Child Labor and Pauperism, May 9, 1903 (draft)

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↑Address given at the Atlanta Conference↓
By Miss Jane Addams,
Hull-House, Chicago.

Each age has of course its own temptations and above all, its own peculiar industrial temptations. When we ask why it is that Child Labor has been given to us to discuss and to rectify, rather than to the people who lived before us we need only remember that for the first time in industrial history the labor of the little child has in many industries become as valuable as that of a man or woman. The old-fashioned leader ↑weaver↓ was obliged to possess skill and enough strength to pull his beam back and forth. With the invention of machinery the need of skill has been eliminated from many processes and, with the application of stream and electricity, strength has also been largely eliminated, so that a little child may tend the thread in a textile mill almost as well and in some respects better than a strong and clumsy man or woman. This is true of many other industries until it has come about that we are tempted as never before to use the labor of little children and that the temptation to exploit the premature labor is peculiar to ↑of↓ this industrial epoch.

What then are we doing about it? How deeply are we concerned that this labor shall not result to the detriment of the child, and what excuses are we making to ourselves for thus prematurely using up the strength of a child ↑which really belongs to the next generation↓. Of course it is always difficult to see the wrong in a familiar thing and it is a test of moral insight to be able to see an affair of↓ familiar intercourse and daily living may also be wrong. I have taken a Chicago street car on a winter's night in December at ten o'clock when dozens of little girls who have worked in the department stores all day are also boarding the ↑cars. I know as many others do, that these children will not get into their beds much before midnight and that they will have to be up again early in the morning to go to their daily work. And yet I take my car almost placidly,– I am happy to say not quite placidly – because I have seen it many times. Almost every day at six o-clock I see certain factories pouring out a stream of men and women and boys and girls. The boys and girls have a peculiar hue, a color so distinctive that anyone meeting them on the street even on Sunday in their best clothes and mixed up with other [page 2] children who go to school and play out of doors, can distinguish almost in an instant the children working in factories. There is also on their faces a something indescribable, a premature anxiety and ↑sense of↓ responsibility which we should declare pathetic if we were not used to it.

How far are we responsible when we allow custom to blind our eyes to the things that are wrong? In spite of our Charities and Corrections? are we really so lacking in the moral enterprise and vigor that the people who come after us may say, the real temptation which came to them they did not even perceive; they talked about applied morality seemed to have good ideas, but they fell down before the one situation ↑with↓ which they ought to have grappled with.

What excuses do we make for ourselves? ↑There are many but↓ the sentimental excuse is ↑perhaps↓ the one we use most frequently of them all. It is said there that the labor of these little children is needed for the support of widowed mothers. Some of us are sure that the widowed mother has been seriously overworked. In every community there can be only a certain number of widowed mothers unless some plague has carried off the men in the prime of life. Out of that number of widows only another certain number will be absolutely impecunious; for if the community is prosperous some of the workingmen, by benefit societies and insurances will have made some little provision for their families. Out of that certain number of impecunious widows only a few will have children between the ages of ten and fourteen, in which short space of time the temptation to the premature use of children's labor always lies.

In a certain manufacturing town it was discovered that 3600 souls on the school census rolls were not to be found in the schools. We have a much larger number than that in Chicago, according to our school census we lose 11,000 between the first and second grades. When in this particular manufacturing town it was suggested that the children be looked up and the number of those who were supporting widowed mothers be verified. Out of the 3600 children it was found that 1100 were legitimately out of the public schools, that they had moved out of the district, that they were ill, that they were attending private institutions, or that they were legally at work. That left 2500 to be accounted for [page 3] and out of those it was found that exactly 66 were the children of widowed mothers. Out of the 66 only 23 were in any real sense contributing to the support of their mothers. The other mothers had older children or other means of support so that only 23 were in any way absolutely dependent on the wags of those children, which wages could only be supplementary at best. It was certainly a great deal better for the community, for the widows and ↑for↓ the children, that grown up vigorous people should take care of those 23 widows ↑mothers↓ for a few years, until the children were old enough to go out to work [and] bring in a decent wage with which to support the family, and that children should be ↑having been↓ saved from a ↑the↓ breakdown, which premature labor so often implies ↑,otherwise the↓ When children are thus broken down ↑and↓ it means that we do not stand up to the obligations which belong to our own time, but insist upon using up the energy which belongs to the future. [page 4]

