NY: James Pott & Company, 1906. Octavo (7.75 x 5.5 in.); vii + 299pp.; publisher's blue cloth, stamped in gold on front board and spine; lacking a jacket if issued with one. Light rubbing and bumping at spine ends and board tips, a couple minor spots of soiling to the cloth. One pair of leaves near rear roughly opened. Super just visible in the gutters between a few of the signatures, though the binding remains quite secure. Altogether a near fine copy of this uncommon first edition.
First edition of this important collection of autobiographies by working-class and mostly immigrant Americans at the turn of the twentieth century: a "Polish sweatshop girl," an "Italian bootblack," a "Japanese servant," a "Negro peon," etc. Exploitation, cruelty, and prejudice (including often the authors' own) are common themes. For instance, a French dressmaker is swindled out of her money at Ellis island; a Greek peddled must pay large bribes to the police; a farmer's wife's literary ambitions are stifled by her autocratic husband and small-minded friends. Yet the stories as a whole are recounted with striking equanimity, and are remarkable both in candor and lack of sentimentality.
As explained by Edwin E. Slosson in his introduction, two methods were used in gathering the accounts: "first and preferably, to have the life written upon his own initiative by the person who lived it; second . . . to have the story written from interviews, and then read to and approved by the person telling it." The volume's editor, Hamilton Holt (1872–1951) was an outspoken liberal activist and long-tenured publisher of the weekly magazine The Independent, where these sixteen stories first appeared along with many others. An expanded version of this collection was published by Routledge in 2000.