Miss Addams made an appeal full of deep feeling, setting before the club women their responsibility with regard to child labor.
"Since the application of steam to manufacturers," she said, "muscular energy has been less needed, and there has been a temptation, which would continue to grow if not checked, to put women and children at the machines. The effect on the child is disastrous, as is the final effect on our national life.
"The tendency to put the children of the family at work is very great among certain classes of our citizens. It is, perhaps, specifically prominent in the families of the foreigners who come to us. Take, for instance, an Italian laborer who has just landed on our shores. It is often much easier for a child of such a man to get work than for him or his wife. Manufacturers would rather have the bright child than the lumbering father or the mother, used, perhaps, only to the crude work of the fields. The children who are thus put to work have been shown by direct investigation, to be stunted by it physically, measuring and weighing less than the normal child.
"A great deal has been said in justification of the labor of the child who is engaged in helping to pay for a home or to support the family. The child of the penniless widow is especially often referred to in arguments justifying the employment of children as wage earners. But according to statistics, the children of such widows are greatly in the minority. In an investigation made in 1899, in England, in the movement to raise the age limit for children from eleven to twelve, it was found that, out of 2231 children wage earners, sixty-six only were the children of widows, and of these widows but 2 [percent] were dependent solely upon the labor of their children.
"I will tell you the story of a child who came under my own observation, some years ago, as an illustration of the effects of this system of employing children at the tasks of men and women before they have reached the physical development to endure the labor. He was a particularly promising boy, and I, at the time, when I did not know as much about the child labor as I do now, was proud, as he was also, that he was able to help take care of the little brothers and sisters, whose only other support was an aged grandmother. For two years he labored successfully, then he began to be employed less and less regularly. When he got a job, he did not keep it as long as formerly, and after a time, he found work less and less often. Finally, when he was about sixteen, he came down with typhoid fever, and when he got about again, a very strange change had come over him. He seemed to have lost all his physical and mental stamina and was no longer able to undertake the tasks he had formerly done. Today he is out tramping the country, asking people to give him something to eat. And that, I say, is the case of a boy who began as an unusually promising lad, both physically and mentally. It is a case that, if you will investigate, you will find very often repeated. And so I often say to myself that, if we could get over our habit of looking at the tramps of our country as something wholly abandoned and for an object of our ridicule -- if we could look into their history, I think we might find many who started like this bright boy, with ability and promise, but were worked out by the world before they had a chance to develop the power of resistance which comes with later years.
"I have heard a great deal of the philanthropy of the women of the clubs -- of the great good that they are doing in many different directions; and I believe that they are doing good; yet, when I remember how many lives there are being thus squeezed out in their early youth, robbed of all their promise and joy, turned into the wrecks of society, I am almost inclined to listen with cynicism to such statements. This is a work for women. We cannot excuse ourselves on the plea that we are ignorant of the conditions, for we need not be ignorant. The facts exist all around us. If we do not know them, is it not because we have not interest enough to enquire? When we have interest in a subject, we learn the facts about it."