Interpretation of the Chicago Industrial Exhibit, March 1907

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Interpretation of Exhibit.
By Jane Addams.

It is always hard really to see a familiar thing, and it is quite possible to go through life actually blind to our immediate surroundings because we have always seen them. A scientist would say that the objects of attention grow so familiar in consciousness that no reaction is produced. We constantly resent this dead level of familiarity, although we are unable to break through it, and we half suspect that we are missing the essence of life. As a result we are always grateful to the artist when he shows us the beauty we cannot find for ourselves, to the dramatist who isolates [everyday] episodes and makes them new and exciting, to the novelist who shows us our dull companions in an interesting light.

The Chicago Industrial Exhibit is designed to do something of the same sort for current industrial conditions, to reveal that hard and material side of life which goes on in factories and workshops, to epitomize the labor which clothes and feeds the modern world.

Because we are familiar with the exterior of huge factories we are content to walk by them every day without the remotest notion of the life that goes on within them, of the [page 2] complicated automatic machines which are the crown of a century of invention. We see streams of laborers filling the streets night and morning, and scarcely observe that in this stream the number of young women steadily increases and that the number of children fluctuates. Our lack of perception blurs it all. We buy the products as we may desire them, totally unconscious of the struggles of the inventor, of the dreams of the artist which the products may embody, and only a few purchasers inquire whether cheapness has been secured through an increase of speed which has put an unwarranted strain upon the nervous system of the young girls, or whether the worker has contracted disease which might have been avoided.

It is remarkable that this apathy should exist in America where industrial development has been so large a share of our national life and where industry has called to its aid not only science and invention, but the service of original and vigorous minds. To remain ignorant of American industrial development and the human interests involved is to miss much of the significance and value of contemporary life.

The Chicago Industrial Exhibit aims, by living exhibits, by lectures, by graphic presentations, by tableaux, by songs and pictures, to make us realize the conditions which surround us, to reveal them as they are. The exhibit isolates significant episodes in industry, presents those trades which are falling behind and those which are pushing forward, connects them with education and legislation and finally collects the whole under one roof. The exhibit aims

To give a clue as to what is happening in industry;

To present the trend of the present development in relation to its historic background;

To show the effect of Trade Union regulations upon actual shop conditions;

To demonstrate what may be done by public spirited employers;

To reveal the result of legal protection upon the labor of children; [page 3]

To portray the effect of State regulation upon the guarding of machinery;

To show the need of industrial insurance against the inevitable accidents of industry;

To demonstrate the possibility of preventing diseases which now accompany certain occupations;

To dramatize the increasing speed of production which is so marked a characteristic of modern industry;

To present the surroundings which may sacrifice the producer to the product;

To put upon the stage the conclusions of economic investigations, the tragedies and sacrifices now buried in reports, census returns and technical articles that they may be a part of our consciousness of current industry.

All to the end that industry may become a human interest, an intelligible experience, that we may have some knowledge of its mighty operations and attach its affairs to our sense of moral obligation.

When this knowledge and quickening of conscience has been obtained then we may hope for a normal development and a sane regulation of industry.

Mrs. Humphrey Ward once wrote a description of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the early days of the Nineteenth Century, when child labor was unchecked and the working people suffered from all the ills of long hours, and insanitary conditions which marked the early factory system in England. At the end of the gloomy description she asked, "What has saved the factory worker and the miner? What is it that has...brought back happiness to life, and dignity to labor? Nothing but the setting up and maintenance of a common rule of life and labor, on the one side by Factory Law, and on the other by Trade Unionism. No individual bargaining, no casual philanthropy could have done it. The community for its own sake came to the aid of the workers by which it lived. Bit by bit it has built up the great code of law by which the child, the young person, and the woman are protected from their own weakness and necessity. And in [page 4] the footsteps of this law have sprung up perpetually regeneration for the workers, profit for the employer, wealth for the nation."

"But in the law, as it stands, there are gaps to be filled that great body of realized legislation which in the course of a hundred years has transformed our manufacturing life. We need to draw courage and admonition for the future, and to find in it the ever-fresh and unfaltering application of a common rule for decent life and tolerable labor to the trades still outside its discipline. Not to be afraid of law; not to misuse the name of liberty; not to ignore the plain lessons of the past; not to suffer amongst us abuses which, as our industrial history shows us, we can avoid if we will." Herein lies the lesson of the exhibition!

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