Part 2 out of 4
can collect their wages, and he does. Very, very often he squanders the
money they earn, and no one may interfere.
A family of girls in Fall River, Massachusetts, were met every pay day
at the doors of the mill by their father, who exacted of each one her
pay envelope, unopened. It was his regular day for getting drunk and
indulging in an orgy of gambling. Often more than half of the girls'
wages would have vanished before night. Twice the entire amount was
wasted in an hour. This kept on until the girls passed their childhood
and were mature enough to rebel successfully.
It is the father and not the mother that may claim the potential
services of a child.
Many times have these unjust laws been protested against. In every State
in the Union where they exist they have been protested against by
organized groups of intelligent women. But their protests have been
received with apathy, and, in some instances, with contempt by
legislators. Only last year a determined fight was made by the women of
California for a law giving them equal guardianship of their children.
The women's bill was lost in the California Legislature, and lost by a
What arguments did the California legislators use against the proposed
measure? Identically the same that were made in Massachusetts and New
York a quarter of a century ago. If women had the guardianship of their
children, would anything prevent them from taking the children and
leaving home? What would become of the sanctity of the home, with its
lawful head shorn of his paternal dignity? In California a husband is
head of the family in very fact, or at least a law of the State says so.
At one time the law which made the husband the head of the home
guaranteed to the family support by the husband. It does not do that
now. There are laws on the statute books of many States obliging the
wife to support her husband if he is disabled, and the children, if the
husband defaults. There are no laws compelling the husband to support
his wife. The husband is under an assumed obligation to support his
family, but there exists no means of forcing him to do his duty. Family
desertion has become one of the commonest and one of the most baffling
of modern social problems. Everybody is appalled by its prevalence, but
nobody seems to know what to do about it. The Legal Aid Society of New
York City reports about three new cases of family desertion for every
day in the year. Other agencies in other cities report a state of
affairs quite as serious.
Laws have been passed in most States making family desertion a
misdemeanor, and in New York a recent law has made it a felony.
Unfortunately there has been devised no machinery to enforce these laws,
so they are practically non-existent. It is true that if the deserting
husband is arrested he may be sent to jail or to the rock pile.
But that does not cure him nor support his family. Mostly he is not
arrested. He has only to take himself out of the reach of the local
authorities. In New York a deserting husband, though he is counted a
felon, needs only to cross the river to New Jersey to be reasonably
safe. Imagine the State of New York spending good money to chase a man
whom it does not want as a citizen, and whom it can only punish by
sending to jail for a short period. The State is better off without such
a man. To bring him back would not even benefit his deserted family.
Women, far more law abiding than men, insist that a system which evolved
out of feudal conditions, and has for its very basis the assumption of
the weakness, ignorance, and dependence of women, has no place in
twentieth century civilization.
American women are no longer weak, ignorant, dependent. The present
social order, in which military force is subordinated to industry and
commerce, narrows the gulf between them, and places men and women
physically on much the same plane. As for women's intellectual ability
to decide their own legal status, they are, taken the country over,
rather better educated than men. There are more girls than boys in the
high schools of the United States; more girls than boys in the higher
grammar grades. Fewer women than men are numbered among illiterate. As
for the great middle class of women, it is obvious that they are better
read than their men. Their specific knowledge of affairs may be less,
but their general intelligence is not less than men's.
Increasingly women are ceasing to depend on men for physical support.
Increasingly even married women are beginning to think of themselves as
independent human beings. Their work of bearing and rearing children, of
managing the household, begins to assume a new dignity, a real value,
in their eyes.
In New Zealand at the present time statutes are proposed which shall
determine exactly the share a wife may legally claim in her husband's
income. American women may not need such a law, but they insist that
they need something to take the place of that one which in eleven States
makes it possible for a husband to claim all of his wife's income.
WOMEN'S DEMANDS ON THE RULERS OF INDUSTRY
The big elevator, crowded with shoppers to the point of actual
discomfort, contained only one man. He wore a white-duck uniform, and
recited rapidly and monotonously, as the car shot upward: "Corsets,
millinery, muslin underwear, shirt-waists, coats and suits, infants'
wear, and ladies' shoes, second floor; no ma'am, carpets and rugs on the
third floor; this car don't go to the restaurant; take the other side;
groceries, harness, sporting goods, musical instruments, phonographs,
men's shoes, trunks, traveling bags, and toys, fifth floor."
Buying and selling, serving and being served--women. On every floor, in
every aisle, at every counter, women. In the vast restaurant, which
covers several acres, women. Waiting their turn at the long line of
telephone booths, women. Capably busy at the switch boards, women. Down
in the basement buying and selling bargains in marked-down summer
frocks, women. Up under the roof, posting ledgers, auditing accounts,
attending to all the complex bookkeeping of a great metropolitan
department store, women. Behind most of the counters on all the floors
between, women. At every cashier's desk, at the wrappers' desks, running
back and forth with parcels and change, short-skirted women. Filling the
aisles, passing and repassing, a constantly arriving and departing
throng of shoppers, women. Simply a moving, seeking, hurrying mass of
femininity, in the midst of which the occasional man shopper, man clerk,
and man supervisor, looks lost and out of place.
To you, perhaps, the statement that six million women in the United
States are working outside of the home for wages is a simple, unanalyzed
fact. You grasp it as an intellectual abstraction, without much
appreciation of its human significance. The mere reading of statistics
does not help you to realize the changed status of women, and of
society. You need to see the thing with your own eyes.
