If I may be so bold? I’m returning to a book to find that my own historical marginalia gets pretty cute when I discover amazing narrative links between concepts that basically do my thinking for me. OMG! Dorothy Richardson, you wonderful 1905 faux-“New York Working Girl.”
Judy Garland singing “Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” in Strike Up the Band, 1940.
Whoah, wormhole. I’ve just discovered that an entire culture industry grew up around the song “Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl.” For example, a 1914 film and a 1993 academic book on the history of women’s work in America borrow the same title. But back when the idea of a working-class women’s history was barely a glimmer in the eye of cultural criticism, lyricist Edgar Smith and composer Alfred Sloane wrote this song for their 1909 Broadway musical Tillie’s Nightmare. It was a hit!
HEAVEN WILL PROTECT THE WORKING GIRL (A Burlesque Ballad)
A Village maid was leaving home, with tears her eyes was wet, Her mother dear was standing near the spot; She says to her: Neuralgia dear, I hope you won’t forget That I’m the only mother you have got.
The city is a wicked place as anyone can see, And cruel dangers ‘round your path may hurl; So ev’ry week you’d better send your wages back to me, For Heaven will protect a working girl.”
Chorus: You are going far away, But remember what I say, When you are in the city’s giddy whirl, From temptations, crimes and follies, Villains, taxicabs and trolleys, Oh! Heaven will protect the working girl.
Her dear old Mother’s words proved true, for soon the poor girl met A man who on her ruin was intent; He treated her respectful as those villains always do, And she supposed he was a perfect gent.
But she found diff’rent when one night she went with him to dine Into a table d’hote so blithe and gay. And he says to her: After this we’ll have a demitasse! Then to him these brave words the girl did say:
Chorus: Stand back, villain, go your way! Here I will no longer stay. Although you were a Marquis or an Earl; You may tempt the upper classes With your villainous demitasses, But Heaven will protect the working girl.
Source: Library of Congress, sheet music, 1909.
So, Edgar Smith: he wrote a a lot of songs; he was once famous, and now he’s utterly forgotten. Here are a few of his more famous titles:
A Great Big Girl Like Me, How’d You Like To Take Me Home With You?, I Don’t Believe I’ll Ever Be A Lady, I Sigh For A Change, I Hope You’ll Forgive These Tears, I’m A Respectable Working Girl, I’m An American Billionaire, De Pullman Porter’s Ball, Coon College, Je Ne La Comprend Pas, The Latest Cure For Ennui, Wine, Wine! (Champagne Song) (1903)
“Let us worship the spine and its tingle … The study of the sociological or political impact of literature [is] for those who are by temperament or education immune to the aesthetic vibrancy of authentic literature, for those who do not experience the telling tingle between the shoulder blades” (Lectures, 64).
“So it’s important to dissociate reading from academic life, not just because teachers and professors make reading so much more dutiful and good-for-you than it ought to be, but also because the whole environment of school is simply alien to what long-form reading has been for almost all of its history.”
Athletic students of the National Training School for Women and Girls (now the Nannie Helen Burroughs School), Washington, D.C. Photographer Addison N. Scurlock. Photo c. 1911, but possibly as late as the 1920s.
I like to read their faces, to guess their interpersonal dynamics. Is the girl holding the ball a kind of den mother, the bossy one? She is poised not so much to throw the ball as to offer it amiably to the viewer: here, dear, take this damn ball away from me. Did the girl at far right join in at the last minute? Does the girl second from left love to read and write in her stolen private moments at this vocational school? Is the student third from left as good-natured as she seems?
Pledge and Rules of the Soap and Water Club (1901, Lower East Side, NYC):
I hereby pledge myself to try my best to keep the following rules:
1. To take a bath once a week 2. To wash my head once in two weeks 3. To keep my hair neatly combed always 4. To have my head and hair carefully examined, once a week, by mother or older sister 5. To wash my face, neck, ears, hands and arms every morning 6. To brush my teeth at least once a day 7. To wear an apron whenever possible 8. To keep my dress free from spots 9. To have a proper place for everything 10. To look and behave so that I may set a good example to my little brothers and sisters and in so doing please my parents and teachers, and above all, my Heavenly Father.
“Every word which falls from her mouth is virtually a deformed corpse. I can see she does not even know that a merciless pogrom is taking place in her mouth against the words of Di fraye arbeter shtime.”
An 1892 jerk, Leon Kobrin, on the quality of language and reading proficiency of a girl he met in America.