The Yellow Kid cartoons reference other specific problems
between the classes in New York City. "The Great Law Tennis Tournement in
Hogan's Alley" (New York World, August 30, 1896) reveals a message similar to the protest
of blues laws, while making fun of tennis as an elite sport. Tennis players can also laugh at the Kid for wearing rackets on his feet.
Scrawled on the fence behind the net are protests for free baths on Sunday: "We want dem free baths open on Sunday" and "Cleanliness is next to godliness let our free baths
be open on Sunday"; and near the top, "Signor AQUA/Lessons
in plain and fancy swimming/the second term will be given
in the water." According to newspaper articles, reformers viewed public baths as central to reforming tenement life. One reformer sais "more parks, free baths, and the work of the different settlements, sisterhoods, nurseries, &c [would ameliorate] the conditions of the tenants."1 Dr. A. Lenora White, speaking on behalf of a physician group at a Society for Political Study meeting in New York, said, "Considering the conditions in the tenements, can we wonder at the people who grow up among such surroundings?" Presumably tenement residents were having trouble accessing the free baths that opened in the city beginning in June 1895; however, newspaper accounts show that such free baths had planned to be open Sundays 5 a.m. to midnight.2 It's possible religious groups protested the Sunday schedule and halted the practice before 1896.
Another way the middle and upper classes attempted to relieve the tenement pressure cooker by sending children to the country. Riis writes, "Home, the greatest factor of all in the training of the young, means nothing to him but a pigeon-hole in a coop along with so many other human animals . . . The very games at which he takes a gand in the street become polluting in its atmosphere."3 By 1890, the Children's Aid Society had found homes in the West for 70,000 children4; still more were likely sent to the country on trips or for summer vacations, a practice still in play by many aid organizations today. In "Hogan's Alley Children Spend a Day in the Country" (New York World, July 19, 1896), the children wreak havok on a farm; in the far background a farmer chases kids and farm animals with a pitchfork. The kids have subverteed the good intentions of the charitable. On the other hand, it conveys the belief that children may be unreformable.
Perhaps the ultimate rebellion against society's constraints
is pictured in "What They Did to the Dog-Catcher in Hogan's Alley" (New York World, September 20, 1896), which shows the Hogan's Alley children
beating a dog-catcher, with dogs attacking him visciously as well (other dogs laugh gleefully); in
the background we see a boy and his dogs chasing another
catcher while the catchers' wagon is engulfed in flames,
apparently set on fire. Yellow Kid historian Bill Blackbeard explains: "In New
York at the time, unlicensed dogs form the tenements were
gassed upon their arrival at the pound as a matter of course.
There was no waiting period to enable owners to recover their
pets, the assumption being that 'those people' had no
means of buying a license anyway."5 The
Yellow Kid's shirt notes, the dog-catcher "don't ketch no
Hogan's Alley sausage today," suggesting perhaps that
the dogs were also used or sold for food by pound employees.
Dogs were a frequent feature in Outcault's cartoons—they
appear in almost every drawing with the Yellow Kid (Buster
Brown also has a constant canine companion, Tige). Unlike
the upper class residents of the city, dogs were the working
man's best friend.
1 "Tenements Their Topic." New York Times. 9 Jan. 1895: 2. Proquest. University of Virginia Lib. 12 Jan. 2004.
2 "Free Baths for the Public." New York Times. 4 June 1895: 12. Proquest. University of Virginia Lib. 12 Jan. 2004.
3 Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. 136.
4 Riis 139.
4 Blackbeard, Bill. Introduction. R. F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. 53.