A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, Chapter III: Lack of Moral Education and Its Dangers, January 1912

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NO great wrong has ever arisen more clearly to the social consciousness of a generation than has that of commercialized vice in the social consciousness of ours, and that we are so slow to act is simply another evidence that human nature has a curious power of callous indifference toward evils which have been so [entrenched] that they seem part of that which "has always been." Educators, of course, share this attitude; at moments they even seem to intensify it, although at last an educational movement in the direction of sex hygiene is beginning in the schools and colleges. Primary schools strive to satisfy the child's first questionings regarding the beginnings of human life, and approach the subject through simple biological instruction which at least places this knowledge on a par with other natural facts. Such teaching is an enormous advance for the children whose curiosity would otherwise have been satisfied from poisonous sources, and who would have learned of simple physiological matters from such secret undercurrents of corrupt knowledge as to have forever perverted their minds. Yet this first direct step toward an adequate educational approach to this subject has been surprisingly difficult, owing to the self-consciousness of grown-up people; for, while the children receive the teaching quite simply, their parents often take alarm. Doubtless cooperation with parents will be necessary before the subject can fall into its proper place in the schools. In Chicago, the largest woman's club in the city has established normal courses in sex hygiene, attended by both teachers and mothers; the National and State Federations of Women's Clubs are gradually preparing thousands of women throughout America for fuller cooperation with the schools in this difficult matter. In this, as in so many other educational movements, Germany has led the way. Two publications are issued monthly in Berlin which promote not only more effective legislation but more adequate instruction in the schools on this basic subject. These journals are supported by men and women anxious for light for the sake of their children. Some of them were first stirred to action by Wedekind's powerful drama, "The Awakening of Spring," which, with Teutonic grimness, thrusts over the footlights the lesson that death and degradation may be the fate of a group of gifted school-children, because of the cowardly reticence of their parents.

The Struggle of Young People with Ignorance and Temptation

A year ago the Bishop of London gathered together a large group of influential people and laid before them his conviction that the root of the social evil lay in so-called "parental modesty," and that in the quickening of the parental conscience lay the hope for the "lifting up of England's moral tone, which has for so long been the despair of England's foremost men." In America the eighth Year Book of the National Society for the Scientific Study of Education treats of this important subject with great ability, massing the agencies and methods in impressive array. Many other educational journals and organized societies could be cited as expressing a new conscience in regard to this world-old evil. The expert educational opinion which they represent is practically agreed that for older children the instruction should not be confined to biology and hygiene, but may come quite naturally in history and literature, which [page 2] record and portray the havoc wrought by the sexual instinct when uncontrolled, and also show that, when directed and spiritualized, it has become an inspiration of the loftiest devotions and sacrifices. The youth thus taught sees this primal instinct not only as an essential to the continuance of the race, but also as a fundamental factor in social progress when it is devoted to the highest ends. The entire subject is broadened out in his mind as he learns that his own struggle is a common experience, as he is able to make his own interpretations and to combat the crude inferences of his patronizing companions. After all, no young person will be able to control his impulses and to save himself from the grosser temptations unless he has been put under the sway of nobler influences. Perhaps we have yet to learn that the inhibitions of character, as well as its reinforcements, come most readily through idealistic motives.

Certainly all the great religions of the world have recognized youth's need of spiritual help during the trying years of adolescence. The ceremonies of the earliest religions deal with this instinct almost to the exclusion of others, and all later religions attempt to provide the youth with shadowy weapons for the struggle that lies ahead of him; for the wise men in every age have known that only the power of the spirit can overcome the lusts of the flesh.