Standing on the corner of the Bowery and Grand Street, in New York, when
the Third Avenue trains overhead are roaring their way uptown packed
with homeward-bound humanity, or on the corner of State and Madison
streets, in Chicago, or on the corner of Front and Lehigh streets, in
Philadelphia; pausing at the hour of six at the junction of any city's
great industrial arteries, you get a full realization of the change. Of
the pushing, jostling, clamoring mob, which the sidewalks are much too
narrow to contain, observe the preponderance of girls. From factory,
office, and department store they come, thousands and tens of thousands
of girls. Above the roar of the elevated, the harsh clang of the
electric cars, the clatter of drays and wagons, the shouting of
hucksters, the laughter and oaths of men, their voices float, a shrill,
triumphant treble in the orchestra of toil.
You may get another vivid, yet subtle, realization of the
interdependence of women and modern industry if you manage to penetrate
into the operating-room of a telephone exchange. Any hour will do. Any
day in the week. There are no nights, nor Sundays, nor holidays in a
telephone exchange. The city could not get along for one single minute
in one single hour of the twenty-four without the telephone girl. Her
hands move quickly over the face of the switch board, picking up long,
silk-wound wires, reaching high, plugging one after another the holes of
the switch board. The wires cross and recross, until the switch board is
like a spider web, and in the tangle of lines under the hands of the
telephone girl are enmeshed the business affairs of a city.
What would happen if this army of women was suddenly withdrawn from the
telephone exchanges? Men could not take their places. That experiment
has been tried more than once, and it has always failed.
Having seen how well women serve industry, go back to the department
store and see how they dominate it also.
The department store apparently exists for women. The architect who
designed the building studied her necessities. The makers of store
furniture planned counters, shelves, and seats to suit her stature.
Buyers of goods know that their jobs are forfeit unless they can guess
what her taste in gowns and hats is going to be six months hence.
WOMEN'S DEMAND ON INDUSTRY Woman dominates the department store for the
plain reason that she supports it. Whoever earns the income, and that
point has been somewhat in question lately, there is no doubt at all as
to who spends it. She does. Hence, she is able to control the conditions
under which this business is conducted.
You can see for yourself that this is so. Walk through any large
department store and observe how much valuable space is devoted to
making women customers comfortable. There is always a drawing-room with
easy-chairs and couches; plenty of little desks with handsome stationery
where the customer may write notes; here, and in the retiring-room
adjoining, are uniformed maids to offer service. But these things are
not all that the women who support industry demand of the men in power.
They demand that industry be carried on under conditions favorable to
the health and comfort of the workers.
Not until the development of the department store were women able to
observe at close range the conduct of modern business. Not unnaturally
it was in the department store that they began one of the most ambitious
of their present-day activities,--that of humanizing industry.
It was just twenty years ago that New York City was treated to a huge
joke. It was such a joke that even the miserable ones with whom it was
concerned were obliged to smile. An obscure group of women, calling
themselves the Working Women's Society, came out with the announcement
that they proposed to form the women clerks of the city into a labor
These women said that the girls in the department stores were receiving
wages lower than the sweat-shop standard. They said that a foreign woman
in a downtown garment shop could earn seven dollars a week, whereas an
American girl in a fashionable store received about four dollars and a
They also charged that the city ordinance providing seats for saleswomen
was habitually violated, and that the girls were forced to stand from
ten to fourteen hours a day. They said that sanitary conditions in the
cloak rooms and lunch rooms of some of the stores were such as to
endanger health and life. They said that the whole situation was so bad
that no clerk endured it for a longer period than five years. Mostly
they were used up in two years. They proposed a labor union of retail
clerks as the only possible resource. Their effort failed.
The trades union idea at that time had not reached the girl behind the
counter. As a matter of fact it has not reached her yet, and it probably
never will. The department-store clerk considers herself a higher social
being than the ordinary working-girl, and in a way she is justified. The
exceptionally intelligent department-store clerk has one chance in a
thousand of rising to the well-paid, semi-professional post of buyer.
Also the exceptionally attractive girl has possibly one chance in five
thousand of marrying a millionaire. It is a long chance now, and it was
a longer chance a dozen years ago, because there were fewer millionaires
then than now, but it served well enough to cause the failure of the
trades union plan.
There is one thing that never fails, however, and that is a righteous
protest. Out of the protest of that little, obscure group of working
women in New York City was born a movement which has spread beyond the
Atlantic Ocean, which has effected legislation in many States of the
Union, which has even determined an extremely important legal decision
in the Supreme Court of the United States.
A group of rich and influential women, prominent in many philanthropic
efforts, became interested in the Working Women's Society. They
investigated the charges brought against the department stores, and what
they discovered made them resolve that conditions must be changed.
In May, 1890, the late Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, Mrs. Frederick
Nathan, and others, called a large mass meeting in Chickering Hall. Mrs.
Nathan had a constructive plan for raising the standard in shop
conditions, especially those affecting women employees.
If women would simply withdraw their patronage from the stores where,
during the Christmas season, women and children toiled long hours at
night without any extra compensation, sooner or later the night work
would cease. A few stores, said Mrs. Nathan, maintained a standard
above the average. It was within the power of the women of New York to
raise all the others to that standard, and afterwards it might be
possible to go farther and establish a standard higher than the present
"We do not desire to blacklist any firm," declared Mrs. Nathan, "but we
can _whitelist_ those firms which treat their employees humanely. We can
make and publish a list of all the shops where employees receive fair
treatment, and we can agree to patronize only those shops. By acting
openly and publishing our White List we shall be able to create an
immense public opinion in favor of just employers."
