Address on the Children's Bureau, January 21, 1909

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MISS JANE ADDAMS (Illinois) I think there is very little to add to all the pleas which have been made for the establishment of this federal bureau in the interest of children. I might, however, take one moment of your time to point a moral and adorn a tale by this child labor committee itself.

In the very early days its annual meetings consisted largely of the people who were working in their various states to secure some adequate child labor legislation and they came together to swap stories and to cheer each other on their very difficult and stony ways. Gradually it became evident that what was needed was at least one central secretary who should discover those states in which no one was even working for child labor legislation, who might be able to go to those states and arouse interest and to divide the people up as it were into the territory where the first important work needed to be done, and into other territories [page 2] where information needed to be furnished towards the best methods of securing the legislation, and still other territory where unbridled enthusiasm needed to be restrained.

Gradually it was discovered that even more than that was needed and many of your [today] heard the report of the three secretaries, one representing the New England states, another the Southern states, and still another the states of the Ohio valley. And you saw how absurd state lines were when it came to industrial questions, how exactly the same industrial conditions prevail, for instance, in that little three-cornered spot near the meeting of two rivers which contains a piece of West Virginia, a piece of Pennsylvania and a piece of Ohio, and where the child labor legislation in the three states differs almost as widely as possible.

Then another thing which we might illustrate from this committee: Of course, the moral is that a federal bureau naturally would have nothing to do with state lines.

The growth of this committee in still another direction depends upon a number of circumstances, if the committee holds itself strictly to child labor questions. The very first matter that was put up contained careful information, not only about child labor laws, but also in regard to compulsory education laws. In later meetings a great deal was said in regard to industrial education. It was [page 3] discovered, for instance, that in certain states the educational authorities did not know a single thing in regard to the children during those first two or three perplexing years after they left school and went to work. The children themselves could not find any connection between the things they had learned and the things they were called upon to do, and they all believed, as one boy said to me, that the commencement orator knew what he was talking about when he said they were going out into a cold world. (Laughter.)

Though later, as you see to-night, the talk has come around more and more to a health basis, conservation perhaps is the word, and we are now working for the conservation of the health and efficiency of children.

What does all of this mean? It seems to me it means certainly two things. One is that these great questions of education and child labor cannot be adequately cared for by states on state lines alone along lines of rivers and mountains, and seem to have nothing to do with industrial problems which after all must be dealt with by the nation. Secondly, that you cannot confine your attention to child labor and get it away from all other things which pertain to children, and that you are forced into attention, you are forced into health, you are forced into all sorts of other problems, and these can only be adequately dealt with and their inter-relation can only be understood if some [page 3] bureau is given authority and the dignity to go into them.

We hear a great deal said about the illiteracy of certain states, and then the people from those states tell us it is because of their poverty and then some one from a rival state says it is because they are not willing to pay enough taxes. No one knows, representing, not the citizens of that state but the citizens of the United States -- no one is in a position to tell us what is lacking and to point out what can be done. Perhaps it is only a bad method of taxation, perhaps it is neither ignorance nor indifference nor lack of care in the matter of paying taxes. It does seem to me that the small effort, because it was small in its beginning and it is small yet compared to the need, — illustrates the logical conclusion towards a bureau, a federal bureau to look after the interests of children, and this committee itself is urging its passage in Washington. The committee goes on for a hearing before the committee having the matter in charge in Congress next Wednesday, and such a bureau will only be established if throughout the United States there is a great interest in it, that the people everywhere feel that it is necessary, not another added burden to an already much perplexed series of governmental bureaus but something which is going to do that which the people demand and feel ought to be done. Then perhaps [page 4] we might do away with the belief that the people sometimes think that the federal government seems a little too remote and a little too far away, and seems to concern itself more with canned meats and fisheries than it does with things which have to do with life and progress. Nothing after all can make the government appear quite so -- shall we say vital, to our best interests as that which would concern itself with the feeling and the task of looking after the children of the nation. (Applause.)

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