Charles T. Brodhead in 1899: NYC’s Lower East Side girls are “saucy” and “self-reliant” (Part I of II)

Ladies' Home Journal, September 1899 issue

Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1899 issue, page 3 (image is of my personal copy of the original page)

The September 1899 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal contained the article “The East-Side Girl of New York” by journalist Charles T. Brodhead, with illustrations by L. L. Roush. Spotting the Brodhead surname piqued my interest; I wondered how we may be related. As anyone researching the Brodheads knows, many ancestors in the extended family tree have borne the first name ‘Charles’. BTW, just realized that this is my third post in a row about a Charles Brodhead, so that proves my point quite nicely! 🙂  At least in this case, we have a middle initial “T.” (Middle initials can be godsends.)  This particular Charles may have been the son (b. 1841) of Charles W. Brodhead (b. 1794); or he could be the Charles T. Brodhead I found in the 1880 census in NYC: born circa 1864 to a Theodore (mineral water salesman) & Josephine Brodhead, and married to one Elisabeth Lane on 1 October 1889. (This Theodore’s father was born in England, so this family was not descended from the ‘1664 Daniel Brodhead.’) Any Brodhead descendants reading this are welcome to opine!

Lower East Side girl, 1899

Lower East Side girl, 1899, image from article in my personal collection

I’m transcribing the article here and including some images of the Manhattan of that era from the marvelous Shorpy website. Be sure to click on the links for the full-size versions of the images. The detail will amaze you! You really do feel like a time-traveler perched above the scene witnessing all the minutiae of daily life a century or more ago. I must say the Lower East Side girls of 1899 were made of very strong stuff; their descendants can certainly take pride. Would love to be able to go back in time to have a chat with some of them!

Anyway, I’ll step aside now. Enjoy the read! As always, comments and thoughts welcome.

The East-Side Girl of New York by Charles T. Brodhead, photographic drawings by L. L. Roush

Nowhere in New York is to be found a character more interesting and less understood than that of the girl born and bred on the now famous lower East Side. Even in the city in which she lives and has her being but little is known of the “East-Side Girl.”

The typical East-Side girl is simply a product of her environments. She is surrounded by the good, bad and indifferent. She is in an atmosphere in which no girl should be reared. Her eyes and ears are closed to many disagreeable things around her. And she shuts them simply because she does not care to see and hear.

New York's First Avenue at East 29th Street during the annual Little Italy festa circa 1908. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. Full-size image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/1781?size=_original#caption

New York’s First Avenue at East 29th Street during the annual Little Italy festa circa 1908. 5×7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. Full-size image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/1781?size=_original#caption

Yet the East-Side girl is no saint. Far from it. The typical girl of that section is self-reliant, saucy, impertinent, slangy, quick-tempered, ready to fight with the tongue, and even with the fists if necessary. She will dance all night and work all day, repeat it three or four times a week, then declare she isn’t tired, and look bright and fresh all the while. She will upbraid her mother whom she calls “me ole woman”; and abuse her father, referred to as “me ole man”; cuff the ears of her younger brothers; have a hair-pulling with a sister; yet, if any one should dare utter a word derogatory to the members of her family, “Miss East-Side” would go at them like a wildcat.

New York circa 1903. "East River and Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan." Among the many signs competing for our attention are billboards for "Crani-Tonic Hair Food" and Moxie. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. For full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/11497?size=_original#caption

New York circa 1903. “East River and Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan.” Among the many signs competing for our attention are billboards for “Crani-Tonic Hair Food” and Moxie. 8×10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. For full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/11497?size=_original#caption

She calls the young policeman on the “beat” by his first name, flirts outrageously with motor-men, conductors and the like, and will laugh derisively at or slap the face of the well-dressed man who presumes to become acquainted with her on the street; stand in a thoroughfare blocked with traffic and exchange badinage [banter] with car-men; remain night after night at the bedside of a girl friend who is ill, and follow a begging cripple half a block to give her last cent for charity.

