Arts and Crafts and the Settlement, July 8, 1902


Miss Jane Addams on the Relation Between Arts and Crafts and the Settlement-–Teachings of Ruskin and Morris-–Machine Production and Divided Labor Work Against Art Instincts

The second conference of Social Settlement week, was held in the Hall Tuesday, July 8. In introducing Miss Addams, Dr. Graham Taylor said: "One of the most pathetic and serious phases met by settlement people in the great industrial centers of the cities is that art has been divorced from craft. And yet the art instinct has not been entirely eliminated from the craftsman. Just in proportion as the workers by the division of labor are confined to some of the most minute details of labor, they seem spellbound by the spectacle of any complete process. I do not believe that any of us who wear garments or use upholstery of an artistic design, realize to what extent the art instinct has been crushed out of the laborer by machine production. A gentleman's shirt passes through over twenty hands in the process of making. No one of the workers could make a whole shirt; each does the one thing that he can do quickest. That destroys the interest of the worker in the work. The settlement and other groups of workers are trying in various ways to reinstate the art ideal and interest in common work. In my estimation there never has been quite such a stroke of settlement genius in originality and ideal as the at present somewhat vague and intangible but wholly practical labor museum that has been established at Hull House."

Miss [Addams] then spoke as follows:

It is hardly fair for the settlements to put the words "arts" and "crafts" too much in juxtaposition with the settlement. The movement originated in England, having its impetus from the teaching of Ruskin and William Morris. They were both trying always to do the impossible thing, and so far as they achieved it, it is the more magnificent. They hoped to bring back the spirit of the medieval workers into industry. We hope to bring something of the medieval spirit into industry but not in so literal a way as did William Morris in his first factory.

Ruskin has said that labor without art brutalizes. The man who labors without knowing why he does it, without any refreshment or solace from his labor, grows more or less dehumanized. That is a very large statement, but I think that any of us, as we go past a building in process of erection, will feel clearly that the men who do the least interesting work, the men who carry the bricks, look the least intelligent. The man who has a bit of skill in his work, the masons, look more intelligent, and the man who supervises all, the architect, seems to be having the most fun out of it. What is it which that man who carries bricks lacks? He has a right to feel his share in the building. He is doing something very important. After all the work is accomplished and it is ready for use, the building is dedicated, and many fine things are said about it but someway or other we have been unjust to this man. Morris and Ruskin tried to get around it by saying that there should be a guild of men each of whom knows all about the building, as did the guilds of the cathedral builders. Although the cathedrals were several generations in building, and each of the builders had but a small part in the work, each one knew what was coming out, each expressed the art motive, and some of the most beautiful things in the cathedrals have been made by men who names are unknown, but who were simply members of the guild. Morris in his factory has tried to do this. He hoped not that every man might design whom made the stuff, but that he might realize the design. As one went through the factory he would see a stalwart man bringing down the die and stamping the [incomplete]

And so one might go through all the ideas and put his hand on the weak points, until one almost comes to the socialistic point of view. But in the meantime there is something to be done to ameliorate the condition of the man who works constantly without relation to the result of his labors.

The relation of the settlements to this question came about in London through Mr. [Ashbee] at Toynbee Hall. Mr. [Ashbee] had been educated as an architect, and he had also great promise in other crafts, particularly in woodcarving and as a silversmith. He started a guild of boys living near Toynbee Hall and tried to find out in them certain aptitudes. Their first work was the decoration of the dining-room at Toynbee Hall. This room, judged not by a standard of untrained boys but judged by absolute standards is probably the most beautiful room in any of the settlements. Mr. [Ashbee] later moved a mile and a half from Toynbee Hall and there has formed a very large guild. Morris found that he had to subdivide the labor, but he insisted on hand labor. [Ashbee] would not divide the labor. Many of the people who worked under him did not give their entire effort to this work, but they were people who were engaged in other work-–men who were teaching in manual training schools, business men and professional men; but with them he trained up a body of boys who some people say are doing the best work in London.

In every settlement situated in an industrial neighborhood, one in which most of the people make their living by the work of their hands, we come to the point of view where it seems impossible to go on giving lectures and conducting clubs in the evening as a mere filling in at the end of a hard day's work. A man who has worked for ten hours in a factory is apt to go to sleep at a lecture, and he has a right to sleep. A girl who has been doing the same sort of monotonous work all day comes to a club and she wants recreation, and she wants it hard and fast, something which will lift her out of her hard task. The bulk of them cannot stand it; the tissues are too worn out and the mind too soddened. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the condition of the majority.

There are two ways out of this difficulty. One is to try to get everybody out of the factories into some sort of clerical work, making professional men of them and getting them away where they will perhaps even forget that there are factories; getting them out of manual labor. Of course that is begging the question. While the settlements are quite willing to help along the exceptional boy or girl, to try this with everyone would be to say that you cannot cope with the question. I would wish the man in the factory to learn to use his hands so he shall give himself some pleasure thereby.