Peculiar Brutality of the Common Attitude toward Outcast Women

In spite of this educational advance, courses of study in many public and private schools are still prepared exactly as if educators had never known that at fifteen or sixteen years of age, the will power being still weak, the bodily desires are keen and insistent. The head master of Eton, Mr. Lyttelton, who has given much thought to this gap in the education of youth, says: "The certain result of leaving an enormous majority of boys unguided and uninstructed in a matter where their strongest passions are concerned, is that they grow up to judge of all questions connected with it from a purely selfish point of view." He contends that this selfishness is due to the fact that any single suggestion or hint that boys receive on the subject comes from other boy or young men who are under the same potent influences of ignorance, curiosity, and the claims of self. No wholesome counterbalance of knowledge is given; no attempt is made to invest the subject with dignity or to place it in relation to the welfare of others and to universal law. Mr. Lyttelton contends that this alone can explain the peculiarly brutal attitude toward "outcast" women which is a sustained cruelty to be discerned in no other relation of English life.

To quote him again: "But when the victims of man's cruelty are not birds or beasts, but our own countrywomen, doomed by the hundred thousand to a life of unutterable shame and hopeless misery, then, and then only, the general average tone of young men becomes hard and brutally callous or frivolous with a kind of coarse frivolity not exhibited in relation to any other form of human suffering." At the present moment thousands of young people in our great cities possess no other knowledge of this grave social evil, which may at any moment become a dangerous personal menace, save what is imparted to them in this brutal, flippant spirit.

Even Savage Tribes Taught Their Children Self-Control

An educator has lately pointed out that it is an old lure of vice to pretend that it alone deals with manliness and reality, and that therefore the adventurous youth sowing his wild oats assumes a tone of patronage toward his more virtuous companions. Many young people have failed to respond to any of the restraints and inner admonitions of religion and have received none of the lessons in self-control which even savage tribes imparted to their children when they taught them to master their appetites as well as their emotions. These young people are perhaps further from all community restraint and genuine social control than the youth of the community have ever been in the long history of civilization. Certainly, only the modern city has offered at one and the same time every possible stimulation for the lower nature and every opportunity for secret vice. Educators apparently forget that this unrestrained stimulation of young people, so characteristic of our cities, although developing very rapidly, is of recent origin and that we have not yet seen the outcome. The present education of the average young boy has given him only the most shadowy protection against the temptations of the city. School-boys are subjected to many lures from without, just at the moment when they are filled with an inner tumult which utterly bewilders them and concerning which no one has instructed them save in terms of empty precept and unintelligible warning.

We are authoritatively told that the physical difficulties are enormously increased by uncontrolled or perverted imaginations, and all sound advice to young men in regard to this subject [page 3] emphasizes a clean mind, exhorts an imagination kept free from sensuality and insists upon days filled with wholesome athletic interests. We allow this regime to be exactly reversed for thousands of young people living in the most crowded and most unwholesome parts of the city. Not only does the stage, in its advertisements, exhibit all the allurements of sex to such an extent that a play without a love interest is considered foredoomed to failure, but the novels that form the sole reading of thousands of young men and girls deal only with the course of true or "feigned" love, resulting in a rose-colored marriage or in variegated misfortunes.

The Public Dance-Hall and Its Appeal to the Imagination

Often the only recreation possible for young men and young women together is dancing, in which it is always easy to transgress the proprieties. In many public dance-halls, however, improprieties are deliberately fostered. The waltzes and two-steps are purposely slow, the couples, leaning heavily on each other, barely move across the floor. All the jollity and bracing exercise of the peasant dance is thus eliminated, and all the careful decorum of the formal dance. Such efforts to obtain pleasure or to feed the imagination are thus converged upon the senses which it is already difficult for young people to understand and to control. It is therefore not remarkable that in certain parts of the city groups of idle young men are found whose evil imaginations have actually inhibited their power for normal living. On the streets or in the pool-rooms where they congregate, their conversation, their tales of adventure, their remarks upon women who pass by, all reveal that they have been caught in the toils of an instinct so powerful and primal that, when left without direction, it can easily overwhelm its possessor and swamp his faculties. These young men, who do no regular work, who expect to be supported by their mothers and sisters and to get money for the shows and theaters by any sort of disreputable undertaking, are all in excellent training for the life of the procurer, and it is from such groups that they are recruited. There is almost a system of apprenticeship: for boys, when very small, act as "lookouts," and are later utilized to make acquaintance with girls in order to introduce them to professionals; from this they gradually learn the methods of procuring girls, and at last do an independent business. If one boy is successful in such a life, throughout his acquaintance runs the rumor that a girl is an asset that will bring a larger return than can possibly be earned in hardworking ways. Could the imaginations of these young men have been controlled and cultivated, could the desire for adventure have been directed into wholesome channels, could these idle boys have been taught that, so far from being manly, they were losing all virility, could higher interests have been aroused and standards given them in relation to this one aspect of life, the entire situation of commercialized vice would be a different thing.

