Testimony Before State Judicial Committee on Child Labor, April 13, 1905 (excerpts)



Miss Jane Addams Too Sharp for Condee at Springfield.


No "Little Genius" to Be Allowed on the Stage at Night.


Springfield, Ill. April 13. -- {Special.} -- Miss Jane Addams told the house committee on judicial department and practice today why America produces few if any geniuses musical and other.

"If we have a bright child," she said, "we immediately begin to exploit it. In Germany, where they produce men of great genius, the child's talents and energies are good and stay good. We wear a child out by exploiting it while it is young. Germany guards and conserves it."

Members of the committee held with Miss Addams and the result was the death of the amended child labor law, which would have permitted the appearance of child actors on the Chicago stage and elsewhere in the state.

Miss Addams Beats a Lawyer.

The theaters of Chicago were represented by Attorney Leander Condee and Attorney George A. Trude, the latter speaking for the vaudeville theaters and Condee for the other playhouses.

Mr. Trude saw the bill was beaten before Mr. Condee had finished speaking for it and he remained silent. With Miss Addams were Miss Mary McDowell of the University settlement and Mrs. Harriet Van Der Vaart of the Neighborhood settlement.

Miss Addams proved too much for Condee in argument. She showed more knowledge of the stage and of stage people, of plays and their requirements, and of tastes and audiences, and when she finished speaking the committee just threw the bill into the waste paper basket.

As to Shakespeare and Children.

Condee lamented that few of Shakespeare's plays could be produced without children.

"Ben Greet, the greatest English student of the Shakespeare stage," replied Miss Addams, "told me last week that there were only three plays of Shakespeare which could not be produced better without children, and finally he amost narrowed it down to one. This is the position taken by the Elizabethan society in London."

Condee explained that the stage offered means of advancement to children of poor parents, mentioning the case of a New York boy who was taken off the streets to play in, "The Kreutser Sonata," where he received $25 a week, and where one of the women in the company gave him schooling two hours a day.

"The city wouldn't let this boy play in Chicago," Condee lamented. "Now he has gone back to the slums of New York."

"Slums as Good for a Boy."

"I happen to know of that case," replied Miss Addams. "It is true the boy did receive instruction from a woman in the company, but he has not gone back to the slums. He is in an industrial school, where he receives six hours' instruction every day instead of two, and I am sure that if he had gone back to the slums he would have been subject to no worse influences than he was in the play.

"His part was to take a revolver from a bag, in the presence of his mother, with the purpose of shooting a man guilty of improper conduct with another woman. In the slums of New York he would have been in touch with no such influence."

"But you didn't see the play, Miss Addams," expostulated Condee.

"But I did see the play," she responded.

Says Actors Oppose the Bill.

"I believe in the theater," continued Miss Addams. "I believe it will become the best exponent of the people's thoughts, as it has been in the past, and I speak for theatrical people in opposing this bill. Men and women with real pride in their honorable profession object to the presence of a child on the stage as much as your attorneys would object to a child pleading in court.

"The better class of theater people and of theatergoers will do without this method of appealing to sentiment. It does not represent dramatic art and does not call forth dramatic qualities. 'Ben Hur' recently was a tremendous success in Chicago, in spite of the fact the production did not include its twenty-five children. If a child has genius and it is desired to cultivate this judiciously it always is possible at matinee performances. An afternoon performance is the only one at which a child should be allowed to appear, and the present law permits that."

By a vote of 9 to 3 the committee recommended that the bill be reported back, with the recommendation that it "do not pass," thus killing it.