To the girl who, by necessity thrown upon her own resources, or throwing herself upon them by her own desire, is thinking of coming to New York next fall, there are alternately extravagant hopes and acute apprehension that is akin to panic. Seldom is the city as a workshop or as a pleasure place fairly described. Either it is made to appear too unrelievedly sordid, too soul-deadening and too cruel to the worker or too carefree, gay and dazzling.
New York is all of these things and many more. Their proportions and relations to each other have to be found out by experience.
It would seem almost superfluous to tell girls not to come to New York unless they have an unusually good equipment, backed up by enough money to risk long delays and possible failure, yet girls do come constantly with very slight preparation or none of a feasible kind, and with little more money than will pay car fare.
There is, without question, more work to be done in New York City than in any other place in America. There are also more persons looking with sharpened wits for the jobs than in any other place in the world. If you could be content to make the best of what opportunities there are at hand you might pave yourself much unhappiness and make quite as much of a success of life as if you turned your back upon familiar scenes and yielded to the lure of the unknown.
The newcomer can not have too much support or background when she comes to New York. In the final analysis, of course, you stand or fall on what you are able to do. But it is a long road to the final analysis, and, meanwhile, if anyone at home can speak a good word for you to someone in New York, do not despise it. If you have accomplished anything at home, bring some evidence of it with you; if you have fitted yourself to do anything, proof of that may not come amiss.
The lure of the unknown
The lure of the unknown is one of the dangers to the young girl. Knowledge of the city and the actual conditions that the stranger meets is a most desirable part of the equipment for the girl who intends “breaking into New York.”
She will do well to substitute it for the fairytales that she has gloated over in dream of duplicating the marvelous successes glowingly set forth in highly-illustrated articles of obscure young women who have risen to heights of success in the big city. If these were not such exceptional cases, she should bear in mind, they would not be so exploited. However, if a girl feels that she has it in her to prove herself exceptional and wants to put it to the test, those who wish her well can do no more than give her a little real information about New York and its attitude toward the young girl who seeks to profit by its prestige, protection and preferment.
Overwhelming feelings when first in New York City for a career
At the very outset, if a girl comes as a stranger and alone to the city, she will feel an overwhelming vagueness when she gets off the train in the vast Pennsylvania railroad station or a more overwhelming confusion if her trip terminates at the unfinished Grand Central station. At these points, however, well-wishing agencies have established bureaus for the guidance of the stranger, and any one wearing the uniform of an official about the station will direct her to them. Here, if she has not already arranged for temporary or permanent quarters in the city or does not know how to reach them, she will be given every assistance.
Formerly, there was nothing ahead of the young girl coming to seek fame or fortune in New York, but the conventional boarding house, and of course the great majority still fall back on that as a home. There are several southern boarding houses in the city where the girl from Dixie can find not only the kind of food that suggests home, but the informality and geniality that she would miss more than anything else in the hurly-burly of the metropolis. Girls from all parts of the country frequently know of someone from home who takes boarders in New York or who can recommend a boarding house.
Doubtless they had never thought, though, in dreaming of New York, how different a New York boarding house is from one in Davenport, Iowa, or in Lansing, Michigan. The other girls’ clothes are no better than the newcomer’s perhaps, but they are different, or they wear them differently, or maybe it is due to the corsets, although the new girl does not think of that explanation for some time.
Then they talk of unknown or vaguely known things with an easy, even slighting familiarity. The glamour of the new girl’s anticipations begin to be slightly dimmed. It is only the unfolding before her of many things about which she has had enthusiasms that will save her when she hears the talk of her fellow boarders.
Where to stay in New York City to start a career?
Perhaps she has heard of other places than the ordinary boarding house where a young girl may go today in New York — places that breathe more of freedom and breadth of outlook. There is the Trowmart Inn, such a pleasantly suggestive name. No one can live there who makes more than $14 a week, but that is not a restriction that will trouble most girls who are coming as strangers to New York. It is like a hotel. If you are there just for the night you may get in at any hour and no questions will be asked. The only trouble Is that there are not many transient rooms, and you may not be able to get accommodations on that account. If you are staying for a longer time you must furnish references.
