The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight a program entitled, “The Working People of  Philadelphia, Then and Now,” which honors a reissue of Bruce Laurie’s classic labor history,  Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850.

The program is one in a series planned in conjunction with the reissuing of 30 out-of-print Temple University Press Labor Studies and Work titles in open access format.

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Press, in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, will reissue 30 outstanding labor studies books in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats and make them freely available online. Chosen by an advisory board of scholars, labor studies experts, publishers, and librarians, each book contains a new foreword by a prominent scholar, reflecting on the content and placing it in historical context.

VannemanLast week, Matt Wray penned an essay for Public Books on  The American Perception of Classby Reeve Vanneman and Lynn Weber Cannon.

He writes, “… the 1987 publication of The American Perception of Class came as something of a shock. Many in the social sciences, particularly those affiliated with the New Left, seemed not to know what to make of the renegade ideas put forth by Vanneman and Cannon, whose central claim was simple and elegant: one should not mistake the absence of class conflict for absence of class consciousness.”

 

The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

On November 7, at 6:00 pm at the Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Sq. in Philadelphia, Temple Libraries and Temple University Press are presenting a panel entitled, “The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.”

Laurie_Cover_SM.jpgIn 1980, historian Bruce Laurie published The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850. The book has now been reissued and is freely available online thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This title is part of a larger collection of open access books on Labor Studies and Work published by Temple University Press.

In celebration of its return, please join us for a conversation with historians and Philadelphia natives Francis Ryan and Sharon McConnell-Siddorick. They will discuss questions such as: what was it like to be a worker in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century? How was the Philadelphia working class constituted by race, ethnicity, gender, and occupation? What were some of the major problems, hopes, and aspirations that workers shared? What were the cultures, organizations, and institutions that workers created? In what ways have things changed for the better for Philadelphia workers in 2018, and in what ways are they still struggling?”

Registration is requested https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-working-people-of-philadelphia-then-and-now-tickets-50361771414

About the panelists for The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.

Speakers:

Francis Ryan is graduate program director at Rutgers University’s Masters in Labor and Employment Relations program in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His book AFSCME’s Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century was published by Temple University Press in 2011. He is the editor of The Memoirs of Wendell W. Young III: A Life in Philadelphia Labor and Politics, forthcoming from Temple University Press.

Sharon McConnell-Sidorick is an independent historian and author. She attended the University of Pennsylvania on a Bread Upon the Waters Scholarship for returning women and graduated with a degree in Anthropology. She received her Ph.D. in History from Temple University. She is the author of Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz-Age to the New Deal (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), and has written for Jacobin, H-Net and Pennsylvania History. She wrote the forward for the new edition of Bruce Laurie’s The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850, published by Temple University Press, 2018.

Moderator:

Cynthia Little began her involvement with public history in the 1970s when she was a doctoral student in history at Temple University. She has worked at the Philadelphia Area Cultural Consortium, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and most recently at the Philadelphia History Museum. She has consulted on public history initiatives including for the local tourism industry and the City of Philadelphia. Many of the projects she created have highlighted labor history.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

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Tell us your first work experience and let’s see how jobs differ by gender

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, the acquiring editor of Yasemin Besen-Cassino’s The Cost of Being a Girlpresents his survey findings about gender and first jobs. 

One of the most exciting parts of my job as an acquisitions editor at a university press is going to academic conferences. Stop laughing; I’m serious!

Conferences give editors a chance to meet potential authors in the fields in which we publish, who are also our readers. We learn what exciting work is being done, what the next frontiers of the field are, and what issues are on the minds of the discipline. They also give us a chance to show off our own work. Each conference features an exhibit hall where academic publishers set up a booth and show off their recent books. We want the scholars in attendance to discover the arguments and scholarship we’ve put out into the marketplace of ideas. We want them to buy our books and assign them in their classes. And we want them to understand what sort of book project we’re excited about and see us as a potential home for their own book projects in the future.

