Statement on Illinois State Senate Bill 233 (Child Actor Bill), March 8, 1911

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MISS JANE ADDAMS.

Mr. Chairmen and Gentlemen of the Committee: I think this is the third time that the theatrical managers, with the help of some actors, have come to Springfield, asking for an invasion of the very excellent child labor law of Illinois.

I think it was six years ago that in one of the committee rooms I met Mr. Clover and some of the representative theatrical managers of Chicago, in regard to [page 2] such an exception.

Two years ago a bill was introduced and died I think in committee so that this makes a third time.

It seems to some of us, who know the children who are actually on the stage, who know the children's parents, who know the children as they live at home and do not go to school, as other children do, that we have very excellent reasons for protesting against this invasion of the child labor law of Illinois.

In the first place, the theatrical people say that they will safeguard the children on the stage. Of course we have in Chicago 355 theaters, licensed theaters, outside of the loop, and a great many other [nickel] shows and sorts of theatrical entertainments which go on for a little while without a license. The Female Protective Association has taken from the stages of those smaller theaters dozens of children, even under the excellent child labor law we have now, because it is impossible to get them off as soon as they are on, and they sometimes stay a few days before the inspector can be brought to the place; so that even now children are continually exploited on the smaller stages.

We find they stay up until all hours; that they do not go to school next morning, being quite worn out, [page 3] that they use foul dressing rooms, boys and girls, over and over, using the same dressing room; and that there are many objections to children on these smaller stages.

When it comes to 31 larger theaters of Chicago, we again hold our brief against having children in the large theaters.

In New York, where they have a law making an exemption in favor of children, they are at present making an investigation of 200 children employed in the best theaters of New York, in the first class theaters of New York.

I telegraphed and got the following reply, in regard to 68 children already investigated. Young girls frequently go home unattended. I have the report since showing that the average length of time for children on the stage is 11:30 and 12, when they go home.

"Of 72 visited" -- I thought there were 68 -- "the wages ranged from $3.50 to $8 weekly. This talk of children getting $25 to $35 a week is all nonsense. It is the exceptional child. The white blackbird of course once in a while does appear. The child genius once in a while does draw $35 a week, but the average wage in New York high class theaters is $3.50 to $8 [page 4] 

Sixty-three gave nine performances weekly, and 9 gave 12 performances weekly. Ordinary length of duty, 3-1/2 hours per night.

The theatrical people say that the child comes on for half an hour, and goes home and is tucked in by his mother by 9:30. That is not true. The children are obliged to come before the play begins, and are fined if they are not there. Their wages are reduced by all sorts of methods, as any fining system does.

Hiring agents practice great abuses. I understand last week the daughter of a woman in New York who for many years has had an agency for supplying children on the stage, appeared before this committee, and claimed that the children whom her mother secured for the stage were all well treated, always used their money for educational purposes, and all that sort of thing. In New York, as a court record against that woman, the Society for the prevention of cruelty has brought cases after cases and won them. That is not a matter of [hearsay] or opinion but a court record in New York.

Parents usually live on children's wages, of those seventy-two visited. There is no reason to suppose the other 200 will be greatly different. [page 5] 

Average school records are distinctly sub-normal. I submit to you, if you expect a child to go to school at nine the next morning, to do his school work, he has to get to bed some sort of time.

The attention of the Juvenile Protective Society is brought to the child by the School Principal, because he goes to sleep as soon as he comes to school, utterly worn out because he has been up so late the night before. It is not difficult to trace back, from his extreme sleepiness in a school, to the sort of occupation he has had the night before, in some theater.