The Girl Who Wanted to Be a "Good Indian"

The girls with a desire for adventure seem confined to this one dubious outlet even more than the boys. Although there are only one eighth as many delinquent girls as boys brought into the Juvenile Court in Chicago, the charge against the girls in almost every instance involves a loss of chastity. Only a few weeks ago, one of them, who was vainly endeavoring to formulate the causes of her downfall, concentrated them all in the single statement that she wanted the other girls to know that she, too, was a "good Indian."

Such a girl, while she is not an actual member of a gang of boys, is often attached to one by so many loyalties and friendships that she will seldom testify against a member, even when she has been injured by him. She also depends upon the gang when she requires bail in the police-court or the protection that comes from political influence, and she is often very proud of her quasi-membership.

The Promiscuous Households of the Poor and Their Influence on Young Children

The little girls brought into the Juvenile Court are usually daughters of those poorest immigrant families, living in the worst type of city tenements, who are frequently forced to take boarders in order to pay the rent. A surprising number of little girls have become involved in wrong-doing through the men of their own households. Some of these families, because closely pressed by poverty, are obliged to rent houses next to vicious neighborhoods, and their children very early become familiar with all the outer aspects of vice. Among them are the children of widows, who have made friends with their dubious neighbors during the long days while their mothers have been at work. I recall two sisters in one family whose mother had moved her household to the borders of a Chicago segregated district, [page 4] apparently without knowing the character of the neighborhood. The little sisters, twelve and eight years old, accepted many invitations from a kind neighbor to come into her house to see her pretty things. The older girl was delighted to be "made up" with powder and paint and to try on long dresses, while the little one, who sang very prettily, was taught some new songs, happily without understanding their import. The tired mother knew nothing of what the children did in her absence, until an honest neighbor who had seen the little girls going in and out of the district interfered on their behalf. The frightened mother moved back to her old neighborhood, which she had left in search of cheaper rent, her pious soul stirred to its depths that the children for whom she patiently worked day by day had so narrowly escaped destruction.

The recent Illinois law providing that the children of widows may be supported by public funds, paid to the mother upon order of court, may help these poor children; but in the meantime, before the law can be efficiently administered, the deprivation of a mother's care falls heavily upon them. This deprivation is most frequently experienced by the children of the poorest colored families, who are often forced to live in disreputable neighborhoods because they literally can not rent houses anywhere else.

Colored Children Especially Exposed to Evil Surroundings

Both because rents are always high for colored people, and because the colored mothers are obliged to support their children, -- seven times as many of them in proportion to their entire number as of the white mothers, -- the actual number of colored children neglected in the midst of temptation is abnormally large. So closely is child life founded upon the imitation of what it sees that the child who knows all evil is almost sure, in the end, to share it. Colored children seldom roam far from their own neighborhoods. In the public playgrounds, which are theoretically open to them, they are made so uncomfortable by the slights of other children that they learn to stay away, and, shut out from legitimate recreation, are all the more tempted by the careless, luxurious life of a vicious neighborhood.

In addition to the colored girls who have thus from childhood grown familiar with the outer aspects of vice, are others who are sent into the district in the capacity of domestic servants by unscrupulous employment agencies who would not venture thus to treat a white girl. The community forces the very people who have confessedly the shortest history of social restraint into a dangerous proximity with the vice districts of the city. This results, as might easily be predicted, in a very large number of colored girls entering a disreputable life. The negroes themselves believe that the basic cause for this high percentage of colored girls is the recent enslavement of their race, with its attendant unstable marriage and parental status, and point to thousands of slave sales that, but two generations ago, disrupted the negroes' attempts at family life. Knowing this as we do, it seems all the more unjustifiable that the nation which is responsible for the broken foundations of this family life should carelessly permit the negroes, making their first struggle toward a higher standard of domesticity, to be subjected to the most flagrant temptations which our civilization tolerates.

