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 Juvenile Street Cleaning Leagues
Elizabeth Robilotti

Major improvements in the organization and efficiency of street cleaning and garbage collection in New York City were initiated in the 1890's. Colonel George Waring, the street cleaning commissioner responsible for the dramatic improvements, was appointed in 1895 by reform Mayor William Strong. Under Waring, the Department of Street Cleaning adopted new techniques and equipment and revamped its system of labor organization. These improvements enabled the department to handle the city's growing refuse problem. In addition, Commissioner Waring enhanced the department's relationship with the citizenry through numerous public information campaigns.

Waring advocated community participation in sanitary reform. He believed that ultimately the health and welfare of the city depended on the efforts of professionals and the cooperation of the public. Waring developed juvenile street cleaning leagues to help bring the public in line with the departments conception of cleanliness.

The juvenile street cleaning leagues were effective means of instilling New York's immigrant children with clean habits and pride for their neighborhood. Waring's juvenile street cleaning leagues stressed individual responsibility, which each child demonstrated by taking a civic pledge and compiling weekly progress reports. Based on their activity, the children were assigned ranks ranging from helpers and foreman, to superintendents. Waring was keenly aware of the importance and effectiveness of using children to spread the mantra of cleanliness. As Waring noted:

    In sections of the city where the English language is but infrequently heard the children are often the only means of communications which parents have with outsiders. Thus the children's assistance in spreading a knowledge of ordinances and the reasons for then is of no small value. (Waring, Street Cleaning, 1897, p 185)

The effectiveness and enthusiasm for the juvenile street cleaning leagues did not end when Waring left office. Subsequent street cleaning commissioners used the juvenile leagues to encourage community spirit and participation in sanitary reforms.