“MR. J. D. ROCKEFELLER, 26 BROADWAY: HERE’S A FAMILY LIVING ON DOG FOOD
By Dorothy Day
They’re Italians, Like Yours in Bayonne, and Their Diet Is Liver and Chicken Feet Which They Once Served the Hound.
New York Call November 13, 1916 [Her first page 1 by-line]
Mrs. Salvatore is a little Italian woman who lives down in the Sheapshead Bay region; she has a face like that of Alice Brady, in its uneven prettiness, and a brave little smile that contradicts the struggling expression in her eyes. She said, with the queer smile, that the cost of living did not bother her at all. “You just have to hunt a little longer for cheap stores, and think a little longer for different ways of serving unappetizing, or so-called unappetizing, messes. It’s fun.” But all the while there was that little crucified smile.
“It’s fun;” that was her Americanized way of looking at it.
Eating Dog’s Food
“Last year,” she went on, “we used to buy liver and chicken feet for the dog. Pretty soon we took to eating the liver ourselves. Then, one time when my husband and I were out of work, and we had nothing else in the house to eat but some chicken feet that were to be cooked up for the puppy I thought of cooking them up for the family. You know, we have six.” And she pulled one of them out from behind the table where he was wildly chasing a water bug with a spoon and tweaked his ear and cooed at him for a minute before she went on. “So I peeled them all, cut off the nails and boiled them for a long time; of course it was a long time, but when it was done there was a thick jelly that we could eat on our bread.”
“And what about the gas?” she was asked. “Doesn’t that cost more than the broth is worth?”
Fire at Least is Cheap
Oh, but we have a stove – a little stove – and the kidlets bring up driftwood off the beach. We always have a fire, so I could cook the soup as long as I wanted to. The time that I just told you about, we had to eat it straight – just with dry bread. Other times we cook it with rice, the loose and broken rice that costs only 6 cents a pound. It’s cheaper than potatoes now.”
Mrs. Salvatore is a vaudeville singer, and has been ever since she left the circus that she was traveling with till she was twelve years old. Even after the babies came, she went around just the same, staying as near to the babies as she could. She would have like to be with them all together, but the Salvatore duet pulled in more money than the Salvatore solo. And money was never very plentiful; they worked at every opportunity and saved for the time when their voices should give out. They are living, as was mentioned before, down by the Bay. They had a small bit of property, and as they could not afford to build, they had an old, disused lighthouse pulled up and there they live. It is not a very convenient home, but at least it is a shelter. Mr. Salvatore and the children seem to be a happy crowd. They are none of them fat; they have a lean brown look. Around the corners of the mother’s mouth there are little lines, and in her eyes there is an expression that does not disappear even when she smiles that hearty American-Italian smile of hers.
A friend of mine who had a homestead and was teaching school up in the wilds of Manitoba once told me of a ghastly experience that she had when her food ran out and an awful storm set in, and neither she nor her two children could get to the town that was three miles away to renew their supplies. All one night, a wolf stood outside the door and howled and snuffled and whined. And all night long, she sat on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a blanket that by no means kept her warm, with a shot gun across her knee and waited and waited.
She must have had the same look in her eyes that Mrs. Salvatore has in hers. There is a long winter ahead and as yet they have no employment. There are six little children that they want to give the same chance in life that they themselves have had. ‘If there only hadn’t been so many,’ Mrs. Salvatore said wistfully, ‘And yet I love them all.'”
“THE SHORT AND SIMPLE ANNALS OF THE POOR ARE SLOW STARVATION
By Dorothy Day
The Story of a Civil War Veteran Who Starved to Death and of His Widow, Who is Starving, Told Over Leaden Cheese Cake
New York Call November 16, 1916 Page 1
The woman in the gingham apron that looked as though she had mopped her face with it said glumly:
“Flour that used to cost only $3 a barrel has now went up to $9 and $11. So what do yuh expect a roll will be like when yu have to dope up the flour? That cheese cake there, that you don’t seem to be enjoying much, I used to get three cents for an now I ask five. The people won’t buy off you if you raise things a cent on them, so there they stay in the window and get soggy. I don’t make any money on them, even if I do have to raise the price.”
We had stepped into a room down on Grand street that had a “Café” sign in the front.
