Ten Years' Experience in Illinois, March 12, 1911

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MISS JANE ADDAMS: I wish I could take that as [page 2] another rising vote to Mr. McKelway's motion, and add to that motion that nothing so impresses a legislator as to have letters from his constituents. If the southern legislators are like the northern legislators, they will have their ears to the ground occasionally, and if they find that a large meeting in Birmingham stood for amendments to the child labor law, and then if people show that they are in earnest by writing to those legislators, something will be almost sure to happen.

Mr. Chairman and Ladies and Gentlemen: With your permission, I will tell you some of our experiences in Illinois in relation to child labor legislation, and how we have finally come quite away from merely restrictive measures into all sorts of jolly things which we are trying to provide for the children.

In 1901 Illinois had only one child labor law provision upon its books, and that referred only to children working in mines. In 1903 the protection of the law was extended to children working in sweatshops and factories. Five years later, during the fight to have included children working in mercantile establishments and offices, and messengers, we were [page 3] able to get a provision that no child could receive a certificate unless he was able to read and write.

A very astonishing thing happened as a result of that provision. Certain schools, largely those in the foreign communities, which had been quite large enough before this provision was enacted, suddenly became filled to overflowing. I remember one school in the Stockyards which increased from 50 to 150 in the fifth grade alone; and the increases came right along in all of the lower grades. Little creatures of four were entered as being age six, in order that they might more speedily learn to read and write and more speedily attain the advanced age of 14. All sorts of reactions came upon the school system itself.

And then we bestirred ourselves to modify the compulsory education law, and we finally equipped ourselves with a splendid parental school. We discovered that certain boys who did not get on very well in ordinary schools, when they were sent out in the country to this parental school, developed into good farmers, into great stock growers, and all sorts of useful boys, simply because they had something to do with their hands. And back again came the reaction [page 4] upon the public schools of Chicago.

And then later, after the juvenile court was established, it was discovered that a surprising number of children got into difficulties when they were outside of school and after their long hours of work in the factories and shops.

And finally it was said by good citizens all over the city, "It is foolish that children should be arrested and brought into the juvenile court for playing ball on the streets; it is very absurd that a child should get his name so close to the criminal records of Cook County merely because he obstructs traffic playing leapfrog. Something must be done to get these boys a place to play."

And gradually we have built up in Chicago a system of small parks, each park -- and here I will boast a little, in true Chicago spirit -- each one of these small marks is equipped with a field house costing $90,000. It has in it a gymnasium for boys and girls; it has in it club rooms, public library stations, dance halls, and all sorts of things where young people may come together and have decent recreation. Outside of these park houses in the immediate vicinity are open-air gymnasiums and swimming pool [page 5] and wading pools, and all of those things to which young people are so quickly attracted.

And at the end of three years, this is what happened. It was discovered that in the region of these small parks where once many boys had been arrested, the number was first less by one-third, and at the end of five years it lost 48 per cent. of the children who had been arrested, but were not arrested simply because they had this outlet for their energies which the small parks afforded.

Then we were able to say this: Naturally, some of the taxpayers had objected. The taxpayers always objects when his taxes go up suddenly, and he does not quite understand the reason why. We were able to say to those taxpayers of Chicago, "It is true that your county tax, that tax which took care of the juvenile delinquents has decreased, so that at the present moment in spite of the fact that 15 of these very expensive field houses are being managed in Chicago, you are paying less taxes than you paid 5 years ago." (Applause.)

Now, it seems to many of us that <that is> one of the results [page 6] of that child labor legislation which began so long ago, in 1901, because this a curious thing, if you know the children, if you study their needs, if you feel identified with their future, if you are mortified when they go wrong, you are led out into all sorts of activities upon their behalf.

Then we have found also that a surprising number of boys come to grief during the first two years after they go to work, boys between the ages of 14 and 16. We are slowly discovering that many of these boys are badly placed. A boy who is big and clumsy and likes to do outdoor things, likes to lift with his heavy muscles, likes to imagine himself a pirate on the high seas, and all that kind of thing, does not work very well when he is put into a factory and perhaps puts eyelets in shoes at the rate of two cents a case.

So we are beginning to study the vocations of these children. We are beginning to see that children must be prepared for the things which they can do best, and some wise person must discover at what age and what time and what temperament a child can most easily be inducted into a given avocation or another vocation. And this again is reacting upon the [page 7] schools in a surprising way.

And again we are able to go to Mr. Taxpayer and say to him, "We will guarantee that we will reduce the delinquency among these boys between 14 and 16, at this trying period when they are adjusting themselves to industry, if you will establish these vocation bureaus for all of the 8th grade children who are obliged to go to work; and if they haven't had the proper education in the public schools, we beg of you to so modify the schools, or to so add other schools that they may be taken care of and the city not only saved the expense of these juvenile delinquents but the parents saved the heartbreak which an erring child always brings, and the boys themselves saved the chagrin and the disgrace and the discouragement which going wrong at the beginning always entails."