I wanted to try something new in Temple University Press’s booth this year at the American Sociological Society meeting, held in Philadelphia this year from August 11-14. One of our books, The Cost of Being a Girl, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, received considerable media attention over the past year, from CNN, the Washington Post, MTV, and elsewhere.

In the book, Besen-Cassino looks at the gender wage gap among teen workers, thoroughly investigating what leads working teen girls to earn less than working teen boys. This is especially important because the factors that are usually cited to explain the wage gap among adults – work experience, obligations at home, reasons for working – do not apply to teens who are all in the same entry-level, student-worker boat. She finds that girls are sorted by gender towards care-work like babysitting, where their responsibilities and hours grow over-time but where asking for a raise is considered a betrayal of the values needed for the job, unlike, say, the freelance landscaping jobs preferred by teen boys.

In employment, this sorting of labor by gender continues as managers tend to track male laborers towards back-of-house jobs that have the potential for promotion, whereas girls are placed in customer service under the assumption that they are better suited to accommodate customers. The unique pressures of the aesthetic labor, hospitality, and care work in which employers place teen girl workers detract from these workers’ wellness throughout their lives, Besen-Cassino finds, to the point where girls who do not work at all as teens show a better quality of life years later. Besen-Cassino’s natural story-telling, compelling accounts, and engaging prose, coupled with the relatability of the subject matter makes this book a great candidate for use in sociology courses on work, gender, and youth and I wanted to find a way to get sociologists thinking about the book and the issues it raised.

CostPosterBoothMy colleagues and I set up a poster board in our booth at ASA, featuring the book’s cover and asking passers-by “What was your first job? Tell us your first work experience and let’s see how jobs differ by gender.” We provided blue, pink, and yellow post-it notes, labeled male, female, and non-binary (respectively) so that participants could see at a glance what sorts of jobs each gender identity worked. My colleagues started us off so that folks in the booth wouldn’t be intimidated about “breaking the ice.” Throughout the conference, lots of booth attendants came through and filled out a post-it note. 37 women and 22 men participated. I have to say that I am not a social scientist and while the study that inspired this exercise was extremely rigorous, my own analysis of the responses we received at ASA is not backed up by much in the way of statistical rigor or methods theory. Even if I had those tools at my disposal, I have doubts about the statistical significance of my sample with regards to conference attendees, not to mention to sociologists generally, to working teens in the US, or to living human beings globally. This is not a scientific study; I’m just an English major who reads sociology for a living. But the fun and the point of the exercise is to get us thinking about the principles Professor Besen-Cassino introduces in her book and if we can see them playing out in our sample. Let’s see what we found.

Jobs that appeared multiple times in each gender

Among our men, we have a couple bus boys, a couple paper boys (one woman also delivered newspapers), two journalists, and two young men who cleaned. There were also two research assistants, indicating that these men did not work before they started the careers they presumably hold now as academics.

Among women, we had 11 babysitters, three women offering cleaning services, three laborers, four working at eateries, and two working for clothing/accessory retailers.

Freelance vs. employed positions

Men: One out of 23 worked freelance

Women: 13 out of 37 worked freelance

It’s possible that some of the jobs I assumed were employed were not, of course.

This result lines up with Professor Besen-Cassino’s research, which tells us that men tend to more readily start their working lives for employers, whereas more women start freelance and transition to an employed job. This means that men tend to have more experience at a given age, and are more likely to have been given a raise or been promoted. Women working freelance in The Cost of Being a Girl describe difficulty raising their rates, as their clients read this action as mercenary and out-of-step with the work being provided, usually care work. Which brings us to my next point.

Babysitter, tutor, instructor, human care work

Men: One out of 23 performed this sort of work

Women 15 out of 37 performed this sort of work

Women were most likely to be taking care of somebody. Professor Besen-Cassino shows that expertise in carework is often interpreted as natural rather than a cultivated skill meriting recompense. Moreover, the work tends to grow the longer someone is in the position, but workers who ask for raises are chided for putting themselves over person being cared for.

Among retail/service industries, Customer/Client facing vs back of shop

Men: Of nine respondents working retail/service jobs, one specified a customer-facing job, five specified jobs that did not primarily interact with customers, and three did not specify.