You can live at the Trowmart Inn for $4.50 a week if you have a roommate, or for $5 rooming alone. This gives you the privileges of a sewing room, equipped with sewing machines, cutting tables and a stove with pressing irons; a laundry with porcelain tubs, steam heated drying room and ironing facilities, open day and night; the services of a resident woman physician at moderate rates and the use of a large parlor for dances and games, and of a number of small ones, where — inestimable privilege — a girl may entertain her men and women friends. Trowmart Inn is far downtown, within walking distance of many shops and factories and accessible from several routes of transit.
There are several other places for girls in the lower part of the city — the Virginia, in East Twelfth street, established by a daughter of the late Bishop Potter, a new house, just below Washington square; French convent, in West Fourteenth street, and one opened by a Spanish sisterhood in West Fifteenth Street not long ago. In Fifteenth Street, too, is the Margaret Louise home, in connection with the Young Women’s Christian Association, one of the first places in the city to provide accommodations for young women living alone.
A little more than a year ago, there was opened far uptown, with a view of the East River and an adjoining park to make it attractive, the Junior League house, the initiative and main financial support being furnished by wealthy girls of social prominence, one of the most conspicuous being Miss Dorothy Whitney, now Mrs Willard Straight. The cost of living here is about the same as the Trowmart Inn, and the house, its furnishings and equipment are very pleasing. The girl who selects this as a place of residence, however, must be willing to walk several long blocks, as there are no convenient car lines.
The same objection applies to the Vanderbilt homes nearby, which are models in the way of sanitation and convenience, as well as in architectural beauty. and which command a superb water view.
These were built by Mrs W K Vanderbilt for incipient tuberculosis cases, but have in part been diverted from that purpose. Not a few girls who want to do light housekeeping have taken advantage of the privileges, which are to be had on the most moderate of terms. Light housekeeping is one of the new developments that the girl who is making her way has welcomed with effusion.
The kitchenette is greatly in demand. Unfortunately, the girl who is trying to keep down expenses finds that the kitchenette is a luxury. For the most, part it goes with the somewhat high-priced small apartment. Diligent search will reveal a few, however, for which the small wage or salary earner may have hopes at least if she and another girl are combining.
Sometimes four girls make a partnership to establish a little home and get outside the distasteful boarding house. That is a delicate matter, though, and one that is to be entered into hardly more lightly than matrimony itself. Moreover, the housework involved, light though it may be. does take time and strength, and that should be well considered by the girl who may need all she has of both for the work she has undertaken, and her work, after all, is the supremely important thing with her. Everything else must wait on that. It is unwise for the new girl to try such an experiment until she has been long enough in the city to try herself and to feel her way.
New York City for a career? Get to know and understand the city
In her spare hours and rare holidays, she will do well to familiarize herself with the city, not only to find her way about, but to learn how it stretched out, what kinds of activities pulsate along its main arteries, where these activities slacken, and what takes their place; to discover the parks and breathing places; to hunt up the libraries and museums and learn how to use them; above all, to follow every possible clew that will lead to social development or to enlarged information in regard to the special line of work which she has in hand.
For help in the latter, there are lectures given by various organizations as well as those arranged by the board of education and by Columbia University. Frequently there are conferences and exhibits well worth following up. She should especially study the law of supply and demand as far as her specialty is concerned.
For the art students or workers — art being used in the broad sense to include writing, music and dancing as well is drawing, painting and sculpture — there is a splendid club, opened within a year, or, rather, enlarged and moved into new quarters within that time.
The girl who hopes to break into New York next fall will not be in great danger of the city’s temptations as she is of perishing of stagnation. She will need, always after having obtained a job, patience, pluck and perseverance. As important as being faithful to her immediate duties is the ability to see new opportunities and take advantage of them.
In New York, one can never stand still. If she does not advance, she will assuredly be shoved back.