The Outdoor Cleanliness Association, or the OCA, formed in 1930 with the aim to raise awareness for cleanliness in the city. Consisting of solely wealthy white women in the Upper East Side, the OCA was one the most active and influential private citizen groups, working with the Department of Sanitation in Sanitation Education and public relations. This immense amount of organizational effort can be seen through the preservation of an archive donated on February 1, 1971 by Mrs. Charles Gristede, the daughter-in-law of the founder of the Gristedes supermarket chain, to the New York Public Library.
Members divided into Committees that focused on certain cleanliness issues, such as the Block Committee (who made sure that blocks would have “neat and orderly premises”) and the Dog Committee (who, allegedly, came up with the phrase “Curb Your Dog”).These wives of wealthy businessmen and bankers gathered membership fees to print ephemera such as pamphlets, certificates for the cleanest children, and cards that stated “Please THROW Cigarettes, Chewing Gum, Papers into Litter Basket. SWEEP Sidewalk Rubbish into Trash Can” used in educational programs.In 1947, over 25,000 “Civic Pride in Your Home Town” booklets were distributed to public schools across New York City. Hundreds of principals wrote to the OCA (with every letter addressing the OCA as “Sirs”) requesting the booklets in order to “educate the children as to how to be good housekeepers out of doors.” They believed that informing “every man, woman, and child, can do his part to help keep the city clean and improve the health of the community.”
Dog Comfort Station Launch, 1957. Source: Outdoor Cleanliness Association records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, New York City.
Such efforts to maintain control over the city streets often patronized other citizens with the inherent assumption that no one else knew how to be clean.The OCA planned community events to encourage caring for the city, directing resources to initiatives that helped neighborhoods become aesthetically beautiful. They often took advantage of their close relationships with the Sanitation Commissioner, the Police Commissioner, Health Commissioner, and Superintendent of the Department of Education, the OCA often used their connections. Invites to annual Flower Marts, clean up demonstrations, and Sidewalk Chalk contests used municipal time and energy that ignored other infrastructural needs. The OCA campaign for “reducing dog nuisance,” for example, prompted the expensive $500 solution of “Dog Comfort Stations, paid for by taxpayer dollars through the Department of Sanitation.”Many of the registered dogs in the city were poodles, a popular trend for women in the Upper East Side.
The OCA also sponsored a Junior Outdoor Cleanliness Association, a largely social group that organized dances and helped out with the Flower Mart, effectively teaching Junior members how to live like OCA members in being “clean in every possible way” – a good citizen needed to smell good, look good, and be proud of being good.. As larger groups such as the Citizens Committee to Keep New York City Clean and Keep America Beautiful came onto the anti-littering scene, the OCA disassociated in 1969, overshadowed by the louder language from other groups.
Efforts in cleaning up neighborhoods of New York City did not solely rely on benevolent Upper East Side white women. Residents of Harlem and Brooklyn like Bessie Buchanan and Shirley Chisholm, were fighting through political avenues for the same amount of access and attention that “nicer” neighborhoods received from the government. Though their records may be as clearly accessible like the Outdoor Cleanliness Association, their work was still there.
Is Harlem really a “problem area”? Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Bird’s eye view of West 125th Street, Harlem, looking west from Seventh Avenue, 1943” New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Throughout the 20th century, many white private citizen groups attempted to solve the city’s problems. Groups like Citizens for Clean Air, the City Gardens Club of New York City, the Women’s Municipal League, the Clean Sidewalks Association (which eventually merged with the Outdoor Cleanliness Association), the Fifth Avenue Association, the League of Women Voters, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, Committee of 500, and the Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness, all aimed to beautify New York City, long before the Citizens Committee to Keep New York Clean (CCKNYCC) or Keep America Beautiful.
In 1953, Keep America Beautiful, was founded also by corporate and civic leaders. As a nation-wide campaign, Keep America Beautiful advocated to get “rid of the ugly litter now defaming the nation’s highways, the streets of cities and towns, the pleasure of parks and beaches.”The non-profit was led by William C. Stolk, the president of the American Can Company, along with other industrialists who created disposable products. They, the head executives of food, forest products, steel, tobacco, rubber, chewing gum, soft drinks, and candy, termed themselves the “Responsible people,” ones who were the strongest and most noble people to do something against “too great odds.” KAB tried to change the effects, but did nothing to change the cause.
Though women work for years, the 1950s brought to light a new group for “Municipal Housekeeping,” the Citizens Committee to Keep New York City Clean (CCKNYCC). In 1955, Mayor Robert F. Wagner asked Keith McHugh, the president of the New York Telephone Company, to organize a citizens committee, filling in services that the city could not completely provide.Men in powerful positions such as Harold W. McGraw (of McGraw Hill Companies), and George D. Busher (the former president of the Bronx Real Estate Board) along with a few select women, such as Miss Dorothy Shaver (the President of Lord & Taylor) had decided to take it upon themselves to take up the challenge of making the city clean, a role that could help gain political leverage. Later, for example, Chairman McHugh became the New York State Commissioner of Commerce in 1959.
Sigurd S. Larmon, the head of Young & Rubicam (Y&R), became the Public Information and Education Committee Chairman. A flourishing Madison Avenue advertising agency who gained fame from Jell-O and Gulf Oil, Y&R launched the first commercial campaign to help the Department of Sanitation clean up the city.The campaign, a “War on Litter,” focused on making litter baskets visible, with city-wide stunts such as “Big Sweeps.” Y&R aimed for a glamorous version of being clean, expanding from educational films to TV commercials with catchy songs and famous celebrities. Ella Fitzgerald was commissioned to sing “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” with the lyrics changed to “Please use the litter basket. / Oh, please don’t scatter dirty matter, Put it in the basket.”
The ad agency also published large Annual Reports each year for not only CCKNYCC members but also for recruitment. However, much of the actual reporting in the Annual Reports were largely ornamental. The change between clean and dirty sidewalks, effects on campaigns, or any other statistical references never had any evidence that was not circumstantial. Graphs had no scales, and captions describe locations as subjectively “cleaner” or “in good condition.”
Still, the Committee continued to launch expensive advertising campaigns. CCKNYCC used many different ad agencies: after five years with Y&R, the J. Walter Thompson advertising company launched “Cast Your Ballot Here for A Cleaner New York.” Again, the ad agency focused on litter baskets, plastering the image on TV spots, subway platforms, newspaper ads, sides of buildings, and small pamphlets. In 1959, these campaigns spent an estimated $1,368,000. Within the five years running the campaigns, the Committee had commissioned more than five million dollars’ worth of advertising.
Described to have “done more than any other group to foster the idea that individual ought to be personally responsible for litter,” CCKNYCC certainly made their efforts the most visible.Their photoshoots, celebrity advertisements, and giant litter basket stunts certainly showed a charismatic side to reducing litter. However, the celebratory self-congratulation by company executives, for company executives, did not give much reason for the internal company policies to rethink their own contribution to waste. “A Cleaner New York is up to You,” the group’s logo emphasized, excluding themselves from the “you.” In creating such a symbol, the group had already done its part.