What were major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas) at the DSLH like?

Large dinners were provided free to the newsboys at these holidays. Boys were encouraged to invite their friends (provided they were also boys); a boy did not have to lodge at the LH in order to participate in a holiday dinner.

By the time Christmas 1899 rolled around, William M. Fleiss had sponsored thirty (approximately; different sources give conflicting numbers) of these annual Christmas dinners at the Newsboys' LH (note the first handful of dinners must have been at the LH's earlier location, as the DSLH had not yet been around for thirty years at this point). Six hundred newsboys were served that day, beginning at 5 p.m. They had to eat in shifts of 165, as the dining room could only seat that many.

Their menu consisted of turkey, boiled ham, celery, mashed potatoes, turnips, tea, bread and butter, and pies. The boys, at dinners like these, were apparently almost as fond of throwing pie as they were of eating it, although on this particular Christmas they behaved themselves. Didn't stop one boy from smuggling out a large apple pie in his jacket, however.

Afterwards, a crowd of about 150 homeless men finished off the leftovers.

Four hundred boys were staying at the DSLH that Christmas.

At the 1897 Christmas dinner, the school room was described as being abundantly decorated with evergreens. White linen covered the dining tables. Dinner itself was served by three servants (all women) and the LH's cook, assisted by several of the larger newsboys.

Other LHs had their own sponsers and their own dinners. Over six hundred up-town newsboys were served Xmas dinner at Lyric Hall (Sixth Ave. near Forty-second St.) that year, sponsored by Frank Tilford, President of the Bank of New Amsterdam.

On Thanksgiving 1900, 1500 boys were served the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the DSLH, sponsored by a fund left by Mrs. William Waldorf Astor.

See also the photo of the 1898 Thanksgiving dinner.

What is the Roosevelt connection to the lodging houses?

Unlike in Newsies, Teddy Roosevelt did not take part in the 1899 strike. His family, however, had a history with the CAS's lodging-houses.

His father, the elder Theodore Roosevelt, was a big supporter of Rev. Brace and the CAS, and in fact helped found the Society. In the early years (not sure when he began), he went to visit the Newsboys' LH every Sunday night, sometimes sponsoring their dinners.

Teddy Roosevelt beginning November 14, 1880 took over this task from his father for some time.

At the opening ceremonies of the West Side LH in 1884, Brace warmly described the late elder Roosevelt as "a man of chivalric nature and manly tenderness, and one whom to know was to love."

Teddy's uncle, James A. Roosevelt, was also involved with the CAS, and paid for the rent of the CAS's Beach Street Italian School until he passed away (in 1898).

[In an earlier version of this page I said that J.A. Roosevelt was FDR's father, but that is not so. While it's true that FDR's father was named James, and that FDR was a cousin of Teddy, it is not the same James (there were at least two in the extended family), and FDR and Teddy were only distant cousins.]

When Teddy Roosevelt (already a war hero by then and easily recognized by the children) paid a visit to the CAS's West Side Italian School in Feb. 1899, two pictures of his father and his uncle sat on the teacher's desk.

So well-known was Teddy Roosevelt even before his celebrity as a Rough Rider that he (indirectly) sparked an incident at one of the DSLH Christmas dinners (most likely 1896, judging by the publishing date). As Riis tells it:

As the file of eagle-eyed youngsters passes down the long tables, there are swift movements of grimy hands, and shirt-waists bulge, ragged coats sag at the pockets. Hardly is the file seated when the plaint rises: "I ain't got no pie! It got swiped on me." Seven despoiled ones hold up their hands.

The superintendent laughs--it is Christmas eve. He taps one tentatively on the bulging shirt. "What have you here, my lad?"

"Me pie," responds he, with an innocent look; "I wuz scart it would get stole."

A little fellow who has been eying one of the visitors attentively takes his knife out of his mouth, and points it at him with conviction.

"I know you," he pipes. "You're a p'lice commissioner. I seen yer picter in the papers. You're Teddy Roosevelt!"