Thus was the Consumers' League of New York ushered into existence. Eight
months after the Chickering Hall meeting the committee appointed to
co-operate with the Working Women's Society in preparing its list of
fair firms had finished its work and made its report. The new League was
formally organized on January 1, 1891.
[Illustration: Mrs. Frederick Nathan]
THE CONSUMERS' LEAGUE "WHITE LIST"
The first White List issued in New York contained only eight firm names.
The number was disappointingly small, even to those who knew the
conditions. Still more disappointing was the indifference of the other
firms to their outcast position. Far from evincing a desire to earn a
place on the White List, they cast aspersions on a "parcel of women" who
were trying to "undermine business credit," and scouted the very idea of
an organized feminine conscience.
"Wait until the women want Easter bonnets," sneered one merchant. "Do
you think they will pass up anything good because the store is not on
their White List?"
Clearly something stronger than moral suasion was called for. Even as
far back as 1891 a few women had begun to doubt the efficacy of that
indirect influence, supposed to be woman's strongest weapon. What was
the astonishment of the merchants when the League framed, and caused to
be introduced into the New York Assembly, a bill known as the Mercantile
Employers' Bill, to regulate the employment of women and children in
mercantile establishments, and to place retail stores, from the
smallest to the largest, under the inspection of the State Factory
The bill was promptly strangled, but the next year, and the next, and
still the next, it obstinately reappeared. Finally, in 1896, four years
after it was first introduced, the bill struggled through the lower
House. In spite of powerful commercial influences the bill was reported
in the Senate, and some of the senators became warmly interested in it.
A commission was appointed to make an official investigation into
conditions of working women in New York City.
The findings of this Rheinhard Commission, published afterwards in two
large volumes, were sensational enough. Merchants reluctantly testified
to employing grown women at a salary of _thirty-three cents a day_. They
confessed to employing little girls of eleven and twelve years, in
defiance of the child-labor law. They declared that pasteboard and
wooden stock boxes were good enough seats for saleswomen; that they
should not expect to sit down in business hours anyhow. They defended,
on what they called economic grounds, their long hours and uncompensated
overtime. They defended their systems of fines, which sometimes took
away from a girl almost the entire amount of her weekly salary. They
threatened, if a ten-hour law for women under twenty-one years old were
passed, to employ older women. Thus thousands of young and helpless
girls would be thrown out of employment into the hands of charity.
The Senate heard the report of the Rheinhard Commission, and in spite of
the merchants' protests the women's bill was passed without a dissenting
The most important provision of the bill was the ten-hour limit which it
placed on the work of women under twenty-one. The overwhelming majority
of department-store clerks are girls under twenty-one. The bill also
provided seats for saleswomen, and specified the number of
seats,--one to every three clerks. It forbade the employment of
children, except those holding working certificates from the
authorities. These, and other minor provisions, affected all retail
stores, as far as the law was obeyed.
As a matter of fact the Consumers' League's bill carried a "joker" which
made its full enforcement practically impossible. The matter of
inspection of stores was given over to the local boards of health,
supposedly experts in matters of health and sanitation, but, as it
proved, ignorant of industrial conditions. In New York City, after a
year of this inadequate inspection, political forces were brought to
bear, and then there were no store inspectors.
Year after year, for twelve years, the Consumers' League tried to
persuade the legislature that department and other retail stores needed
inspection by the State Factory Department. A little more than a year
ago they succeeded. After the bill placing all retail stores under
factory inspection was passed, a committee from the Merchants'
Association went before Governor Hughes and appealed to him to veto what
they declared was a vicious and wholly superfluous measure. Governor
Hughes, however, signed the bill.
In the first three months of its enforcement over twelve hundred
infractions of the Mercantile Law were reported in Greater New York. No
less than nine hundred and twenty-three under-age children were taken
out of their places as cash girls, stock girls, and wrappers, and were
sent back to their homes or to school. The contention of the Con sumers'
League that retail stores needed regulation seems to have been
To the business man capital and labor are both abstractions. To women
capital may be an abstraction, but labor is a purely human proposition,
a thing of flesh and blood. The department-store owners who so bitterly
fought the Mercantile Law, and for years afterwards fought its
enforcement, were not monsters of cruelty. They were simply business
men, with the business man's contracted vision. They could think only
in terms of money profit and money loss.
In spite of this radical difference in the point of view, women have
succeeded, in a measure, in controlling the business policy of the
stores supported by their patronage.
The White List would be immensely larger if the Consumers' League would
concede the matter of uncompensated overtime at the Christmas season.
Hundreds of stores fill every condition of the standard except this one.
The League stands firm on the point, and up to the present so do the
stores. Only the long, slow process of public education will remove the
custom whereby _thousands of young girls and women are compelled every
holiday season to give their employers from thirty to forty hours of
No one has ever tried to compute the amount of unpaid overtime extorted
in the business departments of nearly all city stores during three to
five months of every winter. The customer, by declining to purchase
after a certain hour, is able to release the weary saleswoman at six
o'clock. She is not able to release the equally weary girls who toil in
the bookkeeping and auditing departments.
That, in these days of adding and tabulating machines, accounting in
most stores is still done by cheap hand labor, is a statement which
strains credulity. Merely from the standpoint of business economy it
seems absurd. But it is a fact easily verified.
I tested it by obtaining employment in the auditing department of one of
the largest and most respectable stores in New York. In this store, and,
according to the best authorities, in most other stores, the accounting
force is made up of girls not long out of grammar school, ignorant and
incapable--but cheap. They work slowly, and as each day's sales are
posted and audited before the close of the day following, the business
force has to work until nine and ten o'clock several nights in the week.
