The Struggle of Life Above the Poverty Line, September 26, 1913

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No one in this audience can fail to have carried with him day after day and year after year the painful impression that almost all the people living in his immediate neighborhood have too little money with which to meet their daily needs. Often this painful impression is mitigated by the knowledge that a given family will possess more money when the [immigrant] father has made a better adjustment to industrial conditions in America or when the children are old enough to add their earnings to the family fund; nevertheless, in spite of the fact that we see such families reaching a higher degree of prosperity we know thousands of people who struggle in vain to maintain a decent standard of living.

Various methods have been devised from time to time by the State itself to aid in this unending struggle, but in this session of our conference I have been asked to discuss but three of them, that which is popularly known as the Widows' Pension, the establishment of the [Minimum] Wage, and Trade Unionism for women.

<begin> In Illinois the Widows' Pension, or as it is technically called, "The Funds to Parents Act", has been in operation for two years. I am most familiar with it as it is administered through the Juvenile Court of Cook County for the benefit of Chicago children. The enactment of this law was urged by Judge Pinckney of the Juvenile Court on the ground that so long as the County paid for dependent children -- $10.00 a month for boys and $15.00 for girls, placed in industrial schools it would be no more costly to pay such sums to the mothers and in many cases where the children were separated from their parents solely because of poverty, it would avoid the cruelty and wrong of a family separation. From the beginning of the administration of the law in Cook County it has been most [carefully] guarded. During the first year, a corps of six assistants, appointed and maintained by the [page 2] leading Philanthropic organizations of the city, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant, met in conference upon the various cases brought before the court and after careful investigation and discussion recommended to the Court whether or not such cases should receive a pension. Their routine work was not unlike that of the Conference committee of the Charity organization society. The representative at this conference, who had been selected and salaried by the settlements of Chicago had had long experience in the United Charities of the city. Gradually, however, certain probation officers were trained and set aside for this work whose business it is to visit the families receiving the pension in order to see that the money is properly spent for the nourishment and care of the children. At the present moment out of the <146> probation officers <17> are in the Mothers' Pension division. One of these officers, living at Hull-House, who is a graduate of the School of Civics and Philanthropy, testifies that her daily work is very similar to that which she performed for a year for the United Charities of Chicago. The chief probation officer who was formerly identified with Philanthropic and Reform organizations is convinced that the work in this department compares favorably with that carried on by charitable [societies]. It is, of course, a matter of little consequence whether carefully trained people devoting their time to "the widow and the fatherless" are salaried from the donations of benevolent people or from the taxes which these same people and many others have paid into the public treasury, provided only that the work is well done. The first year of the operation of the Funds to Parents Act, Cook County paid in this way $75000; the estimated budget for this year was $250,000, although the number of dependent children sent to the industrial schools was not lessened but actually increased. At the last session of the legislature the law was amended, so that no [children] could be beneficiaries of this fund whose fathers had not been naturalized [page 3] the children whose fathers had deserted were also deprived of the advantage of the fund. The first restriction is being somewhat modified by the fact that women can now vote in Illinois and that the mothers themselves are thus able to be naturalized, thus making their children eligible, the other children whose fathers have deserted remain as they always do to confound and perplex any agency which endeavors to help them.

<see page 4.> When I was in Hungary several months ago, I was very much impressed with their arrangement for taking care of the children who were not properly cared for by their parents. It is a large governmental scheme very suggestive of the old conception of state socialism. Its drawbacks are so obvious that they need not be pointed out, but it is also possessed of great advantages. Parents themselves may bring the child to the central hospital at [Budapest], and if their statement is verified that their wages are too small to properly nurture that child, he is sent to a village where he is boarded in a [household] under state supervision. At any time when the parents can show the officials that their [resources] have increased and that they are therefore able to feed and care for their child, he may be returned to them, otherwise he stays away until he is twelve, and presumably able to help take care of himself, although one naturally speculates as to why a Hungarian child is thus prematurely self-supporting. The state expends a large sum of money supporting 50,000 children every year because they have become convinced that a child who is [undernourished] and uneducated and therefore makes a bad start in life, is a permanent detriment to the state itself. That, I am sure, is a supposition upon which Mothers are <being> provided with pensions in various states. Such reasons could only have been adduced in the light of recent scientific knowledge. A friend of mine who is a biologist in a state University once made some interesting experiments with [tadpoles]. [page 4] 

He said that if he starved a [tadpole] no matter how much he fed the frog into which it grew, he never could make it fat and vigorous, but if he [overfed] a [tadpole], no matter how much he later starved the frog he never could make him thin and passive. It remained fat and boisterous to the end of its days. The doctors in Hungary tell many similar tales of the children whom the State cares for in their early years, and who repay the state through a long life of useful activity.

<[moved?]> It is unnecessary to draw attention to the fact that the administration of such a large fund affords an opportunity for political corruption. There is no doubt that it must be guarded, but our experience in Chicago shows definitely that it can be properly safe-guarded.

As to legislation on the Minimum Wage, we all know that many experiments are being tried. We were unable to create a state commission in Illinois, but the legislation appointed a commission of inquiry who held public hearings in Chicago for several weeks and brought the entire subject vividly before the people of Illinois. During these hearings, those few employers who were able to show that they were paying girls an adequate wage received great applause from the crowds of spectators who came to the hearing. It would seem to indicate that in the future the man who receives the largest measure of public approval will be the man who [deals] justly with his [employees] rather than the man who gives large gifts to Philanthropy but who is at the same time suspected of unfair industrial conditions.

I am sure that almost every settlement representative here has had experience in trying to organize working girls into Trade Unions. Most of us had a very discouraging experience until after the organization of the Woman's [Trade] Union League which has <ever since> made such work easier. The great value of Unions among women is first the sense it gives girls that they themselves can do something to remedy industrial conditions [page 5] that they are not altogether helpless, and secondly the consciousness it gives them of being a part of a great moral effort. The Trade Union movement for women is being much modified by the later type of strikes occurring in New York, Philadelphia [and] Chicago, which are not so much strikes as social [uprisings] against conditions which have become intolerable. It is in a modification of such untoward conditions that the Settlement ought to be of great value. [Everyone] in this room has doubtless asked himself what can be done for girls who not only work too long hours but in addition are so poorly paid that they cannot maintain an adequate standard of life. As a federation of settlements we have spent a year on the study of the young working girl, and we ought to be ready to seriously consider what more can be done to improve her economic condition, upon which the standard of life rests. [page 6]

Speech in Pittsburgh.