PHOTOGRAPH BY EVA WATSON SCHÜTZE
NO WOMAN IN AMERICA TODAY IS SO CLOSELY IN TOUCH WITH THOSE GREAT SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC MOVEMENTS THAT ARE OUTSIDE OF THE HOME AND YET VITALLY TOUCH THE HOME AS JANE ADDAMS, OF HULL-HOUSE, CHICAGO. THE HOME-SHELTERED WOMAN OFTEN HEARS ABOUT CHILD LABOR, THE WORKING-GIRL'S WAGE, LABOR STRIKES, CONVICT LABOR, THE EMIGRANT PROBLEM, ETC., BUT A COMPREHENSIVE, AUTHORITATIVE EXPLANATION OF WHAT THESE VITAL QUESTIONS REALLY MEAN HAS NOT OFTEN COME HER WAY. MISS ADDAMS WILL, MONTH BY MONTH, ON THIS PAGE EXPLAIN WHAT THEY MEAN AND IN WHAT DIRECTION LIE THEIR REMEDIES -- OFTEN IN THE HANDS OF THE AMERICAN WOMEN THEMSELVES.
IF ANY POINT IN THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT SEEM PERFECTLY CLEAR ANY QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED BY MAIL IF A STAMPED, ADDRESSED ENVELOPE IS [ENCLOSED]. ADDRESS MISS ADDAMS IN CARE OF THE LADIES' HOME JOURNAL.
THERE has been much discussion during the last few years concerning protection for working girls. Legislation has been secured in twenty States limiting the number of hours girls may be permitted to work, and at least one State has appointed a commission to consider the feasibility of a minimum-wage standard.
Only those of us who are familiar with the unnecessary harsh conditions which environ working girls can sufficiently appreciate their needs. For many years I have known night-shift girls whose lives were shortened through sheer exhaustion, without protection save in three States in America, although twenty-nine countries of the civilized world have prohibited all night work for women.
There is perhaps no more dangerous moment in the life of a working girl than that one of relaxation and reaction which follows the long hours of severe nervous strain when her "rush" work has been prolonged far into the night. She goes home at the very hours when the streets are filled with dissolute men seeking or returning from their pleasures. That more girls sore pressed in this moment of [over-fatigue] do not yield to the invitation "to brace up with a drink," always offered with the basest designs, is due to their inherent sturdiness of character.
Much of the ill health and discouragement which sometimes make such a sudden onset upon a bright, promising girl is due without doubt to her long hours of work, often at a machine whose set speed determines the quantity of her output. A girl who pushes down a lever with her right foot eight or nine thousand times a day is making but a poor preparation for motherhood, and will later corroborate the grave medical statement that "The industrial overstrain of women constantly reacts in three ways: in a heightened infant mortality, in a lowered birth rate, and in an impaired second generation."
Certainly it is the business of women to prevent "an impaired second generation," above all if we are living in a republic whose very continuance depends upon the intelligence and vigor of its future citizens.
MINIMUM-WAGE BOARDS FOR WOMEN
Minimum-wage boards are as yet new to America, although such legislation has been in successful operation in Victoria, Australia, since 1896, and in Great Britain since January, 1910.
In Australia such boards are established in one industry or another in response to demands, sometimes of workers, sometimes of employers, and in either case a prolific source of strikes is removed and conditions bettered. In England these boards have been established in four of the worst-paid industries in which women are engaged: box making, lace finishing, tailoring and chain making. It seems strange to Americans to connect chain making with woman's work, yet no one who has traveled through the remoter parts of "The Black Country" in England will ever forget the half-clad women and girls standing at the forges in the cottage doorways or back yards, pounding strips of iron into the links of a chain; nor does any American woman who has ever been in East London easily put from her mind the groups of working girls noisily walking up and down the streets -- "gangs" we would call them if they were boys -- who are so poorly paid for box making that they are "unable to pay for continuous shelter," and in the slack season huddle together as best they may. American girls have not come to such a pass; and yet there is no doubt that young girls often lose out in the struggle to live honestly upon wages too small and intermittent to support them, while the community is powerless to discover the economic basis of their danger.
A girl working in a factory situated in a small town in a Western State, from seven in the morning until six at night, sews twenty-one seams in every pair of corsets, for which she receives a wage varying from five to nine cents a dozen pairs. Is there not a connection between this low wage and the fact that this town sends a larger number of girls to the State reform school than any other town in the commonwealth?
A girl recently left her village home at the solicitation of an agent representing this same factory who had promised her that she would make "good money." She found her pay envelope at the end of her first week of factory work contained one dollar and thirteen cents. When she went to the office of the manager, to reclaim the agent's promise that "the boss would look after her until she was expert," she was so frightened at the implication of the manager's conversation that she was afraid to accept the money that he finally offered her, although she was terribly harassed by her increasing bill at the cheap boarding-house and frightened by "the kind of talk she heard there."
LOW WAGES AND WRONGDOING
The relation of low wages to despair and wrongdoing, from the nature of the case, can never be determined; but the bare fact that one-fifth of the working women of the United States earn less than two hundred dollars a year each, and three-fifths less than three hundred and twenty-five dollars a year each, is fraught with significance and gives the public a stake in this most human side of industry.
It is, after all, "the daughters of the poor" who are most persistently pursued by those wretched men who make it a business to discover discouraged girls.
Minimum-wage boards have been recommended only for the most ill paid of women's industries in which the wages often depend more upon tradition and the workers' helplessness than they do upon the ability of the women to perform the work that is required of them.