In some cases they work every night.
Only the enlightening power of education of employers, education of
public opinion, can be expected to overcome this blight, and the
Consumers' League, realizing this, is preparing the way for education.
The Consumers' League began with a purely benevolent motive, and in
this early philanthropic stage it gained immediate popularity. City
after city, State after State, formed Consumers' Leagues, until, in
1899, a National League, with branches in twenty-two States, was
organized. The National League, far from being a philanthropic society,
has be come a scientific association for the study of industrial
When the original Consumers' League undertook its first piece of
legislation in behalf of women workers the members knew that they were
right, but they had very few reasons to offer in defense of their
claim. The New York League and all of the others have been collecting
reasons ever since. To-day they have a comprehensive and systematized
collection of reasons why women should not work long hours; why they
should not work at night; why manufacturing should not be carried on in
tenements; why all home wage-earning should be forbidden; why the speed
of machines should be regulated by law; why pure-food laws should be
extended; why minimum wage rates should be established.
In the headquarters of the National League in New York City a group of
trained experts work constantly, collecting and recording a vast body of
facts concerning the human side of industry. It is ammunition which
tells. One single blast of it, fired in the direction of a laundry in
Portland, Oregon, two years ago, performed the wonderful feat of blowing
a large hole through the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the
There was a law in Oregon which decreed that the working day of women in
factories and laundries should be ten hours long. The law was constantly
violated, especially in the steam laundries of Portland. One night a
factory inspector walked into the laundry of one Curt Muller, and found
working there, long after closing time, one Mrs. Gotcher. The inspector
promptly sent Mrs. Gotcher home and arrested Mr. Muller.
The next day in court Mr. Muller was fined ten dollars. Instead of
paying the fine he appealed, backed up in his action by the other
laundrymen of Portland, on the ground that the ten-hour law for women
workers was unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution guarantees to every adult member of the community the right
freely to contract. A man or a woman may contract with an employer to
work as many hours a day, or a night, for whatever wages, in whatever
dangerous or unhealthful or menacing conditions, _unless_ "there is fair
ground to say that there is material danger to the public health or
safety, or to the health and safety of the employee, or to the general
welfare...." This is the legal decision on which most protective
legislation in the United States has been based.
Several years ago, in Illinois, a law providing an eight-hour day for
women was declared unconstitutional because nobody's health or safety
was endangered; and on the same grounds the same fate met a New York
law forbidding all-night employment of women.
So Mr. Curt Muller and the laundrymen of Portland, Oregon, had reason to
believe that they could attack the Oregon law. The case was appealed,
and appealed again, by the laundrymen, and finally reached the Supreme
Court of the United States. Then the Consumers' League took a hand.
The brief for the State of Oregon, "defendant in error," was prepared by
Louis D. Brandeis, of Boston, assisted by Josephine Goldmark, one of the
most effective workers in the League's New York headquarters. This brief
is probably one of the most remarkable legal documents in existence. It
consists of one hundred and twelve printed pages, of which a few
paragraphs were written by the attorney for the State. All the rest was
contributed, under Miss Goldmark's direction, from the Consumers'
League's wonderful collection of reasons why women workers should be
The League's reply to the Oregon laundrymen who asked leave to work
their women employees far into the night was, "The World's Experience
upon Which the Legislation Limiting the Hours of Labor for Women is
Based." It is simply a mass of testimony taken from hearings before the
English Parliament, before state legislatures, state labor boards; from
the reports of factory inspectors in many countries; from reports of
industrial commissions in the United States and elsewhere; from medical
books; from reports of boards of health.
REASONS FOR PROTECTING WOMEN WORKERS The brief included a short and
interesting chapter, containing a number of things the League had
collected on the subject of laundries. Supreme Court judges cannot be
expected to know that laundry work is classed by experts among the
dangerous trades. That washing clothes, from a simple home or backyard
occupation, has been transformed into a highly-organized factory trade
full of complicated and often extremely dangerous machinery; that the
atmosphere of a steam laundry is more conducive to tuberculosis and the
other occupational diseases than cotton mills; that the work in
laundries, being irregular, is conducive to a general low state of
morals; that, on the whole, women should not be required to spend more
time than necessary in laundries; all this was set forth.
Medical testimony showed the physical differences between men and
women; the lesser power of women to endure long hours of standing; the
heightened susceptibility of women to industrial poisons--lead, naphtha,
and the like. A long chapter of testimony on the effect of child-bearing
in communities where the women had toiled long hours before marriage, or
afterwards, was included.
The testimony of factory inspectors, of industrial experts, of employers
in England, Germany, France, America, revealed the bad effect of long
hours on women's safety, both physical and moral. It revealed the good
effect, on the individual health, home life, and general welfare, of
short hours of labor.
Nor was the business aspect of the case neglected. That people
accomplish as much in an eight-hour day as in a twelve-hour day has
actually been demonstrated. The brief stated, for one instance, the
experience of a bicycle factory in Massachusetts.
In this place young women were employed to sort the ball bearings which
went into the machines. They did this by touch, and no girl was of use
to the firm unless her touch was very sensitive and very sure. The head
of this firm became convinced that the work done late in the afternoon
was of inferior quality, and he tried the experiment of cutting the
hours from ten to nine. The work was done on piece wages, and the girls
at first protested against the nine-hour day, fearing that their pay
envelopes would suffer. To their astonishment they earned as much in
nine hours as they had in ten. In time the employer cut the working day
down to eight hours and a half, and in addition gave the girls
ten-minute rests twice a day. Still they earned their full wages, and
they continued to earn full wages after the day became eight hours
long. The employer testified before the United States Industrial
Commission of 1900 that he believed he could successfully shorten the
day to seven hours and a half and get the same amount of work
What can you do against testimony like that? The Consumers' League
convinced the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Oregon
ten-hour law was upheld.
