Thursday, June 24, 2010

Josephine Selvaggio: Hastings Commuter


After last week’s post, it seems appropriate to introduce you to one of the Hastings commuters who brought the floors of Grand Central Station to such a state of disrepair. Her name is Josephine Selvaggio of 22 Main Street, Hastings-on-Hudson, and she is 25 years old. It is 1926, and Josephine works as a secretary for Commercial Investment Trust (now CIT) of Manhattan.

Josephine was born in Palermo, Italy, in 1901, and arrived in Hastings with her parents when she was nine. Her father was a shoemaker and opened a shoe store on Main Street. In 1921 she received a card in a handy holder, certifying to her expertise on the Remington typewriter (see below). It notes that she is a student at Hasting High School.

But Josephine left school before graduation so she could help her parents with expenses. Graduating from high school, as she would later write in her short memoire Reminiscing Hastings, was a luxury that not everyone could afford in the 1920s. And so she went to work for Commercial Investment Trust.

Certificate of Efficiency awarded by the Remington Typewriter Company to Josephine Selvaggio, a student in the Hastings-on-Hudson High School, on Nov. 14, 1921. The certificate notes that she "has written on a Remington typewriter at a net speed of 49 words per minute for ten consecutive minutes."

But it is not her job, but her train ticket (see below) that certifies Josephine as a genuine commuter. Like all the best things, the commuter is an American invention, brought about by the expansion of the railway system. In 1848 passengers on the New Jersey train were offered a convenient 8-trip ticket that was cheaper than 8 individual tickets would have been. It was called a commutation ticket, taking its name from the verb “commute,” meaning to exchange something for something else, in this case eight tickets for a single ticket.

By 1926, when Josephine was traveling back and forth to New York City, you could buy a “monthly commutation ticket”—in this case for the month of October. Why might Josephine have preserved this one particular train pass? The answer might lie in the date. On November 21 of 1926, Josephine Selvaggio married Joaquim Dos Santos at Saint Stanislaus Koska Church in Hastings. Just before their marriage, she took Joaquim to work with her.

“When I got married, I took my husband to meet everyone at work," she later told a local reporter. "They asked him ‘Why don’t you let Josephine stay here?’ But he said ‘No, she’s worked enough. She can be at home now.’ I came home and I cried.”

When Josephine was much older, she went into business for herself doing typing and typesetting under the name of the Hastings Letter Service. But throughout her life she preserved this, her last commuter train pass. This ticket and the typing certificate were donated to the Historical Society by her son Louis in 2009.

Monthly Commutation Ticket for J. Selvaggio for October of 1926 with holder including her photograph. The ticket was good only for travel between New York and Hastings-on-Hudson, and cost $8.31.

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