Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Postcards from the Past

I have been fascinated by every image I have seen of the Lower East Side in the early 1900's. But it's strange to think that the photos are, in some cases, less than 100 years old. Perhaps that's why there is something both familiar and intimate about them, as well as foreign and incomprehensible. Here are some postcard images shared with me by a friend's mom.


Delancey Street (btwn Suffolk & Rivington, 1908

If you look closely at the sign, it reads" Extra News! A Great Bankruptcy (Sale?)" and below "Come In and Convince Yourself!"

Orchard & Hester Streets, 1905.

I really need to print these out and get a magnifying glass. I wonder what the woman in the lower lefthand corner is carrying - a basket full of flowers? Or I suppose it could be live fowl! I also love the little girl playing in the street.

Thanks Jesse & mom!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Ebay Connection

It really is amazing what you can find on ebay. I was searching for items for potential props and set pieces and for the heck of it did a search for pushcarts and check out what I found. Click on the image and a new, larger image should appear so.

It's a whole article on pushcarts in NYC's Lower East Side. Most intriguingly, only the first three pages of this feature article is shown on the ebay listing and the third page ends with a classification of the pushcart community:

"The Americans sell lunches, the Greeks fruit and ice cream almost exclusively, while the Italians widen the list by adding vegetables. But the Jew-"

And there it ends! Doh!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Cost of Living

To understand this crisis, it is essential to put the numbers into context.

Scholar Dana Frank notes that the women involved in the riots were not the poorest (though they were surely still below the poverty line and those who were the poorest were certainly affected even more dramatically). Their husbands earned between $10 and $15/wk. A Mrs. Ida Markowitz told a reporter that she supported 5 children on $10/wk. Another woman, Elizabeth Broslin, said that she had only $4 a week on which to feed herself and her four children.

So, at the low end of the scale, a monthly income would be $40 and on the high end, it would be $60.

In cost of living surveys from the early 1900s, it was revealed that immigrant families broke down their income thusly:
30% rent
40% food
30% everything else (clothing, washing, materials, fuel, light, medical services, insurance, recreation)
And of course, this is just one estimate. Others place food costs at 40-60% of monthly income.

It is also important to remember that women shopped for food nearly every day. There was not place to store food aside from perhaps one small shelf -- refrigerators were a newfangled idea and far too expensive to actually own. So not only were these women on very tight budgets but they knew exactly how much each item on their grocery list cost and were acutely aware of any changes in price.

Consider that at one point, people were buying "loose" (or unbottled) milk $0.01 or $0.02 at a time!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Food for War

I found this image courtesy Flickr via the US Library of Congress. According to the author of the post, this is the translation:

Food will win the war - You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it - Wheat is needed for the allies - waste nothing.

Just a month after the immigrant housewives earned lower prices through riots and boycotts, the U.S. entered WWI, effectively raising prices again and, as this poster shows, making food even more of a commodity.