If minimum-wage boards, investigating such industries in every State, made clear the moral danger to the community from the very existence of a large body of young girls underpaid at the best months of their trade, and often totally without resource during the months of the dull season, the Nation would realize that standards of wages come within the sphere of Governmental control quite as sub-normal sanitary conditions do, because they threaten the general welfare.
SOCIETY IN THE END MUST PAY THE BILL
Every city in America dictates to all the property owners within its borders the sort of plumbing they must provide, the size of the inner courts, the number of windows in sleeping-rooms, and so on through a long and complicated building code, because only through such careful regulation can the health of an owner's family and tenants be secured. The city insists that it has a direct interest in the health and vigor of its citizens.
On the same ground the State would be justified in prescribing a minimum wage if it could be made absolutely clear that when a given industry does not pay its employees enough to live on it becomes a parasite on the community. Society in the end must pay for it if any of the girls are forced into immoral lives, or if they become a drain upon private and State relief organizations, or if they are eventually the mothers of undernourished and defective children.
The Minimum-Wage Commission appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts had a membership consisting of employers, of employees and of representatives of the disinterested public. The commission's report says that "the purpose of this proposed legislation is not to compel the payment of wages in excess of actual earnings, but to check the clearly ascertained tendency of wages to become much less than actual earnings. It can have no tendency to compel any employer to pay any worker more than the fair value of that worker's labor."
In one sense the proposed minimum-wage legislation does not differ essentially from that which limits a woman's hours of work.
An Illinois employer who tested the constitutionality of the ten-hour law in the Supreme Court of the State contended that one of the girls working in his box factory could not earn enough at piece work to support her widowed mother unless she was allowed to work overtime far into the night, as she had been accustomed to do. The girl was paid by the piece, and her desire to earn extra money for Christmas presents fitted in very nicely with her employer's rush orders in fancy boxes for the holiday season.
The arguments now used against the establishment of minimum-wage boards have been applied to labor legislation all along the line. The first Child Labor Law, enacted in England in 1803, prohibited children under ten years of age from working, on the ground that it was "in restraint of trade."
This current legislation on behalf of working girls is sometimes objected to on the ground that eight or ten hours would be impossible in the work of a household, and that it would be most difficult to determine a minimum wage for domestic service.
One can only say in reply that it is most improbable that such legislation would ever be applied to household affairs. In the first place housework is varied, and while it is monotonous day after day its routine is quite unlike the mechanical requirements set by a machine. A maid of all work in the average family, who cooks, cleans, washes and irons in the course of a week, uses every muscle in her body, and although on Saturday night she may go to bed "completely worn out" she is "tired all over," which is a much more healthful condition, and much more in line with what her mother and grandmother have experienced before her, than if she had stood in one spot for fifty-four hours during the same week, feeding a machine with the identical motion of her arms and wrists endlessly repeated.
A girl who takes her bread out of the oven and places the loaves in a row on the table, however tired she may be, has at that moment a thrill of having accomplished something. She alone has been responsible for those fragrant loaves from the beginning of the process to the end, and even the element of chance that the yeast may have been too old, or the oven too hot, is not without its interest.
Compare this with the girl who has spent the day packing in a box crackers which come to her hand down a chute and are whirled away from her in the packed boxes upon a miniature trolley. She has not had even a momentary interest in the crackers save to count them, because her wages are dependent upon the number of boxes she fills. And she has never seen how they are made, for the factory proper is separated from the packing-room by a door which says "No Admittance."
WORKING HOURS SHOULD BE REGULATED
The first legislation in America on the subject of working hours for women was designed primarily for the women working in factories, but has since then been applied to women working in stores, offices and hotels. An attempt was made to exempt the last named from the operation of the Illinois Ten-Hour Law on the ground that hotel employees come under the head of domestic service. It was shown, however, that the Polish and Bohemian girls who scrubbed the corridors and washed the windows in the large hotels of Chicago, although they were supplied with sleeping quarters in the garret and given disorderly meals in the basement, were in reality subjected to all of the hard work of a factory with even less protection; and that before the passage of the Illinois Ten-Hour Law many of them had worked continuously for twelve and fourteen hours.
While there is an essential difference between factory work and domestic work the investigations of Miss Josephine Goldmark, published in her remarkable book entitled "Efficiency and Fatigue," show the necessity of regarding hours as too long if a girl becomes so [over-fatigued] that she is poisoned by the accumulation of her own waste products and therefore exhibits "that exhaustion which is the forerunner of countless miseries to individual and nations."
Certainly the wide discussion of the necessity for regulating the hours for factory women should make every employer of domestic service more intelligent and conscientious in regard to her obligations, and should enable her to see that depletion and ill health do not come by chance.
By far the larger number of girls who leave domestic service for factories do not object to the hard work in the households they have abandoned, but to the loneliness and lack of pleasure. Recreation, as well as rest, is the antidote to the "toxin of fatigue," and the girl who insists upon companionship and free evenings has a certain physiological basis for her demand.
SOMETHING ALL WOMEN SHOULD READ
The United States Bureau of Labor recently published a comprehensive investigation into the condition of "the woman and child wage-earners of the United States," the results of which ought to be familiar to every woman in the Nation. This illuminating study makes it seem impossible that any employer should unwittingly place the profits of industry above the health and virtue of the future mothers of the Nation, or fail to see the moral implication of exhausting hours and starvation wages.
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