A PLEA FOR MORE PLAY, MORE PAY AND MORE EDUCATION
FOR OUR FACTORY GIRLS AND BOYS
FROM THE WRITINGS OF JANE ADDAMS
PRINTED FOR PRIVATE DISTRIBUTION TO THE MEMBERS OF [page 2]
One generation after another has depended upon its young to equip it with gaiety and enthusiasm, to persuade it that living is a pleasure, until men everywhere have anxiously provided channels through which this wine of life may flow, and be preserved for their delight. The classical city promoted play with careful solicitude, building the theater and stadium as it built the market place and the temple. Only in the modern city have men concluded that it is no longer necessary for the municipality to provide for the insatiable desire for play. In so far as they have acted upon this conclusion, they have entered upon a most difficult and dangerous experiment; and this at the very moment when the city has become distinctly industrial, and daily labor is continually more monotonous and subdivided. We forget how new the modern city is, and how short the span of time in which we have assumed that we can eliminate public provision for recreation.
A further difficulty lies in the fact that this industrialism has gathered together multitudes of eager young creatures from all quarters of the earth as a labor supply for the countless factories and workshops, upon which the present industrial city is based. Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon city streets and to work under alien roofs; for the first time they are being prized more for their labor power than for their innocence, their tender beauty, their ephemeral gaiety. Society cares more for the products they manufacture than for their immemorial ability to reaffirm the charm of [page 3] existence. Never before have such numbers of young boys earned money independently of the family life, and felt themselves free to spend it as they choose in the midst of vice deliberately disguised as pleasure.
This stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play has, of course, brought about a fine revenge. The love of pleasure will not be denied, and when it has turned into all sorts of malignant and vicious appetites, then we, the middle aged, grow quite distracted and resort to all sorts of restrictive measures. We even try to dam up the sweet fountain itself because we are affrighted by these neglected streams; but almost worse than the restrictive measures is our apparent belief that the city itself has no obligation in the matter, an assumption upon which the modern city turns over to commercialism practically all the provisions for public recreation.
Quite as one set of men has organized the young people into industrial enterprises in order to profit from their toil, so another set of men and also of women, I am sorry to say, have entered the neglected field of recreation and have organized enterprises which make profit out of this invincible love of pleasure.
In every city arise so-called "places" -- "gin-palaces," they are called in fiction; in Chicago we euphemistically say merely "places," -- in which alcohol is dispensed, not to allay thirst, but, ostensibly to stimulate gaiety, it is sold really in order to empty pockets. Huge dance halls are opened to which hundreds of young people are attracted, many of whom stand wistfully outside a roped circle, for it requires five cents to procure within it for five minutes the sense of allurement and intoxication which is sold in lieu of innocent pleasure. We see thousands of girls walking up and down the streets on a pleasant evening with no chance to catch a [page 4] sight of pleasure even through a lighted window, save as these lurid places provide it. Apparently the modern city sees in these girls only two possibilities, both of them commercial: first, a chance to utilize, by day their new and tender labor power in its factories and shops and then another chance in the evening to extract from them their petty wages by pandering to their love of pleasure.
As these overworked girls stream along the street, the rest of us see only the self-conscious walk, the giggling speech, the preposterous clothing. And yet through the huge hat, with its wilderness of bedraggled feathers, the girl announces to the world that she is here. She demands attention to the fact of her existence, she states that she is ready to live, to take her place in the world.
The young creatures themselves piteously look all about them in order to find an adequate means of expression for their most precious message. One day a serious young man came to Hull-House with his pretty young sister who, he explained wanted to go somewhere every single evening, "although she could only give the flimsy excuse that the flat was too little and too stuffy to stay in." In the difficult role of elder brother, he had done his best, stating that he had taken her "to all the missions in the neighborhood, that she had had a chance to listen to some awful good sermons and to some elegant hymns, but that some way she did not seem to care for the society of the best Christian people." The little sister reddened painfully under this cruel indictment and could offer no word of excuse. Who is to blame that the lambs, the little ewe lambs, have been so caught upon the brambles?
But quite as the modern city wastes this most valuable moment in the life of the girl, and drives into all sorts of absurd and obscure expressions her love and yearning towards the world in which she forecasts her destiny, so it often drives the boy into [page 5] gambling and drinking in order to find his adventure.