Women: Of seven respondents working retail/service jobs, four specified a customer-facing job, none specified jobs that did not primarily interact with customers, and four did not specify.

I may be prejudicing my results here somewhat by classifying “busboy” as not customer -facing even though I acknowledge that they are seen by and sometimes interact with customers. My logic is that servers take on the interactive responsibility of communicating with customers, taking orders, responding to complaints and requests, and ensuring customer well-being that I’m trying to get at with this data point, so I classified those server jobs as customer-facing and busboys as not.

Clerical/Research/Desk Job

Four women out of 37 had what I would call desk jobs.

Seven out of 23 men had these jobs.

These jobs tended to be higher skilled, which might reasonably be better compensated or put the worker on a career track that tends towards better compensation. Moreover, most don’t call for the performative or aesthetic labor that makes a worker worry about their body, their clothes, or their presentation on a moment-to-moment basis.

Most interesting jobs: Bucker of wood (as an 11 year old boy – note: I had to look up what this meant; it means chopping a tree into logs); Statistician at Disney World (female respondent); tour guide (in our sample, one male and one female each had this job, with the female specifying that she directed a cruise on the Yangtze river), “making pork pies and sausage rolls in a butcher’s bakery” (male), serving raccoon at a wedding (female), corn detassler (female), migrant farm work (female), garment factory worker (female), and “held a sign on a street corner” (female).

And one woman’s first job was as a book reviewer, so I hope she in particular picked up The Cost of Being a Girl.

A Q&A with Judge Nelson A. Diaz

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with Nelson A. Diaz, about his inspiring new autobiography, Not from Here, Not from There.

You came to America as a child—literally—in your mother’s belly. Can you discuss the experience of being part of the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants post-World War II?
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, many Puerto Ricans came to New York in search of greater job opportunities because the economic hardships confronting Puerto Rico after WWII. My mother came to New York to provide a better life for me. She was a woman who was ahead of her time because she was a working mom at a time when most mothers stayed at home with their children. She did not have a choice. She worked as a seamstress in a factory to make ends meet. Although I grew up in very humble circumstances, my mother always provided the example of love, hard work, and faith. The Marine Tiger where she landed was a famous ship used in WWII for transport of soldiers and many came to the shores of NY the same way having American citizenship since 1917. Public Policy in the availability of Public Housing made a major difference in our lives.

You grew up in Harlem and had some hardscrabble experiences. What was that period of your life like?  You talk about being in fear at age 15. What helped you get through that time and not just survive, but thrive?
Growing up in poverty does not give you many options. Violence, gangs, and drugs are all around. I had a lot of problems in school much of which stemmed from my inability to speak and read in both English and Spanish. Trying to live in two different worlds – Puerto Rican culture and American culture – was difficult. I was not doing well in school and was always struggling to get better grades. At the age of 15, I went from being a D student to an A student in one year through the saving grace of the church.

Through faith, I felt hope. Hope for my future, an expectation that better things lied ahead and a strong desire to work hard for it. Through faith, I no longer felt unworthy and I knew that I could achieve greater things, not only for myself but also for others. The intervention of people in my life made a difference.

Not From Here_smYou faced considerable discrimination in Philadelphia (e.g., passing the bar). Was there a particular experience that made you learn and grow?
Growing up as a poor Puerto Rican kid from Harlem, I always had to overcome the barriers of stereotypical attitudes: a school counselor who believes that you are not college material, or institutional or systemic bias in law schools and government, or law firms and corporate boards that lack diversity even though there are highly qualified people of color. That is why civil and human rights are important issues that I have spent my life fighting for. I have spent a lifetime breaking barriers so others can walk through the doors—whether it was becoming a founding member of Black Law Students Association and the Federation of Puerto Rican Students because I understood the power of coalitions of interest; or becoming a community activist to protest the lack of diversity and open up law school doors for others; or promoting economic development in the Latino community; or becoming the first Puerto Rican White House Fellow, where I worked for Vice President Mondale and was able to promote Latino diversity in the political arena and influence public policy both domestically and internationally; or becoming the first Latino judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; or becoming the first minority administrative judge and presiding over court reforms that brought seven years of backlogged cases to the present and saved the courts millions of dollars; or fighting for the human rights of Soviet Jews; or becoming the first American judge to sit on a Japanese Court; or fighting against segregation in housing nationwide; or promoting the inclusion and promotion of minority and women lawyers in the profession; or fighting for diversity on corporate boards. I may have been the first, but I did not want to be the last!

