culture and along with it came new societal structures that were converting the country
into a multifarious nation. New York City was an increasingly diverse metropolis with a
growing number of classes and cultures within itself. As Irish and southeastern Europeans
were arriving into the country’s northern ports, young American boys were also arriving
from the country’s interior. The adolescents came to compete for work in the recently industrialized world. In New York the large influx of youths produced a new adolescent subculture that promoted deviant and licentious behavior throughout the city. The book
“The Murder of Helen Jewett” by Patricia Cline Cohen discusses a community of business workers known as clerks. These young businessmen were one faction of the latest society and a representative of the urban adolescent culture of New York and the nation.
In the 1830s, clerks were adolescent boys who traveled to New York to learn the business trade. Most clerks came from middle-class families who could not spare the expense to send all of their sons to college but could afford to release them into the world of work. The young boys clerked in assorted commercial businesses and shops “earning at most $4 per week” (Cohen, 111) and accumulated several hundred dollars a year. Clerks were aspiring to become journeymen who earned “$10 to $12 a week” (Cohen, 111) and possibly have their own shop or mercantile business one day. “By day they penned letters, measured cloth, swept stores, sold to customers, or perhaps kept the books” and by night the experienced their newfound independence on the city streets and in its saloons and brothels.
... middle of paper ...
... premarital and immoral sexual services that would be inappropriate for respectable courtships of the time. Under false names such as “Frank Rivers and Bill Easy” the young clerks experienced courtship “unburdened by… bourgeois courtship and free of the renunciations and monotony of lifelong marriage” (Cohen, 131) .The women also catered to the clerk’s feminine and domestic needs like repairing and sewing clothing “as a wife would do for a husband” (Cohen, 149).
The culture of adolescent clerks that developed in the early 19th century was fostered by the lack of supervision from parents and masters like that of previous generations. Young boys were sent out into industrialized cities bursting with immoral attractions. Many adolescents of the period were led astray from their moral guidance and accepted the new sinful routines as a normal aspect of their lives.
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