One of the most pathetic sights in the public dance halls of Chicago is the number of young men, obviously honest young fellows from the country, who stand about vainly hoping to make the acquaintance of some "nice girl." They look eagerly up and down the rows of girls, many of whom are drawn to the hall by the same keen desire for pleasure and social intercourse which the lonely young men themselves feel.
One Sunday night at twelve o'clock I had occasion to go into a large public dance hall. As I was standing by the rail looking for the girl I had come to find, a young man approached me and quite simply asked me to introduce him to some "nice girl," saying that he did not know any one there. On my replying that a public dance hall was not the best place in which to look for a nice girl, he said: "But I don't know any other place where there is a chance to meet any kind of a girl. I'm awfully lonesome since I came to Chicago." And then he added rather defiantly: "Some nice girls do come here! It's one of the best halls in town." He was voicing the "bitter loneliness" that many city men remember to have experienced during the first years after they had "come up to town." Occasionally the right sort of man and girl meet each other in these dance halls and the romance with such a tawdry beginning ends happily and respectably. But, unfortunately, mingled with the respectable young men seeking to form the acquaintance of young women through the only channel which is available to them, are many young fellows of evil purpose, and among the girls who have left their lonely boarding houses or rigid homes for a "little fling" are likewise women who openly desire to make money from the young men whom they meet, and back of it all is the desire to profit by the sale [page 6] of intoxicating and "doctored" drinks.
Let us know the modern city in its weakness and wickedness, and then seek to rectify and purify it until it shall be free at least from the grosser temptations which now beset the young people who are living in its tenement houses and working in its factories. The mass of these young people are possessed of good intentions and they are equipped with a certain understanding of city life. This itself could be made a most valuable social instrument toward securing innocent recreation and better social organization. They are already serving the city in so far as it is honeycombed with mutual benefit societies, with "pleasure clubs," with organizations connected with churches and factories which are filling a genuine social need. And yet the whole apparatus for supplying pleasure is wretchedly inadequate and full of danger to whomsoever may approach it. Who is responsible for its inadequacy and dangers? We certainly cannot expect the fathers and mothers who have come to the city from farms or who have emigrated from other lands to appreciate or rectify these dangers. We cannot expect the young people themselves to cling to conventions which are totally unsuited to modern city conditions, nor yet to be equal to the task of forming new conventions through which this more agglomerate social life may express itself. Above all we cannot hope that they will understand the emotional force which seizes them and which, when it does not find the traditional line of domesticity, serves as a cancer in the very tissues of society and as a disrupter of the securest social bonds. No attempt is made to treat the manifestations of this fundamental instinct with dignity or to give it possible social utility. The spontaneous joy, the clamor for pleasure, the desire of the young people to appear finer and better and altogether more lovely than they really are, the idealization not only of [page 7] each other but of the whole earth which they regard but as a theatre for their noble exploits, the unworldly ambitions, the romantic hopes, the make-believe world in which they live, if properly utilized, what might they not do to make our sordid cities more beautiful, more companionable? And yet at the present moment every city is full of young people who are utterly bewildered and uninstructed in regard to the basic experience which must inevitably come to them, and which has varied, remote and indirect expressions.
Our theaters of the poorer class are full of the most blatant and vulgar songs. The trivial and obscene words, the meaningless and flippant airs run through the heads of hundreds of young people for hours at a time while they are engaged in monotonous factory work. We totally ignore that ancient connection between music and morals which was so long insisted upon by philosophers as well as poets. The street music has quite broken away from all control, both of the educator and the patriot, and we have grown singularly careless in regard to its influence upon young people. Although we legislate against it in saloons because of its dangerous influence there, we constantly permit music on the street to incite that which should be controlled, to degrade that which should be exalted, to make sensuous that which might be lifted into the realm of higher imagination.
Our attitude towards music is typical of our carelessness towards all those things which make for common joy and for the restraints of higher civilization on the streets. It is as if our cities had not yet developed a sense of responsibility in regard to the life of the streets, and continually forget that recreation is stronger than vice, and that recreation alone can stifle the lust for vice.
As it is possible to establish a connection between the lack of public recreation and the vicious excitements [page 8] and trivial amusements which become their substitutes, so it may be illuminating to trace the connection between the monotony and dullness of factory work and the petty immoralities which are often the youth's protest against them.
