The Life of Happy

In May 1910, child welfare investigator Edward F. Brown carefully recorded the details he had gathered about the children selling papers on the streets of Wilmington, Delaware.

One boy, in particular, had drawn his attention: 9-year-old paper boy Donald Mallick, nicknamed Happy.

A familiar face in the town, Happy could be found out hustling at all hours of the night. Brown recorded the boy had recently been spotted in town at 11 p.m., looking for change and “working a last paper scheme”.

 

36-year-old photographer Lewis Wickes Hine was working with Investigator Brown, and took numerous photos of the children, including this one of Happy:

Library of Congress

When Brown interviewed the boy, he was earning 35¢ a week and was contentedly playing in a gutter with a rusty 5-inch knife “he says he found”. Evidently, Edward Brown was a bit skeptical of Happy! He also noted wryly in his report, “the boy is very imaginative”.

Happy claimed to sleep in empty lots, but Brown later learned that he did have a home on King Street, and an 8-year-old sister named Myrtle who sold papers, too. Moreover, Happy had a father who earned $20/week, which is about $500/week in today’s currency. The children, Brown noted, worked by choice.

To Brown’s horror, Happy and his siater were frequently seen selling papers in saloons, and Myrtle occasionally begged for money.

Myrtle Mallick sells a paper

No word on whether a children’s welfare agency ever intervened to attempt to civilize the Mallick children, but something about Happy’s picture tells me any such effort would be entirely in vain.

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