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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY CANADIAN PACIFIC, c. 1950s

143 Hudson Street: 1911

143 Hudson Street: 1911

New York, December 1911. "143 Hudson Street, ground floor. Mrs. Salvia; Joe, 10 years old; Josephine, 14 years old; Camille, 7 years old. Picking nuts in a dirty tenement home. The bag of cracked nuts (on chair) had been standing open all day waiting for the children to get home from school. The mangy cat (under table) roamed about over everything. Baby is sleeping in the dark inner bedroom (three yrs. old)." Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.

 

TB Window

Those windows commonly seen in old tenement photos like these were called "Tuberculosis Windows". The idea behind them was to facilitate air circulation in those stuffy tenements, thus helping to alleviate the TB that was rampant at the time.

The thing on the wall

In the tenements, each apartment had a gas meter installed on the interior wall. If you wanted gas, you put money in the slot like a vending machine, and you could run your stove, lamps, what have you till the money ran out.

Nuts to Dollars

Out of curiosity, I went to a dollar buying power historic conversion site. According to their calcs, one dollar in 1911 would equate to $23.64 in today's economy. So, their nut enterprise would garner the equivalent of something like $88 per week now.

Shell Game

From their smiles, it does appear they are trying to make a game of this tedious task. That looks like a sewing machine at far right. If so, it would seem Mrs. Salvia could earn more by stitching piece goods for the garment industry than shelling nuts. But maybe not. I don't think any of the home workers earned much, whatever the task.

[According to Lewis Hine's notes, "nut-picking" brought in about $4 a week. - Dave]

re: Paper Things

I think they're Victorian Christmas tree decorations which are usually filled with nuts or candy. I would guess that the family is shelling walnuts to put into the paper containers (cone and slit-sided).

Paper things

I don't know about the slit-sided ones (can't tell for sure if they have a bottom or liner in them) but to this day you can buy nuts at Christmas in those cone-shaped bags like that, so maybe they are all nut-containers of some kind.

Items on line

There's a line/cord running from the doorway to the gas meter and it has items hanging from it. Can anyone tell what they are? The look like little paper lanterns to me.

Christmas ornaments perhaps?

[Are they papillotes? Those paper cutlet frills you'd put on the bones of a crown roast. Maybe another branch of this family's cottage industry. - Dave]

Exaggeration

Hines sure likes to breathe fire into every scene. Place doesn't look dirty to me -- just messy, like any kitchen where work is being done. Cat doesn't look mangy and cats always roam all over everything. All seem to have shoes (a good sign in those days). So, the nut bag was open all day -- so what. They have protective shells. Hines certainly did an admirable job of depicting poverty but I don't think this is one of those times based solely on the photo. They all look pretty happy to me.

[Hine's motive, as we have pointed out many times, was the elimination of child labor. So his captions, which accompanied these photos in the National Child Labor Committee's report to Congress, tended to paint as bleak a picture as possible. As for the cat, his point was that fur, fleas etc. could have gotten into the nuts, which were already cracked and would go back to the wholesaler to be sold to the public after the kids had removed the shells. Communicable disease and adulteration or contamination of foodstuffs and fabric were among the health issues attached to tenement homework. - Dave]

The Walls

In this photo and in a lot of other photos of tenements, there always seems to be a lot of pictures hanging on the walls. I've always wondered why this is.
Also in this photo the wallpaper is unusual. Can anyone make out what the pattern is?

Nut Pickers

It doesn't look that horrible, at least they're smiling. The way Hine describes this scene, he would have had a stroke seeing the people in the Elm Grove picture.

Radio?

Anyone know what the "thing" is hanging on the wall next to the calendar? Looks like a box of some sort.

[It's a gas meter. There was no radio in 1911. - Dave]

Judgy?

The caption seems a big judgmental to me...the place may be a bit messy but it's not as bad as the caption says is it? They all seem to be happy. The furniture looks pretty nice.

Josh

The Cat

Sorry, but I must once again take exception to Mr. Hine's description, even though I know his intentions. The family looks happy, and I would hardly describe the apartment as "dirty." My 3 cats "roam about over everything," as all cats are wont to do, and this one is no more mangy than I am. Cats really have a bad rap, considering they are one of the cleanest creatures on earth AND they keep vermin populations down.

[His point was that cat hair, fleas etc. could have gotten into the nuts, which were already cracked and would be sold at market after they were hulled. - Dave]

143 Hudson Street:

This is Joe Manning, of the Lewis Hine Project. I found the sons of Joe and Camille last year and interviewed both of them. This is quite a story, but I haven't posted it on my website yet. This tenement burned down a few years later, and the family lost everything, including their family pictures. When I sent the Hine photo to Joe's son, he was very excited, because it was the first photo he had seen of his father as a boy, his grandmother at a younger age, and the inside of the tenement where they lived. Joe became a New York City policeman and moved to California when he retired. Camille married and had a long and successful life. The story will be posted on my site some time this year. www.morningsonmaplestreet.com/lewishine.html

 
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