The history of anyone but Caucasian who had passed the Pennsylvania Bar demonstrates that until the Liacouras Bar Committee found discrimination in the Bar exam the Commonwealth of PA since its founding, the bar had only admitted 67 African Americas and no Latinos before 1969 when I entered Law School. It was apparent that it was impossible to believe that I might get admitted and the city was so segregated by neighborhoods with continuous racial conflict between neighborhood boundaries.

Eventually, your career took off with appointments as the General Counsel at HUD, and as a city solicitor who helped with immigration issues. Can you describe your experiences?
The White House Fellows program gave me an education on the world and lifted my profile in my professional life.  The Judicial appointment and election also changed the public perspective of me. Both of these appointments, including the Administrative Judge title, were avenues of increasing diversity in the workplace. Although I was flattered to have been asked to by Henry Cisneros, who is a trailblazer and friend, to become his General Counsel at HUD, I did not want to go to Washington, DC. Henry was persistent and I eventually agreed. By breaking another barrier—becoming the first minority General Counsel—I was determined to increase the numbers of minority and women lawyers hired, retained and promoted because of the shocking lack of diversity among the government attorneys. I have always felt that the inclusion of minorities and women is an important step to changing systemic bias that exists in most institutions. As Latinos, we need to select our own leaders and continue to help each other climb the ladder of success.

Your book’s title is curious, it suggests a lack of belonging. Can you discuss that?
The title of my book, “I am not from here and I am not from there/No soy de aqui, ni de alla,” is about being a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York. We are not accepted here because of stereotypes and prejudice and yet not accepted as Puerto Rican from the Islanders because we were born in the States. It begs the question so where do we belong? That is a difficult barrier to overcome. You continue striving for excellence, inclusion, and moving the agenda forward so there is equality for all. There are many examples of rejection on both sides of the Atlantic both professionally and community where Puerto Ricans resided.

My parents lived most of their lives in Puerto Rico while I lived all of my life in the United States. I visited regularly since the age of 10 was educated in the issues of both countries, despite my professional capacity and assistance was there rarely an opinion they sought or cared particularly as you can see from the major Hurricane Maria. When they used my help it was limited to educate their officials and not my expertise which normally was ignored. That never gave me pause to keep trying wherever possible.

Do you think you achieved the American Dream?
Latinos positively contribute to the wellbeing of this great country. My story demonstrates some of the many ways, Latinos contribute to America. I hope that this book is seen in a bigger context than just my story. In the backdrop of the negative and racist attitudes about Latinos being only “criminals and rapists” my story is one of many, Latinos who work hard every day to put food on the table, house their families as best as they can and educate their children to have equal opportunities for the future. Isn’t that what everyone wants – the American Dream? History has eliminated most of our contribution and we fail to tell the story of how we have made America better.  My book will hopefully inspire young people to strive for a better life.

Wildlife crime: Understanding the human and social dimensions of a complex problem

This week in North Philly Notes, William Moreto, editor of Wildlife Crime, writes about how criminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime.

In recent years, wildlife crime has generated considerable public attention. This can be partly attributed to growing concerns over environmental issues, including climate change, as well as increased attention on wildlife trafficking and its impact on the status of endangered iconic megafauna, like elephants and rhinoceros. The hard sciences, including biology, has tended to take the lead in the assessment and investigation of crimes that harm the environment, including the poaching and trading of wildlife products. This is not surprising given that the unsustainable overharvesting of wildlife can result in long lasting ecological and environmental impacts, as well as potentially devastating public health concerns resulting in the consumption of unregulated and unsanitary wildlife products.

