Statement on Illinois State Senate Bill 233 (Child Actor Bill), April 25, 1911

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Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee: First I will explain that Hull House has no concern in this bill except that it is one of many agencies that are interested in keeping up the present child labor legislation.

We have come to the legislature with no new bill. We are simply trying to maintain a law which has been in operation, as the transcript said, since 1903.

When I state that, I mean the people interested in child labor legislation throughout the state of Illinois. First and foremost, the Consumer's League, the president of which has appeared at every hearing, save one, on this bill.

The Illinois Federation of Women's clubs. The educators of Illinois oppose this bill, and hundreds of people who have been interested in this safeguard which has been built up for the children.

Since the question of the theater of Hull House [page 2] has been brought up, perhaps we can explain about our theater.

We have a theater at Hull House. The children give plays, almost always in the afternoon. Our musical school gives recitals. Our gymnasium department gives exhibitions from time to time of the work done in this gymnasium.

We submit it is a very excellent thing for children to have dramatic training, and to have that value which comes from dramatic art, if it is done as an educational measure.

No child in any Hull House play appears more than twice a year. No child is allowed in rehearsal more than twice a week. The child lives at home and goes to school. If it falls behind in its school record it is not allowed to appear in another play.

Mrs. Blaine, who is here, will tell you something of the plays they give in the Francis Parker school. The study of plays is taken up to some extent in our public school system. Something of dramatic art is being taught to children as art, as a matter of general cultivation, exactly as music is being taught, exactly as painting is being taught. [page 3] 

I submit to you gentlemen, that to say that a child cannot be taught dramatic art, unless it plays before a large audience, is exactly like saying that a child cannot learn to play the piano without playing nightly before large audiences, or cannot learn to paint without it places its paintings in a public exhibition in the art institute or elsewhere.

I do not quite know how to begin. I feel as though I ought to begin with an apology, Mr. Chairman. I had no idea that when I tried to make a little analysis of the three lobbies which appeared before the judiciary committee of the Senate, I was going to hurt anybody's feelings.

We are so accustomed, in these hearings, at which we have appeared since 1903, to a certain "give and take" that it did not occur to me I would be taken quite so seriously.

I think it was only in this room, a little while ago, that I was designated, with others, as a "Bunch of Butters-in, from Chicago." It seemed to us a very pleasant pleasantry (laughter). We took it quite in good nature. [page 4] 

What I said was this, that the first lobby had consisted of theater managers of Chicago. I think there were three, to my personal knowledge. Their chief spokesman was Miss Taliaferro.

At the second hearing, Mr. Will J. Davis took up quite a large share of the time.

At the third hearing, the people who came from New York were largely theater owners, playwrights and managers.

I submit to you, from the evidence here today, most of those people are playwrights, actors and managers. I respect all of them highly. I respect the profession and respect them individually, very highly; but when I indulged in a little talk about the free theater, -- the same sort of thing that has been said in our newspapers for years and years, the difficulty that playwrights find in getting a play before the public, unless the managers choose to produce those plays, and the great difficulty of the player has unless he finds a manager who will give him a desirable part in a good production, -- I suppose I was talking the merest commonplaces, because everybody knows that those things have been in the newspapers for years. [page 5] 

If I have offended anybody's feelings, impugned anybody's motives, and said anything, which as the remarks of Miss LaFollette would indicate has been misunderstood, of course I retract and apologize to all of you, and I am very sorry indeed.

I am afraid they are not used to our somewhat rough and ready ways, of Chicago, to the wild and wooly west. I am sure I had no intention of being in the least rude, of or impugning anybody's motives.

In regard to the theater and the law, Mrs. Baker has done me the honor to read from a little book that I published last year.

I have, from time to time, published four books, and in each one you can find something of the same sort of a panegyric of the theater. I believe in it enormously. Thousands of people in our neighborhood go to the theater, and learn of that large part of life which is outside of their rather monotonous days, only as it is presented in the theater.

One of the first buildings we had at Hull house was a theater. It was no easy task to go around and endeavor to persuade the hard headed, -- not hard hearted -- business men of Chicago, that a theater belonged [page 6] to, and had a place in a philanthropic institution. I had a good many things to say, a good many opportunities to be obliged to say them, in defense of the theater, but ultimately I obtained $25,000 for that theater building at Hull House.

I could not have done it, unless I had believed in the theater, and believed in the theater as an educational force.

I submit, all that has nothing to do with the appearance of little children on the stage, when they are there, not in the interest of their education, but in the interest of other people, and are being paid for their services, because, in that way, they are of use to the managers.

It is true they take in money, in our Opera House, in their little plays. Children come there, with their 5-cent pieces in their chubby fists. We turn away hundreds of them. They play Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood, and such presentations of the juvenile folk lore of our race and time. Those "nickels" are all saved for the summer outings, of the children on the stage. They are as eager as anybody, about the box office receipts. They have their own bank account, and have an outing in the summer from the proceeds. [page 7] 

No child is paid. They live at home and have their normal child's life. This is only one thing more, added to them, an element which is quite incidental to their normal lives, in the way of education and art.

There are so many things to say that I am not going to say any of them just now. I am going to ask if I may have two gentlemen, whom I would like to call as experts. The first of Mr. Charles Judd, who is the head of the school of education, connected with the University of Chicago.

Some of us believe that is our chief school for experimental education, within our state. Mr. Judd was for years, before he came to the school, in the Department of Psychology of Yale University. He is a psychologist, as well as a practical educator. We would like very much, Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee, to have Mr. Judd address us for 3 or 5 minutes.

REP. SMEJKAL: You are on the school board in Chicago, are you not, Miss Addams?

MISS ADDAMS: No. I was put off. I was on. My motives were horribly impugned, for almost everything I did on the board. [page 8] 

REP. SMEJKAL: You were, however, on the school board, previously?

MISS ADDAMS: Yes, I was on the Mayor Dunne school board.

MR. THOMAS: Do children appear at night in the Hull House performances?

MISS ADDAMS: They do, very seldom, however. Almost all their things are Saturday afternoons. Occasionally, instead of giving a play Saturday afternoons, for the sake of their parents they give it Saturday evening, -- but only Saturday evenings, when they are supposed to sleep the next day.