United States Child Labor: Work Area--Clerking

Figure 1.-- This 1913 photograoph shows the cash boys at the Holmes Department Store in New Orleans, Louisiana. Note the unifirm two boys are wearing. We believe this is a Lewis Hine photograph.

Boys might work as clerks in different kinds of shops and stores. Clerk as a vocational title commonly refers to a white-collar worker administrative position responsible for a variety of record keeping. Here we are talking about another meaning, individuals working in stores involved in various sales tasks. This almost always was a position for adult men. Clerking was very important in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Self-serve stores were not very common until after World war II. As a result, lsrge numbers of people were employed in stores, including gricery stores as clerks. Boys might get involved in very small stores, often country stores, where there were no individuals just working as ckerks. A boy might do all kinds of chores like sweeping up, stocking merchandise, and helping customers with packages. Their duties might include clerking as neeed, such as when the owner was absent or busy with other customers. This was less likely to be the case in city stores, especilly large stores such as department stores. But here there were jobs that might lead to a clerk position such as cash boys. Large retail stores might use boys (never girls) as a kind of cash messenger. He would carry the money the salesmen received from customers to a central cashier, and returns the proper change. We are not entirely sure how this worked. Perhaps the clerks were not entirely trusted with money. Or perhaps the cash registers were too expensive to have at each counter.


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Created: 6:20 AM 9/18/2011
Last updated: 6:20 AM 9/18/2011