by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The “newsboy” was long a familiar presence in American cities, with these young people, sometimes no older than five years and often orphans, immigrants and from families so poor that they had to work and forego school, known in popular culture for the cry of “Extra! Extra! Read All About It!” as they hawked newspapers.
The proliferation of this easily abused class of child labor was due to many factors, including the burgeoning American population, explosive growth of cities, quickly rising literacy, use of cheap newsprint instead of cotton rag paper and more. From about the mid-19th century, many of these children, occasionally including girls and not infrequently composed of ethnic minorities, lived on the streets and their living conditions were, along with their meagre pay, generally nothing short of abysmal.
Yet, a persistent and popular perception of the “newsie” was that, if he worked hard enough, he could attain a higher status and for every untold thousands of these usually forgotten and ignored group of workers, there might very occasionally be one who became a success in some other field, but was often pointed out as having once been a “newsboy.”
In Los Angeles newspapers around the time of the highlighted object from the Homestead’s collection for this post, a letter dated 21 April 1916, there were three such examples given, including publisher Cyrus H.K. Curtis, Ohio political figure George B. Cox, and the dean of the New York University School of Law, Frank H. Sommers. These anomalies fueled the idea that anyone could rise to great heights in any given field from such humble origins, however, extremely unlikely such a possibility would be.
Conditions for newsboys improved somewhat into the 20th century, especially as some were aligned with unions like the American Federation of Labor, the Knights of Labor, and the International Workers of the World and as legislation sought to ease conditions of child labor generally. Still, there was low pay, long hours, exploitation and other issues that were very much in effect for newsies during the mid-1910s when the featured missive was penned.
The recipient was prominent real estate developer Robert A. Rowan, subject of a post on this blog not quite a year ago, and his correspondent was Charles F. Hutslar, the pastor of Broadway Christian Church, which was located where the Los Angeles County Hall of Records is situated now, just south of Temple Street. Hutslar wrote that
the establishment of a high class ‘movie’ in the interests of the Newsboys seems to be an expedient asset in this critical stage of social progress, when the tendency to neglect the welfare of the youth is so prevalent both by society and parent.
Hutslar informed Rowan that he was taken the idea seriously and hoped that the developer would, as well, seeking “your endorsement and encouragement, provided you believe the proposition plausable [sic].”
Unfortunately, nothing could be specifically located about this proposed film, but the minister added that, although it was innovative, it also opened the door to
not only counter-acting the evil impressions of worldly influences, but also for teaching of thrift, integrity, social etiquette, chivalry, and other ideas, which are the noble exponents of good citizenship. The influences of today will reflect in the citizens of tomorrow.
Hutslar had not been long in the Angel City, arriving about two years prior, in June 1914, from Wheeling, Virginia, where he was pastor of that community’s Christian Church. He had enormous shoes to fill because he took over the pulpit a few years after the death of Benjamin F. Coulter, owner of a major Los Angeles store and founding pastor of the Church in 1895.
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Hutslar’s father was a blacksmith and he took on that trade. In fact, he became known for his creation of specially designed horseshoes for race horses and it was not until he was in his late Twenties that, despite not having completed high school, Hutslar entered Bethany College in West Virginia and completed eight years of study in just six. His work in Wheeling was his first pastorate after finishing his theological education.
He served as minister at the Broadway Christian Church for about four years before resigning in 1918 to assume the pulpit for a church in Palo Alto. After a short time there, he returned to the Southand and spent most of the Roaring Twenties as pastor at the Washington Christian Church (now the Morning Star Christian Church) in Pasadena.
He followed that by serving as pastor of the First Christian Church in Pomona during the 1930s and through the World War II years. After a heart attack in 1945, he retired from active ministerial work, though occasionally appeared as a guest and continued writing and publishing until not long before his death in 1960.
In the weeks before and after Hutslar wrote his missive to Rowan, the mention of newsboys in Los Angeles newspapers included some interesting examples. For instance, in the 5 March edition of the Los Angeles Times, it was reported that the city’s police department was establishing an “anti-noise policeman with Sergeant Al McClain tasked with tamping down the noise of “enthusiastic rooters, weary axles that squeak, whining car wheels, indiscreet auto horns, boisterous children, hucksters and newsboys.”
Another negative newsboy notice came in the paper’s issue of 10 May, when it was reported that 17-year old Joseph Meehan was nabbed by the police for burglary in an Angel City apartment building and was called “the hand-spring burglary” for his acrobatic move as he escaped by doing a hand-spring and then leaping out a second-story window. After it was reported that he had a few choice words for his mother and court and probation officers when he was sent to the Preston School of Industry for juvenile offenders until he turned 21. Naturally, it was noted that “Meehan was a newsboy.”
