A National Children's Bureau and a National Investigation of the Labor of Women and Children, December 14, 1906

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MISS JANE ADDAMS: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I read over my somewhat long and interesting title only after I came to Cincinnati. I presume it was given to me on the supposition that everybody in Chicago, because of the great advantages afforded by the Stock Yards, must know something about the various animals mentioned, the cattle, the sheep and the hogs. (Laughter.) And if we don't know about them, then it is because we have neglected to avail ourselves of a very obvious and widespread opportunity.

But after all it is a serious matter, that the Federal Government should be willing to spend time and money to establish and maintain departments relating to the breeding, to the raising, to the distribution and to the exportation of these various animals, and that as yet the Federal Government has done nothing to see to it that the children are properly protected up to the time when they may go to work without injury to themselves and without injury to the nation.

It is sometimes seems as if the founders of our government in their great desire to keep away from oppression and to avoid the tyranny which had driven them from Europe [went] to an extreme in regard to centralized government, -- believing that self-government could be secured only through local government. If one would go over the early history of government in the United States and the machinery devised to secure greater freedom, one would find that the founders constantly trusted centralized power as a result of the inheritance which they had brought with them and from which they could not escape. Only in one direction [page 2] did they assume that a centralized government was necessary and that was in all of those things which pertain to international relations. As modern life developed those things which pertained most naturally to international relations were the exports and imports with their tariff regulations, and so quite seriously the national government took up all of the things connected with commerce and with its development in any direction.

It seemed at last quite natural that hours and hours of discussion in the Congress of the United States should be expended upon commercial questions because they had to do with the relations of the United States to the world outside. It seemed quite right that millions of dollars should be spent that the best sort of grain might be raised and carried to the sea-ports: that elaborate experiment stations should be established upon the seashore that fish might be produced and protected. And during this development at any moment -- I was going to say at the drop of a hat -- the national government was ready to go to war in order to protect the seal or the fisheries interests. In the same spirit animal industries were protected and developed because cattle of the west were a valuable national asset, soldiers were stationed throughout the territories that the ranchmen might be secure in their efforts to enlarge this great industry, which was national in character and which determined in a very large measure our commercial relations to European nations. It was logical <perhaps> that the power of the federal government should develop so exclusively along commercial lines, if one may generalize from this very superficial survey and that any tendency on the part of centralized government, to develop in other directions should be resented by liberty-loving people. This development along one exclusive line has, however, brought some [page 3] [embarrassing] results. For instance, quite lately in Chicago when we became greatly agitated in regard to the question of protecting the cattle after they had been killed and put into cans (Laughter) the only way we could secure any protection was by following this same commercial line. The Meat Bill, I suppose, pushed very hard the Interstate Commerce Acts. It went as far, I imagine, as it possibly could and still keep up the fiction of having to do with railroads and with the transportation of goods from one state to another, starting and ending logically, of course, with foreign exports. For it was in the development of international relations, when Germany [illegible] insisted upon inspection and England insisted upon inspection, that the entire system of meat inspection was developed. The United States sagely enacted very stringent regulations in order to meet the requirements of other nations, for so long as these regulations fostered international trade, no one objected to them. But when Congress attempted to pass measures requiring the inspection of meat as a product which was merely sent from one state to another the legislators found it difficult both to pass and to enforce the regulations [and] they did not dream of attempting it from any other point of view than that of Inter-State Commerce. A few rash people thought that the matter of meat inspection might have been approached from a praise worthy desire on the part of the federal government to preserve American citizens from death by poisoning, although we in Chicago were not afraid of being poisoned, for we have eaten the very worst stuff for years -- stuff which was too bad to be taken out of the city at all -- until we considered ourselves [page 4] quite immune. (Laughter) Chicago citizens were glad to have this Meat Bill passed, however, because only through such a stretch of power of the Federal Government in its commercial relations could protection be afforded to the children, the women and the men who were working in the Stock Yards. It was possible to reach the producer only through the product, it was possible to regulate the product only because it entered into Inter-State Commerce. The Federal Government said, "O yes, we will go along the old path of regulating commerce and if, incidentally, we can protect the women and children, we will do it. If you ask us to protect them directly, we will certainly say no, for that interferes with state rights and we cannot possibly undertake such a thing." (Applause.)

There is certainly a ray of hope in this legislation although some of us wished that this protection might have been secured for women and children less indirectly. I will confess to certain scruples in thus securing sanitation which sometimes means only hot water in which a man may wash his hands when they are covered with the blood of [cows]. Some of us wish that the Government might secure so praiseworthy an object in a more direct way than through the Inter-State Commerce Acts, but we will take it as it comes, and I am glad to have it come through such a measure if we can secure it in no other way.

And now comes Senator Beveridge and pushes this Inter-State Commerce arrangement one step further. (Applause.) The Meat Bill [controls] the conditions [surrounding] the producer because it is only through control of these conditions that we can secure a product clean and wholesome enough for Inter-State Commerce, [page 5] but Senator Beveridge says that it is only [by] protecting the child, by not permitting him to work until he is fourteen that we can [illegible] produce a product that is moral enough, that is decent enough, that is righteous enough, to enter into Inter-State Commerce. (Applause.) If we have government in which human welfare is not to be considered as an object of direct governmental action and if we possess a rooted objection to humane legislation, I think we may congratulate ourselves that there have arisen in our midst men who are clever enough to "tackle" the question of human welfare through the Inter-State Commerce Acts. Perhaps when we look at this bill, when we see the workings of this regulation which so nearly as I can discover is going to become a law before very many weeks are past, we may be able to see that this, after all, is the most American way to get at the matter.

What are we most interested in in this country? Along which line does our blood and sinew and our imaginations and our hopes and our desires develop? I think that we would all agree that it is along the line of industry and commerce that American children have suffered in so far as they have been put to premature toil because our commercial and industrial life has been so ruthless and so self-centered that it has never given them a thought. To have this labor of children protected and regulated through legislation designed for solely in the interests of commercial advancement is perhaps a case of poetic justice, -- an instance of the return of the deed upon the head of the doer, -- of the punishment fitted to the crime as it were. Some of us who are members of this convention had dreamed that the regulation of the labor of children might come through [page 6] through educational agencies, that it might be fostered through a federal bureau of education or a bureau dedicated to all the children of the nation, as other bureaus are dedicated to the interests of cattle and grain, but apparently it is destined to come another way, and we will protect the children through the products in which their labor is embodied as we have protected the stock yard's worker through the goods which he has put into cans. However, we may in [time] be justly proud if we can say that no American product enters into foreign or domestic commerce which does not represent the free labor quality of an educated producer who is exercising his adult powers. At any rate we will be thankful that at last there is a prospect of national regulation of a national evil, and I am sure that you will agree with me in giving a most hearty welcome to the speaker who is to follow, Senator Beveridge, who will explain to us his very clever bill. (Applause.)