How Suggestion Can Distort the Plastic Imagination of a Child

The imaginations of even very young children may easily be forced into sensuous channels. A little girls twelve years old was one day brought to the psychopathic clinic connected with the Chicago Juvenile Court. She had been detained under police surveillance for more than a week, while baffled detectives had in vain tried to verify the statements she had made to her Sunday-school teacher in great detail of certain horrible experiences that had befallen her. For at least a week no one concerned had the remotest idea that the child was fabricating. The police thought that she had merely grown confused as to the places to which she had been "carried unconscious." The mother gave the first clue when she insisted that the child had never been away from her long enough to have had these experiences, but came directly home from school every afternoon for her tea, of which she habitually drank ten or twelve cups. The [skillful?] questionings at the clinic, while clearly establishing the fact of a disordered mind, disclosed an astonishing knowledge of the habits of the under-world.

Even children who live in respectable neighborhoods, and who are guarded by careful parents so that their imaginations are not perverted, but only starved, constantly conduct a search for the magical and impossible which leads them into moral dangers. An astonishing number of them consult palmists, soothsayers, and fortune-tellers. These dealers in futurity, who sell only love and riches, the latter often dependent upon the first, are sometimes in collusion with disreputable houses and, at the best, make the path of normal living more [page 5] difficult for their eager young patrons. There is something very pathetic in the sheepish, yet radiant, faces of the boy and girl, often together, who come out on the street from a dingy doorway which bears the palmist's sign of the spread-out hand. This remnant of primitive magic is all they can find with which to feed their eager imaginations, although the city offers libraries and galleries crowded with man's later imaginative achievements. One hard-working girl of my acquaintance, told by a palmist that "diamonds were coming to her soon," afterward accepted without a moment's hesitation a so-called diamond ring from a man whose improper attentions she had hitherto withstood.

Children Who are Deliberately Trained in Vice

In addition to these heedless young people, pulled into a sordid and vicious life through their very search for romance, are many little children ensnared by means of the most innocent playthings and pleasures of childhood. Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of the social evil, as it exists today in the modern city, is the procuring of little girls who are too young to have received adequate instruction of any sort, and whose natural safeguard of modesty has been broken down by the overcrowding of tenement-house life. Any educator who has made a careful study of the children from the crowded districts is impressed by the numbers of them whose moral natures are apparently unawakened. While there are comparatively few of these non-moral children in any one neighborhood, in the entire city their number is far from negligible. Such children are used by disreputable people to invite their more normal playmates to "house parties," which they attend again and again, lured by candy and fruit, until they gradually learn to trust the vicious hostess. The head of one such house, recently sent to the penitentiary upon charges brought against her by the Juvenile Protective Association, founded her large and successful business upon the activities of three or four little girls who, although they had gradually come to understand her purpose, were apparently so chained to her by the goodies and favors which they received that they were quite indifferent to the fate of their little friends. Such children, when brought to the psychopathic clinic attached to the Chicago Juvenile Court, are sometimes found to have incipient epilepsy or other physical disabilities from which their conduct may be at least partially accounted for. Sometimes they come from respectable families, but more often from families where they have been mistreated and where dissolute parents have given them neither affection nor protection. Many of these children, whose relatives have obviously contributed to their delinquency, are at last being helped by the enforcement of the adult delinquency law.

One looks upon these hardened little people with a sense of apology that educational forces have not been able to break into their first ignorance of life before it becomes hardened into insensibility, and one knows that, whatever may be done for them later, because of this early neglect they will probably always remain impervious to the gentler aspects of life. Our public-school education is so nearly universal that, if the entire body of the teachers seriously undertook to instruct all American youth in regard to this most important aspects of life, why should they not in time train their pupils to continence and self-direction, as they already discipline their minds with knowledge in regard to many other matters? Certainly the extreme youth of the victims of the white slave traffic, both boys and girls, places a great responsibility upon the educational forces of the community.