The clatter of knives and forks ceases suddenly. Seven pies creep stealthily over the edge of the table, and are replaced on as many plates. The visitors laugh. It was a case of mistaken identity.


--Jacob A. Riis, "Merry Christmas in the Tenements," The Century, Dec. 1, 1897



In his 1904 biography of TR (Theodore Roosevelt, the Citizen), Riis tells the story again (with slight re-phrasing), and reveals that the visitor mistaken for TR was none other than himself.

At the 1900 Thanksgiving dinner at the West Side LH, Mrs. Gracie, the sister of TR (who was governor at the time), helped serve food to the boys (as did some other visitors that night).

Fraudulent solicitations.

The CAS sometimes published warnings in newspapers that boys posing as newsboys or bootblacks and solicitng donations in the name of the CAS or DSLH were not legitimately acting on behalf of the CAS. The Society did not collect donations in this manner. Citizens with food or money to donate were asked to contact the CAS directly.

What eventually became of the DSLH?

The LH continued to be used well into the 20th century by boys seeking lodging, though the nature of those boys would shift as society continued to change. Riis wrote in late 1912 (or possibly early 1913) that when he visited the DSLH again, he was told by the Superintendent: "[We used to have boys] at six, even five, and more and more of them up to fourteen. They overflowed from the city's tenements in homeless hordes. They don't any more. The boys we now have average seventeen or eighteen; they come mostly from out of town. [...] A few sell papers, but not many. There are not half a dozen newsboys in the house to-day, and its name might as well be changed." The majority of the boys staying there at the time made their living in shops and factories instead.

Despite this, it was still known as the Newsboys' Home (the word "Lodging" seems to have been commonly dropped from its name sometime in the late 1910's) as late as 1942.

The Coast Guard took over the building, whose address was now given as 244 William St., on Jan. 13, 1943. Soldiers and sailors in transit had sometimes spent the night there alongside the boys as early as 1941.

The New York Law School then used it for classrooms starting Oct. 14, 1947 until sometime after May 9, 1962.

See also: New York Law School official site.

The building was scheduled to be demolished soon after. It was roughly where the present-day Police HQ stands.

What about the very first Newsboys' Lodging House?

The first Newsboys' Lodging House in Manhattan (or anywhere else) was established by the CAS on March 18, 1854 at 128 Fulton St., in the old Sun building. Later, it was moved to 49 and 51 Park Place, then to Duane.

Do any of the Lodging Houses still exist?

(Question suggested by maddykins)

I'm happy to say the answer to this is YES.

At the moment, I know of three. Obviously, none of them still function as lodging houses by this point, but though they have been converted to other uses, their exteriors remain more or less the same.

1. Tompkins Sq. LH

127 Avenue B, aka 295 E. 8th St., Manhattan

This stands at the northeast corner of Avenue B and 8th Street, directly across the street from Tompkins Square Park. Nowadays, it is used as apartments. There is also a yoga instruction place in the basement.

The CAS owned the building until 1925. The building was declared a landmark in 2000.

A July 27, 2000 article in the New York Times mentions that this is "the oldest surviving structure built for the homeless in New York." If so, then this is the only one of the active-in-1899 Lodging Houses owned by the CAS that still stands, as this was the last to be built of that group. (Other LHs were constructed for the CAS later on, but they were post-1899.) See Tompkins Square LH page for more info.

2. The Brooklyn Newsboys' LH

55 Poplar St., Brooklyn

Known as 61 Poplar St. when it was a LH, the building was renovated in 1987 and now contains high-end condos. See No. 61 Poplar Street for more info.

3. The Elizabeth Home for Girls

The only girls' lodging house run by the CAS in 1899.

If the police were needed...

They would be at the Oak Street Station House, the nearest police station to the DSLH. It was at No. 9 (or perhaps No. 11) Oak Street, about five irregularly-shaped blocks to the the south-east of the DSLH. When a box of dynamite was found at the DSLH's doorstep in 1892 (it had likely been grabbed by a thief and then abandoned at the DSLH when he realized exactly what he'd stolen!), it was taken to the Oak Street Station. Police and detectives from the station were also involved in arresting boys for fighting on Park Row and around the newspaper offices during the 1899 strike.

