Address on Unemployment, February 24, 1915

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"When the Committee suggested that I say something to you today, I think it was not that I might enter into the general subject of unemployment, but that I should say a few words about the Chicago situation and something of the recent occurrence at Hull House. And I am glad for this opportunity to make an explanation.

"In the first place, I would like to go over with you just a moment the attitude of Chicago underlying the unemployment problem this winter and contrasting it with some of the other principal American cities.

"It was suggested here in various conferences, in some of which I was present, that it would be better not to make a general appeal for an unemployment fund this winter. It was thought that such an appeal would get into the papers, and give out the impression abroad that there was a lot of money for unemployed men to be dispensed in Chicago this winter, and that it would attract men here. Chicago is so near to the great lumber district, it is so near to the ice-cutting fields, it is so near to casual labor markets, that men come here from the West under the idea that it is the natural relief point for the unemployed; at least, a point which [page 2] they may easily reach and take advantage of the unemployment funds.

"Perhaps that reasoning was sound, but the natural result was that the unemployed in Chicago felt that there was no public fund, no fund in contradistinction to a charitable fund. It left the unemployed in the relation of recipients of charity.

"I would like to describe a condition that exists in regard to that matter in such cities as Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia and any one of those cities who do have such funds.

Example of Detroit

"For instance, in Detroit the unemployed problem reached a serious situation, and the Chamber of Commerce there during the hours when they were not using their hall gave the use of their large hall to the men who were out of work. There they made up a list of the men who were out of work and the men gave references to the employers by whom they were last employed. Then the regular business houses sent their own [employees] to look up the references of those unemployed men. If the men could show such references and if the employer corroborated his statement, after the men had been looked up, if they were out of work through no fault of the men but through the exigencies of the situation, then such men received a red card and were told to come back again at other hours to the Chamber of Commerce. Such men were given work when they produced the red card. And the business men agreed to do all sorts of things in order to give such men work. And they did provide for all kinds of extra work, extra cleaning, extra undertakings in their business, and almost all of those men who had red cards were provided with employment.

"Again, in Detroit, they found that a lot of those unemployed men were paying for their houses. They had bought their little house and lot, and in some instances provision had to be made in such cases. Of course, we cannot give money appropriated for charitable purposes to pay off interest on a mortgage. But in Detroit the business men were able to advance the money for the purpose, so as to tide over the better class of workingmen who ordinarily would not be out of work but who were not working this winter.

"Here in Chicago we have not done that sort of thing. In Hull House we have had one donation of five hundred dollars given us to help people where we find need. Yesterday we had fifty-three men asking for work, only about half of whom we could take care of. We have done all we could at Hull House during this winter. The House has been painted and cared for where it needed, all of the fifteen buildings. Every clock in Hull House is going; every electric light is in good order; every violin has been repaired in the music school; every piano has been tuned, and we have done everything that we possibly could to provide employment. We have done what we could not afford to do in ordinary times.

"Now, that is just an illustration. The same thing is going on in many other parts of the city. But the charities cannot take hold of these men as we do at Hull House. The charities say: 'We cannot do a thing for you if you are behind in your rent until you have received the second notice of eviction from you landlord.' That is rather galling to a man who has always heretofore paid his rent. And so the charities cannot give orders for food until the man's credit is exhausted with his grocer. Of course, the man does not like that. He feels he is being reduced to the status of a pauper before he is relieved.

Hull House Incidents

"That is the situation. It may be an unjustifiable grievance, but it is one of the grievances that is felt by many of the unemployed men in Chicago today.

"Now I will give you some idea of what occurred the other day at Hull House. I have long since ceased to apologize for what we do at Hull House or what we do not do, because there we are in the midst of a difficult situation and we are trying hard to do the best we can with it. We make mistakes; we make them all the time. We can only hope, year in and year out, that we have the confidence of the public that we are trying to do the best we can with a difficult situation.

"Every winter we have had men at Hull House in our largest hall on a Sunday [page 3] afternoon, and groups of men, most of whom belong to a brotherhood that Mr. [How] is connected with, called the Brotherhood of the Unemployed. Some of you know Mr. [How]. He is the grandson of a man who built the big bridge at St. Louis, and after his grandfather died he inherited a certain amount of money, trust money; that is the story. He gave the money to the Mayor of St. Louis, because he did not wish to have it himself, because he felt very sorry for other people. The Mayor had to do something with it for the poor of St. Louis. But the Mayor of St. Louis said he could not take the money, and he sent it back to him. Then the young man insisted again, and the Mayor had some doctors go see if the young man was sane. Finally the idea was adopted of having a board of trustees appointed, and out of that fund a number of shelters have been built in St. Louis, and his interest in such work has been going on for years.

