The Relation of Women to Industry and Social Legislation (excerpt), March 22, 1908 (excerpt)

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More than 1000 persons were turned away from the meeting held in Faneuil Hall last Sunday, under the joint auspices of the Boston E. S. A. for Good Government and the Woman's Trade Union League of Massachusetts. Every seat was filled, and many stood in the aisles. Professor Emily Greene Balch of Wellesley presided. Miss Addams spoke on "The Relation of Women to Industry and Social Legislation." She said, in part:

I suppose we are all familiar with the change which the industrial revolution has brought about in the position of women. The work which they formerly did in their homes, such as spinning and weaving, has been taken into the factories, and if they are to continue to do their old work, they must follow it. In consequence, they can no longer control the surroundings in which they work. These are controlled by the men who own the factories and the machines.

What are we doing to educate and to safeguard the women who work in factories? Many of them are absurdly young. They average from 16 to 21, and hundreds go to work even before they are 16. This complicates the situation, and makes it harder for the working girl to protect herself by forming trade unions, as the men do. The men's trade unions are valuable just in proportion to the age and experience of their members. Because of their different physical structure, these young girls lose their health more quickly than men under the conditions imposed by factory life, especially when they have to stand on their feet for long hours. In view of their youth and helplessness, the question is taking hold of the women more fortunately placed, "What are we doing to safeguard and educate these girls?" In this respect we are pitifully behind Europe, especially Germany. The United States has less regulations, in certain sections, concerning the labor of women than Italy, or even Russia. In Massachusetts the conditions are among the best. We must grasp the whole situation, and see what is reasonable and desirable.

This comes under two heads: (1), What tends to preserve our present [page 2] standard of living; (2), what tends to improve it. It is these two points about which industrial battles rage.

As to the first, something should be done about industrial accidents. Careful investigations in Buffalo and elsewhere have shown that the leading cause why families need charity is the death or disablement of the breadwinner. In Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania, 1000 miners are killed every year, and their wives and families thrown upon charity. In Europe, life is more carefully safeguarded. In Germany, certain rubber workers, where the conditions are very unhealthful, are limited by law to four hours of work a day. Germany is also considering the question of non-employment, and says to a man thinking of going into a large business that it may be better for him not to do so, if the work will be intermittent, so that large numbers of men will often have to be laid off. I am not a prophet, but I predict that it will be a hundred years before America will consider that. Germany recognizes frankly that industrial relations are a concern of the government. We think industrial matters will all go straight if only political matters go straight. We keep the two in separate pockets, and are scared if they seem about to get mixed.

But they affect one another. Two maps of New York City have been prepared, one showing where clothing is made, and the other where contagious diseases are prevalent, and they coincided, except for two houses.

Now, as to how to raise the standard of living. In Germany, industrial education has been developed not only from the point of view of the manufacturer, who says that without more skilled workmen we cannot compete successfully, or from that of the educator, who says boys and girls lose interest in their studies after a certain point if they do not see the studies tending to any practical result, or from that of the parents, who say they can scrimp themselves to keep the children at school longer if they can then earn more, but also from the point of view of the philosopher, who considers industrial education in its bearing on the welfare and happiness of human life. The Germans combine it with art instruction. They would not let a boy just be put to feeding a machine, because it destroyed his capacity for doing artistic work. So people began to prefer German products; and while England was supplying the savage markets of the world, and deteriorating steel till even the savages began to notice the difference, Germany was quietly supplying the civilized markets.

I suppose none of us would want to secure a larger number of oil paintings to hang on our walls by having each picture painted by half a dozen persons, one painting all the skies, another all the trees, another the human figures, and so on. Pictures could be turned out more quickly in this way, but we should not be pleased with the results.

All that remarkable series of German enactments for safeguarding the worker -- old-age pensions, sick benefits, accident insurance, etc. -- can be traced back to that respect for human life and power, born after the revolutions of 1818 -- the belief that the nation had a mine of life and power and talent in its laboring people. There the worker is looked after and protected, and enabled to reach an honored old age, instead of being thrown aside when no longer able to work, as with us. While we seek to turn out quickly the largest possible number of cheap articles, "cheap and nasty," as [Carlyle] says, our industrial education will furnish trained workers, but not workers who are trained first from the point of view of human life.

Some of us believe that, if women had a chance, they would approach the problem from this point of view. Women have always looked upon the child as a precious possession. They have from time immemorial looked after the invalid, the disabled and the old. We hope that they would not establish a soup-kitchen regime, but would perhaps come up to the sternest requirements of the situation.

We are wont to talk of the immigrant problem. How are we to deal with these great masses of new arrivals unless we are to look at them from the human-nature point of view? If women could do this, they would bring into our vexed American problem something that is greatly needed.

Do we realize what a help the immigrant woman may be in simplifying this problem? She still spins in her home, and thinks it quite natural that her daughter should do the same work in the factory, but she also thinks it natural that her mother should tell her how long she may work, and when she must come home.

We should look for the different kinds of talent in these children of different nationalities, and safeguard the contribution each can bring to the common weal; but this can only be done by paying more attention to the play and recreation features of education, by adding brightness and charm to life, and thereby making the working hours richer and more productive. If women can help to do this, we should all be glad to let them do it.


Miss Addams then answered questions from the audience. Asked what she thought of Justice Brewer's decision, she answered, "I suppose we are all very glad of that decision. We had an eight-hour law once in Illinois. When it was pronounced unconstitutional, the young women of our clubs at Hull House had to go back to work for ten and twelve hours a day, and our beautiful clubs were broken up. When evening came, the girls were too tired to study. Often a whole class would go to sleep."

Asked what were the advantages of the eight-hour day, Miss Addams said: One is a great reduction of accidents. The accident time is during the ninth and tenth hours. Then there is the added time for study and recreation, the increase of health, vigor and happiness."

In answer to other questions, she said: "We are apt to think of the foreign-born women as less fit for the ballot than the Americans, but during the campaign for municipal woman suffrage in the Chicago city charter, we found that large groups of the foreign women knew more about it than we did. The Scandinavian women and those from all the Anglo-Saxon countries had exercised municipal suffrage before they came here, and they condoled with us on our not having it. This was a little trying; but perhaps it is good for our American boastfulness to be taken down, and to learn that European women, who meet less often in clubs, and who certainly talk less, have much more to do with the decision of questions that most intimately concern them. In some respects, we are far behind. We American women are a good deal pampered. We are like spoiled children, who are very much indulged, but get little justice."