“These Eyetalians around here ain’t suffering from the high cost of things,” she continued. “It’s me and the American shopkeepers and families. We can’t go down on Mulberry street and pick up a fish for a dime and some rotten fruit for a few pennies; and that’s all that they live on down there. Eggs has gone up, and sugar. There is the ‘three for a dime’ eggs on the stands, but who wants to eat them. I have to put them in my baking. I might as well tell you, seeing as you ain’t eating the cheese cake.”
Times Never So Bad.
“I’ve been keeping this store for the last twelve years, and times has never been so bad. I used to make some money at it, but now it’s just pinch and pinch. No use being cheerful about it. It’s these cheerful ones what are always hollering about how good times are – about how much work there is, and how high the pay is: it’s these that keep the prices up. The people don’t complain. They think. ‘What good will it do?’ and don’t say a word.”
A lean old woman, who walked as though ghostly fingers and baby hands were still clutching at her skirts, although her days of child-bearing were over, came in and wandered to one of the back tables.
“See her,” the shopkeeper went on. “She’s American, same as me. Her old man died last winter. He was in Libby Prison – one of those old soldiers that never got a pension. Or maybe he got it and the lawyers got it away from him. There’s always them lawyers to butt into your business and take what yuh got.
Went Hungry Herself
“Well, her man got some kind of disease while he was in jail, and nothin’ would ever cure it. The doctors only made it worse. It was in his throat and he couldn’t talk above a whisper. All he could eat was egg and milk, with a dash of brandy in it. But with things going up all the time, what could she do? She usta come down here and beg the stuff from me, and she’d go hungry herself to give it to him.
“It was enough to make any one cry to see her come down to get just a little milk or a little sugar for him. And then she’d mix it herself – she wouldn’t let me – although half the time she was too weak to beat up the egg. And then she’d take a little sip on the way up stairs, now and then, because she was so hungry herself.
“Now, if he’d only been one of these foreigners what can eat anything – but he was an American. There were some children, but most of them died: all but one, I think, and no one knows where he’s gone to. He says to me once: ‘When I’m old I don’t expect no one to take care of me.’ So I guess he thought that it was the same way with them.
‘The children all dwindled away, and the old man dwindled away, and now she’s going. I’m going, too, just the same as them. And we’re Americans being robbed by our own.'”
“PLUCKY GIRL OF PICKET LINE BRAVES KNIVES OF SCABS AND “GUERIILLAS”
By Dorothy Day
New York Call Thursday, February 1, 1917, page 3
Picket lines can be just as cheerful on a rainy day as when the sun burns balmily and Junily down. Ona Budveiciute, generally known as Anna Budweiser by her striking shirt making comrades, still pickets for the rest of the strikers, although her shop, Levine’s of 764 Greene avenue, has come to terms. As soon as she finishes work at 5:30 o’clock she rushes over to the Burkowitz shirt factory and joins the picket line. Last night there were eight plodding up and down in the rain: only eight, because the four policemen who stand guard on each corner shoo away all the rest that come near the place.
To protect their scabs from the persuasive oratory of the strikers Mr. Burkowitz has munificently provided taxis for his employees. After one taxi goes down into the basement of the building to load up and speeds away with blinds drawn, another takes its place. And all evening this goes on.
“Gee, I’d rather ride in a pushcart than in one of the scab taxis,” comments one of the pickets.
“He’ll provide ‘em with taxis to keep them working for him, but he’ll take it out of their pay and make them work longer hours for it,” says another.
Pickets Follow Scabs
Many of the girls whose homes are near at hand, and who do not like to wait for a returning taxi, brave the pickets and go home by twos and threes. Two pickets then leave the line and follow them. To “protect” the scabs, an equal number of “bums,” “guerillas,” or “gorillas,” as the strikers term them, employed by the manufacturers, follow the pickets. Altogether, a strike is an expensive affair for the employers.
“We had a thrilling time last week,” said Anna. “Talk about enthusiasm! It was great. There were 150 pickets at one time. That was before they had the taxis and there were more to manage. There are Italian and Yiddish and Lithuanian girls working in the factories, and, when we couldn’t speak their language, we followed them all the way home to scare them. They get scared all right. Once an Italian girl went home and told her sister that I was trying to kill her, and the sister went for me.
