Here in St. Louis the golds and flames of October have all but given way to the russets and coppers of November. Autumn turns her back on winter and our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and those less fortunate than ourselves.
The sun will rise this Thursday morning on thousands of volunteers in the St. Louis area, hawking special editions of a newspaper to fund local children’s charities. And the busy season of giving between now and the New Year will get underway.
Among the hawkers will be celebrities – performers, television personalities and sports figures – as well as business people, college students, firefighters, government officials and quite possibly your next door neighbor.
The event has been known as Old Newsboys Day here since 1957 when then-St. Louis Globe-Democrat-Editor, Duncan Bauman, introduced the concept to the St. Louis community. The Suburban Journal Newspapers took up the torch in 1988 after the Globe-Democrat’s presses went silent and today partner with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KSDK-TV in an event celebrated annually on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. (In other cities Old Newsboys Day is commemorated on other dates).
St. Louis was late to adopt this charitable drive which had its start in Detroit and Chicago as early as 1914 spreading to Lansing, MI in 1924, Toledo, Ohio in 1929 and Syracuse, NY in 1932 impacted by the initiative of Lewis Wickes Hine. American sociologist, teacher and one of the great photojournalists of the 20th century, Hine took to the road between 1909 and 1917 using his camera to document the plight of child laborers across the United States. Hine’s dramatic photos like the one above, shot at midnight in an Indiana glass factory, spotlighted child abuse and inspired reform of child labor laws in the U.S.
In 2005, retired social worker, freelance journalist, historian and genealogist, poet, photographer and songwriter, Joe Manning, undertook an enormous project of his own – searching for the descendants of the child laborers photographed by Lewis Hine, documenting how their lives turned out and wherever possible giving names to those previously unidentified.
Although this irrepressible little newsboy captured in St. Louis by Lewis Hine near the intersection of Jefferson & Franklin Avenues in 1910 remains a mystery (the photograph bears only the nickname “Livers”), Joe Manning has succeeded in documenting hundreds of the 5,000 child laborers photographed by Lewis Hine whose images are viewable on the Library of Congress website.
I occasionally visit Manning’s website Mornings on Maple Street, to keep abreast of his progress – which is considerable. He’d be delighted to hear from anyone who can identify “Livers” or either of the newsboys to the right or the left in the top photo, also captured on film in St. Louis in 1910. Joe Manning’s site is http://morningsonmaplestreet.com/aboutlewishine.html. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plight of newsboys, possibly the most vocal street kids of the early 20th century, had an even earlier champion than Lewis Hine in St. Louis – a quiet, reserved curate by the name of Fr. Peter Dunne, who had been called to the side of a very ill child only to find him living in a wooden crate. It was the cold December of 1905 and after Dunne talked his sister and brother-in-law into temporarily sheltering the child, he began rescuing other kids from the mean streets of St. Louis, housing them initially in a run-down, 19th century townhouse at #1013 Shelby Place. It wasn’t ideal but it was a start.
In May of 1906, Archbishop John Glennon relieved Peter Dunne of his parish duties at St. Patrick’s Church (where he had been assistant to the legendary Fr. Timothy Dempsey) and assigned him to full-time ministry at the boys’ home. He served there for thirty-three years until his death from pneumonia in 1939, completely devoted to the children with whom he shared so much.
Peter Dunne was born in Chicago, IL in 1870 to Patrick Dunne and Christina Farrell Dunne. The family fled the city in the horrific wake of Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871 for Kansas, where his father a carpenter, purchased a small farm. The family struggled there from the start and six years later Christina died.
Within three years Peter and his four siblings lost their father as well and would arrive in St. Louis “penniless orphans”.* With no leisure time for schooling, Dunne worked whatever jobs he could find until a post as night watchman at St. Louis University led him to a teacher who instructed him in reading and arithmetic paving the way for a very bright and eager young man to attend St. Benedict’s College in Kansas and eventually graduate from Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.**
No one had to tell Fr. Peter Dunne how critical education was to success in life and what a luxury, how far out of reach it could be for an orphan. Nor how desperately lonely and sad life was on the street.
On November 10, 1907 a handsome, two-story, brick residence opened as Father Dunne’s News Boys Home at 3010 Washington Avenue. Hugh Campbell, who provided Thanksgiving dinner at the boys’ home for years, had organized a syndicate of thirty St. Louisans, each of whom contributed one thousand dollars to the building fund.* Two years later an additional story was added along with additional footage on Washington Avenue because the needs were great. Hugh Campbell, who with his younger brother Hazlett was heir to their parents’ fortune, lived one block south and fifteen blocks east in what is known today as the Campbell House Museum.
Site now of the Salvation Army Harbor Light, the former boys’ home stands in a fractured area of Midtown that in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries teemed with immigrants and other thousands of the urban poor. What began as a haven for homeless boys and adolescents, evolved into a shelter for men and women suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse – a bequest from Paul and Lottie Daundt enabling the Salvation Army to purchase it.
Some of the boys who filled Peter Dunne’s protectorate were runaways from violent homes, most were orphans with nowhere to live but the streets, attempting to survive on the meager earnings they got from hawking newspapers in an era when the morning and evening papers were the main way people got the news.
According to the 1930 Census the boys residing in Fr. Dunne’s Home represented many nationalities: Irish, English, Scots, French, German, Spanish, Polish, and Italian. Since “the newsies” (as they came to be called) had to first buy the papers they were going to try to sell, it was a tough and competitive business and kids fought over turf, the best and busiest street corners – some as young as seven and nine years of age going up against kids twice their age.
