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Crying the News

A History of America's Newsboys

Vincent DiGirolamo

Publication Date - May 2022

ISBN: 9780197533338

720 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


From Benjamin Franklin to Ragged Dick to Jack Kelly, hero of the Disney musical Newsies, newsboys have long intrigued Americans as symbols of struggle and achievement. But what do we really know about the children who hawked and delivered newspapers in American cities and towns? Who were they? What was their life like? And how important was their work to the development of a free press, the survival of poor families, and the shaping of their own attitudes, values and beliefs?

Crying the News: A History of America's Newsboys offers an epic retelling of the American experience from the perspective of its most unshushable creation. It is the first book to place newsboys at the center of American history, analyzing their inseparable role as economic actors and cultural symbols in the creation of print capitalism, popular democracy, and national character. DiGirolamo's sweeping narrative traces the shifting fortunes of these "little merchants" over a century of war and peace, prosperity and depression, exploitation and reform, chronicling their exploits in every region of the country, as well as on the railroads that linked them. While the book focuses mainly on boys in the trade, it also examines the experience of girls and grown-ups, the elderly and disabled, blacks and whites, immigrants and natives.

Based on a wealth of primary sources, Crying the News uncovers the existence of scores of newsboy strikes and protests. The book reveals the central role of newsboys in the development of corporate welfare schemes, scientific management practices, and employee liability laws. It argues that the newspaper industry exerted a formative yet overlooked influence on working-class youth that is essential to our understanding of American childhood, labor, journalism, and capitalism.


  • Shows how newspaper sellers and carriers fared in a variety of paid and unpaid labor systems, from slavery, indentured servitude, family labor, and the padrone system to wage work, piece work, petty commerce, and corporate capitalism
  • Reveals how laws regulating child street labor were products of children's collective action as much as the efforts of reformers
  • Illuminates the contested process by which artists, novelists, photographers, advertisers and others transformed capitalism's most woeful victims into its chief symbolic proponents

About the Author(s)

Vincent DiGirolamo is Associate Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University of New York and an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker.


"Crying the News is a remarkable work of scholarship and should be accepted and celebrated as such." -- David Nasaw, Graduate Center of the City University of New York (retired), Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"In Crying the News: A History of America's Newsboys, Vincent DiGirolamo gives newsboys the historical weight they are due. ... Future scholars of child labor and print journalism will benefit from DiGirolamo's historical unearthing of their lived experiences, deftly contextualized within the broad arc of American history." -- Cristina Groeger, The Metropole

"To say the book is a comprehensive, definitive account of the subject would be a grotesque understatement. DiGirolamo has spent more than two decades researching this subject, and the results are breathtaking. The author resurrects countless historical characters, telling their stories with ingenuity and grace. At the same time, he provides a comprehensive history of American newspaper publishing and supplies one of the best contributions to the history of youth yet to appear.... At first glance, a history of news hawkers might seem like a limited subject, but Crying the News is social history at its best. For anyone looking for a comprehensive social history of the (really) long nineteenth century, this book would be an excellent place to start." -- James Schmidt, New England Quarterly

"Monumental....The book situates newsboys in the march of history from the country's economic takeoff, to the rupture between labor and capital, to government interventions into laboring children's welfare.... DiGirolamo's...attention to both the positive and negative sides of newsboys' lived experiences...and their varying complicity with and resistance to capitalism, makes for a well-balanced book that refuses to romanticize its subjects." -- Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, Journalism History

"In their time, newsboys (girls were rare) were American icons—symbols of unflagging industry and tattered, barefoot, shivering objects of pity. They had their own argot and better news judgment than many editors, because they had to size up the appeal of every edition to determine how many copies to buy from the publisher .These waifs, urchins, street Arabs, ragamuffins, gamins, juvenile delinquents and guttersnipes, as they were called, now have their Boswell in Vincent DiGirolamo .His Crying the News: A History of America's Newsboys is an encyclopedic account of these heralds of the golden age of newspapers in America. They were essential contributors to the newspaper economy and ink-smudged secondhand witnesses to history Crying the News is really a social history of the American press from the 19th century to World War II."—Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal

"Rescuing 'newsies' from the condescension of history with inventive curiosity and stunningly wide research, Vincent DiGirolamo has restored these crucial child laborers—boys and girls, white and black—to their central place in American cities. His revelations about hawking the news offer an ingenious guide to understanding the changing relations between labor and capital and between print media and society in the United States."—Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University

"Richly researched, incisively analytic, and compellingly written, Crying the News cuts through the nostalgic myths that envelop the newsboy and lets us enter into their lives, with their distinctive banter, camaraderie, argot, dress, rituals, and ethics. A vivid window into the nation's first urban youth culture and the evolution of news media, this book offers a stunning example of a history that treats the young as active agents who were far more capable and competent than contemporary society assumes."—Steven Mintz, University of Texas at Austin

"Crying the News offers a century of American history through the lens of one of our most iconic characters—the newsboy. DiGirolamo focuses on the intimate relationship between news criers and capitalism. Newsboys' voices animate the narrative and deepen our understanding not only of their lives, but also of their communities and their nation."—James Marten, Marquette University

"Traditionally a stock figure in American history and culture, the newsboy finally sheds his (and her) picaresque, picturesque, and marginal status in Vincent DiGirolamo's comprehensive and revelatory study. At once a social, cultural, labor, reform, journalism, and capitalist history, Crying the News is an amazing feat of research and writing that, with extraordinary scope and meticulous detail, captures the diverse experience of the 'newsies' as it reveals how we cannot fully understand a hundred years of US life without reckoning with these children and young adults."—Joshua Brown, City University of New York Graduate Center

Table of Contents

    Introduction: Echoes Down the Alleys of History
    Part One: Children of the Penny, 1833-1865
    1. Rising with the Sun
    2. Voice of Young America
    3. Johnny Morrow and the Dangerous Classes
    4. Battle Cries
    Part Two: Children of the Breach, 1866-1899
    5. Disorder in the Air
    6. Riding the Wanderlust Express
    7. Rumblings in the West
    8. Press Philanthropy and the Politics of Want
    9. Yelling the Yellows
    Part Three: Children of the State, 1900-1940
    10. Bitter Cry of Progress
    11. Sidewalks of Struggle
    12. Call to Service
    13. Roar of the Tabloids
    14. Son of the Forgotten Man
    Conclusion: The Thump on Lost Porches
    Name Index
    Subject Index

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