Address on Costs of Child Insurance. January 4, 1903



Death of Babes in Swaddling Clothes May Mean Profit to Parents.

Insuring the lives of children who are still in swaddling clothes is a growing business in Chicago, and while there have been no notorious cases of murder, as in some cities, the temptations that might come to a heartless parent to thus dispose of his offspring are beyond dispute.

In the territory of Hull House and all within the field occupied by the Chicago bureau of charities the representatives of the two associations come in contact with the insured, both as to the babes and adults.

"It is everywhere in the neighborhood of Hull House," said Miss Jane Addams, "and while I am certain it carries with it no such abuses are as complained of in London, it is an evil nevertheless. No case has come to the knowledge of the settlement where a parent has killed a child in any way for the insurance, but we have seen instances where the temptation must have been felt.

"For instance, a case occurs to me where one of a family of five children died. When I called on the woman she was loudly bewailing the fact that the child who died was the only one of the five who was not insured. Her grief had taken such a turn that there was no doubt she would prefer to have had one of the insured members go than to have lost one whose death did not provide burial funds.

Temptation to Let Sick Die.

"At the most I think the insurance of babes and children may be a temptation to parents to allow the child, when sick, to be neglected. It would be pretty hard in this country for a wholesale killing of children for any reason to go undetected; it is hardly possible that the small insurance in such cases would prove enough to encourage deliberate murder. However, the system must be regarded as bad in its effects.

"Not only are the babes insured but any and all members of the family are protected by this form of industrial insurance. We had a case here a year ago in which a man and his wife were dependent upon charity. Both were ill, and we looked after them until the man died. Then we were astonished beyond measure to find that his life had been insured in one of these companies, and through all the poverty of the family his wife had kept up the weekly premiums. Not only that, but after his death we discovered that the widow's life also was insured, and when she finally was taken with her last illness she turned the amount of the policy over to me.

Undertaker Gets It All.

"One of the most hopeless things about these policies is the fact that, no matter how much needed is the policy falling due, it is always misspent. The undertaker gets it all, as a rule. In the few cases where we have had knowledge of the burials of these people everything went toward the funeral expenses. With most of these people it is the first time in their lives that they have had money in any amount to spend, and, as it came easy, it goes that way.

"With regard to nationality, the residents in this section of the city seem to take to the industrial insurance, however, many of them in the hope that it will keep them from a pauper's grave."

At the bureau of associated charities the work of the industrial insurance agent is known in general, but there, as at Hull house, any specific abuse is hard to point out. In one instance about a year ago a whole neighborhood was worked up over the reported poisoning of a babe for the insurance money, but nothing came of it. The family was white and poor to the verge of starvation.

Causes Extravagance in Funerals.

"I have just one case in mind," said Supt. Bicknell, "a boy, pretty well grown, died while we were helping the family. Ordinarily under such circumstances we would have allowed $35 for a decent burial for the child, but the parents spent the full $90 insurance in burying the boy and then came back on the bureau for more help.

"We have such experiences all the time; money that should go to the keeping of these people is spent in these industrial insurance policies. People are caught by the smallness of the premiums each week; a nickel a week is pointed out to them as almost nothing, whereas, in proportion to what the insured gets he is paying the biggest of premiums. It would surprise you to know just how widespread this form of life insurance has become among the poor all over the city."

Negroes are especially good marks for these agents. The darky has an element of risk in his makeup and everywhere he has invested in this so-called "graveyard" insurance.

"In the southern edge of Kenilworth there is a negro settlement where nearly every darky in it is insured," said a well known resident of the suburb. "The darky is great on funerals, and it is to be able to have some of the expected pomp and show at death that makes these colored people invest so universally in this form of insurance. There's an old woman in the settlement who used to know my family, and for several years since she has been unable to work I have been giving her 60 cents a week to pay on her policy; she pays 77 cents, so she says, but she gets the 17 cents somewhere else."

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