The first we met ↑Another [argument] which we have used so↓ constantly ↑that we have learned to call it the "self made man" argument.↓ in Illinois, as a main argument. I suppose was ↑We have been↓ told a hundred times – I am going to be moderate – that Mr. Rockefeller ↑and all the other successful men↓ went to work when ↑they↓ was ↑were↓ twelve years old. I do not know how many other men went to work at that [phenomenally] early age. I was ready to believe That all the ↑merchants and manufacturers↓ successful men in Chicago went to work ↑seemed their business start↓ when they were babies, but there was one reply always to be had. ↑In all this absolutely no account was taken of the changes in commercial & industrial life which had taken place during the last 30 years. I was one day talking to ↑once asked↓ a successful merchant there and he told me he went to work when he was twelve and I said to him ↑to tell↓ me exactly, or as nearly as you can what you ↑he↓ did when you were ↑he was↓ twelve years old. And I found that he went into ↑to↓ the country ↑store↓ very early in the morning & that ↑where↓ he took down the shutters and swept out the ↑floor, that↓ stove and during the day he waited on customers, ;that he knew most of them ↑whom he knew↓ personally, that part of the day he delivered the packages and stopped ↑a moment↓ for a ↑friendly↓ [cookie] or ginger snap; that later he kept the books and accounts; that at Christmas his employer sometimes took him with him when he went ↑to a larger city↓ to buy goods. In short he lived ↑had an↓ almost an ideal life ↑ideal opportunity↓ for learning ↑the↓ business in a small town ↑methods↓ of a rising merchant ↑in a small town↓ just the sort of education the business [page 5] [illegible] schools are trying to reproduce. I asked him how nearly that corresponded to the training boys were getting in his own store, he said some were at work in the basement; some carry ↑admitted that the boys who carried↓ cash from early morning till late at night and have no ↑had little sense of↓ relation to the business ↑and↓ no ↑real↓ identification with its ↑wider interests↓. The whole thing was as unlike his experience as two childish experiences could be. ↑One varied and educational, the other monotonous & [deadening?]↓. A certain manufacturer who went to work when he was ten and is now a ↑Chicago↓ millionaire manufacturer of Chicago ↑kindly↓ gave me the outline of his boyish life and they sounded very attractive and educational ↑experiences which were again↓. He began business in the ↑as a miner↓ and he came up through all the ↑learned the various manufacturing↓ processes in an ideal way, from the educational standpoint, just such a way ↑from the [handling] of the crude ore to the finished product, in quite the same way↓ as the most advanced schools are reproducing in miniature. What one wants to say is that the entire process of industrial methods of manufacture and of distribution have been changed in thirty years.  ↑This [experience] incomparably more valuable than that of the boy tending a machine in the big factory. Indeed↓ nothing is more fallacious than an argument based on past ↑[upon] personal↓ experience ↑of 30 years ago.↓ I always feel like saying to these men "You show the weakness of the self-made man. It would have been better if you had not begun to work at ten or twelve, for if you had stayed out of work longer you could have got a ↑When your sole↓ standard which is not altogether bound up in ↑is that of↓ your own personal experience, using that for your sole norm. ↑you find it impossible to use any other norm, if [illegible] the the basis for that experience has utterly changed.↓

