Miss [Addams's] Talk at the Parker School,
Wednesday, 27 March 1907.
Miss Cooke thought you might be interested to know how the Labor Law grew and how it happened to come in the first place and how year by year we added something more to it.
You know almost since the beginning of time children have done some work and that is right. It would be very sad if you knew that you couldn't work. But for many centuries the children would simply help their parents. The mother would weave and spin and the children would, perhaps, gather the flax or beat it; and perhaps the father, when he was on a farm, the boys would help him. And everybody thought that was all right and no one ever thought of framing any laws against that. But after [a while], the weaving and spinning, instead of being done in the house, was put into great factories. That happened in England along about in 1770, 1780 and 1790. [page 2] People discovered that instead of having a weaver toil at his bench and put his shuttle back and forth, they could have the shuttle pushed by steam, and of course it was better to have all the shuttles run by steam in one big factory. And then, for the first time, it began to be very bad for the children. You see, when the children worked at home, the only persons who could run a loom were the grown-up people. It took some strength and it took some skill to know when to put the shuttle back and forth, but when that got into the factory, it didn't take any skill. And the manufacturers said, we won't pay the old weavers to come here and work, but we will have the children, because it will be cheaper. The children can keep the shuttle from catching in the warp and if the thread breaks they can tie it. And the old weavers found that it did not pay them to work at home, and some of them got starved out, because the machine did the work so much faster and the [page 3] children could work for so much less.
And all at once England woke up to the fact that the factories were full of children. In England, you know, instead of poor-houses they had parishes, and these factories would send to the cities and get these children from the parishes, two or three hundred of them, and put them to work at the looms. It kept the children in the house twelve hours at a time, twelve hours by day and twelve hours by night, two shifts. Some of the factories had places for the children to sleep, right in the factories. There is a story told about their sleeping in these beds and that the beds were never cold; that the children working by day were tumbled out and the night set were tumbled in, and so the beds were always kept warm. Some of the mills in the north of England were almost filled with these children.
Finally someone said, something must be done about this. The children are not going to school; they are not [page 4] learning any trade; it isn't any trade to learn to tie threads.
The first law was passed by the English Parliament in 1802, and that law said that no child under ten should be allowed to work at night. In Parliament a great deal was said against passing this law; some said all of the weaving and spinning would go to Belgium if this law was passed, but they kept at it, and finally it was passed.
One of the first men to try to better conditions for the children was [blank space left for name]. Then there was Lord [Shaftesbury]; he was a splendid man. He worked for years and years and years in England in order to get the children protected, so that they would not use themselves all up in the mills.
I am telling you about England to show you that every country has a good deal of the same problem. We are having about the same problem in America. When we had cotton, we used to send it to England to be woven; then later we sent it [page 5] to New England, and during the last ten or fifteen years it has been done in the South, and there they are putting the little children to work. While the little children used to work picking the cotton in the fields, that was all right, for they were out doors, but in the mills it is different. Once, when I was in Columbia, South Carolina, I saw a little girl of five working all night. She was going back and forth, back and forth and she was so small she could not reach up, but had to have a soap box to stand on, which she kept kicking along as she went back and forth. She was taking snuff, too. People down South take snuff a good deal -- it is a form of tobacco, you know; they have what they call a snuff stick. This little girl had one of these snuff sticks in her mouth. I asked her to let me look at it, and when she took it out of her mouth, I could see all her little teeth, and she had all her little baby teeth. Her sister, who was a little bigger, explained that she herself could work every night, but that her sister could work only three [page 6] nights a week. I spoke to the factory man about her, but he didn't see anything wrong about it. You see these men get used to it. He was proud of her; he said, "I tell you, she is a good one. Just think of that little thing being able to work night after night."