There are many city neighborhoods in which practically every young person who has attained the age of fourteen years enters a factory. When the work itself offers nothing of interest, and when no public provision is made for recreation, the situation becomes almost insupportable to the youth whose ancestors have been rough-working and hard-playing peasants.
In such neighborhoods the joy of youth is well nigh extinguished; and in that long procession of factory workers, each morning and evening, the young walk almost as wearily and listlessly as the old. Present industry based upon the inventions of the nineteenth century has little connection with the old patterns in which men have worked for generations. The modern factory calls for an expenditure of nervous energy almost more than it demands muscular effort, or at least machinery so far performs the work of the massive muscles, that greater stress is laid upon fine and exact movements necessarily involving nervous strain. But these movements are exactly of the type to which the muscles of a growing boy least readily respond, quite as the admonition to be accurate and faithful is that which appeals the least to his big primitive emotions. The demands made upon his eyes are complicated and trivial, the use of his muscles is fussy and monotonous, the relation between cause and effect is remote and obscure. Apparently no one is concerned as to what may be done to aid him in this process and to relieve it of its dullness and difficulty, to mitigate its strain and harshness.
Perhaps never before have young people been expected to work from motives so detached from [page 9] direct emotional incentive. Never has the age of marriage been so long delayed; never has the work of youth been so separated from the family life and the public opinion of the community. Education alone can repair these losses. It alone has the power of organizing a child's activities with some reference to the life he will later lead and of giving him a clue as to what to select and what to eliminate when he comes into contact with contemporary social and industrial conditions. And until educators take hold of the situation, the rest of the community is powerless.
In vast regions of the city which are completely dominated by the factory, it is as if the development of industry had outrun all the educational and social arrangements.
The revolt of youth against uniformity and the necessity of following careful directions laid down by some one else, many times results in such nervous irritability that the youth, in spite of all sorts of prudential reasons, "throws up his job," if only to get outside the factory walls into the freer street, just as the narrowness of the school [enclosure] induces many a boy to jump the fence.
When the boy is on the street, however, and is "standing around the corner" with the gang to which he mysteriously attaches himself, he finds the difficulties of direct untrammeled action almost as great there as they were in the factory, but for an entirely different set of reasons. The necessity so strongly felt in the factory for an outlet to his sudden and furious bursts of energy, his overmastering desire to prove that he could do things "without being bossed all the time," finds little chance for expression, for he discovers that in whatever really active pursuit he tries to engage, he is promptly suppressed by the police. After several futile attempts at self-expression, he returns to his street corner subdued and so far discouraged that when [page 10] he has the next impulse to vigorous action he concludes that it is of no use, and sullenly settles back into inactivity. He thus learns to persuade himself that it is better to do nothing, or, as the psychologist would say, "to inhibit his motor impulses."
When the same boy, as an adult workman, finds himself confronted with an unusual or an untoward condition in his work, he will fall back into this habit of inhibition, of making no effort toward independent action. When "slack times" come, he will be the workman of least value, and the first to be dismissed, calmly accepting his position in the ranks of the unemployed because it will not be so unlike the many hours of idleness and vacuity to which he was accustomed as a boy. No help having been extended to him in the moment of his first irritable revolt against industry, his whole life has been given a twist toward idleness and futility. He has not had the chance of recovery which the school system gives a like rebellious boy in a truant school.
The unjustifiable lack of educational supervision during the first years of factory work makes it quite impossible for the modern educator to offer any real assistance to young people during that trying transitional period between school and industry. The young people themselves who fail to conform can do little but rebel against the entire situation, and the expressions of revolt roughly divide themselves into three classes. The first, resulting in idleness, may be illustrated from many a sad story of a boy or a girl who has spent in the first spurt of premature and uninteresting work, all the energy which should have carried them through years of steady endeavor.
I recall a boy who had worked steadily for two years as a helper in a smelting establishment, and had conscientiously brought home all his wages, one night suddenly announcing to his family that he [page 11] "was too tired and too hot to go on." As no amount of persuasion could make him alter his decision, the family finally threatened to bring him into the Juvenile Court on a charge of incorrigibility, whereupon the boy disappeared and such efforts as the family have been able to make in the two years since, have failed to find him. They are convinced that "he is trying a spell of tramping" and wish that they "had let him have a vacation the first summer when he wanted it so bad." The boy may find in the rough out-door life the healing which a wise physician would recommend for nervous exhaustion, although the tramp experiment is a perilous one.
