The Catholic Worker Movement

East Side Home Is Cold And Dreary, Because Machine Takes Tailor’s Job

By Dorothy Day

There is Not Enough to Eat in the House, and Children Are Perforce Sent to School Hungry.

New York Call Sunday, November 26, 1916, page 4.

The old-fashioned cutters in the tailor shops are no longer in demand, so Mike Rabinowitz is without his job. He lives down on Cherry street with a wife and a family of two. And, although the Street Commissioner says that the city will suffer if there are not enough men to clear away the snow when it comes, Mike cannot get a job as street cleaner. He is one of those little Jewish men, a typical tailor’s assistant, with stooped shoulders and a puny, underfed body. He gets up early every morning and goes without any breakfast so that the herring and bread may be saved for the wife and children. And every morning, all morning, he tramps the streets and wears out shoe leather looking for work. But nowhere is there any demand for cutters. The machines are doing all the work.

He does not spend any money for a paper, but picks them up from the park benches. He does not spend any money on carfare, for whether the job advertised is at 42d street or down at the Battery, he always walks. Though he may be weak from the lack of breakfast, he never complains. He has no one to complain to, for his wife thinks that he has eaten.

Again Hunts Job

At noon he comes home and sits down to the meal that his wife has prepared and in the afternoon he searches some more for work.

His wife gets up a little later, washes and dresses the children, feeds them the little she has, and sends them away to school with an aching heart. She has already received one notice from the school to the effect that her children are undernourished. The trained nurse has already come to the home and after snooping around for a while and finding no dirt to complain of, told the mother what to feed her offspring.

“The perfect breakfast is a shredded wheat biscuit and milk and one banana. Then, for lunch, the children should have a dish of rich soup; and supper, rice and milk and bread and butter and jelly.”

Has Little to Give.

But all the mother had to give her children was herring and bread for breakfast, herring and bread for dinner and bananas and tea for supper. And the nurse said that they were undernourished.

The Italian woman on the floor above rolled out a flour and water paste, then cut it into little pieces and with one twirl of the knife converted the dough into shell-like pieces of macaroni. Then she put it into boiling water, and when done, into a delicious stew of tomatoes and meat and garlic and herbs. Mrs. Rabinowitz could smell the dish from afar, although all the windows were closed to keep in the warm air, the smell penetrated just enough to make her heart ache, not for herself, but for her hungry kids.

But meat and tomatoes and herbs all cost money, the perfect breakfast costs money, much more now than ever before and there were some stations, it is true, where milk could be had at the old price, but one had to walk to reach those stations and walking created an appetite. The bananas, of course, were within reason, so she fed her children upon bananas till their little stomachs sickened of the fruit.

Odors Tantalize Her

All morning long the odors from the flat of the Italian woman floated down the stairs and in the cracks of the door and tantalized the woman. She could not sit before a nice clean board and roll out cute little shells of macaroni, so she scrubbed the floors, and all the pans in the kitchen, until all the furniture in the two little rooms shone. She spent most time in the boarder’s room; it had to be as clean and tidy as she could make it, for if he left and she could not get another there would be no money to pay the rent.

Then, after all the kids had gone back to school, she put her old shawl around her head and went out, and whenever there was a potato on the ground, dropped by some careless huckster, or whenever there was a bit of fruit, she picked it up and carried it away underneath her shawl. Then home, before the children returned from school, before her husband came home from his fruitless hunt; then, in the evening, Mike and his wife would sit over the dining room table, that most of the time was so pathetically empty, and reckon up how much they had left of their small savings, and what they could best dispose of at the corner pawnshop. And then, finally, they would crawl into bed, into the same bed that held two of the children and they would lie there, sorrowing at every little moan from the children that they could not feed because prices were too high.