There is much said about idleness "You would not bring up a child in ↑[Although] another argument is the↓ idleness ↑argument that in [repressing] child labor you encourage↓ Would you advocate idleness for a child ↑we are constantly asked↓. ↑Certainly no one who is in touch with the new education should for a moment advocate idleness but would advocate [work?] with some ed. value. [written on right margin] that is a mark of the non educated person. [illegible words]↓ We claim that there is no instruction ↑ed value↓ in the work as [page 6] now carried on in the subdivided factory. A child who remains year after year in the spinning room gets no instruction ↑merely a distaste for [no?] labor↓. We have ↑In↓ a soap factory near us and ↑in Chicago↓ little girls wrap up a bar of soap in two covers at the ↑minimum↓ rate of 3000 ↑bars↓ a week and I assure you I know many of them personally and there is no ↑a personal knowledge of [illegible] that they find no↓ education in it ↑beyond habits of obedience & promptness [illegible]↓. The ↑Their↓ only ambition is to wrap a little faster and ↑as fast as possible & to↓ get little more ↑as much↓ money ↑as possible↓. The only ambition in most of this sort of ↑The↓ work is to have it just good ↑done only well↓ enough to pass the foreman's inspection. If it better than that ↑than it need be for that↓ the others call the girl who does it ↑better↓ a fool. But if she ↑The girl who↓ earns more money she is ↑earnings are the largest at the end of the week is↓ filled with pride. And no one ↑We↓ would say that ↑scarcely call↓ that is a worthy ambition ↑educational [venture]↓. [page 7]

What connection do we find between Child Labor and pauperism? In the little book on American Charities written by Dr. A. G Warner a better than which has never been written issued, he takes statistics from various cities and gives three or four leading causes of pauperism. The first cause is non employment. In almost every case the men who first lose their places and are most quickly thrown out in an industrial crisis, those who are the last to be taken in in times of industrial prosperity, men who are inefficient and not very strong, men who do not stand well in the trades and whom the foreman is glad to get rid of in any way, are those who have never had sufficient training, and who curiously lack strength and vigor. How far is Child Labor responsible for this class of paupers? We have a municipal lodging house in Chicago largely filled with tramps. In addition to housing them, an intelligent effort is made to get them into regular industry. A physician is in attendance makes a careful examination of each man who comes to the lodging house and for the last few months we have been trying to see what connection can be generally established between premature labor and worn out men. It is surprising to find how many of them are tired to death of monotonous labor and begin to tramp in order to get away from it as a business man goes to the woods because [page 8] he is worn out with the monotony of business life. This inordinate desire to get away from work seems to be connected with the fact that the men have started to work very early before they had the physique to stand up to it, or the mental vigor with which to overcome its difficulties, or the moral stamina which makes a man stick to his work whether he likes it or not. But we cannot demand any of these things from a growing boy ↑they are all traits of the adult.↓ A boy grows ↑is naturally↓ restless, his determination ↑easily↓ breaks down and he runs away. At least this seems to be true of many of the men who come to the lodging house. I recall a man who had begun to work in a textile mill quite below the present legal age in New England and who had worked hard for sixteen years. He told his tale with all simplicity and as he made a motion with his hand, he said "I done that for sixteen years." I give the words as he gave them to me. "At last I was sick in bed for two or three days with a fever, and when I crawled out I made up my mind that I would rather go to hell than to go back to that mill." Whether he considered Chicago an equivalent for that I do not know, but he certainly tramped to Chicago and has been tramping four years. He does not drink except occasionally and that only during the last two years. He does not steal. He works in the summer and wanders about the rest of the year getting something to do when he can, but the suggestion of a factory throws him into a panic and quickly causes him to disappear from the lodging house. The physician has made a diagnosis of general debility. The man is not fit for steady work. He has been whipped in the battle of life and is spent prematurely because he began prematurely.

What does this mean? That the young cannot stand up to the grind of factory life; that they break down under it, and that we have no right to increase the list of paupers, the lists of those who must be cared for by the municipality and by state agencies because when they are still immature and undeveloped, they are subjected to this immense tremendous pressure.

