Snail's Postcard Post

Straight from New York…100 Years Ago

Mama Snail recently returned from New York City, and look what she brought back!

IMG_7522“Metropolitan Insurance Building at night, New York”

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower has stood on Madison Ave. near East 23rd St. since 1909. The tower is currently being converted into the New York Edition Hotel, scheduled for completion next year.

IMG_7523This is the tallest building in the world. What do you think of it?
Harry E. Atkins

(Good thing Mr. Atkins sent this when he did! A year later, in 1913, the Woolworth Building surpassed the Met Life Tower as the world’s tallest building.)

It’s interesting that the stamp fell off, revealing the postage rates of the day. Reading the postmark, I tried to find out which Brooklyn postoffice was Station G. No luck with that, but I did find this nice photo:post officers

Finally, the postcard is addressed:
Miss L.P. Trout

I’d never heard of Christiana, PA. Turns out, the town is known for its stand against slavery called the Battle of Christiana.

Christiana was just north of the Mason-Dixon line, and therefore a key place on the Underground Railroad, including hiding spots with trap doors and vaults, an underground cave, and a secret brick tunnel. 

In 1851, there was a Maryland wheat farmer and slaveowner named Edward Gorsuch, who’d recently freed some of his slaves. He allowed his remaining slaves to work elsewhere for cash during the slow season. When Edward Gorsuch found some of his wheat had been sold to a local farmer without his say-so, he believed one of his former slaves had organized his current slaves to make the sale. Fearing Gorsuch’s suspicion despite playing no part in the sale, four of his slaves fled across the state border into Pennsylvania, taking refuge at the farm of George Parker, a free mulatto in Christiana. The 29 year-old George Parker often harbored fugitive slaves, and was a member of Lancaster County’s Black Self-Protection Society. 

Gorsuch obtained four warrants and coordinated four search parties of federal marshals to separately attempt to bring back his escaped slaves. (A reinforced Fugitive Slave Act had just passed in 1850, requiring marshals and citizens in free-states to comply with slaveowners from slave-states.) Parker and other free blacks of Christiana took up arms against the search parties, wounding several marshals and killing Gorsuch.

37 or 38 men were jailed as suspects in the resistance, but the judge of the Philadelphia US District Court found that they could not be tried for treason. The only man tried was a white man who was the first to discover the scene, but apparently had no involvement and was quickly found not guilty.

But let’s get back to 1910’s New York…IMG_7524IMG_7525

My Dear Amy
I am coming home Sat. the 24th
Hurray! Hurray!
With Love, Carrie”


Home was evidently Brooklyn, and Carrie mailed this postcard on August 22, 1912, from nearby Hempstead. I wonder if the distance of 20 miles was so much greater than it is today, or if this is a case of Postcard Age enthusiasm.Hempstead

I think I may have found something on Amy or Carrie Donnestead! Or else a relative of theirs. A Miss Donnestead posted a help wanted ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 2, 1901. (The postcard’s from 1912, so the connection is probable.) She listed in the “WANTED–SITUATIONS–FEMALES” column under the sub-section “General Housework.” 

1 – 2 WANTED SITUATION TO DO THE HOUSE – work in small family by a young Norwegian girl. Call for two days on Miss DONNESTEAD. 561 Henry st. Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Daily MailYou never know what rabbit hole a postcard will lead you down–I had so much fun reading these ads! Most of the columns are for domestic women’s jobs (“Cooks, Washers and Ironers,” “Nurses and Seamstresses”). There are also “Situations–Males,” rooms for rent and even a small section related to pianos.

The domestic help descriptions are quite funny because they give the air of being picky and specific, but they’re all saying basically the same thing–they want an honest, competent young woman, and no hussies! as if someone would look at the paper, see those specifications and say to herself, “Well, I’m a fluff-headed lowdown tramp, so I better not apply.” 

The differences come in the way the advertiser thinks she will narrow the margin of error–by specifying ethnicity. About half of the advertisers ask for immigrants (ie. “landed” Swedish girl) who they could underpay, has nowhere else to go and might be easier to boss than an English speaker. The other half of the advertisers come to the opposite conclusion of what demographic would be most reliable, asking for young women, often “colored,” with local references. Both categories often call for an overnight try-out.

