Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Child Toilers Of Boston Streets

Creator: Emma E. Brown (author)
Date: 1879
Publisher: D. Lothrop and Company, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6  Figure 7  Figure 8  Figure 9  Figure 10  Figure 11  Figure 12  Figure 13

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It is a well-known fact that in all of our large cities a great number of children are employed in various street occupations; but I think few realize how much actually depends upon the labors of these little "Child Toilers." In the papers here given, all the facts stated, and all the illustrations, are drawn, not from imagination, but from real life.


And, as appropriate to the season, we give first in the series a sketch of our little street venders in




ther ' Since early morning, like some wee dryad of the forest, little Anna has stood there in her bower of green. It is a bitter cold day, and a north corner, down in Quincy Market, is certainly not a favorable place for tempering our bleak Boston east winds to the "shorn lamb;" but Anna is a brave little girl, and drawing the old water-proof over her head she manages by vigorous clappings and stampings to keep head, hands, and feet in a tolerable state of comfort. Then she is so interested in the arrangement and sale of her pretty Christmas greens that she doesn't stop to think much about herself or the weather.


All around her little stand, by the great stone pillars, are many "rivals in trade;" for since the week began, hundreds of teams have come in from the country with all manner of "green things." Close beside her, stand some fragrant spruces and firs that came from away "down east," for although many of the suburban towns, especially Randolph, Needham, Stoughton, West Wareham, Walpole, Lincoln, North Abington and Natick, furnish our city with much of the so-called "small" trimmings, it is chiefly from the grand old forests of Maine, that our finest Christmas trees, and the "large" trimmings for church and hall are obtained. I am told that one season three thousand trees were shipped from Bangor and Portland to a single firm on Broad street, and many "Down East" farmers come, year after year, to Quincy Market with trees they have felled on their own woodlands.


If any of these trees become injured by transportation, they are generally stripped, and the twigs woven into festoons; while those that still preserve their native symmetry, are sold, according to size and quality, from twenty-five cents to two and three dollars apiece. As no rent is demanded for the use of "out-door" corners, these countrymen can sometimes clear hundreds of dollars during the holiday season especially, if in addition to their trees, they bring, as many do, a large assortment of wreaths, crosses, anchors, and other church emblems made by tasteful hands at home.


Of course they are liable to have these smaller wares stolen, as they have no place to store them over night; but "forewarned" they generally come "forearmed," and a common custom among them is to have a large box closely fitted to their vehicles where all the choice greens can be securely kept under lock and key.


Here are two lads, evidently brothers, who have come from a long distance. They have brought only trees, and rough boughs; so, to save the expense of stabling their poor old horse the greens are all taken out of the hurdles and deposited in a heterogeneous mass upon the side-walk. Then, while one brother stays to arrange and look after their "stock in trade," the other goes home with the empty sledge.


It is a little curious that among all these venders of Christmas greens, you will seldom find an Italian boy or girl; although, in other street occupations, these dark-eyed children of the south out-number -- even in Boston -- the German, Irish and American born.


Besides those who sell Christmas greens on the corners and in the markets, there are other children -- mostly Germans -- in our different mission-schools, especially in the one connected with Dr. Ellis's church on Berkeley street, who gather evergreens and berries, before the snow comes, in the fields and woods just about Boston. These the mothers and older sisters at home make up into wreaths, crosses, and other emblems; and a few days before Christmas the children go out upon the street and sell them from door to door.


The florists seldom, if ever, employ boys and girls to sell their holiday decorations; and whenever or wherever you see these little out door merchants, you may be pretty sure they are selling on their own responsibility.


But we are wandering away from little Anna, and it is her "store" that I want you to notice, particularly. Perhaps you have already recognized her, for the picture we give you is taken from life, and all last summer she stood at this very same corner, selling mints and herbs. Her dark hair and eyes certainly remind one of the little Italians down in Ferry and North Bennett street; but Anna is of German parent -- age, and since the father's death, her mother has been obliged to go out to service, while a kind old aunt who lives in one of those dark tenement houses on Hanover Avenue, has shared her hard earned home with little Anna.


Weeks ago, before the drifting snows came, the men and boys of the family gathered these bright evergreens -- feathery "princess pine," and the "running Jennie" that clambers everywhere with her "seven-leagued boots," sprays of the Roxbury wax-work, too, snow-white immortelles, and the dazzling red berries of the bitter-sweet they found down in the Waltham Meadows; and could you have looked into Anna's home those long November evenings, you would have seen the whole family busily at work upon the fragrant greens sometimes, "till the wee small hours" of night. For it takes a deal of time and patience to make these pretty emblems as any of my little readers know, who have tried the work themselves, for home and school decoration; and the modest price that Anna asks for her wreaths and crosses, is but a just compensation for the labor bestowed upon them If she is successful in her holiday sales, she will go to school through the remaining winter months; and then when the "dandelions" come, you will see her again at the corner. And let us not forget that little Anna is but "one of many."

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