This revolt against factory monotony is sometimes closely allied to that "moral fatigue" which results from assuming responsibility prematurely. I recall the experience of a Scotch girl of eighteen who, with her older sister, worked in a candy factory, their combined earnings supporting a paralytic father. The older girl met with an accident involving the loss of both eyes, and the financial support of the whole family devolved upon the younger girl, who worked hard and conscientiously for three years, supplementing her insufficient factory wages by evening work at glove making. In the midst of this devotion and monotonous existence she made the acquaintance of a girl who was a chorus singer in a cheap theater and the contrast between her monotonous drudgery and the glitter of the stage broke down her allegiance to her helpless family. She left the city, absolutely abandoning the kindred to whom she had been so long devoted, and announced that if they all starved she would "never go into a factory again." Every effort failed to find her after the concert troupe left Milwaukee and although the pious Scotch father felt that "she had been ensnared by the Devil," and had brought his "gray hairs in sorrow to the grave," I [page 12] could not quite dismiss the case with this simple explanation, but was haunted by all sorts of social implications.
The second line of revolt manifests itself in an attempt to make up for the monotony of the work by a constant change from one occupation to another. This is an almost universal experience among thousands of young people in their first impact with the industrial world.
The startling results of the investigation undertaken in Massachusetts by the Douglas Commission showed how casual and demoralizing the first few years of factory life become to thousands of unprepared boys and girls; in their first restlessness and maladjustment they change from one factory to another, working only for a few weeks or months in each, and they exhibit no interest in any of them save for the amount of wages paid. At the end of their second year of employment many of them are less capable than when they left school and are actually receiving less wages. The report of the commission made clear that while the two years between fourteen and sixteen were most valuable for educational purposes, they were almost useless for industrial purposes, that no trade would receive as an apprentice a boy under sixteen, that no industry requiring skill and workmanship could utilize these untrained children and that they not only demoralized themselves, but in a sense industry itself.
An investigation of one thousand tenement children in New York who had taken out their "working papers" at the age of fourteen, reported that during the first working year a third of them had averaged six places each. These reports but confirm the experience of those of us who live in an industrial neighborhood and who continually see these restless young workers, in fact there are moments when this constant changing seems to be all that saves [page 13] them from the fate of those other children who hold on to a monotonous task so long that they finally incapacitate themselves for all work. It often seems to me an expression of the instinct of self-preservation, as in the case of a young Swedish boy who during a period of two years abandoned one piece of factory work after another, saying "he could not stand it," until in the chagrin following the loss of his ninth place he announced his intention of leaving the city and allowing his mother and little sisters to shift for themselves. At this critical juncture a place was found for him as lineman in a telephone company; climbing telephone poles and handling wires apparently supplied him with the elements of outdoor activity and danger which were necessary to hold his interest, and he became the steady support of his family.
But while we know the discouraging effect of idleness upon the boy who has thrown up his job and refuses to work again, and we also know the restlessness and lack of discipline resulting from the constant change from one factory to another, there is still a third manifestation of maladjustment of which one's memory and the Juvenile Court records unfortunately furnish many examples. The spirit of revolt in these cases has led to distinct disaster. Two stories will perhaps be sufficient in illustration although they might be multiplied indefinitely from my own experience.
A Russian girl who went to work at any an early age in a factory pasting labels on mucilage bottles, was obliged to surrender all her wages to her father who, in return, gave her only the barest necessities of life. In a fit of revolt against the monotony of her work, and "that nasty sticky stuff," she stole from her father $300 which he had hidden away under the floor of his kitchen, and with this money she ran away to a neighboring city for a spree, having first bought herself the most gorgeous clothing [page 14] a local department store could supply. Of course, this preposterous beginning could have but one ending and the child was sent to the reform school to expiate not only her own sins but the sins of those who had failed to rescue her from a life of grinding monotony which her spirit could not brook.