Although wildlife crime has historically tended to fall within the purview of the hard sciences, the role of the social sciences, including geography, psychology, and economics, have increasingly been recognized in both academic and non-academic circles. Indeed, while wildlife crime is very much an environmental issue, it is also inherently a human and social problem as well. Recently Bennett and colleagues (2017) helped reinforce this reality when they published an article in a leading conservation journal, Biological Conservation, demonstrating the role that 18 distinct social science fields have within the conservation sciences. Noticeably missing from this list, however, were the fields of criminology (the study of criminal behavior), criminal justice (the study of how the criminal justice system responds and operates), and crime science (the study of crime). For ease, and I hope my fellow colleagues can forgive me, but I’ll refer to this group collectively here as “criminology.”

Wildlife Crime_smCriminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime, while also contributing to broader conservation science topics. The volume, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice, adds to the conservation science literature by underscoring how criminological theory and research can provide unique insight on a complex problem like wildlife crime. Questions related to the why specific activities and practices are outlawed, how such regulations are viewed by communities who are affected, why individuals begin, continue, or desist as offenders, how the criminal justice system responds to such actors, and what strategies can be developed in addition to the criminal justice system are all discussed in the volume. Additionally, scholars detail their experiences conducting research on active offenders involved in wildlife crime and further highlighting the very human aspects from those involved in such activities, as well as the researchers who perform such study.

Finally, the inclusion of practitioners in the volume who are or were involved in day-to-day conservation practice cements the need for more social science research that directly focuses on those tasked with the implementation and management of conservation policy and regulation. Essentially, by better understanding how conservation policy is implemented and the real-world challenges faced by individuals who work on the front-line is essential in understanding what strategies can be effective, what may be unsuccessful, and what may ultimately prove to be counter-productive or even harmful. In sum, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice contributes to the growing literature on wildlife crime by illustrating the value of viewing the issue from a criminological perspective, promoting the need for increased academic-practitioner collaborations, and reinforcing the place of social science within the conservation sciences.

 

Yes, trafficking is bad for sex workers. But “getting tough on traffickers” can make their lives worse.

This week in North Philly Notes, Carisa Showden and Samantha Majic, co-authors of Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S., write about the importance of listening to sex workers, and not just passing laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers.

Through newspaper stories, popular films, and Dateline exposés (to name just some sources), the term “sex trafficking” is now commonplace, bringing to mind images and stories of young girls trapped in vans and sold for sex in strange and dark places. These ideas about sex trafficking have informed public policy in the U.S. and internationally: local, regional, and national governments, as well as international governing bodies, have supported and passed laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers and other parties who fuel this crime. Yet despite these laws, those they are supposed to help are also often their most vocal critics.

This disconnect between the ideas about an issue and its related policy outcomes is not unique to sex trafficking, but recent legal changes make interrogating this gap particularly urgent. The 2018 Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) (SESTA/FOSTA) provides a recent example of popular narratives trumping evidence. By making website publishers responsible for third parties who post ads for prostitution, SESTA/FOSTA effectively renders illegal the websites that sex workers use to sell services, screen clients, and warn other sex workers about dangerous clients. SESTA/FOSTA is based on the idea that persons in the sex industry are there against their will (trafficked), and that websites only enable their victimization.

Sex workers resisted this characterization, arguing mightily, but unsuccessfully, against  SESTA/FOSTA, and the effects have been immediate. For example, out of fear of violating the law, many sex workers started “preemptively closing sex work-related Facebook groups, … talking about taking down bad date lists, etc.,” all of which were essential to their safety and security. In another example, Backpage immediately shut down its dating and related ad services. With Backpage gone, some sex workers have returned to the streets and law enforcement receives fewer tips from online activity, making the tracking of actual trafficking more difficult. As Notre Dame Law Professor Alex F. Levy writes, “Backpage sets a trap for traffickers: lured by the prospect of reaching a large, centralized repository of customers, traffickers end up revealing themselves to law enforcement and victim advocates. There’s nothing to suggest that Backpage causes them to be victimized, but plenty of reason to believe that, without it, they would be much harder to find.” And outside of the U.S., including places like New Zealand where sex work is legal, the disappearance of Backpage “has, without warning, taken livelihoods away, leaving workers without the resources to operate their businesses or, in some cases, survive.”

