About a month before the end of the Civil War (March 23, 1865), the Employment Committee of the Young Men's Christian Association published a cautionary notice in the Chicago Tribune. The purpose was to dissuade country folk, both men and women, from coming to the city seeking work. The article did not paint a very encouraging picture of urban opportunities:
Our advise is that for the present certainly you stay where you are in the country or country towns. At the present time the city is literally full of persons seeking employment, while there has, perhaps, never been a time when there were fewer openings for strangers than now.According to the article, businesses in the city were suffering because of a decline in prices and manufacturers and retailers were no longer hiring, particularly girls and women.
All positions in stores, shops, etc. which are open to women are sought after by those having homes in the city, and who will not have to pay board, and are taken at prices which will hardly pay the board in the cheapest boarding house of those who have no home.
The history of hundreds of young girls coming to this city is briefly this: They hear of someone of their acquaintance who is getting what, to them, seems a liberal salary and come to the city expecting to step right into such a position. Expecting on their arrival, some one will stand ready to take them by the hand and say, "My dear girl, you are just the person I have been looking for, here is a position I have not been able to fill; please step right into it and set your own salary."
But, cautions the YMCA, that is hardly the usual. In most cases the girls find that all the jobs are taken. If they don't have relatives or friends in the city - often the case - in a few days the little money that they brought with them is used up on a hotel room and board. Next comes a move to a cheap boarding house and visits to the pawn shop to sell their clothing, piece by piece.
Then discouraged, disheartened, ashamed to go back to their friends without the necessary means, if even desirous to do so, their next step is to ruin, and another is added to the great list of lost women who throng our city.
The situation was no better for young men, as depicted by "Larry" in the George Ade story. Every position in the city was filled, says the YMCA.
Better work on a farm, enlist in the army, peddle tinware, or follow any honest employment that will yield a support than to join the great throng of those seeking employment in our city.If you have a job in the country, stay there; if you have the means to go home, do so. "Other times may be more favorable, the present certainly is not."
The post Civil War depression had begun and while this is not a very encouraging article, it illustrates a time when Chicago was more the Black City for newcomers. Well, if things got too tough in Chicago, one could always visit the local "candy" store...
(April 26, 1864, Chicago Daily Tribune)Note: Hasheesh Candy was very popular among those that had a job, too. It was sold in drug stores and even the Sears-Roebuck catalog. The candy was made from "cannabis derivatives and maple sugar."
Photo Credit: Girls Fight for a Living