Saturday, December 19, 2009

Today -100: December 19, 1909: Of college girls, scabs, and monkey-on-the-sticks


Manhattan’s District-Attorney-Elect Charles Whitman (Wikipedia tells us that he was later governor, that Christine Todd-Whitman is married to his grandson, and that he was not the Texas tower sniper) (I had to look him up to get his first name; the NYT in 1909 was absolutely allergic to using first names) has chosen a deputy assistant, Cornelius McDougald, who is an actual negro, and will appoint a woman deputy to oversee work in the Children’s Court.

The Sunday paper, has a feature on “college girls,” by which they mean recent college graduates such as women’s suffragist Inez Milholland and her Vassar cohort, who have been joining the shirtwaist strikers on the picket line, attempting to prevent arrests, and arguing on behalf of the strikers in court. (The NYT also reports that wealthy suffragist Alva Belmont has been providing lawyers and bail money to arrested strikers.) Seeing the treatment of female strikers by police and Night Court, and hearing from the shirtwaist-makers about their work conditions, has been a radicalizing experience for them. Strikers have been invited to give talks to many middle- and upper-class women’s clubs.

Here’s a helpful tip if you’re ever on a picket line in 1909 New York: the word “scab,” shouted at the scabs, is against the law, and you can be arrested for it. “Strikebreaker” is okay. The scabs can yell pretty much anything they like at the strikers.

A story in the Sunday magazine section has Santa Claus complaining about these kids today: “Years ago children were satisfied with Jack-in-the-boxes, monkey-on-the-sticks, and other inexpensive baubles, but nowadays they’re looking for a whole string of iron cars, miniature automobiles, and flying machines.”

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