Before Halloween was the holiday known for dressing up in costume and begging for candy (this practice did not become common until the 1940s and 50s), children in NYC often participated in what was called Ragamuffin Day. On Ragamuffin Day – which was Thanksgiving Day – children would dress themselves in rags and oversized, overdone parodies of beggars (a la Charlie Chaplin’s character “The Tramp”). The ragamuffins would then ask neighbors and adults on the street, “Anything for Thanksgiving?” The usual response would be pennies, an apple, or a piece of candy.
However, by 1930, articles were appearing in The New York Times calling for the end of the practice. William J. O’Shea, Superintendent of schools at the time, sent a circular to the district superintendents and principals which stated that “modernity is incompatible with the custom of children to masquerade and annoy adults on Thanksgiving day.” Shea also stated, “many citizens complain that on Thanksgiving Day they are annoyed by children dressed as ragamuffins, who beg for money and gifts.”
In 1936, The New York Times’ only mention of the ragamuffins is to state:
Ragamuffins Frowned Upon: Despite the endeavors of social agencies to discourage begging by children, it is likely that the customary Thanksgiving ragamuffins, wearing discarded apparel of their elders, with masks and painted faces, will ask passers-by, ‘anything for Thanksgiving?’
In 1937, organizations such as the Madison Square Boys Club were reported as having Thanksgiving parades as an effort “to discourage the Thanksgiving ragamuffins.” By 1940, that parade had grown in size to over 400 children and sported the slogan “American boys do not beg.” Though the parading boys still dressed in costume as ragamuffins, many donned costumes of other things and people – such as alarm clocks and Michelangelo. – via the NYPL.
(Imagery courtesy of the New York Public Library/Tehrkot Media)