Here’s a sampling:

WANTED–SITUATION–TO DO HOUSEWORK in a small family by a respectable, neat, clean German girl; reference. 138 Fourth av, Brooklyn.

WANTED–SITUATION–TO DO THE HOUSE-work, by a young Swedish girl, lately landed. Call at 230 Wyckoff st. third floor; no cards.  I’m guessing this last frequent phrase means they won’t respond if you just drop off your calling card.

WANTED–SITUATION–TO DO THE GENERAL housework in a small private family, by a young colored woman: good city reference. Call for two days at 475 Myrtle av.

WANTED–SITUATION–AS A CHAMBERMAID and waitress in a private family, by a respectable Protestant girl. ie. no Irish or blacks. (It seems Jews and Italians typically didn’t work in domestic service, or we could count them genteelly backhanded too.) Please call at 432 Atlantic av; no cards answered.

WANTED–SITUATION–TO DO THE GENERAL housework, by a North of Ireland Protestant; ie. a white immigrant who speaks English without being Irish-Irish  five years’ reference. Call for two days at 681 Union st. between Fourth and Fifth avs.

Now we’re off to 111 Broadway…IMG_7527IMG_7528“The Trinity Building is located at 111 Broadway, just south of Trinity Church. It is a magnificent modern office building of pure Gothic architecture rising to a height of 308 feet, and resting on 70 pneumatic caissons, each one sunk 75 feet below the sidewalk.”

Postmark: Vandervelt Station, Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 27, 1915

My dear Friends,
_____________ are fine–In the winter time. And it is about time I thanked you for him. Pardon delay–I have been ill. but better now. Many thanks.
love from Cora”

Addressed to:
Mr. and Mrs. Marshall F_______ (?)
Capital Avenue


Another town I’d never heard of, so I had to look it up. The photo for the Meriden, CT Wikipedia page just happened to be a postcard circa 1914!


Meriden trivia:
*The city’s oldest house was built in 1711.
*Nicknamed “Silver City” for the silverware produced there in the 19th c.
*One of the world’s first FM radio broadcasts went out from a local peak in 1939.

Meanwhile, to the south…IMG_7529

Built in 1912 to be near Vanderbilt-funded Grand Central Terminal, completed the year before. 

The Vanderbilt Hotel was proudly designed to be fireproof, and this was put to the test just three days after the hotel opened, when, on the fourth floor, some crates packed with excelsior (wood shavings packing material) suddenly ignited. Despite the reportedly intense heat of the fire, it didn’t spread and was quickly extinguished, winning the hotel much praise from authorities on architecture. 

Alfred “Freddy” Vanderbilt, his second wife Margaret, their two sons and their domestic staff moved into the top two floors of the hotel, where they lived until Freddy’s death in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. (He would have died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 had he not decided on a different ship the day before. I recently remarked on this irony to a friend, who dryly noted, “If he’d missed the sinking of the Lusitania, then he probably would’ve been on the Hindenburg.”)
 445px-Alfred_Vanderbilt.  6a015434a64eda970c0167684515ea970b-800wi
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I and Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt

The family’s suite became home to the Women’s City Club, newly founded in 1915 by 100 suffragists who exchanged ideas and organized plans of action on issues like tenement living, sweatshop labor, access to birth control, and women’s admission to universities. The club exists to this day. (Happy Women’s History Month!)  

The Vanderbilt family sold the hotel in 1925. In 1967, the building underwent some unfortunate remodeling as it became dedicated to apartments with offices on the lower floors, as it remains today.

I read much of this on the blog Daytonian in Manhattan, which had a great image of a 1915 hotel postcard, probably from the same set as mine above:mother goose room vanderbilt hotel


This entry was published on March 21, 2014 at 9:29 pm. It’s filed under Historical and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Straight from New York…100 Years Ago

  1. Pingback: Remember the Dream | Snail's Postcard Post

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