Michael Angelo Woolf was never primarily a political cartoonist in the common sense of the word. He made “[s]ome vigorous cartoons of Tweed during Nast’s raid on the ring, and some cartoons which alternated with Nast’s in the Hayes-Tilden campaign [in the 1880 Presidential election], [which] are remembered as his best work in this line.” But, his obituarist stresses, “he never strayed long from the sketching of types and the preaching of sermons in pictures, half humorous, half pathetic.” The foreword to Sketches of Lowly Life in a Great City, a collection of Woolf’s work published shortly after his death, praised his work and personality:“In the tenderness, sincerity, and simplicity of his work are to be found theelements which were most conspicuous in the personality of the late M. A. Woolf, together with unostentatious charity and a humor, unique in contemporary art, which, while always manly and honest, possessed the power to move as well to tears as to laughter.”
As already discussed, a recurring theme in Woolf’s cartoons was alcohol, which was invariably presented as a scourge. The posthumously published Sketches of Lowly Life, collects several of his combinations of temperance and waifs. In one cartoon, there is a simple contrast: where a “father’s day off” is spent with a bottle, a child’s day off is spent in the fresh air. In another, two waifs stand in front of a bar, asking the bartender if their father has gotten there yet. In yet another, two children look at a drunk; one asks if he has been “a-workin’” the growler again, to which the other replies that no, the growler has been “a-workin’” on the drunk. The familiar theme of the saloon as a destroyer of families was here reiterated, but with a stronger focus on how alcohol affected children.
Woolf’s temperance preaching, when combined with waifs, was often coupled with a framing that bordered on the melodramatic. Take, for instance, the cartoon of a young girl standing in the snow, outside a saloon, waiting: “I guess father’s forgotten all about me; it’s because I’m a woman, I suppose; he was just the same with mother when she was alive!” Other notable examples of melodrama, without the temperance dimension, include “A burial from the slums,” where a child’s casket is taken away on a hearse with only an emaciated dog trotting behind it, or “Alone at the railroad station – Thanksgiving Day,” in which a lonely, poor girl stands to the side as scenes of family reunion and romance play out all around her. Indeed, holidays, and particularly Christmas, were particularly common occasions for Woolf to play up the plight of the poor, with the simple cartoon “The empty stocking” serving as a perfect example: in it, above the caption, all we see is a crying child in a run-down shack, while snow falls outside. But perhaps the most powerful of Woolf’s images, for sheer emotional impact, is a cartoon in which a girl sits by her sick mother’s bedside, while Death stands at the foot of the bed. “She must be getting better,” reads the caption, “[i]t is the first time she has smiled.”
The contrast between the sketches of waifs discussed in this part and Woolf’s political cartoons discussed in the earlier segments might owe to the fact that the latter were mostly from Harper’s, whereas the cartoons in Sketches of Lowly Life are mostly from LIFE. Indeed, although not published exclusively in LIFE, Woolf’s waifs perhaps fit best there. Woolf, according to historian Martha Banta, can even be regarded as serving as a “forerunner of Life’s brief venture into socialism,” but imperfectly so. Banta invites readers to judge the efficacy of cultural work attempting to address social imbalances, by considering the axioms the producers of such work often obeyed:
Sentimentalism toward society’s lower classes is better than the contempt or indifference (the two sides of a single coin) expressed by the privileged, but is of more use to the weeper than to those wept over. Compassion is better than sentimentality when it explores the full meaning of its roots “to suffer with,” but it may not effect radical social change if exessive emphasis is placed upon passive martyrdom.
It should be noted that not every one of Woolf’s cartoons are infused with either sentimentality or compassion. In “A private rehearsal,” for example, he paints a couple of begging children as liars who invent sufferings to get money. But, in general, what makes Woolf’s work stand out among his contemporary artist-reporters discussed in this piece, is that he did not present the world of the waifs as anathema, nor did he sensationalize it. His slums were not an abomination where inferior “Others” lived, but a place where human life happened. It is this he most often represented in his waif cartoons – whether they ultimately conveyed sentimentality more useful to the weeper or compassionate invitations to suffer with the waifs – in terms as simple as a young boy on a stoop, weeping over the death of his dog, his “chum.”