Now people in the South are beginning to make their laws, and we in Illinois began to make our laws in 1892; that was when we first began to get some child labor laws in Illinois, because the people that went to Springfield thought that Illinois was an agricultural State and did not need any laws to govern manufacturers. But when we got to looking into it we discovered that the children, boys especially, were working all night in the glass works, in East St. Louis, in Alton, etc. The boys continually worked eight hours a night. They had four hours on and then four hours off and then four hours on. When they were through with their work they would go home, they would not go to school; they would perhaps sleep [page 7] a little or play a little while, and it was found that a great many of these boys -- one shift was turned off at three o'clock in the morning -- they would go to the saloon and take a drink, because they wanted something exciting to do before they went to bed.
Then we discovered a great many little children in Chicago working in box factories and in sweat shops. We had a committee to investigate this, and that committee went to the Legislature and asked the Legislature to send a committee to investigate. Governor Deneen was a member of the committee. I remember how indignant he was at some of the things we were able to show him in Chicago, in our neighborhood. And so we finally passed a law that no child under fourteen should be allowed to work in a factory or sweat shop. That went along for a long time, for ten years. We were not satisfied with this law, we thought it could be made better, but we did not try to do anything about it, because there was so much talk [page 8] against having this law anyway.
Then we discovered that a great many parents were making affidavit saying a child was fourteen when he wasn't. The parents would go to a notary and pay a quarter, and the notaries, some of them who were not very honest, would sell these affidavits for a quarter. And so we would often have boys and girls who were only ten and eleven but looked kind of big, we would find them called fourteen and put to work. And when the State Factory Inspector would come around and would find these children, he could not do anything because they would have these affidavits saying they were fourteen.
In 1893 we tried to get this law, -- that no child shall be considered fourteen unless he can bring some other kind of document than an affidavit from the parent; that he must bring a school certificate or a birth certificate from the old country, or a baptismal certificate from some church; and after all that was done, he must also be able to read and [page 9] write in some language. We wanted to make it so that he would have to be able to read and write English, but we could not do that. So we have an office down town, where a representative of the public schools or of the parish schools, is found -- it may be Polish, Russian, anything, but they must be able to read and write something. But for two years they can only work eight hours a day. We thought that while boys and girls are growing, eight hours is enough. And they cannot work at night. So, in many ways, we have a good Child Labor Law in Illinois. Not so good as in Massachusetts and some other States. In Massachusetts the child must have passed the eighth grade before he can go to work or else he must go to night school until he is sixteen.
A great many children used to get to be fourteen in about the fourth and fifth grades, but after this law was passed and the child was obliged to stay in school until [page 10] the school certificate showed that he was fourteen, the whole number of children in those two grades doubled itself in less than a year. In some schools, near the stock yards, the schools were three or four times as big as they were before.
Now in the Legislature we have got pending another law, and this law says that boys and girls may go to work when they are fourteen. But if they do not go to work when they are fourteen, if they roam around the streets, they will have to go back to school.
The Compulsory Education Law and the Child Labor Law go right together. If they come to school, when [they] go to work they are going to be able to earn much more money. A little while ago a man came to see me one evening, said he wanted to see me by myself on something important. He told me he had been made a foreman in the factory where he worked; said he had worked there fourteen years, and that now that he was made foreman he had to keep the time of the machine men [page 11] and that he did not know enough to write and he was afraid that he would not be able to keep the place, and did I think that a man forty-three years old who did not know how to write could learn? He knew just how many hours the men had worked, so day after day he would come to Hull House and, remembering what had happened, we would write down those names and the hours. We tried it that way for three or four weeks. He had a wonderful memory, as people who cannot write often do. But of course we could not do it that way, and finally he had to go to the shop director and confess that he could not be a foreman. He had been getting about $15 as a machinist; he was an expert mechanic and as foreman was going to get $40 a week to start with and later $45. But he had to give all that up. The night he had to give it up he came to me and as he was about to leave, he said, "Well, there is one thing I surely believe: The people should make it a law so that boys would [page 12] have to learn to read and [write]. It was up to my parents to decide whether I should learn to read and write or go to work and they put me to work. But it isn't up to me to say whether my boys shall learn to read and write."