"I know the judge thinks I am a bad girl," sobbed a poor little prisoner, put under bonds for threatening to kill her lover, "but I have only been bad for one week and before that I was good for six years. I worked every day in Blank's factory and took home all my wages to keep the kids in school. I met this fellow in a dance hall. I just had to go to dances sometimes after pushing down the lever of my machine with my right foot and using both my arms feeding it for ten hours a day -- nobody knows how I felt some nights. I agreed to go away with this man for a week but when I was ready to go home he tried to drive me out on the street to earn money for him and, of course, I threatened to kill him -- any decent girl would," she concluded, as unconscious of the irony of the reflection as she was of the connection between her lurid week and her monotonous years.
Knowing as educators do that thousands of the city youth will enter factory life at an age as early as the state law will permit; instructed as the modern teacher is as to youth's requirements for a normal, mental and muscular development, it is hard to understand the apathy in regard to youth's inevitable experience in modern industry. Are the educators, like the rest of us, so caught in admiration of the astonishing achievements of modern industry that they forget the children themselves?
A few educational experiments are carried on in Cincinnati, in Boston and in Chicago, in which the leaders of education and industry unite in a common aim and purpose. A few more are carried on by trade unionists, who in at least two of the trades [page 15] are anxious to give to their apprentices and journeymen the wider culture afforded by the "capitalistic trade schools" which they suspect of preparing strike-breakers; still a few other schools have been founded by public spirited citizens to whom the situation has become unendurable, and one or two more such experiments are attached to the public school system itself. All of these schools are still blundering in method and unsatisfactory in their results, but a certain trade school for girls, in New York, which is preparing young girls of fourteen for the sewing trade, already so overcrowded and [subdivided] that there remains very little education for the worker, is conquering this difficult industrial situation by equipping each apprentice with "the informing mind." If a child goes into a sewing factory with a knowledge of the work she is doing in relation to the finished product; if she is informed concerning the material she is manipulating and the processes to which it is subjected; if she understands the design she is elaborating in its historic relation to art and decoration, her daily life is lifted from drudgery to one of self-conscious activity, and her pleasure and intelligence is registered in her product.
I remember a little colored girl in this New York school who was drawing for the pattern she was about to embroider, a carefully elaborated acanthus leaf. Upon my inquiry as to the design, she replied: "It is what the Egyptians used to put on everything, because they saw it so much growing in the Nile; and then the Greeks copied it, and sometimes you can find it now on the buildings downtown." She added, shyly: "Of course, I like it awfully well because it was first used by people living in Africa where the colored folks come from." Such a reasonable interest in work not only reacts upon the worker, but is, of course, registered in the product itself. Such genuine pleasure is in pitiful [page 16] contrast to the usual manifestation of the play spirit as it is found in the factories, where, at the best, its expression is illicit and often is attended with great danger.
There are many touching stories by which this might be illustrated. One of them comes from a large steel mill of a boy of fifteen whose business it was to throw a lever when a small tank became filled with molten metal. During the few moments when the tank was filling it was his foolish custom to catch the reflection of the metal upon a piece of looking glass, to throw the bit of light into the eyes of his fellow workmen. Although an exasperated foreman had twice dispossessed him of his mirror, with a third fragment he was one day flicking the gloom of the shop when the neglected tank overflowed, almost instantly burning off both his legs. Boys working in the stock yards, during their moments of wrestling and rough play, often slash each other painfully with short knives which they use in their work, but in spite of this the play impulse is too irrepressible to be denied.
If educators could go upon a voyage of discovery into that army of boys and girls who enter industry each year, what values might they not discover; what treasures might they not conserve and develop if they would direct the play instinct into the art impulse and utilize that power of variation which industry so sadly needs. No force will be sufficiently powerful and widespread to redeem industry from its mechanism and materialism save the freed power in every single individual.
In order to do this, however, we must go back a little over the educational road to a training of the child's imagination, as well as to his careful equipment with a technique. A little child makes a very tottering house of cardboard and calls it a castle. The important feature there lies in the fact that he has expressed a castle, and it is not for his teacher [page 17] to draw undue attention to the fact that the corners are not well put together, but rather to listen to and to direct the story which centers about this effort at creative expression. A little later, however, it is clearly the business of the teacher to call attention to the quality of the dovetailing in which the boy at the manual training bench is engaged, for there is no value in dovetailing a box unless it is accurately done. At one point the child's imagination is to be emphasized, and at another point his technique is important -- and he will need both in the industrial life ahead of him.
