At least for the time being, this message finishes up my too lengthy
response to Edward Rosenbaum's 11-2 inquiry about 1900 Jobs and salaries
in New York.
Bits and pieces of information about wages and costs of living can be
gleaned >from various paragraphs of Irving Howe's "World of Our Fathers,"
and >from many other accounts of the Lower East Side. Howe talks about the
1902 rise in meat costs made by wholesale butchers, which injured Jewish
retailers. Angry women loosely organized as the "Ladies Anti-Beef Trust
Association" rioted because kosher meat had risen to 17 or 18 cents a
pound. When the wholesalers gave in, the meat retailers failed to reduce
their own prices which the housewives refused to pay. Howe also writes
that in 1904, there was a rent strike, and in that same year, girls went
on strike against a paper box factory which had cut by 10% cut their wages
of $3.00 per thousand cigarette boxes.
Howe also says that during the years between 1913 and 1920, prices
for food and housing rose hugely: food by 199 per cent, shelter by 58 per
cent, clothing by 116 per cent, fuel by 68 per cent, and so on. In this
period Lower East Side women as well as poor women in other cities made
concerted protests against the sharp rise in food and other prices. People
complained they could not manage when potatoes were 7 cents a pound;
bread, 6 cents; cabbage, 20 cents; and onions 18 cents.
Elizabeth Ewen, in "Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars," cites the
1906 Report of the Mayor's 1906 Pushcart Commission as well as the US
Peddling Commission of Greater New York, neither of which I've read. A
propos of the 6 cent per pound for sugar (see above) Ewen quotes a Lower
East Side shoemaker who complained that a certain grocer charged 8 cents
Fictional accounts, like those of Anna Yezierska, are also useful
sources of information. In one story, Yezierska writes that a fish
peddlar demanded 14 and then 15 cents per pound for a large carp, for
which a haggling woman customer ultimately paid 13 cents per pound. I
have read elsewhere that a fellow seeking work upon his arrival agreed
to take a job in the garment industry only to find that he would have to
pay $5.00 to learn how to perform his task. This practice was
corroborated by Gerald Sorin's "The Prophetic Minority" in which the
author mentions, with a cite to a personal interview, that for his new job
in a knee pants shop one immigrant paid a foreman $10 to work for nothing
for two weeks but, contrary to the agreement, a third week of free work
Probably the best sources for statistics of the sort in which Mr.
Rosenbaum, I and other Jewishgenners would be interested are a US
Government 1900 Bureau of Labor Statistics, like the 18th Annual Labor
Commissioner's Report cited above, or some New York City offical report.
I haven't yet tried to find any such sources at I.U.'s Library department
for government documents, but I have found there other types of
government reports and documents, some of which are more than a century
old. These can be retrieved on request >from the Library's archival
depository,and the few that I have examined require delicate handling
because the pages have turned so brittle. I've had to hold my breath
while reading some of these texts lest I blow away a broken fragment of
While re-reading the other day an old letter written to me by my
mother, I was reminded that my birth during the Depression had been
largely paid for by my father's mother, Esther. Despite her husband's
probably low wages in the early 20th century Esther and Nathan evidently
saved up something for their old age and could also afford to help out
their architect son for whom there was little work during the 1930's!
Naomi Fatouros (nee FELDMAN)
Researching: BELKOWSKY, Odessa, Berdichev; FELDMAN, Pinsk; SHUTZ, SCHUTZ,
Shcherets; LEVY, Mulhouse;SAS, Podwolochisk; RAPOPORT, Tarnopol.