Sepia Saturday

Each week Sepia Saturday inspires bloggers to create a nostalgic or historic post based on a theme. This week we’re given an organ grinder with a monkey, which reminds me of the Horatio Alger book I just finished reading Phil the Fiddler. While the book is formulaic, the story did teach me about the many Italy children sold into servitude in the 19th century. It’s a quick read and one I recommend.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1873 (

Small boy being beaten by adults for not earning enough money as a street violinist. New York City. I had no idea this was a thing.

Italian Street Musicians and Their Masters. , 1873. Photograph.

Italian (child) street musician with a police officer, NY, 1873

“A street musician and a cop on Mulberry Street, 1897. Notice the banks in the background. Mulberry Street was known as ‘the Italian Wall Street’ for all the banks which assisted in Italians saving and sending home their earnings.” (Source: The Bowery Boys, New York City History.)

I’ll add that this boy likely had to give all his money to a padrone who’d purchased him from his parents. In Phil the Fiddler, the padrone had paid $75 for each boy. If a boy didn’t make $2 a day, he’d be beaten.


To check out more inspired posts, click here.

About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader
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8 Responses to Sepia Saturday

  1. Wow, that’s new to me. I read quite a bit about poor boys making a living selling newspapers in NYC. Many were orphans or fatherless.


    • smkelly8 says:

      I too have read about child labor in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Until last week I also thought it was newspaper boys, factory girls, blackouts and farm hands. You’re right that most of them were orphans or had to help support the family. My great grandfather deserted the family after his eighth child was born and the older boys had to work. My grandad sold newspapers. He even sold one to Teddy Roosevelt.


  2. Mike Brubaker says:

    Yes, there were (and still are) child street musicians who were exploited. The postcards of Italian buskers on my post this weekend might have been abused child beggars. It’s a dark side of the early show business photos of child entertainers I collect. In the 1890s and 1900s the first child labor laws enacted were to prohibit theatrical performances by children. But I don’t think they offered any protections to child street musicians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • smkelly8 says:

      It would be hard to track down the padrones. It was I’v that these kids had no contact with their parents back home.

      I am aware of the child labor in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of Asia, though I’m sure its widespread and in North America (though not out in the open).


  3. La Nightingail says:

    There have always been ugly things going on in this country – right up to the present day! But at least things aren’t QUITE as bad now as they once were. Hopefully, some day, we can be proud of our country without the ugly shadows. But that day, I’m afraid, is a ways off.


  4. La Nightingail says:

    Men who brutalize women and children are cowardly low-lifes who should be shot!


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