There is no doubt that there is a third period, when the boy is not interested in the making of a castle, or a box, or anything else, unless it appears to him to bear a direct relation to the future; unless it has something to do with earning a living. At this later moment he is chiefly anxious to play the part of a man and to take his place in the world. The fact that a boy of fourteen wants to go out and earn his living makes that the moment when he should be educated with reference to that interest, and the records of many high schools show that if he is not thus educated, he bluntly refuses to be educated at all. The forces pulling him to "work" are not only the overmastering desire to earn money and be a man, but, if the family purse is small and empty, include also his family loyalty and affection, and over against them, we at present place nothing but a vague belief on the part of his family and himself that education is a desirable thing and may eventually help him "on in the world." It is of course difficult to adapt education to this need; it means that education must be planned so seriously and definitely for those two years between fourteen and sixteen that it will be actual trade training so far as it goes, with attention given to the condition under which money will be actually paid for industrial skill; but at the same [page 18] time, that the implications, the connections, the relations to the industrial world, will be made clear. A man who makes, year after year, but one small wheel in a modern watch factory, may, if his education has properly prepared him, have a fuller life than did the old watchmaker who made a watch from beginning to end. It takes thirty-nine people to make a coat in a modern tailoring establishment, yet those same thirty-nine people might produce a coat in a spirit of "team work" which would make the entire process as much more exhilarating than the work of the old solitary tailor, as playing in a baseball nine gives more pleasure to a boy than that afforded by a solitary game of hand ball on the side of the barn. But it is quite impossible to imagine a successful game of baseball in which each player should be drilled only in his own part, and should know nothing of the relation of that part to the whole game. In order to make the watch wheel, or the coat collar interesting, they must be connected with the entire product -- must include fellowship as well as the pleasures arising from skilled workmanship and a cultivated imagination.
When all the young people working in factories shall come to use their faculties intelligently, and as a matter of course to be interested in what they do, then our manufactured products may at last meet the demands of a cultivated nation, because they will be produced by cultivated workmen. The machine will not be abandoned by any means, but it will be subordinated to the intelligence of the man who manipulates it, and will be used as a tool. Many times the young people may be spared the disastrous effects of a revolt against the monotony of industry if work can be found for them in a place where the daily round is less grinding and presents more variety. Fortunately, in every city there are places outside of factories where occupation of a more normal type of labor may be secured, and [page 19] often a restless boy can be tided over this period if he is put into one of these occupations. The experience in every boys' club can furnish illustrations of this.
A factory boy who had been brought into the Juvenile Court many times because of his persistent habit of borrowing the vehicles of physicians as they stood in front of houses of patients, always meaning to "get back before the doctor came out," led a contented and orderly life after a place had been found for him as a stable boy in a large livery establishment where his love for horses could be legitimately gratified.
America perhaps more than any other country in the world can demonstrate what applied science has accomplished for industry; it has not only made possible the utilization of all sorts of unpromising raw material, but it has tremendously increased the invention and elaboration of machinery. The time must come, however, if indeed the moment has not already arrived, when applied science will have done all that it can do for the development of machinery. It may be that machines cannot be speeded up any further without putting unwarranted strain upon the nervous system of the worker; it may be that further elaboration will so sacrifice the workman who feeds the machine that industrial advance will lie not in the direction of improvement in machinery, but in the recovery and education of the workman. This refusal to apply "the art of life" to industry continually drives out of it many promising young people. Some of them, impelled by a creative impulse which will not be denied, avoid industry altogether and demand that their ambitious parents give them lessons in "china painting" and "art work," which clutters the overcrowded parlor of the more prosperous workingman's home with useless decorated plates, and [hand-painted] "drapes," whereas the plates upon the table and the rugs [page 20] upon the floor used daily by thousands of weary housewives are totally untouched by the beauty and variety which this ill-directed art instinct might have given them had it been incorporated into industry.
The educational system in Germany is deliberately planned to sift out and to retain in the service of industry, all such promising young people. The method is as yet experimental, and open to many objections, but it is so far successful that "Made in Germany" means made by a trained artisan and in many cases by a man working with the freed impulse of the artist.