Let us take another of Mr. Warner's classifications, his classification of illness. We know, of course, how ↑that↓ the hospitals are beginning to look into this matter, and how ↑that↓ they ↑are able to↓ trace certain diseases to the breakdown of the organs which were subjected to abnormal [page 9] classification of illness. We know, of course, how the hospitals are beginning to look into to this matter, and how they trace certain diseases in the breaking down of the organs and the abnormal uses of the organs uses before they are ↑were↓ ready to bear what is required ↑it↓. We had ↑I [recall]↓ a tailor for whom we ↑the residents of HH↓ tried to get medical assistance. He had premature senility and ↑He↓ died at the age of 33 having first ↑his death [illegible words]↓ run a sewing machine since he was nine years old. It is no figment of the imagination to say that the human system breaks down when it is put to this monotonous work before it is ready to stand up to that work, and that general debility and many diseases may be traced to premature child labor. ↑[illegible words]↓

Take the effect of pauperism ↑[pauperizing]↓ ↑effect of C. L.↓ on the parents. We have in Chicago a great many European immigrants, people who have come from country life in the south of Italy, of ↑or↓ Bohemia and other countries, hoping that the ↑their↓ children will have a better chance than at home. to grow up and to take care of them as they would have done at home. But at home ↑In the old country↓ they ↑the emigrants↓ worked on farms which was better and more ↑a very↓ normal for the boy ↑a young boy or girl↓. When they come to Chicago they see no reason why their children should not go to work, They ↑because like the [illegible words] merchant mentioned earlier they↓ see no difference between the normal activity which they had as boys and the grinding life to which they subject their children. It is difficult for a man who has had this ↑grown up in↓ outdoor life to adapt himself to the factory. You have the same experience here ↑in the South↓ with the families who come in ↑to the textile mills↓ from the country ↑little farms↓. It is difficult for them to do this ↑They resent the↓ monotonous, petty work. They get out from under it. They will do less skillful [page 10] work, like the running of elevators ↑in preference more poorly paid work like care of horses↓, sweeping stores ↑floors↓, ↑or↓ work which has some similarity to the work ↑that↓ to which they have been accustomed ↑at least↓ that is our experience in Chicago. So the parents drop out and the children adapt themselves ↑make adaptations↓ and remain and you get the curious result of the parent of the household being more or less dependent on the earnings of the child. You will hear a child say "My mother can't say anything ↑nothing↓ to me: I pay the rent"; or "I can do what I please because I bring home the biggest wages." All this tends to break down the normal relation between parents and children. The Italian men who go out to work on the railroad in the summer, ↑tend to↓ settle down in the winter on ↑upon↓ the wages of their children. It is too great a temptation. Bringing them in 8 days from Naples to Chicago tenements and asking them to make this adaptation is more than we could expect. A young man from the south of Italy was mourning the death of his little girl of 12 and ↑in his grief,↓ he said quite simply, "She was the oldest little ↑my oldest↓ kid (That is the English that many of our friends learn first) and in two years she could have supported me , and now I shall have to work five or six years longer until the next one (who was three or four years younger) can do it." He expected to retire permanently at 34. That breaking down of the normal relation of parent and child and ↑the tendency to↓ pauperizing of ↑pauperize↓ the parent, is something that we have no right to subject him to. We ought to hold the parent up to the obligation which he would have fulfilled, had he remained in his early environment.