"For many years he has been coming to Hull House, off and on, and he has been at the meetings of the Brotherhood of the Unemployed. These men have met there winter after winter. We have never had any disturbance at those meetings. Sometimes we would supply some bread and coffee when the winter was cold. The men always served it themselves; we never handed it out. Many times I have seen men fill their tin cups with coffee three or four times, and eat an entire loaf of bread. They must have been very hungry.

"Last Sunday some young men came to the hall; they were supposed to represent the Brotherhood of the Unemployed. We discovered some time afterward that some of them represented the League of Unemployed, which was another set of men. They met there together. They had invited Mrs. Parsons and other speakers to speak to them -- speakers who speak with more vehemence than wisdom, sometimes, and a disturbance occurred as a result. Someone proposed that they should march.

"I don't want to go into the details of that performance. Apparently, the police know all about it, and they were able to mass at Maxwell street and Desplaines street stations about one hundred police. They might have told us at Hull House that they were expecting trouble. We did not know that. A disturbance did occur. I was not at that meeting. Quite ironically, I was addressing a peace meeting when I was sent for, and when I reached Hull House the disturbance was over.

"I found that about twenty-one people had been arrested, and we found some friends to bail them out. It was stated they had led the parade without a permit. I do not wish to pass upon that. It was all in the papers and I think the situation was fairly stated.

"In a good sense every man is his brother's keeper. And that is the relation that has existed at Hull House. It is the relation people should live in.

"That has been a good place for those men to go to, a warm place for them to hold their meetings on Sunday afternoons. And you know that they want to have the right to march. In San Francisco there was a parade through the city, and it was an orderly parade.

That Parade Episode

"They said, among other things here in Chicago, that the unemployed men in Chicago were being forgotten; that there was no sympathetic response. They were the parade, and we felt that they had a right to come and discuss their situation and have an orderly parade the second time. But the second time it did not go so well in many ways, perhaps, as the first time -- not because of the fiery things which were said, because these speeches were not very remarkable. The young man in the chair was determined to have a parade, and when he put the question whether there was to be a parade or not, he took the very simple expedient of not putting the other side. I went up to the rostrum, not to make a speech, but in the interest of fair play. It seemed to me the chairman was not fair. I got up after they began to arrange the parade. There was no confusion, only a man near the platform was trying to speak and the rest of them were getting to the door, except the group of men who stayed. And I think the men who stayed were the original group of our men who live in the neighborhood and who usually come to Hull House. [page 4]

"That is the situation. We are sorry if any disorder occurred anywhere, and certainly we are sorry that it should have occurred in our particular quarters. We do not want to get into any controversy with the Mayor, but the solution of the unemployment problem is quite as much his task as it is that of Hull House. There was a very animated meeting in a hall down town here about two weeks ago, but the police were not there, and the reporters were not there, and nothing was said about it. But when it comes to having a meeting at Hull House, then the reporters, the police and everybody know about it, perhaps because Hull House promises a little better copy for the newspapers and a little more sensational news.

"What we claim is this: There are these groups of unemployed men all over the city. They are trying their best to find work with more or less success. They are trying for the most part to find out what they can do to better their condition. Alderman Lawler's report is just out which has some definite recommendations in regard to the matter. And the Industrial League is beginning to give out cards to some of the men. The business men of Chicago are taking hold of the situation with some vigor, with more vigor than they did earlier in the winter.

"Two things are important with these unemployed men. Many are out of employment through no fault of their own. They begin to realize that the problem is being thought of and discussed by other men in this city who are not at the present moment out of employment.

Radical Youth Not Dangerous

"Some of these men are radical, more or less, and they are exploiting the movement for their own propaganda, one way or the other. I want to say a word about these radicals. I have known a great many generations of young men. I have lived twenty-five years at Hull House, and I feel kind of grandmotherly towards the young men of the foreign nationalities who come over -- and come over very much stirred up by European conditions. During their first year in America they talk a good deal and do not talk very wisely. After a few years' residence here they do no more talking; in three years you no longer hear their voices at the meetings. They have found their place. And then a new group comes over, and they talk for a year or two, and then they are absorbed back into society. It is exactly as it is in a college or any other place where young men like to debate and where they are full of generous ideas and want to make the world over. It is a good thing for this old world of ours that youth should come up and challenge us. To my mind, it is a great mistake to try to put an end to such strife.

"We ought not to leave the question of the unemployed in the hands of those young people; it ought to be taken hold of by ourselves, or by the responsible men and women who have given the subject real study, so as to assure in some way the unemployed that you do not play with the situation; that you share in the blame for the situation they are confronted with and do your share in solving it."