And so I say again that beginning with your merely restrictive child labor law, you are entering at the same time the hard way and at the same time the most fascinating road towards all sorts of other things which a great city will provide for its children. And this one message I can bring quite definitely[page 8], that while it seems as if you are reducing your industrial assets, while it seems as if you are increasing the taxes of the city, looked at from the point of view of twenty or twenty-five years, you will not increase your taxation proportionately. You will gradually spend your money more wisely and more intelligently; you will enter into a friendship and an understanding with the child so that you will realize what he needs at certain times and under certain conditions; and you will first of all be ashamed that you ever thought he ought to labor to support grown up people, and then you will wonder that you ever thought he could walk along the street like a sober deacon when he was dying to play all sorts of things, and thirdly you will discover that if you would fit him for industry, you must begin to consider the child and the industry together, and make some sort of promotion between the two.

Now, in our own neighborhood at Hull House we have discovered another thing about these boys. We have had representing us in the common council of the city of Chicago for about 25 years, a certain alderman in Chicago who has a rather unsavory reputation. We [page 9] have tried at various times to dislodge him; but we have never succeeded, and we have finally made up our minds that unless he grows ambitious and wants to go to Congress, we never will get rid of him in the 19th ward. (Laughter and applause.)

A little study of the children of the 19th ward, especially of the boys, divulged this, that the boys who went around the ward in gangs -- and curiously enough every boy does belong to a gang, especially if he be an Irish boy, from whom our politicians are mostly made (laughter) -- that in those gangs he was learning the very method, the very technique of the kind of alderman with which our ward is blessed.

The boy at the head of the gang in Chicago is called the "song-and-dance-man;" in Boston they call him the "councilor." I do not know why in either case; but that is what they do call them. This song-and-dance-man has it put up to him to provide something for the gang to do all the time; and if he can provide something on the edge of law-breaking, something very exciting, he is all the more successful.

When he grows a little older, he keeps on with this gang. He tells them the saloons which are protected [page 10] so that they may go there without fear of being interuppted by the police. He tells them the gambling halls which are quite safe, and he gives them the tip in this thing and that thing, even to the justice before whom they may appear and be protected by the alderman.

Now, that is exactly the training for the alderman, that is the kind of alderman down in our ward. He has his friends; he takes care of those friends; he sees that the law does not press too hard on them; and if they do get in trouble, some higher power, through his influence, will get them out again.

Now, we discovered that we were training up that type of politician right in the city of Chicago, one set of boys after another whose only idea of political association and civic righteousness was the sort of thing which they learned in the gang, and which prepared them directly for this sort of political life.

Now, a boy listens to lectures on civics -- and every settlement has long, long, and sometimes dreary lessons on civics, and the constitution of the United States, and all the rest of it, and the boy listens to all this sometimes, if you can catch him. What he really learns of life is the thing he learns with his companions, and the way he learns to act with other people is the [page 11] basis of his future political relationships.

So we said if we could break up these gangs, it would be a long step in the right direction. And lo and behold, when we had the playgrounds, while we were wondering how we could break up the gangs, the gangs broke up themselves. If six or eight or ten gangs enter into a playground at the same time, the man at the head of the playground has only to be concerned that each one has an equal chance; "that the liberty of each" in the words of Herbert Spencer, "is limited only by the liberty of all." And so these gangs come, and if one wants to have the apparatus too long, or if one wants to rule the playground, the man in charge says, "Not at all, Mr. Song-and-dance-man, this playground belongs equally to all the boys in this neighborhood." And you begin to give quite another notion of political life to the hundreds of boys who use the playground as they find that they are obliged to take their turns in the use of the apparatus which has been supplied by the city, being obliged to take their turns in the use of the halls to which they all want to bring their girls for a certain evening. And very soon they learn that only as a boy distinguishes himself by actual achievements [page 12] such as boys so much admire, the turning around and around a innumerable number of times on the bars, or something else, which is quite different from politics -- only in some such way as that is he able to win the admiration of his fellows.

And so we have discovered that in these playgrounds of ours we are breaking up a certain type of politician who has so long resigned in Chicago. And we also believe that when the other children, free from the premature labor, free from that dull kind of education which has no relation to the life which comes after, when these children have a chance to indicate their lives, to use some initiatives to plan for their own futures in relation to the things that they like to do, we are going to have such an aroused community in Chicago that at length our moral energy and our civic enterprise will equal our long-famed commercial energy, and our huge, unwieldy bulk.

(Great applause.)