December 1911. Family of Mrs. Mette making flowers in a very dirty tenement, 302 Mott Street, top floor. Josephine, 13, helps outside school hours until 9 P.M. sometimes. She is soon to be 14 and expects to go to work in an embroidery factory. Says she worked in that factory all last summer. Nicholas, 6 years old and Johnnie, 8 yrs. The old work some. All together earn only 40 to 50 cents a day. Baby (20 months old) plays with the flowers, and they expect he can help a little before long. The father drives a coach (or hack) irregularly. Full size: http://www.shorpy.com/node/2213?size=_original#caption

December 1911. Family of Mrs. Mette making flowers in a very dirty tenement, 302 Mott Street, top floor. Josephine, 13, helps outside school hours until 9 P.M. sometimes. She is soon to be 14 and expects to go to work in an embroidery factory. Says she worked in that factory all last summer. Nicholas, 6 years old and Johnnie, 8 yrs. The old work some. All together earn only 40 to 50 cents a day. Baby (20 months old) plays with the flowers, and they expect he can help a little before long. The father drives a coach (or hack) irregularly. Full size: http://www.shorpy.com/node/2213?size=_original#caption

Miss East-Side isn’t handsome as a rule, but pleasant-featured, cleanly, quick-witted, sometimes philosophical, often a mistress of crude sarcasm, and shows an ugly temper when things go not to her liking. She is intensely patriotic, free in speech and manner, and of good morals. Here is seen the influence of the church. Without it there would be no East-Side girl worth writing about.

An organ grinder on the streets of New York's Lower East Side circa 1910. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. Full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/2097?size=_original#caption

An organ grinder on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910. 5×7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. Full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/2097?size=_original#caption

The world which Miss East-Side sees first is one in which want and misery predominate. As soon as she is able to look after herself, which is generally at the age of four or five years, she is pressed into service as a helper in the family. The struggle for existence is so hard that there can be no idle hands in the household, no matter if they are tender and chubby. And so to her, mere tot though she may be, is assigned the task of caring for her smaller brother or sister, and frequently both. As the girl grows older her duties increase. She helps her mother to arrange the table, which is never an elaborate proceeding, runs errands, washes dishes, and, if the mother be a seamstress, assists with that work so far as she is able. Whenever she can do so she slips down the street, for there only can she find amusement.

New York City circa 1900-1906. "Clam seller in Mulberry Bend." Detroit Publishing Company glass negative. For full-size: http://www.shorpy.com/node/6263?size=_original#caption

New York City circa 1900-1906. “Clam seller in Mulberry Bend.” Detroit Publishing Company glass negative. For full-size: http://www.shorpy.com/node/6263?size=_original#caption

The typical East-Side girl of to-day receives but little schooling. She reads and writes, but cannot tell with certainty when or how she learned either. She just “picked it up,” as she did the slang and other undesirable things. She is more certain when it comes to religion. Her father and mother may not keep a sharp eye on her in other things, but one or the other (generally the mother) sees to it that the girl attends strictly to her religious duties every Sunday.

Circa 1900. "Heat wave. Free ice in New York." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative by Byron for the Detroit Publishing Company. Full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/8480?size=_original#caption

Circa 1900. “Heat wave. Free ice in New York.” 8×10 inch dry plate glass negative by Byron for the Detroit Publishing Company. Full image: http://www.shorpy.com/node/8480?size=_original#caption

As soon as she is able, which is before she is in her teens, she is obliged to go to work—if she can find it. Somehow she generally succeeds in getting something to do probably because she makes every endeavor to secure a situation. For her it means emancipation for household duties, which she detests. She takes to working in a factory as a duck to water. As long as she can remember, she has been obliged to do something to help along. The idea that she can ever get on without working has never entered her mind. She usually obtains a situation in a shop, mill or store by answering advertisements,, and works as hard as she knows how to retain the situation. She is glad to have a chance to work where she will be paid in cash at the end of the week, and shows it. Yet as much as she wants work—and she is always eager for employment—she will never, under any circumstances, accept a place as a domestic servant.

Because she is employed throughout the day she is permitted to go out at night for a little recreation and fresh air. She usually goes down to the front door and loiters about. There she received her friends; there she makes all her confidential communications to her girl chum, for, as she sees it, on the streets only can she be alone. She has no other place in which to observe social obligations. With a family of six or seven members occupying three or four rooms, there is no place to be alone with a caller.

[Conclusion of article in next post…]

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Categories: Brodhead, Manhattan, Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Charles T. Brodhead in 1899: NYC’s Lower East Side girls are “saucy” and “self-reliant” (Part I of II)

  1. East Side Girls sound like someone I would like. (grin) –Curt

    Like

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