Faced Girl’s Knife “ ‘You killa my sister!’ she yelled, and I was scared stiff that she was going to pull a knife out and do for me. There were lots of policemen around, but they wouldn’t stick up for a striker. Luckily, she could talk English, and I told her that I wouldn’t kill a fly, let alone her sister. So she calmed down.
“Lots of times the scabs go for us, and we have to fight back. But I can’t stand to hurt them. I just pull their hats off and muss their hair up, and that makes them madder than if I really hurt them.
“I’m the only one of the crowd who can talk Lithuanian, and I follow the Lithuanian girls and try to persuade them. They’re afraid that the rest will stay in if they go out and that they won’t be able to get any other job. I usually go around with them to the union shops and get them in. See, there is a lot of work attached to a picket’s life.”
Miss Budveiciute worked first as organizer and speaker, then as picket. In addition to this, she wrote up the strike for the Lithuanian papers. Last week, when she broke down for two days and stayed in bed, some of her girls that she had converted to the cause of labor went back on her and she had to begin all over with them.
‘I won’t give up,’ she cried. ‘I learned when I was 16 and worked in a cigarette factory for $3 a week that the labor cause was worth fighting for, and I’ve been fighting ever since.'”
“NOTHING TO PAWN BUT HER BODY; POLICE TAKE THAT
By Dorothy Day
New York Call Tuesday, February 27, 1917, page 1
Annie Miller of Blackwells island is starving for the sight of her 2-year-old boy. He is her only child and she has not seen him for six months. Every day the walls of the workhouse seem thicker and more impenetrable to her. Every day her sick husband and baby seem further and further away.
Six months ago – it was last September – on a hot, dry day, there was nothing in the house to eat. Her husband was lying on the bed by the window, coughing, coughing, almost fainting with pain and with weakness. He was too far gone in consumption to work.
Jim Miller wanted to work. But every time he lifted his head, dizziness and weakness overcame him. It was hard enough to lift a cup of broth to his lips; even his slice of toast that he had had the morning before seemed heavy to him.
He could not lift a pencil in his hand, let alone a spade. And all the while he lay weakly in bed the thoughts of his hungry wife and baby tortured him.
Only an Orange
Annie knew that Jim was wasting with these thoughts. The same thoughts were gnawing at her. If she only had an orange to give him. It was so hot. If she only had some thin, fresh bread and some cool butter.
And the baby! Milk; one potato; a bowl of mush. But there was nothing in the house. There was nothing to eat and nothing to pawn. Nothing to pawn but her body.
She went out that night and when she came in she had something to eat. She smiled bravely and told of a friend that she had not known was in the city – a friend who had loaned her some money.
She went out the next night and the next. Then she was accosted by a detective.
She is in the workhouse now. For six months she has served as a nurse in the hospital section. As soon as the gong wakes her at 6, she hastens out of bed, quickly, so that her hungry imagination will not conjure up the sight of the warm little body that used to press against her side; so that she will not hear the cooing little voice that mimicked the birds on the window sill outside.
All day long, as she hastens past barred windows, her heart tells her that her baby is hungry. There are no newspapers on Blackwells island. Annie does not know that mothers and babies swarmed to City Hall to ask for food. She does not know that Madison square was overrun with little toddlers last week. She does not know that the Waldorf-Astoria had to call the police to protect them from hungry women and children. But she does know that Jim and the baby are going hungry. And the workhouse hash and bread and tea choke her. She gulps over every meal.
Six Months to Two Years
Annie Miller was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence on Blackwells island for soliciting. An indeterminate sentence means from six months to two years. And women who are quiet and sober and steady are very much desired by wardens and wardens’ wives as servants and cooks and nurses. It means less work for the officials. So when a capable woman like Annie Miller is sent in on an indeterminate sentence, there is small hope of her release.
Mrs. Miller told her story to Ethel Byrne when the latter was hunger striking for her freedom and birth control on Blackwells island three weeks ago. She had cared for her; she had carried her in her strong, motherly arms to the hospital when Mrs. Byrne was too weak to endure the hard workhouse bed. And she had sobbed out confidences when others were not around.
Mrs. Byrne is working now to get Mrs. Miller her freedom. All she knows is the few bare facts which she gave to me yesterday.” Dorothy Day, four of the dozens of stories that she published for the socialist paper, The New York Call, when she was 19 and 20 years old