The state which supports the public schools is also coming to the rescue of children through protective legislation, another illustration that the beginnings of social advance have often been in the effort to defend the weakest and least sheltered members of the community. The widespread movement which would protect children from premature labor also prohibits them from engaging in occupations in which they are subjected to moral dangers.

The Case of the Night Messenger-Boy

Several American cities have of late become much concerned over the temptations to which messenger-boys, delivery-boys, and newsboys are constantly subjected when their business takes them into vicious districts. The Chicago Vice Commission makes a plea for these "children of the night," that they shall be protected by law from those temptations which they are too young and too untrained to withstand. New York and Wisconsin are the only states that have raised the legal age of messenger-boys employed late at night to twenty-one years. Under the inadequate sixteen-year limit which regulates night work for children in Illinois, boys constantly come to grief through their familiarity with the social evil. One of these, a delicate boy of seventeen, had been put into the messenger service by his parents when their family doctor had recommended out-of-door work. Because he was well bred and good-looking, he became [page 6] especially popular with the inmates of disreputable houses. They gave him tips of a dollar and more when he returned from the errands which he had executed for them, such as buying candy, cocaine, or morphine. He was inevitably flattered by their attentions and pleased with his own popularity. Although his mother knew his duties as a messenger-boy occasionally took him to disreputable houses, she fervently hoped his early training might keep him straight, but in the end realized the foolhardiness of subjecting an immature youth to these temptations. The Vice Commission report gives various detailed instances of similar experiences on the part of other lads, one of them being a high-school boy who was merely earning extra money as a messenger-boy during the rush of Christmas week.

Safeguarding Children Who Work on the Street

Will the regulations in Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis for the safeguarding of these children be but a forecast of the care which every city will at last learn to devise for youth under special temptations? Because the various efforts made in Chicago to obtain adequate legislation for the protection of street-trading children have been unsuccessful, incidents like the following have not only occurred once, but are constantly repeated. A pretty little girl, the only child of a widowed mother, sold newspapers after school hours from the time she was seven years old. Because her home was near a vicious neighborhood, and because the people in the disreputable hotels seldom asked for change when they bought a paper and good-naturedly gave her many little presents, her mother permitted her to gain a clientele within the district, on the ground that she was too young to understand what she might see. This continued familiarity, in spite of her mother's admonitions not to talk to her customers, inevitably resulted in so vitiating the standard of the growing girl that, at the age of fourteen, she became an inmate of one of the houses. A similar instance concerns three little girls who habitually sold gum in one of the segregated districts. Because they had repeatedly been turned away by kind-hearted policemen who felt that they ought not to be in such a neighborhood, each of these children had obtained a special permit from the Mayor of the city in order to protect herself from "police interference." Although the Mayor had no actual authority to issue such a permit, naturally the piece of paper bearing his name, when displayed by the child, checked the activity of the police officer. The incident was but one more example of the old conflict between mistaken kindness to the individual child in need of money and the enforcement of those regulations which may seem to work a temporary hardship upon one child but which save a hundred others from destruction.

Our generation, which is said to have developed a new enthusiasm for the possibilities of child life and to have put fresh meaning into the phrase "children's rights," may at last have the courage to insist upon a child's right to be well born and at least to start in life with its body free from disease. Closely allied to this new understanding of child life and a part of the same movement is the new science of eugenics, with its recently appointed university professors. Its organized societies publish an ever-increasing mass of information as to that which constitutes the inheritance of well-born children. When this new science makes clear to the public that those diseases which are a direct outcome of the social evil are clearly responsible for race deterioration effective indignation may at last be aroused, both against the preventable infant mortality for which these diseases are responsible and against the ghastly fact that the survivors among these afflicted children infect their contemporaries and hand on the evil heritage to another generation. Public societies for the prevention of blindness are continually distributing information on the care of new-born children, and may at length answer that old confusing question: "Did this man sin, or his parents, that he was born blind?" Such knowledge is becoming more widespread every day, and the rising interest in infant welfare must in time react upon the very existence of the social evil itself.

