To Aid Craftsmen, August 15, 1902


The Times' Answers by Experts




(Founder of Hull House, Chicago.)

IT IS at once pathetic and serious to the dwellers in a settlement in a large industrial city like Chicago to discover how much art has been separated from craft. In the mind of the craftsman the art instinct still exists, but its development or even the use of that which has been developed is forbidden inexorably. Many modern workers are confined to the mechanical guiding of a machine that turns out with mathematical regularity one part of a manufacture. Their native inventiveness has no means of expression and its attempt to find an outlet is one of the most pitiful phases of a workingman's life.


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 out of a factory, one of them 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 [image: JANE ADDAMS.] of them could turn out, and they would have nothing to do with her in consequence.



After a piece of work has passed through twenty or thirty different hands, each of which manufactured but one of its component parts, the separate workmen have lost all interest in it as a whole. They have no chance of following the completed process, narrowed as they are by their one mechanical act.

Take the manufacture of a shirt, for instance. It passes through twenty different hands, and yet perhaps not one of the individual workers would be able to make a whole shirt. Each does the thing he or she can do most quickly. What interest have such workers in the labors of their hands?


Confronted with this knowledge Hull House saw its opportunity. The settlement determined to experiment in different ways to awaken into life an interest in the completed product and a realization of the consecutive processes of manufacturing. It has succeeded in some measure. In its attempt to resurrect the art ideal in workers wearied and dazed with the mechanical iteration of their employment, Hull House Museum, the outcome of this attempt, has done and is doing something to arouse individuality in those brought into contact with its influence, and, though the result up to the present may be somewhat difficult to determine, its leavening principle is at work.


Hull House settlement, situated in an industrial neighborhood, where the people make their living by the work of their hands, realized that something had to be done to change these conditions, and came to the conclusion that merely giving lectures and conducting clubs in the evening as a frill at the close of a hard day's labor was totally inadequate to that end. A man who has worked for ten hours in a factory is apt to go to sleep at a lecture, and he certainly has a right to sleep. A girl who has been doing the same sort of monotonous work all day comes to a club not for instruction. She wants recreation -- something that will lift her out of her hard task. Her tissues are too worn out and the mind too soddened for study.

The old-fashioned way out of this difficulty was to attempt to get everybody out of the factories into some sort of clerical work, making professional and business men of them and getting them away where they would perhaps even forget that there were factories, taking them away from manual labor. Of course, that is begging the question. While the settlement is quite willing to help along the exceptional boy or girl, to try this with everyone would be to say that the settlement could not cope with the situation and that it has nothing to offer the man in the factory to give some pleasure and uplift to his life.


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 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 men who have a bit of skill in their work, the masons, look more intelligent, and the man who supervises all, the architect, seems to be having the most fun of all out of it.

What is it which that man who carries bricks lacks? He has a right to feel his share in the building, for he is doing something very important and necessary to the completion of the task. After the work is accomplished the building is dedicated and many fine things are said about it, although little thought is given to the unskilled labor embodied in it.


Morris and Ruskin tried to get round [it by] saying that there should be a [guild] of men, each of whom should know 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 whose names are unknown, but who were simply members of the guild.

Morris, in his factory, tried to do this. He hoped not that every man might make his own design, but that later he might realize that design in the work. He seemed to think this only possible as hand labor, but it may be questioned whether the use of muscle instead of a machine on any particular piece of work will bring out any more clearly in the mind of the worker the idea of the beautiful.


In any neighborhood where many Italians, Russians and Bohemians live we come across people who can do very beautiful work, but who have lost the notion of doing it, unless they have got into some of the exceptional shops where that work is called for. I knew of a case of a Bohemian who was given to drinking and abusing his family. He finally committed suicide when in a fit of delirium tremens. His little girl afterward showed a ring she wore. Her father had made it for her mother -- two hearts intertwined with a little sentimental verse. His wife said that whenever she had money enough to buy him a little metal he was all right, but he worked in a factory all day shoveling coal, which was distasteful to him. If in the midst of his monotony and disagreeable labor he might have had this solace of congenial work what a difference it would have made to him.