We have at Hull House shops in which metal textile work is going on. ↑One↓ young man of about twenty is preparing himself to be a lawyer. He used to hang around the shops but never offered to do anything. One evening he seemed to take a sudden resolve. He took off his coat and sat down to one of the benches and began to work. It transpired that he was a very clever silversmith but all the time he had concealed that fact because he thought it would hurt his efforts as a lawyer. He was finally encouraged to undertake some work, and he made some very clever things which were very much praised by the people who came to see the shop. His entire attitude seemed to change. He became much more talkative, much more interesting, and instead of being a prig and trying to do things he did not know very well how to do, he is what he ought to be, a man on his own feet. I believe that America has lots of people like that. Certainly in any neighborhood with many Italians, Russians, Bohemians we come across people who can do very [incomplete] exemplary man. He drank a great deal and abused his family. His little girl had her voice literally choked out of her by her father. The man finally committed suicide in a fit of delirium tremens. When his little girl came to my house afterwards she showed me a little ring which she wore, which her father had made in Bohemia, two hearts intertwined with a little sentimental verse. He had made it for his wife years before. His wife said that whenever she had enough money to buy him a little metal he was always all right, but he worked in a factory shoveling coal, work which was wholly and thoroughly distasteful and which brought him no solace. If in the midst of his monotony and disagreeable labor he might have had this solace, why should he not have had it?

We have manual training classes, but in time we may be justified in giving this work up, owing to the introduction of this work into the public schools, but even then it may be of value in getting hold of boys who have been pushed on into the factories where there is no opportunity to use this work; or for people who have brought from Europe the beautiful and fine traits of workmanship and yet who are ignoring it all; or to utilize this tendency as we see it all about us in the native-born Yankees with their tendency to whittle.

The labor museum at Hull House grew out of the shops. In the shops it is hoped many men and women will come who feel that in the old country they used to do something which now is slipping away from and which it would be a pleasure to them to do. Here they may come and at least have the pleasure of reminiscence in our work. The women come in great numbers. A number of Russian women were sewing in a room not far from our house. One of them had heard that there was a party at the house, and she volunteered to bring the other twenty-six. They came at a time when there was no party, and of course they were very much disappointed. The people in the house did everything they could to entertain them; they sang and played for them, but the women were evidently ill at ease. Finally it was suggested that they go to the labor museum. They went into the room, which is filled with spinning wheels and looms, and suddenly, they were worked up. They began telling of the different devices and methods used in different parts of Russia. Their relations were suddenly changed; instead of being entertained they were entertaining! They were giving something which we did not know about. The same thing is true of an Italian woman who came, bringing her daughter to the cooking class. She looked into the museum and saw the looms there, and immediately rushed out and came back with about twenty other Italian women in a state of great excitement. The life of an Italian woman in a crowded tenement is monotonous and uninspiring. We live in a time when there is demand for very little constructive work [incomplete] nothing very constructive about that, and besides that is not very much in her line anyway. The children would prefer the ready made clothes to those she makes, and usually they are cheaper. She has very little of that solace of creating things, of making things for people who are loved and who depend upon one. That, it seems to me, is the prerogative of the mother of a home.

Then there is the other class of people, those who have been cut off from work with their hands and are frantic to get back to such work. You see constantly people going back to labor. At the meeting of the Federation of Women's Clubs at Los Angeles I happened to visit a woman in her room one morning and found her making her bed. Another woman exclaimed to her, "Why do you do that? You know that the maid will make it again when she comes in." "I can't help it," she replied, "I have been reading Tolstoy and I have got to do something everyday with my hands." She was a club woman of ability, one who could use her mind. She read a paper at one of the meetings. There is hope for such a woman. I have had more faith in her ever since.

One sees in society this chasm between people who think and people who do, and there is the same duality in every individual. One again feels that we have come to a place where some sort of effort must be made not only to save the people in the factories but also the people on the other side. For some reason or other, the men in the factories have ceased, as a class, to invent. All sorts of prizes and incentives are offered for improvements and inventions, but still inventions do not come from the factory workers. Further, the man who works in the factory and who has to slow his speed to what he believes to be that of the average man, has a hard time of it. And the man who works in a factory and has to increase his speed beyond what is his normal rate, has a hard time of it, also. One day I met some girls coming from a factory, and one of them was walking by herself and looking very sullen. I asked the other girls why she was alone, and they replied that she was a racer, that she did more work than the rest of them could turn out, and they would have nothing to do with her in consequence. From the point of the view of the girls it was a matter of self-preservation. So all these complications come in.

I believe it is a compatible with the old guild spirit to have a pleasure, not in the immediate product, but in the ultimate product, a consciousness of belonging, a consciousness of society as a whole. But we, with our individualistic individuals, have been caught in the complex system which has developed, and we are dazed by it.

The effort has been tried in England to go back to the guild laborer. At Hull House, that may be illustrated in Miss Stacey's work in the bindery. Miss Stacey studied for two years in England, for this work. She can teach only a few people at a time, for it is done very carefully and thoroughly. The work is entirely outside of the market. It is an art product as much as if it were a picture, and each individual piece has a price put on it.

Another notion in dealing with factory labor is to use the machine to do your work, but making the machine a slave and not a master, trying to understand the machine.

A third movement is that of a wider education which will enable the people in the factories to come to a realization of the place of the factory in society. To despise the man in the factory and say it is more honorable to work in the office than in the shop, to say that to be a pettifogging lawyer is better than a straightforward foreman in the shop, is to bring in social standards which are left over from an ideal which we shall have to give up if we face conditions as they actually exist.