Sunday, September 7, 2008

Recipe for Food Riot

For the past week, my time has been more focused on writing and assembling the script, so research has slowed down a bit.  However, I did make time to read a great paper, "War Prosperity and Hunger: The New York Food Riots of 1917" by William Frieburger which gave a wide angle view of the food riots and also filled in some important details about the riots that occurred in Williamsburg and Brownsville, Brooklyn.  

His descriptions were notably more violent than other sources I've found.  It called attention to the fact that these were desperate women whose only goal was to feed their children.  In a discussion with the cast yesterday, we reminded ourselves that nearly 100 years ago, the word "housewife" had a markedly different definition and connotation.  Women used it with pride. The men were responsible for working and bringing in an income, but the women managed that money, turning it into food, clothing, shelter and if they could, savings.  It was their utmost responsibility that their families were fed.  So one can start to understand why in Brooklyn, women took to the street in droves, some wielding torches, to attack and loot pushcarts.

Yesterday, before I left rehearsal, I realized I needed to know a little bit more about Ida Harris, who was one of the spokespeople of these riots.  Not sure I would find anything, I googled "Ida Harris, nyc, food riots" and thanks to Google Books, found a brilliant book called "A Thousand Years Over A Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food Recipes and Remembrances" by Laura Schenone.  Much of what I read was information I already knew but there were still some details to be found, for example, Mrs. Ida Harris was married to a watchmaker.

But what was really so amazing was the discovery of new first-hand testimony.  Hearing the story through the words of these women has been the most emotional and fulfilling part of this journey.  It was in Brownsville, Brooklyn where a woman tried to negotiate with a peddler after rising prices left her without enough money for food.  

She pleaded with him:  
"I'll give you all I have, but I've got to have the onions."
He refused.

In anger, frustration and desperation, she put her shoulder to the cart and tipped it over.  Hundreds of women followed her lead.

Can you blame them?

1 comment:

snooper35 said...

Tipped the cart over!

Woweee, they don't build them like that anymore!