One of my favorite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I have read it countless times, and reread it in every decade of my life. I love Francie Nolan, who once got a job at a Press Clipping Bureau. Now, because I have read the novel so many times, I also read the description of her work many times. It’s all explained very clearly, but at the same time, I really had no idea what was going on.
The interview was short. She was hired on trial. Hours, nine to five-thirty, half an hour for lunch, salary, seven dollars a week to start. First, the Boss took her on a tour of inspection of the Press Clipping Bureau. The ten readers sat at long sloping desks. The newspapers of all the states were divided among them. The papers poured into the Bureau every hour of every day from every city in every state of the Union. The girls marked and boxed items sought and put down their total and their own identifying number on the top of the front page. The marked papers were collected and brought to the printer who had a hand press containing an adjustable date apparatus, and racks of slugs before her. She adjusted the paper's date on her press, inserted the slug containing the name, city, and state of the newspaper and printed as many slips as there were items marked. Then, slips and newspaper went to the cutter who stood before a large slanting desk and slashed out the marked items with a sharp curved knife. (In spite of the letterhead, there wasn't a pair of shears on the premises.) As the cutter slashed out the items, throwing the discarded paper to the floor, a sea of newspaper rose as high as her waist each fifteen minutes. A man collected this waste paper and took it away for baling. The clipped items and slips were turned over to the paster who affixed the clippings, to the slips. Then they were filed, collected and placed in envelopes and mailed.
While exploring a box at the Armitt, and only because of reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I knew what these were as soon as I saw them. Press clippings! The PNEU paid a press clipping bureau just like Francie’s to look through all the papers for anything that mentioned their organization, Charlotte Mason, or her publications. And here they are—envelopes stuffed full of them—pasted onto their slips and mailed to the PNEU office so they could see what people were saying about them. It’s a primitive version of Googling, if you think about it. If Elsie Kitching had been able to Google, she wouldn’t have needed these.
I did not have the time to read all of them—and many of them are pretty mundane. One that struck me as funny was a book review that complained that Charlotte Mason was too wordy, and if her contemporaries felt that way, it’s easy to understand how much harder it is for modern readers to follow her.
But I snapped a picture of a few press clippings at the time, just in case there are other fans of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn who might be interested to see how and why those press clipping bureaus existed.