The importance of this decision cannot be overestimated. On it hangs the
validity of nearly all the laws which have been passed in the United
States for the protection of women workers. If the Oregon law had been
declared unconstitutional, laws in twenty States, or practically all
the States where women work in factories, would have been in perpetual
danger, and the United States might easily have sunk to a position
occupied now by no leading country in Europe.
Great Britain has had protective legislation for women workers since
1844. In 1847 the labor of women in English textile mills was limited to
ten hours a day, the period we are now worrying about, as being possibly
contrary to our Constitution. France, within the past five years, has
established a ten-hour day, broken by one hour of rest. Switzerland,
Germany, Holland, Austria, Italy, limit the hours of women's labor. In
several countries there are special provisions giving extra time off to
women who have household responsibilities. What would our
Constitution-bound law makers say to such a proposition, if any one had
the hardihood to suggest it?
If this law had not been upheld by the United States Supreme Court the
women of no State could have hoped to secure further legislation for
women workers. As it is, women in many States are preparing to establish
what is now known as "The Oregon Standard," that is, a ten-hour day for
all working women.
Nothing in connection with the woman movement is more significant,
certainly nothing was more unexpected, than the voluntary abandonment,
on the part of women, of class prejudice and class distinctions. Where
formerly the interest of the leisured woman in her wage-earning sisters
was of a sentimental or philanthropic character, it has become practical
The Young Women's Christian Association has had an industrial
department, which up to a recent period concerned itself merely with the
spiritual welfare of working girls. Prayer meetings in factories, clubs,
and classes in the Association headquarters, working-girls' boarding
homes, and other philanthropic efforts were the limits of the
Association's activities. The entire policy has changed of late, and
under the capable direction of Miss Annie Marian MacLean, of Brooklyn,
New York, the industrial department of the Association is doing
scientific investigation of labor conditions of women.
In a cracker factory I once saw a paid worker in the Young Women's
Christian Association pause above a young girl lying on the floor,
crimson with fever, and apparently in the throes of a serious illness.
With angelic pity on her face the Association worker stooped and
slipped a tract into the sick girl's hand. The kind of industrial
secretary the Association now employs would send for an ambulance and
see that the girl had the best of hospital care. She would inquire
whether the girl's illness was caused by the conditions under which she
worked, and she would know if it were possible to have those conditions
WOMEN'S CLUBS STUDYING LABOR PROBLEMS Nearly every state federation of
women's clubs has its industrial committee, and many large clubs have a
corresponding department. It is these industrial sections of the women's
clubs which are such a thorn in the flesh of Mr. John Kirby, Jr., the
new president of the National Manufacturers' Association. In his
inaugural address Mr. Kirby warned his colleagues that women's clubs
were not the ladylike, innocuous institutions that too-confiding man
supposed them to be. In those clubs, he declared, their own wives and
daughters were listening to addresses by the worst enemies of the
Manufacturers' Association, the labor leaders. By which he meant that
the club women were inviting trade-union men and women to present the
worker's side of industrial subjects. "Soon," exclaimed Mr. Kirby, "we
shall have to fight the women as well as the unions."
The richest and most aristocratic woman's club in the country is the
Colony Club of New York. The Colony Club was organized by a number of
women from the exclusive circles of New York society, after the manner
of men's clubs. The women built a magnificent clubhouse on Madison
Avenue, furnished it with every luxury, including a wonderful
roof-garden. For a time the Colony Club appeared to be nothing more
than a beautiful toy which its members played with. But soon it began to
develop into a sort of a woman's forum, where all sorts of social topics
were discussed. Visiting women of distinction, artists, writers,
lecturers, were entertained there.
Last year the club inaugurated a Wednesday afternoon course in
industrial economics. The women did not invite lecturers from Columbia
University to address them. They asked John Mitchell and many lesser
lights of the labor world. They wanted to learn, at first hand, the
facts concerning conditions of industry. Most of them are stockholders
in mills, factories, mines, or business establishments. Many own real
estate on which factories stand.
"It is not fair," they have openly declared, "that we should enjoy
wealth and luxury at the cost of illness, suffering, and death. We do
not want wealth on such terms."
The Colony Club members, and the women who form the Auxiliary to the
National Civic Federation, have for their object improvement in the
working and living conditions of wage earners in industries and in
governmental institutions. A few conscientious employers have spent a
part of their profits to make their employees comfortable. They have
given them the best sanitary conditions, good air, strong light, and
comfortable seats. They have provided rest rooms, lunch rooms, vacation
houses, and the like.
No one should belittle such efforts on the part of employers. Equally,
no one should regard them as a solution of the industrial problem. Nor
should they be used as a substitute for justice.
Too often this so-called welfare work has been clumsily managed,
untactfully administered. Too often it has been instituted, not to
benefit the workers, but to advertise the business. Too often its real
object was a desire to play the philanthropist's role, to exact
obsequience from the wage earner.
[Illustration: MRS. J. BORDEN HARRIMAN President of the Colony Club, New
York, the most exclusive Women's Club in the country]
I know a corset factory which makes a feature in its advertising of the
perfect sanitary condition of its works; when visitors are expected, the
girls are required to stop work and clean the rooms. Since they work on
a piece-work scale, the "perfect sanitary conditions" exist at their
expense. In a department store I know, employees are required to sign a
printed expression of gratitude for overtime pay or an extra holiday.
