Despite the portrayal of class tensions, the Yellow Kid
appears to have enjoyed a broad audience, at the least evidenced
by his widespread use in advertisements and products, which
will be discussed again later in "Selling the Kid." The character
probably appealed broadly to the working class because of
his dialect and ridiculing of the rich, but there is plenty
of evidence that the middle class was the primary audience.
He was featured in theater shows as late as 1899 in Washington
D.C., even after McFadden's Row of Flats ended (he appeared
in numerous shows in Washington).1 Also
in Washington, children sang "The Yellow Kid" during a
Sunday-school presentation at St. Peter's Church as early
as 1896 2 and in St.
Teresa's Church at Masonic Hall in 1897.3 This points to widespread acceptance of the character, since such a concert was likely for a middle-class-or-higher audience. The
Black Creek Burlesque Company at Kernan's Lyceum stopped
in Washington D.C. that same year, closing with "The Yellow
Kid of Hogan's Alley at Vassar College,"4 so
apparently the Kid was moving on up in fiction as well as
fact. One pupil in Caruana's Corps De Ballet performed
a number as the Yellow Kid in Washington5 and
the character was also a popular costume in the suburbs,
appearing in society columns at least three times as a costume
of choice.6 Barth notes
that living alongside other city dwellers could may have
encouraged people to act the part: "This was sometimes
happily demonstrated as a willingness to masquerade at a
party as someone else, one of the strangers from the next
block."7 The middle
and upper classes could try life as the Kid.
The Kid was also used (likely without permission at times) to bring
in business for specialty and department stores such as Macy's, which primarily targeted a middle-class audience.8 A
Jan. 3, 1897 "Woman About Town" in the Washington Post column cooed over the cleaned-up
Yellow Kid blotter holiday souvenir one artist made: "It
has the yellow kid in all his glory, or rather in all Miss
Loury's [the artist's] glory, for he isn't at all the
yellow kid we are wont to see. His gamboges gown is immaculate,
his two-toothed smile smacks of Connecticut avenue , his
hands are incased [sic] in white gloves, he carries a cane,
and on his bosom is a great nosegay of holly. . . . nobody
would ever think of staining him with a blot."9 The
rich could clean up and appropriate the Yellow Kid just as
they could Broadway, museums, concerts, and opera.
In his history of yellow journalism, W. Joseph Campbell
debunks the idea that yellow journals like the ones the Kid appeared in were primarily read
by immigrants, pointing out the foreign-language papers and
mutual-aid organizations were likely their first resource.10 Campbell
compared population data with growth in the number of immigrants
in areas where yellow journalism proliferated and found no
Kid—and comics in general—were not, as some claimed,
a phenomenon enjoyed mostly by illiterate or immigrant readers.
1 "At the Theaters." Washington Post. 21 Nov. 1899: 3. Also "News and Gossip," Washington Post. 25 Dec. 1898: 20, "At the Theaters,"
Washington Post. 14 Jan. 1897: 7. "Plenty of Patronage." Washington Post. 9 Jan. 1898: 22. "An Ovation to Riley." Washington Post. 14 March 1889: 3. Display Ad of Bijou
theater. Washington Post. 21 Feb. 1897: 19. All found in Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
2"Children Sing 'The
Yellow Kid.'" Washington Post. 30 Dec. 1896: 4. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
3 "News of the Suburbs." Washington Post 7 Feb. 1897: 11. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
4 "The World of Amusement." Washington Post 25 April 1897: 22. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
5 "Caruana's Corps
de Ballet." Washington Post 26 May 1897: 2. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
6 "News of the Suburbs." Washington Post 29 Nov. 1896: 13. "One of the most successful
entertainments of the evening was the bal masque given by
the ladies on Thanksgiving Evening in Central Hall." Clarence
Walker dressed as the Yellow Kid of Hogan's Alley. "Social
and Personal," 31 August 1900: 7. At a
hop given at Fairview Cottage in Fauquier White Sulpher Springs,
Va., Samuel Pole dressed as the Yellow Kid. "Carnival of
the Skaters." Washington Post 6 March 1897: 8. At the grand
masque carnival at the Convention Hall Ice Palace in Washington,
D.C., "Master Morris Walsh as the yellow kid." Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
7Barth, Gunther. City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. 107.
8Display Ad. Washington Post 17 March 1897: 8. Display Ad. Washington Post 23 April 1897: 7 (bicycle). Display Ad. Washington Post 17 Dec. 1896: 8. Display Ad. Washington Post 18 March 1897: 8 (Robinson & Chery Co. clothes). Macy's Display Ad. New York Times. 3 Dec. 1897: 16. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
9 "Woman About Town," Washington Post 3 Jan. 1897: 17. Proquest Historical Records. University of Virginia Lib. 30 Dec. 2003.
10Campbell, W. Joseph. Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001. 61.
11 Campbell 55-59.