The labor museum at Hull House grew out of the conditions of the neighborhood in which live men and women who feel that in the old country they used to possess skill which is now slipping away and which it would be a pleasure to them to use. Women come in great numbers. A number of Russian women were sewing in a room not far from Hull House. One of them heard that there was a party at the house, and she volunteered to bring the other twenty-six. They came at a time there was no party, and were very much disappointed. The people in the house did everything they could to entertain them with music and pictures, but the women were evidently disappointed. Finally they were taken into the labor museum. They saw the spinning wheels and looms. All at once they began to tell of the different devices and methods used in various parts of their own country.

Their relations were now changed. They were entertaining us and telling us something which we did not know about.


The same thing is true of an Italian woman who brought her daughter to the cooking class. She looked into the museum and saw the looms there and immediately rushed out and came back with a dozen other Italian women in a great state of excitement. The life of an Italian woman in a crowded tenement is monotonous and uninspiring. We live in a time when there is a demand for very little constructive work done by the hands. There is scrubbing and cleaning, but there is nothing very constructive about that. The children would prefer ready-made clothes to those she makes. She has very little of that solace which comes from making things for other people who are loved and who depend upon one, and yet that would seem to be the prerogative of the mother of a home.


Every Saturday evening people, like this Italian woman, from the neighborhood, who had been expert spinners or weavers in their own country, come to demonstrate the different processes to visitors, who arrive in large numbers. Italians, Greeks, Russians and Syrians illustrate the methods of spinning.

The museum is now able to show four variations of the earliest method of spinning. In one case an Italian woman from the interior of Southern Italy uses a stick weighted by two disks to twirl the fibers together, while a Neapolitan from the coast uses a stick weighted by a ring of metal, which increases the momentum, producing a higher rate of speed. A third variation is used by a Syrian woman, and consists of a small wooden disk at the top of the stick, with which she is able to produce a thread so fine that it would have been broken by a heavier spindle. Two Italian women, a Russian and an Irish woman, who use the comparatively recent spinning wheel, not only do the work well, but very much enjoy the demonstration and explanation, in which they join.


In connection with the spinning, demonstrations are held on the first crude processes of scouring, dyeing and carding. Wool, cotton, flax and silk are put through the various processes of preparation and spun into thread by skilled spinners almost every Saturday evening.

Little collections of flax and cotton, as well as of wool and silk, are exhibited in the various stages from the raw material to the factory product, and are supplemented by some really beautiful photographs, the latter showing the early Egyptian spinning of flax with the distaff, and the cultivation of flax along the Nile. Many of the Italian women who come to the museum have never seen spinning wheels, and look upon them as a new and wonderful invention.


There is another class of people who have been cut off from working with their hands and are eager to get back to such work. 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, "Why do you do that? You know the maid will make it when she comes in." "I can't help it," she said: "I have been reading [Tolstoy], and I have got to do something every day with my hands." She was a clubwoman of ability, one who could use her mind. I have had more faith in her ever since.


We have shops in which metal work is going on. One young man about twenty was preparing himself for a profession. 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 at one of the benches and began to work. He was a very clever coppersmith, but had concealed the fact lest it should hurt him in his contemplated profession.

The very clever things which he made were very much praised by the people who came to see the shop. His entire attitude seemed to change. He became very much more talkative, more interesting, and instead of priggishly trying to do the things he did not know very well how to do he became what he ought to be -- a man on his own feet.


One sees in society this chasm between the people who think and the people who do, and there is the same duality in every individual. It is certain that some sort of effort must be made, not only to save the people in the factories, but also from the monotony of toil, the people who are suffering from idleness. They need, as does the worker himself, a consciousness of belonging [page 2] to the world of society, although they have reached their dearth of interest by an entirely different method.


As the labor museum grows it will show the development of machines until each man comes to have an intelligent understanding of the mechanism he constantly uses. The machine will be used as a servant, not as a master. A wider education will enable people in the factories to come to the realization of the place of the factory in society. To despise the man in the factory and say that to be a pettifogging lawyer is better than to be a straightforward foreman in a shop is to bring in social standards left over from an ideal we shall have to give up if we are to face conditions as they actually exist.