This kind of welfare work simply alienates employees from their
employers. It always fails.
It seems to the women who have studied these things that proper
sanitary conditions, lunch rooms, comfortable seats, provision for
rest, vacations with pay, and the like are no more than the wage
earner's due. They are a part of the laborer's hire, and should be
guaranteed by law, exactly as wages are guaranteed. An employer deserves
gratitude for overtime pay no more than for fire escapes.
Testimony gathered from all sources by the Consumers' League, women's
clubs, and women's labor organizations has proved beyond doubt that good
working conditions, reasonable hours of work, and living wages vastly
increase the efficiency of the workers, and thus increase the profits of
The New York Telephone Company does not set itself up to be a
benevolent institution. Its directors know that its profits depend on
the excellence of its service. There is one exchange in the Borough of
Brooklyn which handles a large part of the Long Island traffic. This
traffic is very heavy in summer on account of the number of summer
resorts along the coast. In the fall and winter the traffic is very
light. Six months in the year the operators at this exchange work only
half the day, yet the company keeps them on full salary the year round.
"We cannot afford to do anything else," explains the traffic manager.
"We cannot afford operators who would be content with half wages."
[Illustration: MISS ELIZABETH MALONEY]
The old-time dry-goods merchant sincerely believed that his business
would suffer if he provided seats for his saleswomen. He believed that
he would go into bankruptcy if he allowed his women clerks human
working conditions. Then came the Consumers' League and mercantile laws,
and a new pressure of public opinion, and the dry-goods merchant found
out that a clerk in good physical condition sells more goods than one
that is exhausted and uncomfortable.
The fact is that welfare work, carefully shorn of its name, has proved
itself to be such good business policy that in future all intelligent
employers will advocate it; public opinion will demand it; laws will
provide for it.
It used to be the invariable custom in stores--it is so still in a
few--to lay off many clerks during the dull seasons. Now the best stores
find that they can better afford to give all their employees vacations
with pay. A clerk coming home after a vacation can sell goods, even in
dull times. More and more employers are coming to appreciate the money
value of the Saturday half-holiday in summer. Hearn, in New York, closes
his department store all day Saturday during July and August. The store
sells more goods in five days than it previously sold in six.
THE FILENE SYSTEM OF DEVELOPING EFFICIENT WORKERS There is one
department store which has demonstrated that it is profitable to pay
higher wages than its competitors, and that it pays to allow the
employees to fix the terms of their own employment. This is the Filene
store in Boston, which has developed within the past ten years from a
conservative, old-fashioned dry-goods business into an extremely
original and interesting experiment station in commercial economics.
The entire policy of the Filene management is bent on developing to the
highest possible point the efficiency of each individual clerk. The best
possible material is sought. No girl under sixteen is employed, and no
girl of any age who has not graduated with credit from the grammar
schools. There are a number of college-bred men and women in the Filene
[Illustration: A DEPARTMENT STORE REST-ROOM FOR WOMEN]
Good wages are paid, even to beginners, and experienced employees are
rewarded, not according to a fixed rate of payment, but according to
earning capacity. Taken throughout the store, wages, plus commissions,
which are allowed in all departments, average about two dollars a week
higher than in other department stores in Boston.
No irresponsible, automatic employee can develop high efficiency. She
does not want to become efficient; she wants merely to receive a pay
envelope at the end of the week. In order to develop responsibility and
initiative in their employees the Filenes have put them on a
self-governing basis. The workers do not literally make their own rules,
but the vote of the majority can change any rule made by the firm. The
firm furnishes its employees with a printed book of rules, in which the
policy of the store is set forth. If the employees object to any of the
rules, or any part of the policy, they can vote a change.
The medium through which the clerks express their opinions and desires
is the Filene Co-operative Association, of which every clerk and every
employee in the place is a member. No dues are exacted, as is the custom
in the usual employees' association. The executive body, called the
Store Council, and all other officers are elected by the members. All
matters of grievance, all subjects of controversy, are referred to the
Store Council, which, as often as occasion demands, calls a meeting of
the entire association after business hours.
For example: Christmas happens on a Friday. The firm decides to keep the
store open on the following day--Saturday. There is an expression of
dissatisfaction from a number of clerks. A meeting of the association is
called, and a vote taken as to whether the majority want the extra
holiday or not; whether the majority are willing to lose the
commissions on a day's sales, for, of course, salaries continue. The
vote reveals that the majority want the holiday. The Store Council so
reports to the firm, and the firm must grant the holiday.
All matters of difficulty arising between employers and employed, in the
Filene store, are settled not by the firm, but by the Arbitration Board
of Employees, also elected by popular vote. All disagreements as to
wages, position, promotion, all questions of personal issue between
saleswomen and aislemen, or others in authority, are referred to the
Board of Arbitration, and the board's decision is final. There is no
tyranny of the buyer, no arbitrary authority of the head of a
department. Every clerk knows that her tenure is secure as long as she
is an efficient saleswoman.
Surely it is not too much to hope that, in a future not too far
distant, all women who earn their bread will serve a system of industry
adjusted by law to human standards. In enlightened America the courts,
presided over by men to whom manual labor is known only in theory, have
persistently ruled that the _Constitution forbade the State to make laws
protecting women workers_. It has seemed to most of our courts and most
of our judges that the State fulfilled its whole duty to its women
citizens when it guaranteed them the right freely to contract--even
though they consented, or their poverty consented, to contracts which
involved irreparable harm to themselves, the community, and future
generations. The women of this country have done nothing more important
than to educate the judiciary of the United States out of and beyond
this terrible delusion.
