The Newspaper strike of 1900 was a powerful movement from young children against the major newspaper bosses, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Newsies were a group a street children who would purchase a set number of papers each morning from the different publishing companies. This number would have to be sold for each newspaper boy to make a profit. Each daily edition of the paper could only be sold that day because the news was constantly changing. Any paper that was left unsold would be wasting money because the newsies did not get reimbursed for unsold papers. The publishing companies controlled the set price to sell to the newsies, but the newsies controlled the resale price to the people of New York City. Newsies were an incredible group of young children who were courageous enough to make a change by standing up against newspaper tycoons and fight for their rights and form their own union.
So who were the newsies and why were their accomplishments so spectacular? The newsies were a group of young boys, generally living in orphanages, and who sold newspapers for pennies everyday. Those who were financially better-off were often dressed with thin fabric, light jackets, and hats because it was the only thing they could afford with pennies. There were some who were dressed in dirty rags with no shoes or coats and walked the streets of New York City in the wintertime. Despite the weather, the young boys would go every morning to the publishing companies to purchase newspapers. The newsies would travel along different routes to sell them to customers. However there was still competition, in popular destinations, between newsies to sell enough papers to make money for themselves. They would also use the “last-paper ploy…” so a newsies could “feigned cold, exhaustion, or hunger saying that he or she could go home only by selling the last paper.”1)Michael Schuman. “History of child labor in the United States–part 1: little children working.” in Monthly Labor Review (January 2017), 6. Since they were young, many people were sympathetic to them, but the newsies often lied and continued this trick for several papers after.Not every newspaper had a good headline so the newsies use other tactics such as faking a limp to get people to pity them. Newsies would often exaggerate the truth or “shout out false headlines and shortchanging customers.”2)Michael Schuman. “History of child labor in the United States–part 1: little children working.” in Monthly Labor Review (January 2017), 6. These headlines could be about arson, strikes, or political corrupt; anything to get buyers to pity them in exchange for money.
Many people tried to help street children but no matter how many welfare programs, there were always exceptions. People feared that street children would grow up on the streets and turn to gangs. Some of the Newsies stayed in orphanages but many stayed on the street in search of the basic necessities. Street children did not want to go to them because”orphanages were little more than overcrowded holding pens where children were treated like criminals, marginally clothed and fed, and nominally educated.” 3)Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine. “New York City in the Nineteenth Century.” In Raised by the Church: Growing up in New York City’s Catholic Orphanages. (Fordham University, 2012), 15. Street children, including newsies, thought it was better to search the street for food and money. If they lived in an orphanages they would be subjected to strict rules and curfews that would limit their time trying to sell papers and make money. Some street children were also unjustly accused of crimes and ran from police to escape being thrown in jail. It was easier to hide on the streets than in an orphanage where the keepers would have to obey the police. On the streets newsies could form communities of their own and create their own rules together all over the city.
Regardless of where newspaper boys slept, their working conditions were terrible. As depicted in the photo below, newsies were constantly exhausted. They were always on their feet all day walking around the city. The long hours, mostly during daylight hours, were difficult for young boys who were still in the developing phase. These children did not go to school because they were too busy trying to sell papers on the streets, in brothels, or saloons, during the whole day. This took away an opportunity to receive an education to try to make money instead. With newsies selling papers to a majority of new york’s population, it showed people the large percentage of young urban poor and spread awareness of child labor. The leader, Dave Simons gathered newsies together to strike the low pay of newsies. It strengthened this notion that youths had power to control their future and reinforced to the public that they were significant to the population too.
Around the turn of the century more workers began to form labor unions so they could bargain collectively. However labor unions were still in their early stages where most adults organized each union and had official paperwork. The newsies did not officially create a labor union like other organizations, but successfully gathered newspaper boys across all five boroughs of New York City for a strike. These children spread the word and unified together to collectively bargain with the newspaper companies, forming an unofficial labor union of newspaper boys. This strike from the newsies was also a public display of youths united and of child labor.
