Beggars in New York City 1868

 
 
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After living in New York for a few months, you cannot resist the conclusion that it is a City of Beggars. You meet them at every step, and they follow you into your residence and place of business. A few you know to be genuine, and you give them gladly, but cannot resist the conviction that the majority of those who accost you are simply impostors, as, indeed, they are. Begging is not allowed on the street-cars, in the stages, the ferry-boats, or at any place of amusement, but there is no law against the practice of it on the streets.

Broadway is the favorite resort of this class, as it is the principal promenade of the city people, and Fourteenth, and Twenty-third streets, and Fifth Avenue are being made disagreeable in this way.

Besides these street beggars, there are numbers of genteel, and doubtless well-meaning persons who make it their business to beg for others. They intrude upon you at the most inconvenient times, and venture into your private apartments with a freedom and assurance which positively amaze you. Refuse them, and they are insulting.

Then there are those who approach you by means of letters. They send you the most pitiful appeals for aid, and assure you that nothing but the direst necessity induces them to send you such a letter, and that they would not do so under any circumstances, were not they aware of your well-known charitable disposition. Some persons of known wealth receive as many as a dozen letters of this kind each day. They are, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, from impostors, and are properly consigned to the waste-basket.

Housekeepers have frequent applications every day for food. These are generally complied with, as, in all families of moderate size, there is much that must either be given or thrown away. Children and old people generally do this kind of begging. They come with long faces and pitiful voices, and ask for food in the most doleful tones. Grant their requests, and you will be amused at the cool manner in which they will produce large baskets, filled with provisions, and deposit your gift therein. Many Irish families find all their provisions in this way.

A lady desirous of helping a little child who was in the habit of coming to her on such errands, once asked her what her mother's occupation was?

"She keeps a boardin' house," was the innocent reply.

"A boarding house!" exclaimed the lady in surprise, "then why does she send you out to beg?"

"Oh!" said the child naively, "she takes care of the house, and I do the marketing. She doesn't call it begging."

The cool impudence of street beggars is often amusing. The writer was sitting a short while since in the office of a friend, when a man entered and began a most pitiful story. The gentleman gave him a penny or two, then looking at him for the first time, said:

"How is this, my friend? This is the second time you have been here to- day. I gave you something this morning."

The man had evidently blundered into the office this time, and he now glanced at the gentleman and about the room, searchingly. He recognized them, and bursting into a laugh at his mistake, left the room without replying.

The majority of the beggars of the City, we are glad to say, are foreigners and their children. An American mendicant is rarely seen. Our people will suffer in silence rather than beg, but the foreigners do not seem to be influenced by any such feelings. They are used to it, no doubt, in their own country, and bring their pauper habits over here with them. We make an exception in favor of the Germans. They are a hard-working people and rarely beg.

The City makes a liberal provision for the poor, and the charitable associations do much more, but still it is impossible to relieve all the suffering. The reader will find in one of the engravings of this work, an instance of the manner in which the poor are provided with food at the Tombs.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Beggars in New York City 1868
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

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 BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Secrets of the Great City: A Work Descriptive of the Virtues and the Vices, the Mysteries, Miseries and Crimes of New York City, by James Dabney McCabe (aka Edward Winslow Martin) Published: Philadelphia, Chicago, Jones Brothers & Co., 1868
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