Monday, September 14, 2015

Wanted: "Sober Barber"

Do you have any barbers in your family tree? My 2nd great-uncle, James Francis Simmons, was a barber in Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania when he got married in 1903. He eventually owned at least two barber shops in Pittsburgh: one was downtown on Diamond Street in the 1910s and the other was on Grandview Avenue in the Mt. Washington area.

So the following letter to the Editor in a 1922 trade magazine called The Journeyman Barber caught my eye:

"Who ever saw an advertisement for a cigarmaker, tailor, shoe maker, hatter, or of any other trade but barber, prefaced with 'no boozer' need apply? And yet we frequently see advertisements for barbers with this admonition, 'no boozer,' or 'sober barber wanted.'  And how many stop to consider what it really signifies? It gives the impression that the majority of barbers are boozers and unreliable. It is an insult to the barber profession, and no self-respecting barber will accept a position to work for one who will lower himself and his profession by casting such aspersion on the trade. We hear and read a great deal about elevating the barber profession; and a great deal of improvement has been made during the past thirty years toward bringing the barber to a higher and more respectable position in society. But still we have some of those thoughtless, pinheaded, narrow-minded, would-be aristocratic barbers (there are not words in the English vocabulary to sufficiently describe them), that persist in such advertisements, which when read by the public, are given the impression that the average barber is a soak, and unreliable, and that the few sober gentlemen who are in need of help, have to advertise for a 'sober barber' in order to secure such reliable help."

Could this actually have happened? Apparently, yes. When I did a search for "sober barber" on, the total number of results was over 1600 matches. Here are two examples from Pittsburgh newspapers:

The Pittsburgh Post, December 14, 1902

The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 6, 1916

You never know what you may learn about your ancestors' occupations from trade publications and newspapers...

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