February 1 - The Cruel Streets of New York

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On February 1, 1898, Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn wrote a sad letter to her fiancé Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C.  Someone had stolen her purse, which contained her money, keys and identification cards.  Alice reluctantly asked Paul to loan her some cash.

Oh, but I'm blue!  Today is the 1st, you know, and generally our payday -- but on account of the consolidation of the cities we won't get a cent until the 15th.  That was tough on me, for someone had relieved my purse of $7.00 three weeks ago.  Well, some blathering imp today stole the entire purse, with every cent I had, all my keys, my silver pencil, and all my tickets, cards, etc.  My gymnasium ticket will cost $1.50 to duplicate.  My locker key will cost me .50, my Y.W.C.A. ticket will cost $1.00, my Teacher's Association will cost $1.50, my Women's Era Club ticket will be $1.00.  This with my wardrobe key, latch key, and some little keepsakes gone has made me pretty blue.  I cried today until it seemed I was going to sob my heart out.  One of the teachers loaned me carfare and I came home and sat down helplessly.  Paul, will you lend me enough carfare to last until the 15th?  I know it's tough to borrow from you, but I don't know what to do.  I'll honestly pay you back when we are paid the 15th, but I haven't a cent for the present.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 1, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Although Paul had his own financial struggles, he told Alice not to hesitate to ask him for help.  In his reply, Paul called himself Alice's husband even though they weren't yet married.

Why are you afraid to write to your own husband for anything you want?  Don't you know that it makes him only too happy to do whatever will please you?  You are a poor, abused little girl and it's mean for people to steal from you -- that's what it is.  But we aren't going to talk about borrowing from our husband, now are we?  It's a pity if a husband hasn't a right to pay his wife's carfare for a week or two.  Now dearie, don't you bawl any more about that pocket book.  Don't be afraid to confide in me always and I will go to any lengths to make you happy.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 3, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Alice was a public school teacher in Brooklyn, and her paycheck was delayed due to the complicated merger of several boroughs and towns into a single municipality known as Greater New York City.  Consolidation took effect on January 1, 1898, although some departmental budgets were still being debated in early February.

The work of making the budget for the new city has been nearly completed by the Board of Estimate, which will probably put the finishing touches on the job this week.  The board has already appropriated about $58,000,000 for the expenses of city departments for 1898, and there are still several departments to be taken care of.  The only large estimate, however, which is still held up is that of the Board of Education, which has asked for nearly $7,000,000.  The chances are that at least $1,000,000 will be lopped off this appropriation.

"Budget Won't Be $70,000,000."  The Sun (New York, New York).  February 6, 1898.  Page 1.

Alice went without a paycheck for longer than anticipated, since school teachers were not paid on February 15 as she had hoped.  The mayor of Greater New York City, Robert Van Wyck, resisted efforts by the Brooklyn Board of Education to release funds for teacher salaries.

We were not paid yesterday and probably won't be until March.  Isn't this new city board slow?  We haven't had a cent since December 24.  The Greater New York City machine is too cumbersome.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 16, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Henry W. Maxwell, Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Brooklyn Board of Education, asked the Board of Estimate yesterday for $254,210.20 for salaries for January.  Mr. Maxwell said that the total of salaries for 1898 would be $2,575,000, whereupon the Mayor got out his pencil and began to do some ciphering.  In answer to questions by the Mayor, Mr. Maxwell said that the total estimate for the Brooklyn Board of Education for 1898 was $3,703,829, as against $3,349,000 spent last year.  He said that the estimate could be reduced by $100,000 if the bonds authorized by the old Board of Estimate of Brooklyn for school purposes could be used for the purchase of sites.  "Nothing will be allowed for sites," said the Mayor, and Mr. Maxwell's request was laid over.

"Money for Brooklyn Schools."  The Sun (New York, New York).  February 16, 1898.  Page 3.