It is useful here to turn to philosopher Marshall Berman and his analysis of Charles Baudelaire’s poem, “The Eyes of the Poor.” In “Eyes,” Baudelaire described a scene familiar to Woolf’s readers: a poor family stares at the wealthy patrons eating on a café terrace. The most affected are a couple, whose responses differ wildly: the man feels a little ashamed of “our glasses and decanters, too big for our thirst,” and feels kinship with the onlookers, but the woman wants only that the man get the manger to shoo them away. The man, it turns out, hates the woman for her response. For Berman, the scene is thoroughly modern, a product of the restructuring of Paris in which social classes were brought closer to each other while also being driven further apart economically. Late 19th century New York was in some senses similar; the middle and upper classes uptown benefited from the working masses downtown, but they did not want to see them. In his most radical cartoons, Woolf reproduced Baudelaire’s poem, but switched the perspective. Had he read the poem, he would likely have identified with the man, wishing to move closer to the outsider, and that his readers should join him.
As a cartoonist, Woolf’s stock in trade was “amplification through simplification,” often reducing the Lower East Side to a child stand-in, either trying to play up their humanity or their pain. This, again, was a matter of ideology. He tried to awaken his readership to the people who lived so close to them, yet in a world apart. He did this imperfectly, of course, not least because, like Riis and other realist photojournalists and cartoonists, he turned his own waifs into representative specimens of how “lowly life” was lived in the “Great City” he described. But he still differed in that he did not focus on squalor or chaos, and did not emphasize greed, lust, laziness, and hedonism; his was not a “discourse of the exotic and unequivocally inferior in need of salvation, isolation, or reform.”Upon his death, one notice quoted Woolf at length on his work:
If my little pictures have anywhere awakened a feeling of charity for my little friends I am supremely happy, and feel repaid for my work. It has been my constant care to keep in mind the fact that where a blow and ridicule would harden a sensitive nature, tears of pity and sympathy might soften the thorns which have entered the hearts of thousands of the slums.
Martin Lund is a Swedish Research Council International Post-doctoral Fellow at Linnaeus University (Växjö, Sweden) and a Visiting Research Scholar at The Gotham Center for New York City History.
Endnotes (continued from Part 1)
 Woolf, Sketches, v.
 Woolf, 99 Woolf’s, 24.
 Ibid., 13.
 Cf. Ibid., 6, 7, 9, 10, 15, 30, 35, 42, 55; Woolf, Sketches, 5, 17, 47, 53.
 Woolf, 99 Woolf’s, 6.
 Ibid., 45; see also 7, 29.
 Woolf, Sketches, 61.
 Ibid., 65.
 Ibid., 69. See also pp. 71, 73.
 Woolf, 99 Woolf’s, 5.
 Ibid., 63; Woolf, Sketches, 171.
 Woolf, Sketches, 175. Pp. 175–179
 Ibid., 77.
 Author Unknown, “M. A. Woolf Dead.”
 Woolf, 99 Woolf’s, 18.
 Ibid., 33.
 Woolf, Sketches, 67. See also pp. 79-81, 85, 87, 89, 93, 99, 179, and 99 Woolf’s, 19, 44.
 E. J. N., “Sketches of Lowly Life in a Great City, by Michael Angelo Woolf. Edited by Joseph Henius. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.,” The Wellesley College Magazine, 1899, 406.
 E. J. N., “Review of Sketches.”
 Martha Banta, Barbaric Intercourse: Caricature and the Culture of Conduct, 1841-1936 (University of Chicago Press, 2003), 253.
 E. J. N., “Review of Sketches,” 89.
 Woolf, Sketches, 93.
 Ibid., 99.
 Woolf, 99 Woolf’s, 52.
 Woolf, Sketches, 105.
 Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (London: Verso, 2010), 148–155.
 Mele, Selling the LES, 31–32.
 Ibid., 32.