Youth Who Trade_smNeither the failure to listen to sex workers nor a new law making it harder to fight the very thing it targets is surprising to us, given what we found when researching our book Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S.: Intersectionality, Agency, and Vulnerability. For example, policies that target trafficking of young people take a law-and-order approach, focusing on criminal gangs, “bad men” (pimps), and very young girl victims. But as our research indicates, young people commonly enter the sex trades through a highly variable mix of “self-exploitation,” family exploitation, and peer-recruitment, most frequently to meet their basic needs for shelter and food. And youth who are poor and housing insecure because of racialized poverty and gender discrimination are particularly vulnerable. All people under the age of 18 who sell or trade sex for any reason are defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as trafficking victims, yet most of them are ignored by “get tough on crime” policies. As a result, while we must protect all youth from persons who may harm and exploit them, the majority of young people who trade sex need interventions like housing support that is safe for youth of all genders. And when they are trading sex to afford food or shelter, they need to do this in the least dangerous way possible—something online services facilitated.

The more vulnerable people are, the less likely they are to be listened to, and the more likely they are to be talked about. We saw this in SESTA/ FOSTA, where sex workers and their allies lobbied hard to prevent the bill’s passage. And we see this with youth-specific bills as well. Politicians talk a lot about vulnerable youth in the abstract, but they rarely talk or listen to them directly. Yet sex workers and young people have a lot to say about what works and doesn’t work for helping them survive and improve their lives. Hopefully researchers and policy makers will start to listen to them.

How state governments touch on nearly every aspect of public policy

This week in North Philly Notes, Michelle Atherton, co-editor of Pennsylvania Politics and Policywrites about what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy.

In the midst of the modern 24/7 news cycle, and the focus on the tweet of the moment from our president, it’s easy to forget that politics in our federal system runs much deeper than the national level. Americans in general are woefully unaware of what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy. Statewide and local elections have much lower voter turnout than presidential years, as if the composition of state legislatures and governors’ offices barely matters compared to who occupies the White House. Many would argue these governing bodies matter even more to the lives of the average citizen, as state governments touch nearly every aspect of public policy.

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy_smRepublicans in control in Washington, DC did not manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but it was originally up to the states to create their own healthcare exchanges, and whether to expand Medicaid. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017 lowered federal taxes for most individuals—and especially corporations—but it also capped the state and local tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000, greatly effecting the calculus of state and local governments’ approaches to maintaining revenues.

Pennsylvania, for example, is one of the states most highly dependent upon property taxes for the support of public schools, collected locally, as opposed to relying on state taxes. Will the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs revolt come November’s general election as higher income households lose thousands of dollars in tax deductions? Perhaps the results will strengthen the case among many voters for doing away with the property tax altogether as a source of funding for public schools in the Commonwealth.

This issue and many others are explored in the first publication of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader. Further topics include:

  • What would it mean for Pennsylvania to adopt direct democracy such as the citizen-initiated referendum and recall like other states? Would politicians be more responsive and less prone to corruption?
  • Why doesn’t the state of Pennsylvania place a severance tax on natural gas production? Every other state does. Alaskans each receive a dividend from fossil fuel extraction, yet Pennsylvania’s legislature refuses to move the issue forward even in the face of severe budget woes.
  • Why doesn’t the state fund education based on the number of students in schools? Every other state in the nation bases funding on real student counts. In Pennsylvania, the politics of party and leadership control in the legislature dictates funding.
  • Why does Pennsylvania not tax any form of retirement income, one of just a handful of states to do so? And, what does the rapid aging of the state mean for the bottom line of funding services both for the elderly and younger individuals and families?
  • Why did it take so long to be able to buy wine and beer at the local supermarket? Pennsylvania took a unique approach to policing vice.