At Father Dunne’s they received not only food, shelter and clothing but medical care, an education and preparation to make their way in the world. The boys had their own print shop, wrote their own copy and produced their own small publication under Peter Dunne’s direction, for he’d learned the trade at the age of twelve in Kansas City. He was firm but compassionate and every night before he retired he made the rounds to wish every boy a good night.
It was a desperate time. According to the CDC website “between 1900 and 1930 six out of every nine women in the U.S. died of pregnancy-related complications (including Mary Therese Kirkpatrick, my maternal grandmother) and approximately one in a hundred infants before the age of one. Forty percent of the maternal deaths were caused by sypsis, half following delivery.”
This made for a lot of motherless children and widowed fathers, countless of them immigrants like my maternal grandfather, working six day weeks from dawn until dark.
When my mother was very young, her mother and father died within three years of each other, leaving seven orphaned children. Two of her older brothers, Robert and Thomas Kirkpatrick, wound up at Fr. Dunne’s. My Uncle Tom, the younger, was eventually adopted by close family friends but my Uncle Bob remained at the boys’ home until he entered the Redemptorist Seminary at age eighteen. Like so many of the graduates of 3010 Washington Avenue he went on to a full and successful life becoming a renowned preacher in the western United States. He’d had a great mentor in Fr. Peter Dunne.***
With laughter he recounted a story so often that I had it by memory from childhood. How one day while running an errand he’d pilfered a cigar from a drawer in Fr. Dunne’s desk and lit up, only to have him return unexpectedly. “With not so much as a word about the cigar” Fr. Dunne invited my uncle to take a seat and proceeded to make polite conversation until Robert, “green in the face and about to be violently ill, rushed out of the office.” In 1948 RKO Radio Pictures produced the movie, “Fighting Father Dunne”, starring Pat O’Brien as the newsboys’ champion.
What wisdom that kindly priest wielded and how my Uncle Bob revered him! When it came time for my uncle to say his First Mass, Fr. Peter Dunne was too ill to make it the short distance to the Rock Church (St. Alphonsus on Grand Blvd.) so the Rev. Robert Emmett Kirkpatrick said his First Mass in the chapel at Father Dunne’s Home for News Boys (and later, a second First Mass at “The Rock”).
From the parking lot of the Salvation Army shelter the chapel appears to be in a ruinous state, the rest of the building also reflective of the desperation of its residents and a stark reminder of their poverty.
It sometimes seems, especially at this time of year, that we’re asked to give every time we turn around: Old Newsboys Day, food and clothing drives in churches and schools, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s One Hundred Neediest Cases, Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army’s Tree of Lights and yet . . . why not? When a little bit here and there can make such a difference in the life of a family or a child.
I rarely re-post a blog but I decided to make an exception with this one, which I published in November of 2010 (and edited today). Out of the 70,000 something views my blog has received, the one on Old Newsboys Day tops the list. I’m happy to say that many alums of Fr. Dunne’s home have been able to reach each other from across the country and renew old friendships on my comments page.
Over 270 local children’s organizations will reap the benefits tomorrow from a day that commemorates child laborers of a by-gone era. When you’re approached by someone famous (or maybe not) who’s put on an apron and come out to sell you a newspaper (even if you get much of your news on the internet) consider keeping the change and dropping something a little more significant in the collection can – for the sake of a child whom you’ll never know but whose life you will change.
References: *History of Father Dunne’s News Boys’ Home and Protectorate, J.W. Gormley, St. Louis, MO, 1919., ** Priest File for Monsignor Peter Joseph Dunne, Archives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, *** RKO Pictures’ “Fighting Father Dunne” starring Pat O’Brien.
Photo Credits: “Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, Jefferson Near Franklin, St. Louis, MO, 1910” by Lewis Hine – used with the kind permission of Joseph H. Manning; “Midnight in the Glass Factory” by Lewis Hine – in the public domain from wikipedia.com; “‘Livers’ a Young Newsie, St. Louis, MO.,1910” by Lewis Hine – used with the kind permission of Joseph H. Manning; Little Lottie a Regular Oyster Shucker in Alabama Canning Co. 1911 – Lewis Hine – from the National Archives in the public domain at wikipedia.org; “The Great Chicago Fire of 1871” – Harper’s Weekly in the public domain at wikipedia.org; “First Home of Father Dunne’s News Boys”, “Father Dunne and Some of His Boys”, “Our Press Room” and “Some of Our News Boys” – all taken from History of Father Dunne’s News Boys’ Home and Protectorate by J.W. Gormley – used with the generous permission of the Archives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis; St. Alphonsus “Rock Church”, St. Louis – Thomas Kavanaugh; Salvation Army Harbor Light/formerly Fr. Dunne’s News Boys’ Home – Maureen Kavanaugh; Kirkpatrick Family Photo (showing Thomas and Robert Kirkpatrick on the upper left and upper right respectively – Fr. Dunne’s news boys; also shown from left to right: Anabel Kirkpatrick Burke O’Connor, Agnes Kirkpatrick, Suzanne/Sr. Therese Ann Kirkpatrick, SSND & upper row, between her brothers – Mae/Sr. Maureen Kirkpatrick, SSND), photographer unknown – from the personal collection of Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, the author of this blog.
Special thanks to Amy Lisinski, MLIS – Processing Archivist, Archdiocessan Archives, St. Louis!
(You can click on a photo image to enlarge it.)