Peeling Potatoes to Pay Tuition


One way to pay for college in 1906 or today: repairing bicycles.
May 02, 2010

With unemployment in the United States hovering at 9.7 percent, job options for most college students are limited.

Were he alive today, Selby A. Moran would advise students not to become discouraged. Rather, they should muster their pluck and find work, say, taking orders for underwear or peeling potatoes.

Moran, a stenography instructor in Ann Arbor, Mich., was the author of Over 100 Ways to Work One's Way Through College, a 1906 artifact that our colleague David Glenn recently stumbled across on Google books.

"If a young man or woman is ambitious, is willing to work, has good health, and is not seriously handicapped by others dependent upon him," wrote Moran, "he cannot blame fate or anything else if he ­fails to acquire a college education."

Brimming with optimism—perhaps unsurprising in an age of 1.7-percent unemployment—Moran obviously did not foresee a day when annual tuition at some colleges would exceed $50,000.

That, he might have thought, is a lot of potatoes.

Here are a few of Moran's suggestions for students, along with the money one might have expected to net more than a century ago:

Singing in church choirs—$1 to $3 per Sunday

Distributing circulars—$200 a year

Conducting a kindergarten school—$8 a week

Soliciting orders for Chautauqua desks—$1.35 per desk

Repairing gasoline stoves—30 cents an hour

Mending for lady students—20 cents an hour

Setting type—$100-$150 a year

Selling copies of lectures—$3 to $4 per week

Mending shoes—$500 a year (minus tool expenses)

Laundry agent—$20 a week

Selling past copies of examination papers—a few cents per student per exam

Selling shoes—$1.25 a pair

Selling butter—$10 a week

Selling orders for canned goods—$6 a week

Acting as assistants to professors—$100 to $300 a year

Giving massage treatments—50 cents to $1 an hour

Lecturing for the Anti-Saloon League—an undisclosed percentage of the offering plate.