MAKING OVER THE FACTORY FROM THE INSIDE
The decision of the United States Supreme Court, establishing the
legality of restricted hours of labor for Oregon working women, was
received with especial satisfaction in the State of Illinois. The
Illinois working women, or that thriving minority of them organized in
labor unions, had been waiting sixteen years for a favorable opportunity
to get an eight-hour day for themselves. Sixteen years ago the Illinois
State Legislature gave the working women such a law, and two years later
the Illinois Supreme Court took it away from them, on the ground that it
The action of the Illinois Supreme Court was by no means without
precedent. Many similar decisions had been handed down in other States,
until it had become almost a principle of American law that protective
legislation for working women was invalid.
The process of reasoning by which learned judges reach the conclusion
that an eight-hour day for men may be decreed without depriving anybody
of his constitutional rights, and at the same time rule that women would
be outrageously wronged by having their working hours limited, may
The explanation is, after all, simple. The learned judges are men, and
they know something--not much, but still something--about the men of the
working classes. They know, for example, something about the conditions
under which coal miners work, and they can see that it is contrary to
public interests that men should toil underground, at arduous labor,
twelve hours a day. Accidents result with painful frequency, and these
are bad things,--bad for miners and mine owners alike. They are bad for
the whole community. Therefore the regulation of miners' hours of labor
comes legitimately under the police powers of the law.
The learned judges, I say this with all due respect, do not know
anything about working women. Their own words prove it. The texts of
their decisions, denying the constitutionality of protective measures,
are amazing in the ignorance they display,--ignorance of industrial
conditions surrounding women; ignorance of the physical effects of
certain kinds of labor on young girls; ignorance of the effect of
women's arduous toil on the birth rate; ignorance of moral conditions in
trades which involve night work; ignorance of the injury to the home
resulting from the sweated labor of tenement women. In brief, the
learned judges, when they write opinions involving the health, the
happiness, the very lives of women workers, might be writing about the
inhabitants of another planet, so little knowledge do they display of
the real facts.
We have seen how the women of the Consumers' League taught the United
States Supreme Court something about working women; showed them a few of
the calamities resulting from the unrestricted labor of women and
immature girls. The Supreme Court's decision forever abolished the old
fallacy that the American Constitution _forbids_ protective legislation
for women workers. It remains for women's organizations in the various
States to educate local courts up to the knowledge that community
interest _demands_ protective legislation.
Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the Oregon case, which
flatly contradicted the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court, the
working women of Illinois began their educational campaign. They had
now, for the first time, a fighting chance to secure the restoration of
their shortened work day. The women of fifteen organized trades in the
city of Chicago determined to take that chance.
The women first appealed to the Industrial Commission, appointed early
in 1908 by Governor Dineen, to investigate the need of protective
legislation for workers, men and women alike.
The women were given a courteous hearing, but were told frankly that
limited hours of work for women was not one of protective measures to be
recommended by the Commission.
The Waitresses' Union, Local No. 484, of Chicago, entered the lists, led
by a remarkable young woman, Elizabeth Maloney, financial secretary of
the union. Miss Maloney and her associates drafted and introduced into
the Illinois Legislature a bill providing an eight-hour working day for
every woman in the State, working in shop, factory, retail store,
laundry, hotel, or restaurant, and providing also ample machinery for
enforcing the measure.
The "Girls' Bill," as it immediately became known, was the most hotly
contested measure passed by the Illinois Legislature during the
session. Over five hundred manufacturers appeared at the public hearing
on the bill to protest against it. One man brought a number of meek and
tired women employees, who, he declared, were opposed to having their
working day made shorter. Another presented a petition signed by his
women employees, appealing against being prevented from working eleven
hours a day!
Nine working girls appeared in support of the bill, and after learned
counsel for the Manufacturers' Association had argued against the
measure, two of the girls were allowed to speak. The Manufacturers'
Association presented the business aspect of the question, the girls
confined themselves to the human side. Agnes Nestor, secretary of the
Glove Makers' Union of the United States and Canada, was one of the two
girls who spoke. Miss Nestor, whose eyes are blue, whose manners are
gentle, and whose best weight is ninety-five pounds, had to stand on a
chair that the law makers might see her when she made her plea:
Elizabeth Maloney, of the Waitresses' Union, was the other speaker.
They described details in the daily lives of working women not generally
known except to the workers themselves. Among these was the piece-work
system, which too often means a system whereby the utmost possible speed
is extorted from the toiler, in order that she may earn a living wage.
The legislators were asked to imagine themselves operating a machine
whose speed was gauged up to nine thousand stitches a minute; to
consider how many stitches the operator's hand must guide in a week, a
month, a year, in order to earn a living; working thus eleven, twelve
hours a day, knowing that the end was nervous breakdown, and decrease
of earning power.
"I am a waitress," said Miss Maloney, "and I work ten hours a day. In
that time a waitress who is tolerably busy _walks_ ten miles, and the
dishes she carries back and forth aggregate in weight fifteen hundred to
two thousand pounds. Don't you think eight hours a day is enough for a
girl to walk?"
Only one thing stood in the way of the passage of the bill after that
day. The doubt of its constitutionality proved an obstacle too grave
for the friends of the workers to overcome. It was decided to
substitute a ten-hour bill, an exact duplicate of the "Oregon Standard"
established by the Supreme Court of the United States. The principle of
limitation upon the hours of women's work once established in Illinois,
the workers could proceed with their fight for an eight-hour day.