Another election for the governor, the entire House, and half the Senate of Pennsylvania is just around the corner. Here’s hoping Pennsylvanians find their way to the polling place to vote in proportion to the gravity of the election’s policy implications.

 

A Passion Reignited

This week in North Philly Notes, Bill Double, author of Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation, writes about his passion for Hires Root Beer. 

Whether a frosty mug at a Stewarts’ drive-in or the brain-clearing rush of herbal effervescence from a freshly opened bottle of Hires at home, I grew up with a yen for root beer. Fortunately, this habit proved nonaddictive. As I moved on, the drink faded into a pleasant memory, occasionally relived but hardly a compulsion.

Neither did this early craving influence my decision to chronicle the life of Charles Elmer Hires, who turned a humble homemade root beer into an iconic national brand.  Hires was an intrepid entrepreneur and an authentic American success story. His life and times would have fascinated me as much had he instead concocted a new ginger ale, pet food or soap powder.

Charles E. Hires_smNonetheless, researching Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation reawakened my latent root beer thirst.  I ordered an eight-pack of modern-day Hires from Amazon (of all places) and began to sample other brands.  Root beer seemed to be less prevalent today and certainly less promoted in the popular media. Was the spicy, woodsy flavor enjoyed by millions during Charles Hires’ heyday fading from the public’s palate? My findings suggested otherwise.

I discovered a thriving root beer subculture, a legion of fiercely loyal aficionados who shared my taste and interest in the brew. An array of websites, Facebook pages and blogs are devoted to discussing, dissecting and exalting root beer. Some sites, it is true, are mounted by commercial bottlers eager to pitch their wares. But others are clearly labors of love maintained by dedicated root beer buffs. Among these: Root Beer Review (“Root beer reviews by root beer lovers.”); The Root-Beer Blog (“Root Beer is a goodness, government is not and freedom and liberty are worth having and so is a good Root Beer!”), the Stark Raving (Root Beer) Blog! and the Association of Root Beer Enthusiasts.

Eric’s Gourmet Root Beer Site, perhaps the most comprehensive, presents histories of the vintage brands, industry news, reviews of new craft root beers and reader comments.

After perusing the painstaking instructions offered root beer homebrewers on other websites, I decided to join their ranks.  I purchased a three-ounce bottle of Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract, a product quite similar to Hires’ original, and followed his 1880 instructions closely.  To my surprise, my first attempt yielded a dozen bottles of root beer that were both delicious and nicely carbonated.

I also found that the craft beer movement, instrumental in improving the quality of real beer in America, had spawned dozens of craft root beers. Brands include Virgil’s, Maine, Boylan, Fitz’s, Dominion, Saranac and Sprecher. The online Root Beer Store offers details on these brews and many others.  They are available at venues ranging from soda pop stores to Trader Joe’s and even some old-style taprooms.

This proliferation of craft brewers would not have displeased Charles Hires, provided they used natural ingredients and did not infringe on his trademark. However, another modern trend – alcoholic root beer – would surely have evoked his ire. One such brew, aptly dubbed Not Your Father’s Root Beer, boasts an alcohol content over 5 percent.  While all fermented root beers contain a trace of alcohol, temperance advocate Hires was forced to battle a WCTU boycott that falsely contended the level in his drink was alarmingly high.

Meanwhile, “Big Soda” continues to woo root beer fanciers with traditional offerings – Barqs, Dads, Mug, Hanks and Frosty. Dr. Pepper Snapple alone produces four root beer brands – A&W, IBC, Stewarts and Hires. Regrettably, Hires ranks lowest in the company’s promotional pecking order.

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that the drink Charles Hires perfected and so successfully promoted over a century ago is at no risk of becoming a relic. While failing to attain the popularity of Coke or Pepsi, its unique flavor still delights and inspires a discerning minority. Indeed, root beer’s longevity reminds me of jazz music, another of my long-time passions. Neither root beer nor jazz has quite managed to achieve mainstream respectability in the modern era. Yet both tenaciously continue to endure, evolve and reward those receptive to their charms.

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