Gina Rufo ’24, Staff Writer

Between Disney’s 1992 movie Newsies starring Christian Bale and their Broadway Musical film of the same name from 2017, the Newsboy Strike of 1899 has been brought to life. Through Jack Kelly, the charismatic leader of the rebellion, audiences are introduced to the life of a newsboy in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. How true is Newsies to the real strike, though, and was Jack Kelly a real newsboy? 

Although Jack Kelly himself did not exist, the rebellion he helped lead was very real and many characters in the musical bear the names of the true young working-class men and women who stood up to William Randolph Hearst’s Evening Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World through their strike. 

The rebellion began on July 18th when, in the midst of the Spanish-American War, a newspaper delivery man sold a group of newsboys short bundles. Outraged, they tipped over his wagon and chased him. Although this was not the first workers rebellion (and, in fact, coincided with the Trolley Worker Strike), it is important because it inspired a wave of child-worker strikes and was made up of newsboys from other cities who were inspired by the actions in New York. Newsboys gathered together to demand better treatment, regardless of ethnicity, age, or ability.

On July 19th hundreds gathered in City Hall Park and pledged to strike until their needs were met. They elected officers to represent the larger group and spread the word of their revolution. Strikes could be dangerous, and even though these were children striking, they were not exempt from the violence. 

The strike lasted until the beginning of August, when Hearst and Pulitzer agreed to fix their price and establish different return policies. The newsboys affiliated themselves with other labor unions and two hundred of them participated in a parade that month in solidarity with their fellow workers. 

The story of the newsboys is a truly inspiring reminder of the strength of children and the importance of unionization. For more information, I highly suggest looking into Vincent DiGirolamo’s article, “July 18, 1899: Newsboys Strike in New York – Zinn Education Project” , his book, “Carrying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys”, and seeing how Immaculata’s Cue and Curtain theatre club brings the story of the Newsies to life on March 31st at 7 pm, April 1st at 2 pm and 7pm, and April 2nd at 2 pm in Alumnae Hall.

Newsies Character                Real Striker 

Jack Kelly            …             “Kid Blink” (Louis Balletti)

“Davey” Jacobs   …             Dave Simons

“Race”                 …             “Race Track” Higgins

“Spot” Conlon     …              “Spot” Conlon

“Crutchie”           …              “Crutch” Morris