sixteen thousand criminals were arrested during the
year, one fourth were less than the age of
twenty-one and eight hundred were under fifteen.
These children had no other way to earn a living and
no one to teach them better. Two thirds of New York
lived in cramped apartments or tenements. Thousand
of children ended up working on the streets of New
York in the 1850s, for any number of events could
send parents and children reeling in opposite
directions. The children were feared and reviled as
street rats and guttersnipes, vagrants, beggars and
waifs of the city.
Newsboys were the sons, and occasionally the
daughters, of day laborers, piece workers and
traders. Many were the children of immigrants. In
the 1850s, New York claimed between five and six
hundred newsboys, most of whom came from poor Irish
or German families. The adolescent labor force
expanded in the 1880s and 1890s when eleven million
new immigrants poured into the country.
Working-class children entered the adult labor force
between the ages of six and fifteen.
and social welfare agencies were unknown, and the
city lacked resources for help. New York had the
highest death rate of any major city in the world.
Thousands of vagrant children roamed the streets of
Lower Manhattan seeking food and shelter. They lived
by their wits, sleeping in barrels, under steps, and
in old boxes. They dined on discarded remnants. The
city was unwilling to accept responsibility for
them, and most ignored the urchins. Though many
children were referred to as newsboys, as it was
challenging to differentiate among them. Their
suffering and neglect lasted three quarters of a