The Victim of the White Slave Traffic Avenged to the Third and Fourth Generation

This new public interest in the welfare of little children has resulted, in certain American cities, in a municipal milk supply, in many German cities in free hospitals and nurseries. New York, Chicago, Boston, and other large towns employ hundreds of nurses each summer to instruct tenement-house mothers in the care of little children. I recall the record of one of these nurses who had kept alive a hundred and fifty babies during a very hot summer in a district where the former death rate had been appalling. Certainly all of this enthusiasm for the nurture of children will at last arouse public opinion in regard to the transmission of that one type of disease which thousands [page 7] of them annually inherit and which is directly traceable to the vicious living of their parents or grandparents. This slaughter of the innocents, this infliction of suffering upon the newborn, is so gratuitous and so unfair that it is only a question of time until an outraged sense of justice shall be aroused on behalf of these children. But, until help comes through chivalric sentiments, will governmental and municipal agencies long continue to spend the taxpayers' money for the relief of suffering infants, when by the exertion of the same authority they could so easily provide against the possibility of the birth of a child so afflicted? It is obvious that the average taxpayer would be moved to demand the extermination of that form of vice which has been declared illegal, although it still flourishes by official connivance, did he once clearly apprehend that it is responsible for the existence of these diseases which cost him so dearly. It is only his ignorance that makes him remain inert until each victim of the white slave traffic shall be avenged "unto the third and fourth generation of them that bought her." It is quite possible that the taxpayer will himself contend that, as the state does not legalize a marriage without a license officially recorded, that the status of children may be cleared defined, so the state would need to go but one step further in the same direction to insist upon health certificates from the applicants for a marriage license, that the health of future children might, in a certain measure, be guaranteed. Whether or not this step may be predicted, the mere discussion of this matter in itself is an indication of the changing public opinion, as is the fact that such legislation has already been enacted in two states. A sense of justice outraged by the wanton destruction of new-born children may in time unite with that ardent tide of rising enthusiasm for the nurture of the young, until the old barriers of silence and inaction behind which the social evil has so long [entrenched] itself shall at last give way.

A Rescue Home where the Inmates Played with Dolls

In the rescue homes recently opened in Chicago by the White Slave Traffic Committee of the League of Cook County Clubs, the tender ages of the little girls who were brought there horrified the good clubwomen more than any other aspect of the situation. A number of the little inmates in the home wanted to play with dolls, and several of them brought dolls of their own, which they had kept with them through all their vicissitudes. There is something literally heartbreaking in the thought of these little children who are ensnared and debauched when they are still young enough to have every right to protection and care. Quite recently I visited a home for semi-delinquent girls, against each one of whom stood a grace charge involving the loss of her chastity. Upon each of the little white beds or on the stiff chair standing by its side was a doll, belonging to a delinquent owner still young enough to love and cherish this supreme toy of childhood. I had come to the home prepared to "lecture to the inmates." I remained to dress dolls with a handful of little girls who eagerly asked questions about the dolls I had once possessed in a childhood which seemed to them so remote. Looking at the little victims who supply the white slave trade, one is reminded of the burning words of Dr. Howard Kelly, uttered in response to the demand that the social evil be legalized and its victims licensed. He says:

"Where shall we look to recruit the ever-failing ranks of these poor creatures as they die yearly by the tens of thousands? Which of the little girls of our land shall we designate for this traffic? Mark their sweet innocence today as they run about in our streets and parks, prattling and playing, ever busy about nothing. Which of them shall we snatch, as they approach maturity, to supply this foul mart?"

It is incomprehensible that a nation whose chief boast is its free public education, that a people always ready to respond to any moral or financial appeal made in the name of children, should permit this infamy against childhood to continue! Only the protection of all children from the menacing temptations which their youth is unable to withstand will prevent some of them from falling victims to the white slave traffic; only when moral education is made effective and universal will there be hope for the actual abolition of commercialized vice; these are illustrations, perhaps, of that curious solidarity of which society is so rapidly becoming conscious.

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