We have selected a featured story from 1964, we hope you enjoy it. Be sure to look on the other pages to view additional stories. If you have a story you would like to share about American life in the 1960s, please see the Tell Your Story page for instructions on how to send it to us at AmericansRemember.com
Featured Story: The Papergirls
It was the summer of 1964 and a playmate and I needed spending money. We were 11. For weeks we had been making a dime here, a quarter there, running errands and doing little chores for neighbors, but we had nowhere near enough to buy the toys we wanted at the town Five and Dime. Neither of us received an allowance. I had my eye on an expensive Breyer model horse, and my friend wanted a wedding dress for her Barbie doll.
We rode our bikes to the air conditioned Five and Dime practically every day. I would linger in front of the display case of horse models and stare at the beautiful prancing Appaloosa I wanted so badly, while my friend would check the Barbie display to make sure “her” wedding outfit was still there. Then we would ride back home through the summer heat commiserating the whole way about how long it was going to take us to save enough to buy the things we wanted.
We were too young to babysit and neither of us had a power lawnmower, so it seemed we would never reach our goals. To compound our misery, in July my friend’s older brother got a paper route delivering the afternoon newspaper. On collection days he tormented us by bragging about how much money he had made in tips.
However, he quickly lost interest in his route. Most of the houses on the route were on a steep hill. My friend’s house was at the bottom of the hill, and the newspaper company brought the big bundles of papers there. Her brother assembled the papers on their porch, then lugged his heavy delivery bag up the hill. It was especially bad on Thursdays because of all the advertising circulars that were included. Each paper might be an inch or more thick. As the summer wore on, he began skipping houses, then he began skipping whole blocks. Customers complained to the paper company that their newspaper was late or didn’t arrive at all. His tips dropped to almost nothing.
In mid-August my friend came to me with great news. Her brother was willing to sell us his route for $2.00 up front, then fifty cents a week thereafter. She figured that if we each carried half the papers we would be able to manage even the extra-heavy Thursday edition. We pooled our money and came up with the $2.00, and the next day we were in the paper delivery business.
I had a little red wagon that I had not played with in years and we used that to haul the papers so we didn’t have to carry them. In addition to being on a hill, many of the houses on the route were up steep flights of steps from the sidewalk. We discovered that we couldn’t throw the papers up onto the porches from the street so we took turns at each house running up the steps to leave them at the front door. Even so, we got through the entire route in less than an hour.
Wednesdays were collection days. The paper company left the customers’ statements in a big envelope along with the bundles of papers at my friend’s house. The paperboy was supposed to knock at each door on the route, hand the customer the statement and then wait for payment which included a tip if the delivery had been on time and the paper did not get wet.
Most women did not work outside the home then, and these women were amazed when they answered the doorbell that first Wednesday to find their “paperboy” was really two little blonde girls. At that time girls were not allowed to have paper routes, so we were a novelty. The women encouraged us and gave us big tips. We were fussed over and offered milk, homemade cookies, donuts, pie, lemonade. They called neighbors over to see us. More women signed up to have the paper delivered.
Because girls were not allowed to deliver papers, we left the route in the name of my friend’s brother. He signed the collection sheet and met with the paper company representative to turn in the money. After subtracting what was owed to the paper company and the fifty cent fee we paid my friend’s brother, we made more than fifteen dollars that first week. That was a fortune at a time when the minimum wage was about a dollar an hour, and a hundred dollars a week was considered a good salary for an adult working full time. We never told her brother how much we made in tips.
This went on for about three weeks. I bought the model horse I wanted, and my friend bought the wedding outfit for her Barbie. I went to the bank with my parents and opened a savings account in my own name. Then one Saturday morning my friend came to my house in tears. Customers had called and written the paper company praising the “cute little paper girls,” and other people had called trying to sign their daughters up for paper routes. But girls couldn’t have paper routes. That was the paper company’s policy (and, possibly, New York State labor law) at that time.
A representative of the paper company had come to my friend’s house in a rage and fired her brother for letting us work his paper route. When my friend’s father asked what the harm was in letting girls do the job the company representative said that the jobs were meant to teach boys about business and work. Girls didn’t need to do that, we needed to learn to sew and cook, and papers were too heavy for girls to carry anyway. It was for our own good.
No one thought to question the legality of such a thing then. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which would end this type of discrimination, had just been signed on July 2, but it has taken years and many lawsuits to change bad state laws and company policies. It wasn’t until I was in high school that the laws in New York State changed and girls were no longer barred from delivering papers or working at gas stations.
We had delivered the papers on time, signed up more customers and made existing customers happy but lost the job anyway because we were girls. That was my introduction to the business world.