A Tale of Thanksgiving in the Big City
Before Karen Cebreros and Kimberly Easson, and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance; before Erna Knutsen, and even Alice Foote MacDougall, there were women in coffee. Among them in 19th Century New York was a woman of many parts, and not a little mystery. Her name was Clementine S. Lamadrid. She operated a chain of, at their height, seven St. Andrews One-Cent Coffee Stands in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. St. Andrews sold a 7-ounce cup of coffee, with milk and sugar, and a slice of day-old bread for, yes, a penny. Lamadrid catered primarily to the threadbare street newsboys of the city, and the adult indigent of that generation, advertising that the enterprise was a subsidized charity called the Andrew’s One-Cent Coffee Stands Society. However, the business, which began in 1887, and shared its name with the Saint Andrews Society of the State of New York, an old Scots charity originally begun in 1744 (and in which the Gillies family was active) was not affiliated with any church or charitable organization.
Mrs. Lamadrid started the idea on her own, soliciting money from others as a donation to help keep the stands going and to add additional outlets. She controlled costs by visited coffee roasters and worked on their better nature to give her the best price. She visited the city’s commercial bakeries, who delivered fresh bread daily to the city’s restaurants and hotels, asking them to donate day-old bread which they picked up when they made their rounds each day. She leaned on impresarios, and musicians to give free concerts in support of the coffee stands, and at least one such concert was held at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday April 6, 1897. She organized and advertised massive hot Thanksgiving dinner, and Thanksgiving dinner-basket giveaways in the city to which the indigent were invited each year. The meals were paid for by subscribers buying dinner tickets, which they then distributed to less fortunate members of the community who were served by Mrs Lamadrid’s charity.
Some took exception to the coffee stands and dinners claiming that the enterprise was not a charity at all but a money-making fraud on the public perpetrated by Mrs. Lamadrid for the sole benefit of herself and that a swindle was being committed in the name of aiding the poor. In 1893 The New York World interviewed Mrs. Lamadrid and (quoting the claims of others) challenged her claim that her coffee business was a charity. She responded, “They accuse me of being a swindler and an adventuress.” Dear me, all lies. I’m no swindler.” Asked by The World to open up the books of the charity to scrutiny she said, “…”I will never make the figures public…” The New York Sun, an influential conservative newspaper of the day, printed a story on November 28, 1907, with the headlines:
“MRS LAMADRID’S STILL ACTIVE. SWINDLE, CHARITIES COMMISSIONER HEBBERD CALLED IT. MRS LAMADRID DIDN’T CARE AND WENT AHEAD WITH HER ONE CENT COFFEE STANDS AND HER THANKSGIVING DINNERS AND A CHANGING MULTITUDE OF CONTRIBUTORS.”
The Sun pointed out that the St. Andrews coffee stands were modeled after an earlier coffee stand charitable hoax that had been run by Home Relief Association, and the Juvenile Guardian Society with which Mrs Lamadrid had been connected before starting her own, far more successful uncharitable coffee scheme. The newspaper reported The Charity Organization Society (an alliance of charitable organizations) had sent out warnings against her to merchants and others in the city. Lamadrid sued for libel.
The outcome of the case is murky, but after her death in 1908, her husband was continuing the coffee stand operations which indicates that she either won the case, it was settled out of court in her favor, or it was settled out of court with the stipulation that Lamadrid clean up her act. The stands appear to have disappeared during the Great Depression years.
There is no way of knowing the truth of that slander today. Clementine Lamadrid was possibly a fake, and a fraud. What we know for sure is that Mrs Lamadrid was quite a character. For over a half century 30 years beyond her own passing) when there was no governmental safety-net to provide for the poor, Mrs Lamadrid’s St. Andrews One-Cent Coffee Stands provided a hot cup of coffee, and a crust of bread to perhaps many tens of thousands of New Yorkers who might have otherwise gone hungry during that 50 year span. Her customers paid a penny, the lowest price possible, only because even in that insensitive age Mrs Lamadrid understood that folks were embarrassed by accepting charity, and by paying something they kept their dignity.
Decades after Clementine Lamadrid’s passing, in 1908, lauded by The Sun, The Tribune and others, her husband was still continuing the work of the organization, operating coffee stands, holding charity concerts in their support, and was still giving away Thanksgiving dinners to the indigent of the city for a penny.