But the pauperization of society itself is the most serious [page 11] charge. ↑To paraphrase an illustration used by the Webbs,↓ the factories say to the parents and to the community, You have ↑educated the↓ children in the public schools, ↑now please↓ give them to me for my factory. I will use them and in a little while they will get ↑until they begin to demand an↓ adult's wages and then I will turn them out again. If I have broken them down, the community will take care of them in the poorhouse and hospitals. The community that allows that is untrue to ↑allows↓ itself ↑to be most unfairly treated↓. What happens when an industry depends on the use ↑upon the labor↓ of boys and girls between ten and twenty? It takes those boys and girls ↑at the time↓ when they ought to be at school, ↑when↓ if they were the children of business men they would be having the ↑their↓ most expensive education, with recreation and pleasure; the age which the business man expects to be the most expensive in bringing up his family. It takes these ↑The wages [which] are paid to these↓ children of the poor and puts them to work and pays them wages, ↑are↓ not the wages which the adult requires, which ↑for↓ even the old political economists required ↑enough for↓ subsistence and reproduction of his kind, but wages of ↑below↓ merest subsistence so that the boy and girl take home barely what he has to eat ↑& [should]↓ He ↑The manufacturer↓ gives him no real instruction and teaches him nothing but ↑beyond the [mere] habits of↓ promptness and obedience. He gives him nothing that the public schools would give him. He learns ↑[In most] factories the work at [which] the children are employed tends to↓ no trade. and By the time he is old enough to receive adult wages he is ↑often↓ sick of the whole business.  Such an industry is parasitic on the future of the community. You know ↑all [recall] that↓ when the recruiting officers went into the factory regions of the north of England they found the bulk of the people below the standard ↑in stature↓ required of ↑in↓ English soldiers in stature, and  ↑Army↓, they were found especially dwarfed in that part of the country where the third generation is ↑have been↓ subjected to the effects of child labor and they [page 12] ↑and↓ [illegible] [recruited] for the Boer war there.  And the standard of height for the height for the English army is not very high. These  ↑it simply shows that [illegible]↓ children ↑subjected to premature labor↓ are handed over to the future normally ↑in an abnormal condition↓. They are deprived of education and given back to ↑and [are] as [depleted physically?] & they enter the life of↓ the community handicapped in every way. ↑There is of course the argument that the effect on the wages of the normal adult is such as to [illegible] pauperism.↓

You know the effect on other trades, as well as in textile works when children are introduced. It brings down the wages. I think Mr. Carroll D. Wright made the statement that in New England, the brick-layers pay ninety-seven and one-third per cent of ↑the bricklayers↓ their wages for the support of their wives and children up to 16 and the textile workers ↑that↓ only 33 per cent ↑of the textile workers↓ the support of their wives and children ↑to the same age↓. In the textile industries the fathers and mothers ↑and older children↓ pooling all their wages ↑into a common fund↓ receive less ↑50 dollars a month less↓ than the brick-layer ↑himself [alone?] during a year↓ and the children of the latter go to school on an average to the age of 16. That means that such an industry is an advantage to the community ↑as every industry maybe save those which are permitted to↓. It is true that the factories turn over more capital but they are using ↑as every industry maybe save those which are permitted to use↓ up the assets of the community the children of the laboring people.

The gravest charge I have to bring ↑against Child Labor↓ is that it pauperizes the community ↑consumers↓. If I wear a garment which has been made in a sweatshop or a garment ↑for [which] the maker has↓ not ↑been↓ paid a full living wage for the making so small ↑or↓ a wage ↑so small↓ that the maker's ↑her↓ earnings had to be supplemented by the earnings of her husband and children, then when I put on that garment I am pauperized. I am in debt to that ↑the↓ woman who made my cloak. I am a pauper made so at the expense of ↑and I permit myself to accept charity from the↓ poorest people in the community. [page 13] All that can be said against the parasitic character of sweating ↑sweated↓ industries can be said against the parasitic character of child labor, with this difference that it entirely ↑the latter↓ robs us of the future resources ↑assets↓ of the community ↑those↓ resources which should keep your industry ↑have kept the industry↓ going on for many years.

So there is ↑We may claim I think a↓ connection between child labor and pauperism not only for the child and the ↑his own↓ family, bringing on a premature old age and laying aside able bodied men and women in the prime of life ↑[meridian] of their years↓, but also the grievous charge is true that it pauperizes the community itself. and I should also add that it debauches our moral sentiment, it confuses our sense of values so that we learn ↑come↓ to think that a bale of cheap cotton is more to be prized than a child properly nourished, and educated and prepared to take his place in life. Let us stand up to the obligations ↑of our own↓ age. Let us watch ↑see to it↓ that we do not discount the future and cripple the next generation because we were too indolent, I was going to say because we were too dull, to see it all that involves, when we use the labor of little children.

(Mr. Fox reads from Outlook next).

[page 14] 

Atlanta address for Charities