Mendicants In New York City – 1910

Mendicants 1910

This photograph taken at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street by Lewis Hine in 1910 is simply labeled “Mendicants.”

It’s a word you don’t often hear today. Mendicant – a beggar; panhandler.

While you may think the main subject here is the blind man sitting by the pole of the el, that would not be the case The focus of the photograph is the little girl who is begging. She appears aged and streetwise beyond her years. But both of them are mendicants.

Hine’s photographs of children at work in major cities usually focuses on newspaper sellers, shoe shiners, telegraph boys, delivery boys and other street trades. In 1910 mendicant was considered a street trade.

Who are these two people? Father and daughter? Grandfather and granddaughter? Or just two people in need who have teamed up to ply their trade?

Where did they live?

Unfortunately Hine did not get the names, ages and addresses of this girl and blind man, as he did with many of his other subjects.

What became of our mendicants? Unless someone recognizes them we’ll never know.

Here is a close-up of our begging pair.

The man who has a neatly trimmed mustache does not have a beard, but a few days worth of stubble. While dressed in worn clothes, the girl, whose looks remind me of a young Melissa Gilbert, carries herself with dignity. Her steady defiant gaze at Hine’s lens says something like “What are you taking our picture for?  Don’t judge us because we’re beggars.”

Here are a couple of things that you may not notice unless you look very closely.

It’s practically a stereotype, but blind people sell pencils when begging. You can see pencils, but who’s holding them is unknown. You would think it’s the man, but the cord around the pencils is the same that is around the girl’s coat sleeve. Notice her sleeves are almost as dirty as her hands.

Look at the girl’s left hand. What’s in the bag?

Finally the shoes. Very worn, but serviceable.

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