The Need of a Constructive Appeal, March 15, 1914

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Hull-House, Chicago.

It gives me a very great deal of pleasure to come once more to a meeting of the National Child Labor Committee. I think that never before have I had the sense that the cause has become so popular as I have at this convention. We say in the equal suffrage movement, as soon as a town begins to have outdoor meetings the sentiment is all right. So I should think when the city of New Orleans can have an outdoor meeting at which people are willing to stand for several hours upon the subject of child labor, then the cause of child labor is going. And therefore it is with great pleasure that I assist at the inauguration of this tenth annual meeting.

During the many years in which we have been talking about child labor, I have sometimes felt that we have put too much stress upon the negative side; certainly we all believe that the child should be kept out of the factory, that nothing is more unfair than to put the boy down into a mine or that nothing is more disastrous to the future of a little girl than to deprive her of the chance of growth and development; nevertheless emphasis upon that side of it does grow negative, and we ought sometimes to put more stress upon the things society will be able to do for children who are kept out of the factories and have a chance for growth and development.

I never come to New Orleans without going to see your beautiful pottery, and I never see those charming designs which are made in your Sophie Newcomb College without wondering why it is that we do not have more artistic centers in these United States. There is clay everywhere which might be wrought into beautiful shapes. Surely there are young people of ability and susceptibility who might be trained everywhere, did we but have the people to give the attention and the care to them [page 2] that you seem to have given in the city of New Orleans. When we reflect on the number of children who might be artists, who might bring beauty and joy to this country of ours -- for I come from a city still new and crude, which has very little of the old world civilization back of it, where we are eager for a little more beauty, and for the ineffable touch which the artist gives -- then we realize what we are doing when we deprive the country of their development. We know that nothing will so grind out the instinct for art as dreary, monotonous work, undertaken before children are old enough to have that self control which all work demands. It is an irreparable wrong to children too immature to understand the race of life, to place them under the iron pressure and restraint which factory work imposes. When one recalls the romance which New Orleans has produced and the charming stories which have centered here, then again one realizes that to take hundreds of children out of these southern states, where perhaps more than anywhere else they feel the impulse to be out of doors, and to enclose them in the grimy walls of factories, is to deprive these states, and therefore all of the country, of that creative power which transforms and transfigures life's outlook which we so very much need in this undeveloped America of ours. And so one might use that new definition of efficiency, and that new definition of service that depends upon human capacity and future development, to make much more of the positive side of this large child labor problem.

I want to congratulate you that visitors may come to New Orleans to enjoy all that you have to offer without having a bad conscience about the mills. Sometimes one goes to a southern city and is almost afraid to look down the street, because at the end of it will be a large and flourishing cotton factory within which are numbers of little children, and you wish that you had not come to this particular southern city to spend your winter vacation. Your vacation is destroyed because you are haunted by the thought of those little children within a few blocks of your hotel grinding away all day far into the night. But one can come to New Orleans with a clear conscience. One can drive up and down its beautiful streets and look at its old houses without fear or favor; because a recent report made by [page 3] the National Child Labor Committee itself states that in all the cites where examination and investigation has been made -- I was going to say the state of New Orleans, since Louisiana has so few factories outside of New Orleans -- the city of New Orleans heads the list. Therefore we come with more than one sense of pleasure to this city; because we belong to that large group of people in these United States of ours who are sensitive to moral and social conditions, and are unhappy when the moral and the social conditions are wrong. And in the midst of this beauty all about us, here, you have at least secured righteousness so far as little children working in your mills are concerned, and it is fitting that to such a city we should come for our tenth annual meeting.

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