Everett author profiles young newspaper carriers

It’s been about 75 years since he hawked newspapers in Everett, but Dominic Soriano hasn’t forgotten his turf on the street.

“I got my papers in front of the Hodges Building. Most people back then bought their paper downtown,” said Soriano, now 85.

Soriano was part of The Everett Herald’s army of paperboys back then, and also sold The Seattle Times and The Seattle Star, a paper that stopped publishing in 1947. While he was outside the Hodges Building at 1804 Hewitt Ave., his brothers held down paper-selling corners outside the Commerce Building and other places along Hewitt.

“I was probably not more than 6 or 7 years old when I started. I came from a big family. We all kind of learned we had to go to work,” the Everett man said Thursday. “It’s a hard way to earn money. We had to go down on cold, rainy days, right after school. It was hectic. Most of us earned enough to buy a 5-cent hamburger.”

He and his 80-year-old brother, John Soriano, are among dozens of former paper carriers from around the country featured in a new book, “Little Merchants: The Golden Era of Youth Delivering Newspapers.”

Author Sandra Walker, of Everett, spent more than six years researching and writing the book. Walker, 72, began her project as a tribute to her late brother, Carl Lane, a paper carrier in central Ohio. From 1947 to 1951, he delivered Ohio’s Mount Vernon News and The Fredericktown News.

In her acknowledgements, Walker wrote: “To my teasing, devilish brother, who left the house, alone, with his soiled canvas bag, stopped at the post office for his bundles, rode his used bike around the route and returned home hungry, to Carl, who in spirit led me, thank you.”

More than a personal remembrance, her book is a comprehensive look at an era long gone, and at broader issues including child labor laws. “I feel like I just skimmed the surface,” said Walker, who has a degree in history from the University of Washington.

She had help on the project from Lorraine McConaghy, a historian with Seattle’s Museum of History &Industry. McConaghy leads Nearby History workshops that give novice researchers skills and tools to complete their own history projects.

What began as a Nearby History pilot project, focused on her brother’s experiences, expanded into a social history as Walker began interviewing former newspaper carriers from Alabama to Alaska.

Among other Everett Herald carriers featured in the book are Larry Hanson, the newspaper’s retired publisher; local car dealer Dwayne Lane, who delivered papers on horseback; and Cliff Benson, who by age 16 was overseeing 125 Herald paperboys.

They weren’t all boys.

Debra Loughrey-Johnson, director of the Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett, delivered The Tacoma News Tribune in the early 1960s. She inherited her paper route from an older brother who left to go to a Catholic seminary. “My mother also had a paper route back in Walnut, Kansas,” said Loughrey-Johnson, now 63.

“I had 104 customers, seven days a week. My route was six long blocks, up one side of the street and down the other,” she said.

Recalling that she was sometimes called “a girl paperboy,” Loughrey-Johnson said the job brought other opportunities. Customers offered her baby-sitting jobs. She remembers being one of the few kids in sixth, seventh and eighth grades who “always had money.”

On Sundays, her mother would get up with her at 2 a.m. to deliver the heavy papers. “We’d stay up and go to 6 a.m. Mass, then go home and go to bed,” she said.

The “golden age” Walker covers is from 1920 through 1970. In a recent interview, she said she was astonished by the numbers of kids who were in the news business. By the late 1950s, there were nearly half a million American children delivering papers, and that number later grew to more than a million.

She studied child labor, from the early 20th century when children worked in mills and mines. During the Progressive Era that lasted into the 1920s, there were efforts to get children seen as exploited “urchins” off street corners and into schools.

In the 1930s, there was a push for a constitutional amendment to prohibit children under 18 from working. “It was never ratified,” Walker said.

Yet by the mid-1930s, child labor laws had limited work hours and the types of industries that could employ children. Walker said those laws allowed exceptions — “mowing lawns, picking fruit, baby-sitting and delivering papers.”

There were real bonuses, beyond earnings. “Newspaper companies awarded scholarships, and there were rewards including opportunities to travel,” said Walker, who talked with former carriers who won trips to Disneyland.

John Soriano, who took over his older brother Joe’s Herald route, also sold papers on Hewitt Avenue. “I was 8,” he said.

“I have to laugh. There was a policewoman in those days who picked on people like me. I’d say I wasn’t going to do it anymore — you had to be 12,” said John Soriano, who also lives in Everett. He kept selling papers anyway, sometimes inside Everett’s bars and pool halls. “It was a long time ago,” he said.

In the 1930s, his papers sold for 3 cents. Sometimes, he would go to sell inside office buildings, leaving his stack of newspapers on the street with a cigar box on top. “People would just leave the money,” he said.

His brother Dominic remembered going into a building and leaving a rock on top of his paper pile. “I came back and the rock was holding down a dollar bill. Somebody had left me a nice present,” he said.

In all her interviews, Walker was struck by all that the children had shouldered, responsibility as well as heavy newspapers.

“They were reliable and accountable,” she said. “Children are still incredibly capable — if we can just challenge them.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Author talks

Sandra Walker is scheduled to talk about her book “Little Merchants: The Golden Era of Youth Delivering Newspapers” at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at the University Bookstore in Bellevue, 990 102nd Ave. NE. She will also speak from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Everett’s Carl Gipson Senior Center, 3025 Lombard Ave.

The book, $16.95, is available at www.amazon.com.

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