There were, however, mostly positive items in the press (which, it seems, were quite motivated to present this side of the newsie world rather than the low pay, poor working conditions, and other issues.) The Los Angeles Express had a newsboys baseball team and was pleased to report on the club’s contention for an indoor league championship against employees from the Harris and Frank clothing store. When a Pure Food show was held in mid-March, there was coverage in the Express and the Times of a pure food banquet given to 25 newsboys, while others engaged in a cracker-eating contest.
At the end of March, in the Arrow Theater located in the Hamburger Building, where the predecessor to The Broadway Department Store was situated, a sales manager for the Saturday Evening Post gave an address as part of a national tour to inform parents and teachers of what the Curtis Publishing Company (see the above reference to Cyrus Curtis of the form) was “doing to aid boys [who sold the paper] in their efforts to secure practical education. The speaker, M.E. Douglas, told the assemblage of 200 that:
The average conception of a boy who sells newspapers and magazines is that he does not amount to much and that he will never get anywhere. This isn’t true. Numerous successful men started life as newsboys. Little things count . . . We are trying to give our boys vocational educations.
In mid-April, a Hamburger store ad trumpeted that “All These Famous Men Were Once Poor Boys” and, while not college graduates, were said to be faithful users of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The roster included Thomas Edison, Henry Frick, James J. Hill, Charles Schwab, and Curtis, who “began as a newsboy in Portland, Maine.”
In early May, it was reported in the Express and Times that the Los Angeles Police Department was forming a “Junior Police” squad out of the department’s juvenile bureau and that the Temple Newsboys’ Club, organized by the Temple Baptist Church across from Central Park, soon renamed Pershing Square. The club was expected to be the only entity outside middle and junior high schools to form a division in what was intended “to inculcate a respect for government in the boys when they are at the most susceptible period in their life,” being between the ages o 12 and 16.
The Express of 11 May observed that the Republic Theater was hosting a special benefit performance for the Newsboys’ Gazette, evidently a publication for the newsies and that “thirty-four rounds of stellar comedy are promised, with a knockout in each round.” Among the performers were those from the famous Keystone studio, home of the Keystone Cops, the Joker Film Company and its “Fun on a Farm” skit, and a contingent from Kalem Studios (former home of movie star Princess Mona Darkfeather, a.k.a. Josephine Workman, whose grandparents were the founders of the Homestead) including Chester Conklin.
The recently formed Los Angeles division of the Boy Scouts of America held a luncheon at the Hayward Hotel to discuss its first year of activities and the 23 May edition of the Express reported that “last night at the Temple Baptist Church, a Newsboys’ club of the scouts were organized.” The next day’s edition of the paper stated that Black pianist, composer, and teacher William T. Wilkins, who, four years prior, opened the first interracial music school in the Angel City, gave a benefit concert at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The paper added that “Wilkins was formerly a newsboy” and that “he soon will play for the Evening Express and Morning Tribune [the sister newspaper to the former] newsboys their newly-appointed clubrooms.”
Two other items of note from the local press included the Times of 19 March recording that the Echo Park Mothers’ Club held a day-long meeting two days prior, with Mrs. E.K. Foster the keynote speaker and discussing “Child Legislation.” The paper noted that her address was on a “vital subject . . . especially as it affects the newsboys of the city.” Finally, the Los Angeles Record of the last day of May ran a feature titled “Mad House Journalism” concerning the undercutting of newspaper prices.
The piece began with a letter from John Bryson, who was mayor of the Angel City after William H. Workman (nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste) and owner of the Bryson Block. He wrote the paper:
How about this? Evening before last I asked a newsboy on a certain corner for a copy of the Record. He handed some other evening sheet.
I said, “I want the Record as I consider it the best paper.” He said: “I know it’s the best paper, but we make only 40 cents a hundred by selling it and we get 70 cents a hundred for peddling this other junk.
In addressing the former chief executive of the city, the Record declared “this paper will not bribe newsboys to push sales by giving The Record at a half actual cost of white paper.” It went on to state that a newspaper proprietor who persisted “in bribing boys by the wholesale, is a publisher who is a merry merry jest, and his standing in the business community is about on par with any amiable patient at Patton [State Hospital for the mentally ill.]”
This letter is interesting and instructive for its reference to newsboys, as well as its connection to Hutslar and Rowan and efforts to improve the lives of the young boys subject to “the evil impressions of worldly influences” the minister hoped to mitigate. For those interested in the history of American newsboys, a recent book by Vincent DiGirolamo may be of interest.