Paragraphs from the [Berkeley] Lyceum Meeting, 1905.
The Women's Trade Union League was organized at a meeting of the Federation of Labor in Boston a year and a half ago. Anyone at all familiar with present industrial conditions, knows the absurdity of the contention that a single woman can cope with her employer in the matter of wages and sanitary conditions.
We are used to falling back on evolution, forgetting that it is not an end, but a process. In this process nothing is so important as moral energy, nothing so vital as mental perception.
The very process of evolution may carry us down the wrong path because we have thought it so respectable.
Cheap and shallow optimism can become the most serious of social [deterrences]. Conditions have changed. Women are still largely doing the baking and the sewing and the weaving of the world, but they are doing it under new conditions. It is up to us to find out whether women are so working to their detriment, whether the thing is being carried on unreasonably, whether we are shutting our eyes and saying it is all right because we know it is all right, or because it is an easy thing to say. The only way to learn about conditions isn't to go work in a factory for a few months and then to write a book; but to have genuine sympathy and continued relations with those who work day after day, year after year; do our part to help them to express themselves and make articulate their desires.
The girl in the factory has to deal with a foreman, whose business it is to make bargains; his employer can wait; she must pay for the night's supper. They are not comparable bargainers.
Sometimes I think the materialism we talk so much about in America, amounts to just this: we do take the boots and the shoes and the dresses, which industry and invention have made cheap and deck ourselves out in them, but we don't have any sympathy, any communal feeling with the people at whose sacrifice they are, many of them, made. I don't believe anyone here would buy sheeting made in a Southern mill, by a child under ten years of age, if he knew the particular piece of sheeting the child made. This, I take it, is the object of the League--to get at the facts in the case.
When we begin to believe that it is quite as respectable for a girl to pack crackers, or to tend a machine in a mill, as it was for her grandmother to set up a loom in her own home, a beginning will have been made in the right direction.
Not to see the moral problems which belong to our particular age, is, of course, the great dodge of everybody. To say that the condition of working women is not a moral but an economical problem, or none at all . . . . . . . [page 2]
Sometimes, when I see a self-complacent audience, I think that we are all down in the pit together.
We used to say that it was so hard for the Chicago mind to understand Browning that we had to pool our intelligence in clubs. So in this movement we must pool our interest. There are 11,000 Trade Union women in Chicago, already organized. In going into this movement we are going to stand with them, to share their blunders with them as well as their successes. No moral movement has been without is perplexities. To enlist in a cause which has none is to enlist in a dead cause; one with a tombstone.