Right at the turn of the century (from at least 1897-1900; I don't have the exact start/end dates), the man in charge of the Oak St. Station was a Capt. Vredenburgh.

If a hospital were needed...

It would be the Hudson Street Hospital, the nearest hospital to the DSLH. This five-story building stood at 67 and 69 Hudson Street, corner of Jay Street. Built to replace the Chambers Street Hospital, it was still new in 1899, having opened in November 1894. It contained (among other things) an emergency department, a dispensary, an operating room, stables and ambulances, and "a sort of open-air garden" on the roof (New York Times, Nov 8, 1894).

In late Jan. 1897, newsboy John Kelly (staying at the DSLH) complained of a sore throat and was sent to the Hudson Street Hospital by Supt. Heig. The doctor's early diagnosis was that the boy had diptheria, leading to the entire DSLH being fumigated (via carbolic acid and sulphur) as a precaution. Shortly afterwards--but too late for his fellow lodgers--it was discovered Kelly only had tonsilitis.

A fight between two boys at the DSLH in early June, 1900, resulted in one of the boys being sent to the Hudson Street Hospital after his opponent stabbed him in the back of the neck. Fortunately, the wound was not serious and the injured party was able to return to the LH after having his wound treated.

If firemen were needed...

An earlier version of this page stated that the nearest fire station was next door at No. 5 Duane Street. I have since found out that while this location did use to be an active firehouse, by 1887 (or perhaps earlier) it was being used as a fuel depot by several fire companies.

The newsboys' lodging houses in popular fictional media.

This topic has been moved to its own page.

The orphan trains.

New York City, at the time, was crowded with children who were either unwanted, orphaned, or could not be provided for. Farms out west, on the other hand, often needed workers. Rev. Brace pioneered the program of sending some of these children--both boys and girls--to foster homes out west, where they would be taken in, fed, housed, schooled, and would join in on the farm work. In actual practice, individual cases had varying degrees of success: some were well-treated in their new homes, others were exploited for labor; a few very fortunate ones were taken in but never required to work.

It was a common problem amongst children sent out in the early years that they were unprepared for the demands of farm life, and the Farm School at Kensico (Westchester County, NY) was set up by the CAS in 1894 to introduce them to farming duties before they headed West. "A constant effort is made by the Superintendent of these Lodging Houses to discover the reason of the helplessness of these young people and to get them back to their homes whenever possible, and if really found to be homeless, situations are found for them and the younger ones are urged to try life at our Farm School, perpatory to home life in the country." (CAS annual report, New York Times, Nov 29, 1899) The Farm School appeared to be for boys only; it could accommodate up to 100, and a boy could choose to attend or depart at any time. The proposed length of stay was three months.

The program was in operation from 1854 to 1929. Not all Lodging House residents were sent, nor did all those who were sent come from Lodging Houses.

See also: The Orphan Train Collection, the Orphan Train site, and Renée Wendinger's book Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York.

A word about a word: "scab."

This term seems to cause some confusion.

The newsboys did not come up with the word "scab" themselves (it is not even slang), nor did they mean it as a generalized insult. It has a very specific meaning (when used by striking workers): that of a person who either continues to work or is hired to work when a strike is taking place. The word, used in this sense, has been around since the first decade of the 1800's.

Did "carrying the banner" really mean "to sleep on the streets"?

(Question suggested by Cookie)

Yes. Helen Campbell documented it in 1891. Think of "banner" not in the sense of "headline" (this usage did not even come about until 1913!) but rather as "a flag." To newsboys, their independence and ability to fend for themselves on the streets was a point of pride.

Use of the phrase to mean this was not limited to just newsboys. I came across an Oct. 23, 1892 article in the Brooklyn Eagle in which the phrase is used by a homeless man in his early twenties, recently transplanted to Manhattan from London.