These two publishers were in constant competition with each other and continually changed the price of their newspapers in an effort to undercut one another. One solution to end this was to raise the price of the papers that the newspaper boys bought from the publishing companies to sell to the public. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer would still be receiving large sums of money for themselves while the workers’ wages would be cut. This meant that the newspaper boys or newsies had to sell ten more papers than they usually did to make the same profit that they made before.
The newsies officially went on strike July 21, 1899 by protesting the newspaper companies. Dave Simons, gathered with fellow newsies in different squares around the city and read a list of demands that the union wanted. Newsies were also spotted throughout Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn, including the Brooklyn Bridge.”4)Barbara Krasner. “Extra! Extra! Newsboys Strike!” (Cobblestone 2017), 32. He went to other newspaper advertisers and dealers and asked them to boycott the two newspaper monopolies. Newsies encouraged people to buy papers from other news source besides the World or Journal. The newsies fought for several days and eventually settled with Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to get reimbursed for the unsold newspapers. This was very successful for the newsies because then they could get the extra money, that would’ve been wasted, for food and warmth. The newsies across New York united, which was significant to show that child labor was an issue to the public. They made a spectacular impact for being that young and showed the world a united group of child workers.
The newsies were a significant group that challenged powerful tycoons early in the century. Although the were young they believed that striking together, voicing their opinions, would make an impact. Depicted in the photo below, these children stood up against powerful adults, without fear, whether or not they had their large group or a few newsies. They were not intimidated by others, especially older businessmen. The newsies carried their banners and picket signs across the city proudly instead of being playful, quiet, young boys. They were a group that people did not expect to rise up and strike, due to their poor living conditions and their age.
People might argue that life for the newsies did not change. They were still subject to the poor working conditions and their pay did not increase after the strike. However, despite former circumstances, this strike paved the way for improvement by brining this issue to light. Newsies were reimburse each day for unsold papers, so their money did not go to waste. They could try to sell as many newspapers as they could to make money for food and clothes, but also get that money back if they went unsold.
Newsies were a powerful group that brought the issue of child labor to light by showing the world that young workers could show the public their unification. The newsies struggled to make a living as poor homeless boys. Newsies dealt with harassment and mugging because they were viewed with pity. They often worked long hours and uncertain weather affected the newsies’ health and education. The newsies did make an impactful change and allowed newsies across the city to get reimbursed and showed city officials that child labor matters. Newsies stood united and made a change for people to care more about child labor reform.
Krasner, Barbara. 2017. “Extra! Extra! Newsboys Strike!” Cobblestone (July 2017). EBSCOhost. Accessed December 6, 2017.
Newsies. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Performed by Christian Bale and David Moscow. Burbank (California): DisneyDVD, 1992. DVD.
Newsies. New York City. In The Bowery Boys. June 10, 2010. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Rohs, Edward, and Judith Estrine. “New York City in the Nineteenth Century.” In Raised by the Church: Growing up in New York City’s Catholic Orphanages, 13-20. Fordham University, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13wzxsn.8.
“Sands Street Entrance, Brooklyn Navy Yard.” Shorpy, Detroit Publishing Co., www.shorpy.com/node/4669?size=_original.
Schuman, Michael. “History of child labor in the United States–part 1: little children working.” Monthly Labor Review (January 2017): 1. Complementary Index, EBSCOhost. Accessed October 3, 2017.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “One of the many young newsboys selling late at night… November 1912” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 3, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4cd4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064
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|1, 2.||↑||Michael Schuman. “History of child labor in the United States–part 1: little children working.” in Monthly Labor Review (January 2017), 6.|
|3.||↑||Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine. “New York City in the Nineteenth Century.” In Raised by the Church: Growing up in New York City’s Catholic Orphanages. (Fordham University, 2012), 15.|
|4.||↑||Barbara Krasner. “Extra! Extra! Newsboys Strike!” (Cobblestone 2017), 32.|