lived in houses -- the first one was founded in 1854 new york and these were occupational flop houses. you would get a bath, a shower, and a little meal. they sprang up in philadelphia
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and baltimore, cincinnati, cities all over the country. >> did they go to school? >> newsboys did go to school. very unevenly. 14 was these school leaving age. some newsboys with enforcement of truancy laws, mandatory education laws was very uneven. most did go to schools for some length of time. most were illiterate. but it was not the kind of nine months out of the year routine. it was always very sporadic. >> what is a common misconception about newsies? >> a common misconception about newsies is they were little merchants, little traders to be, and they acquired that ethics any those.
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some did, but what i am finding, they were poor and kind of a hand to mouth existence in many cases. that is what i think is very surprising. also they were involved in the politics of their time. campaign papers, tearing down the posters of others. they would develop their own attitudes and opinions because they were selling news and invested in these parties.
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they were hired to be stump speakers as well as that is part of what i try to argue. they are political creatures. >> this morning, you presented a paper on railroad newsboys in 19th-century america. how were these newsboys different? >> there were three kinds. there were those who helped ship papers for wholesale distributional firms, and they were salaried personnel, and then there were newsboys who used to the railroads to go to political conventions, affairs, and have adventures. and then there was the aristocracy of the trade because of their uniforms, their worldliness. so, they were different. >> how was one able to be a news the -- a newsie selling on the train? >> if you were selling on
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the train, usually worked or distribution company. and you had to put down maybe $10 deposit on your uniform, hat, coat, in case you disappeared with merchandise. but they also worked for profit. they would throw papers and magazines on people's laps hoping that they would come back and pay for them. and because of their slamming of the doors, they were quite reviled. so, you had to be employed. you had to be hired to be a railroad newsboy. where is on the street, you bought some newspapers, got some credit if you did not have money to buy them, and went into business like that.
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>> in what way do you see newsies being part of the working class. >> they are the sons and the daughters of neighbors, manual laborers, wage earners, factory workers. and so, they are part of that culture. their vices, whether it is smoking, drinking, gambling, they are working-class vices. they identify with workers. they organize. they joined the industrial workers of the world. they are organizing with working men they are using the language of the strike. that's another tale tell sign of the working-class identity and consciousness.
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so, there's lots of ways in which they are part of the working-class. >> how did life change for newsboys during the progressive era? >> the progressive era did represent a real change. they became such an agent of reform. there were evangelical reformers and philanthropists. but here with the problems of each one the of century, the immigrants and radicalism and urban rights and juvenile delinquency, they became a problem. there is the famous quote from w.e.b. dubois. they were valorize, sort of, how you learn, and it's kind of in an ogling occupation. in the progressive era, they
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attract the attention of reformers of various stripes. at the same time, they are striking in big ways. and other newspapers do not want them to be striking. they are doing philanthropic activities. newsboy clubs, newsboys republics. they developed newsboy courts where they are self regulating with violations. and they become primarily italians and jews in southern and eastern europe, so who the newsboy is changes. >> when do they stop being a
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newsboy? >> really 1930's and 40's is a turning point. jobs are so scarce, that becomes work for adults. also, technology is involved. in the progressive era, you have cars and subways. there's competition from adults. there are still some children in the 1950's and 1960's. they are not all that efficient. they are efficient in the sense that they have that charitable appeal. you can buy a paper as an act of charity.
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an adult cannot replace that, but their numbers start to dwindle in the 1940's and 1950's. >> thank you talking with us. >> thank you. >> you are watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span three. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. tv,ext on american history history professor at psychoanalyst, charles strozier, discusses letters exchanged by abraham lincoln and his friend, joshua speed. he is the author of, "your friend forever, a. lincoln: the enduring friendship of abraham lincoln and joshua speed." the lincoln group sponsored this hour-long event in washington, d c.


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