The point is always raised of fostering young genius. Nobody wants to foster genius more than I do, for instance. I think Illinois needs genius very much. (Laughter) I should feel very responsible if I did anything to suppress genius in this great state of ours. But genius is not fostered by being prematurely exploited. We none of us know how many children are constantly kept from rising to positions of genius and art, because they are prematurely put to work. The same thing is true in regard to dramatic art. We have a little theater at Hull House, built years ago, the first fire proof building we had and the most [page 6] expensive building we had, simply because I very much admire the dramatic arts, and believe that the children of the poor have great dramatic ability often; but the way to foster that ability, the way to bring it out, is to give those children a chance for dramatic training, to go to school, to develop their minds, and then when they are old enough to select a profession, when they are old enough to know what they want to do, put them on the stage and let them do the very best they can.

Put a little girl of 9 or 10 years on the stage and what does she do? Some mechanical part, clambers on somebody's knees and pats his cheek, because she is the daughter of his divorced wife; or gambols across the stage supposed to be a merry maker out of school. She does this one trivial part over and over again, as long as the piece runs. If it runs 200 nights, that is all she does. She does not learn dramatic art. You might as well say that a child learns to be a shoe-maker when he puts eyelets in shoes at the rate of two cents a dozen. The child does not thereby learn to be a shoemaker, and a child does not learn to be an actor by doing one mechanical part.

Great actors are put into schools, where they are carefully taught and prepared for the art, just as [page 7] any child who is to be a musician is put into a school of music, not taught to pay one little tumpety-tumpety-tum-tum, for 200 nights, but learn musical art, instead of one mechanical trick.

A Child is not put on exhibition to paint some one thing he can do cleverly, but is taught to paint many things, and from the educational standpoint. When he is ground out by the long process, he is an artist, if he has the stuff in him.

Take any exceptional man, say Mr. Crane. He has always stated the fact, so he won't mind my mentioning it. He is very wealthy man who went to work when he was 12 years old, I think. He does not advocate others doing it. If he did, the law of Illinois would prevent. So with exceptional cases. Joe Jefferson went on the stage very young. That does not mean that all who do are going to be Joe Jeffersons. It means that the exceptional child came up under exceptional circumstances but the average child, in the average theater, under the average circumstances, has to be protected from being prematurely exploited by theatrical managers. 

Who is pushing this bill? The people who are pushing this bill in Illinois, Massachusetts, Louisiana and all the other states who guard their theatrical [page 8] children, are surprisingly alike in the arguments they use, sometimes so alike that we feel they must have some sinister, general extension or aim. All over the country, everywhere, people are trying to break down this law which guards theatrical children.

What can we say? It is not the great actors who are advocating this change; not the great actors who are anxious their own children should in this manner be perfected in the art of the stage. It is the people whose box office receipts are affected, who want to break down this law. A good law is not to be destroyed in the interest of one very limited class.

Now, the people of theatrical Chicago seem to be getting along. They are continually building new theaters. Their box office receipts seem to be very good, even under the present very objectionable child labor law, as they consider it. Why should they come in and ask you to break down this very excellent law, and ask Illinois to walk backward in its child labor legislation?

When the attempt was made in Massachusetts, Ex-President Eliot of Harvard, and leading educators of Massachusetts came to defend the law. They know how [page 9] the child is fostered, as well as the people who are obliged to look from the point of receipts.

There are many things I would like to say but I will stop here.

SENATOR HENSON: Who is fostering this bill? Who is advocating this bill, the big booking agencies or the White Rats? Do you know what the White Rats think of it?

MISS ADDAMS: I do not. I don't know who the White Rats are.

SENATOR HENSON: That is one organization of actors and the booking agency organization has the other ones. Which of those societies is advocating this bill?

SENATOR MADIGAN: Clerk can probably tell you.

MISS ADDAMS: I only know that of the four people who appeared last week, three were managers of the theaters.

SENATOR HANSON: What Chicago Managers are here, today?

CHAIRMAN JUUL: I only see one. I see Mr. Will J. Davis in the room.

Miss Addams, there was no intention to end your remarks. You can have all the opportunity in the world. [page 10]

MISS ADDAMS: Thank you. I think I have said enough.