Debate on Child Labor, November 13, 1911 (excerpts)




Otis Skinner, Non-Committal, But Wouldn't Allow His Child on Stage -- Specious Defense Made by Agnes Repplier and Norman Hapgood.

Philadelphia, November 14. -- Miss Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago, debated alone last night against Norman Hapgood, Otis Skinner, the actor, and Miss Agnes Repplier in the Contemporary Club in the Bellevue-Stratford.

Miss Addams pointed out what she said were dangers of the stage, to which Hapgood replied that the [theater] was no greater danger than the schoolroom to the child. Miss Repplier turned her fire upon the misdirected zeal and badly aimed efforts of the "parlor" sociologist. Skinner was noncommittal in his stand.

"I would not allow a child of mine to go upon the stage," said he. "My child shall not, and I have devoted my entire life to the [theater]."

He declared however, that if his daughter had to go to work he would place her on the stage rather than in a mill, a factory, a shop, a store, or in an office. He said he had meant that he was opposed to the stage as long as his child need not go upon it.

Miss Addams began by outlining the Illinois laws which placed a ban on the "stage child." She rehearsed the general opposition of the glass blowers, cotton weavers, telegraph companies, and other "child hirers" to the law and added:

"I think it a specious argument that the child player is called a young artist. Children are taught best in school, despite the arguments that the stage holds forth educational advantages."

"Each business argues that it is an exception to the rule against child labor, and advances arguments to prove it; but there are no exceptions, not even the stage."

Hapgood spoke of the National Alliance for the Protection of Stage Children, saying that surely the protection of children could be left to it. He cited August Thomas, a father, as President of the organization, and declared himself satisfied that under such protection little harm could come to the child by its connection with the [theater]. Such shows as "Alias Jimmy Valentine" and "[Polly] of the Circus" would not be complete without children, and he could not comprehend wherein these child actors were contaminated.

"Naturally I advocate proper supervision of the stage child," he said. "Of course there is danger. But can it be proved that the morals of a child are in any greater jeopardy on the stage than in the schoolyard? There is no more danger lurking behind the footlights than there is in the schoolroom."

"Have we a right to deny to the exceptional child the exceptional opportunity?" Miss Repplier asked. "Life in the [theater] has its great disadvantages, true. The child actor to be a companion of the midnight? Go anywhere in a big city and see how the children spend the late hours of the night.

"If we must snatch a child from his change of advancement on the stage we should be pretty sure that we transfer him to something just as good or better," she declared. "We do ill when we refuse to allow a child to take [part] in such plays as 'The Blue Bird,' 'Peter Pan,' and 'The Piper,' and allow the chorus girl to go to perdition."

Miss Addams denied that the Gerry Society of New York was any too effective, inasmuch as that organization refused permits to only seven-tenths of 1 [percent] of the children for whom permits were sought last year. She went to see "The Piper," and while she mourned that little children were compelled to appear, she admitted that this was infinitely more attractive than seeing [white-faced] children toil in the mills and factories. She was quite sure that "The Piper" could be played with a man in the title role instead of Miss Matthison and with young women playing the child parts. Her chief objection to the life of the child on the stage [today], she declared, was the dreary repetition of one part.

"And what is the stage child good for?" she concluded. "The child actor is dazzled by the garishness of stage-land. He or she will not willingly go back to humdrum life and settle into the conventional routes. He is not a finished actor, and must continue with little education to struggle along in minor positions where he stays unless he is possessed of extraordinary ability, in which case he finally blooms forth as a star."