Steamship Stories – Meals in Steerage

From The Chautauquan (November 1907)
Description of Meals in Steerage

The entire steerage was divided into groups of four, six and eight each. Each of these groups appointed a captain to go to the galley at each meal to receive the dole of food for the entire group. These groups make themselves as comfortable as they can — anywhere. Sometimes on a hatch, sometimes on deck, sometimes in their bunks. The steerage is not provided with means for sitting down so usually the meals are eaten on the floor. After the food of each group has been apportioned every man shifts for himself — or goes without if he can’t stand the filth and the smells and the discomforts.

I shall never forget the first meal I received on this boat. We had left Naples late in the afternoon. The rent in the side of Vesuvius was already beginning to glow blood red. About dusk we were called to the galley. I had not joined any definite group at that time so taking my gear in my hands I lined up with the long row of captains down the galley passageway.

The food was being dispensed from the galley by two Italian stewards. When my turn came to receive the dole I had to brace myself considerably. The first steward was a dirty, middle-aged Italian in a filthy shirt. A hand soiled with all kinds of dirt — ship dirt, kitchen dirt and human dirt — pulled a great “cob” or biscuit out of a burlap sack and shoved it towards me. Then he snatched up a tin dipper and filled it with coarse red wine. As he handed this to me he sneezed — into the hand from which I had just taken my biscuit.

That sneeze cane nearer to being My undoing than six days of storm on the out trip. I passed quickly to the next man who slopped a dipper of macaroni soup into my saucepan. This was the complete meal, and every bit as good as the best meal I had on the whole trip. There is no complaint about the quantity of the food, but the quality, and the way that it was served was not fit for human beings.

I am not in the least hypercritical here. I can, and did, more than once, eat my plate of macaroni after I had picked out the worms, the water bugs, and on one occasion a hairpin. But why should these things ever be found in the food served to passengers who are paying $36.00 for their passage? Such gross carelessness is indulged in only because the White Star Steamship Company knows that the steerage people are not in a position to lodge any material complaint or to make any serious objection.


2 Responses

  1. We should be able to find the original of this article at the Hay. According to the library website, it’s located in the HAY STAR collection, call #AP C39.

  2. […] family traveled to New York in steerage.  This photo shows what that looked like.  The story of one person around 1906 might have represented the experience of our family as […]

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