The London County Council is constantly urging plans which may secure for the gifted children in the Board Schools support in Technological institutes. Educators are thus gradually developing the courage and initiative to conserve for industry the young worker himself so that his mind, his power of variation, his art instinct, his intelligent skill, may ultimately be reflected in the industrial product.
The discovery of the labor power of youth was to our age like the discovery of a new natural resource, although it was merely incidental to the invention of modern machinery and the consequent subdivision of labor. In utilizing it thus ruthlessly we are not only in danger of quenching the divine fire of youth, but we are imperiling industry itself when we venture to ignore these very sources of beauty, of variety and of suggestion.
In spite of all corrective knowledge, the increasing nervous energy to which industrial processes daily accommodate themselves, and the speeding up constantly required of the operators, may at any moment so register their results upon the nervous system of a factory girl as to overcome her powers of resistance. Many a working girl at the end of a day is so hysterical and overwrought [page 21] that her mental balance is plainly disturbed. Hundreds of working girls go directly to bed as soon as they have eaten their suppers. They are too tired to go from home for recreation, too tired to read, and often too tired to sleep. A humane forewoman recently said to me as she glanced down the long room in which hundreds of young women, many of them with their shoes beside them, were standing: "I hate to think of all the aching feet on this floor; these girls all have trouble with their feet, some of them spend the entire evening bathing them in hot water." But aching feet are no more usual than aching backs and aching heads. The study of industrial diseases has only this year been begun by the federal authorities, and doubtless as more is known of the nervous and mental effect of over-fatigue, many moral breakdowns will be traced to this source. It is already easy to make the connection in definite cases: "I was too tired to care," "I was too tired to know what I was doing," "I was dead tired and sick of it all," "I was dog tired and just went with him," are phrases taken from the lips of reckless girls who are endeavoring to explain the situation in which they find themselves.
Only slowly are laws being enacted to limit the hours of working women, yet the able brief presented to the United States Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Oregon ten-hour law for women, based its plea upon the results of overwork as affecting women's health, the grave medical statement constantly broken into by a portrayal of the disastrous effects of over-fatigue upon character. It is as yet difficult to distinguish between the results of long hours and the results of overstrain. Certainly the constant sense of haste is one of the most nerve-racking and exhausting tests to which the human system can be subjected. Those girls in the sewing industry whose mothers thread needles for them far into the night that they [page 22] may sew without a moment's interruption during the next day; those girls who insert eyelets into shoes, for which they are paid two cents a case, each case containing twenty-four pairs of shoes, are striking victims of the over-speeding which is so characteristic of our entire factory system.
Girls working in factories and laundries are also open to the possibilities of accidents. The loss of only two fingers upon the right hand, or a broken wrist, may disqualify an operator from continuing in the only work in which she is skilled and make her struggle for respectability even more difficult. Varicose veins and broken arches in the feet are found in every occupation in which women are obliged to stand for hours, but at any moment either one may develop beyond purely painful symptoms into crippling incapacity. One such girl recently returning home after a long day's work deliberately sat down on the floor of a crowded street car, explaining defiantly to the conductor and the bewildered passengers that "her feet would not hold out another minute." A young woman who only last summer broke her hand in a mangle was found in a rescue home in January, explaining her recent experience by the phrase that she was "up against it when leaving the hospital in October."
In spite of many such heart-breaking instances the movement for safeguarding machinery and securing indemnity for industrial accidents proceeds all too slowly. At a recent exhibition in Boston the knife of a miniature guillotine fell every ten seconds to indicate the rate of industrial accidents in the United States. Grisly as was the device, its hideousness might well have been increased had it been able to demonstrate the connection between certain of these accidents and the complete moral disaster which overtook their victims.
Yet factory girls who are subjected to this overstrain [page 23] and overtime often find their greatest discouragement in the fact that after all their efforts they earn too little to support themselves. One girl said that she had first yielded to temptation when she had become utterly discouraged because she had tried in vain for seven months to save enough money for a pair of shoes. She habitually spent two dollars a week for her room, three dollars for her board, and sixty cents a week for carfare, and she had found the forty cents remaining from her weekly wage of six dollars inadequate to do more than [resole] her old shoes twice. When the shoes became too worn to endure a third soling and she possessed but ninety cents towards a new pair, she gave up her struggle; to use her own contemptuous phrase, she "sold out for a pair of shoes."