“White Wings: When the suffragettes get control of the street cleaning department”
from Puck, April 14, 1909, p. 4.
I’m trying to figure out this joke. Here’s what I know:
“White wings,” or NYC sanitation workers, were called so because of their all-white uniforms.
Suffragettes were fond of Col. George E. Waring, who was head of the white wings (and decided on the all-white uniforms), but who died in 1898. I haven’t found anything that implies that he was pro-woman suffrage. It seems like maybe they just liked him because he had a reformer’s spirit - he was really good at his job and cleaned up the city without allowing any political interference. In this article they talk about how things have really gone downhill since Waring was replaced (because people have to wear rubber boots to walk through the snow and muck again) and how one of them once baked Waring a cake to thank him for being so dreamy and good at getting rid of snowpiles.
The white wings had annual parades with contests for cleanest borough and best-kept stable. Suffrage supporters used these as opportunities to hand out pamphlets and give speeches to the white wings and spectators from their cars - or at least they did in 1915. There was also an instance in which some suffragettes were angry that they didn’t have reserved seats at the parade held in June 1909. It’s not clear why they felt entitled to reserved seating, unless they were working with the sanitation department in some way.
I can’t quite figure out what the connecting thread is - there seems to be an implication that the suffragettes have some sort of power over the sanitation department, but how and why? Or is this just a dumb joke about how women want to work outside the home that I’m reading too much into?
The relevant paragraphs showing the suffragettes’ longing for the days of Col. Waring’s leadership of the White Wings. In case comment is necessary on the rubber boots, these were worn not only to avoid rain puddles and snow, but the trash and horse droppings that covered the streets. That cake sounds pretty amazing, too - “the carts and horses and all the street cleaning apparatus in frosting.”
The start of this article is also worth reading. There’s a resolution that the government should provide husbands to support women if they’re not to be allowed to work outside the home.
“Filmed on an unidentified street in New York City, probably Fifth Avenue. Rows of men wearing the white uniforms of New York City street sweepers (known as White Wings) march by the camera. Each row has a police escort. The parade of uniformed men continues until several hundred pass. Immediately following the marching men come approximately a hundred horse-drawn two-wheel carts of the kind used for hauling garbage [Frame: 3394]. One four wheeled cart is seen near the end of the film. In 1895, under the reform administration of Mayor William L. Strong, New York City’s Department of Street Cleaning was headed by Colonel George Waring. It was he who garbed his workers in the white duck suits (earning them the name “White Wings”) seen in the film. He is also recognized as a brilliant sanitary engineer who marshalled the two thousand man force to clean four hundred and fifty miles of streets each day. According to Jacob Riis, “his broom saved more lives in the crowded tenements than a squad of doctors.” By 1903, the date of the filming, a new city administration was in power and Waring had been replaced.”