Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Even more on ignoble professions - they used to be REALLY ignoble

My April 3 post referenced a Heather Horn article that referenced the work of Robin Nagle. Joyce Donahue has shared another article that quotes extensively from Nagle, this one from Hunter Oatman-Stanford. There's a ton of information in the article, but I'm going to confine myself to one point - if we think that trash collecting is an ignoble profession today, just imagine what New Yorkers thought about the profession in the 1890s.

New York, you see, had not had good success with trash collection. Other cities seemed to be able to do it, but New York had problems. According to Nagle, one person who was unafraid of many challenges was afraid of New York's trash challenge:

There was a police corruption scandal in the early 1890s that was so spectacular the Tammany political machine could not control the reaction. So they were kicked out of office in the mayoral elections of 1894. A guy named William Strong took over as mayor, and he swore to appoint people of integrity as his commissioners. For street cleaning, he first reached out to Teddy Roosevelt, who basically said, ‘What, are you nuts? Nobody should do that. That’s an impossible job. I’m not going to do that.’ So Roosevelt took over the police department, which was also in dire need of reform.

Strong had better success when he reached out to George Waring, who then proceeded to do such revolutionary things as assigning responsibility for trash collection in certain sections of the city - including the poor sections. That's when the trouble began:

In the really poor corners of the city, like Five Points, to see anyone from the local government come into the neighborhood was not good news for local residents. They threw bricks at the street cleaners and came out to fight them with sticks.

Waring didn't give up:

Waring said to his men, “You keep going back. You show them what we’re going to do and you see if you don’t change their hearts.” By the end of two weeks, he had tenements full of ardent fans because he cleaned their neighborhoods.

More here.
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