The manufacturers lost their fight, and the ten-hour bill became a law
of the State of Illinois. The Manufacturers' Association, through the
W.C. Ritchie Paper Box Manufactory, of Chicago, immediately brought suit
to test the constitutionality of the law. Two Ritchie employees, Anna
Kusserow and Dora Windeguth, made appeal to the Illinois courts. Their
appeal declared that they could not make enough paper boxes in ten hours
to earn their bread, and that their constitutional rights freely to
contract, as well as their human rights, had been taken away from them
by the ten-hour law.
There was a terrible confession, on the part of the employers, involved
in this protest against the ten-hour day, a confession of the wretched
state of women's wages in the State of Illinois. If women of mature
years--one of the petitioners had been an expert box maker for over
thirty years--are unable, in a day of ten hours, to earn enough to keep
body and soul together, is it not proved that women workers are in no
position freely to contract? For who, of her own free will, would
contract to work ten hours a day for less than the price of life?
There was sitting in the Circuit Court of Illinois at that time Judge
R.S. Tuthill. When Judge Tuthill, in old age, reviews the events of his
career, I think he will not remember with pride that he was blind to the
real meaning of that petition of Anna Kusserow and Dora Windeguth. For
Judge Tuthill issued an injunction against the State Factory Department,
forbidding them to enforce the ten-hour law.
Immediately a number of women's organizations joined hands with the
women's trade unions in the fight to save the bill. When it came up in
the December term of the Illinois Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis of
Boston, the same able jurist who had argued the Oregon case, was on
hand. This time his brief was a book of six hundred and ten printed
pages, over which Miss Pauline Goldmark, of the National Consumers'
League, and a large corps of trained investigators and students had
toiled for many months. The World's Experience Against the Illinois
Circuit Court, this document might well have been called. It was simply
a digest of the evidence of governmental commissions, laboratories, and
bodies of scientific research, on the effects of overwork, and
especially of overtime work, on girls and women, and through them on
the succeeding generation. Incidentally the brief contained three
pages of law.
The most striking part of the argument contained in the brief was the
testimony of physicians on the toxin of fatigue.
"Medical Science has demonstrated," says this most important paragraph,
"that while fatigue is a normal phenomenon ... excessive fatigue or
exhaustion is abnormal.... It has discovered that fatigue is due not
only to actual poisoning, but to a specific poison or toxin of fatigue,
entirely analogous in chemical and physical nature to other bacterial
toxins, such as the diphtheria toxin. It has been shown that when
artificially injected into animals in large amounts the fatigue toxin
causes death. The fatigue toxin in normal quantities is said to be
counteracted by an antidote or antitoxin, also generated in the body.
But as soon as fatigue becomes abnormal the antitoxin is not produced
fast enough to counteract the poison of the toxin."
The Supreme Court of the State of Illinois decided that the American
Constitution was never intended to shield manufacturers in their
willingness to poison women under pretense of giving them work. The
ten-hour law was sustained.
That the "Girls' Bill" passed, or that it was even introduced, was due
in large measure to an organization of women, more militant and more
democratic than any other in the United States. This is the Women's
Trade Union League. Formed in New York about seven years ago, the
League consists of women members of labor unions, a few men in organized
trades, and many women outside the ranks of wage earners. Some of these
latter are women of wealth, who are believers in the trade-union
principle, but more are women who work in the professional
ranks,--teachers, lawyers, physicians, writers, artists, settlement
workers. These are the first professional workers, men or women, who
ever asked for and were given affiliation with the American Federation
of Labor. They are the first people, outside the ranks of wage earners,
to appear in Labor Day parades.
The object of the League, which now has branches in five cities,--New
York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland,--is to educate women
wage earners in the doctrine of trade unionism. The League trains and
supports organizers among all classes of workers. As quickly as a group
in any trade seems ready for organizing the League helps them. It
raises funds to assist women in their trade struggles. It acts as
arbitrator between employer and wage earners in case of shop disputes.
The Women's Tracle Union League reaches not only women in factory
trades, but it has succeeded in organizing women who until lately
believed themselves to be a grade above this social level. One hundred
and fifty dressmakers in New York City belong to a union. Seventy
stenographers have organized in the same city. The Teachers' Federation
of Chicago is a labor union, and although it was formed before the
Women's Trade Union League came into existence, it is now affiliated.
The women telegraphers all over the United States are well organized.
The businesslike, resourceful, and fearless policy of the League was
brilliantly demonstrated during the famous strike of the shirt-waist
makers in New York and Philadelphia in the winter of 1910. The story of
this strike will bear retelling.
On the evening of November 22, 1909, there was a great mass meeting of
workers held at Cooper Union in New York. Samuel Gompers, President of
the American Federation of Labor, presided, and the stage was well
filled with members of the Women's Trade Union League. The meeting had
been called by the League in conjunction with Shirt-Waist Makers' Union,
Local 25, to consider the grievances of shirt-waist makers in general,
and especially of the shirt-waist makers in the Triangle factory, who
had been, for more than two months, on strike.
The story of the strike, the causes that led up to it, and the bitter
injustice which followed it were rehearsed in a dozen speeches. It was
shown that for four to five dollars a week the girl shirt-waist makers
worked from eight in the morning until half-past five in the evening
two days in the week; from eight in the morning until nine at night
four days in the week; and from eight in the morning until noon one day
in the week--Sunday.
The shirt-waist makers in the Triangle factory, in hope of bettering
their conditions, had formed a union, and had informed their employers
of their action. The employers promptly locked them out of the shop, and
the girls declared a strike.
The strike was more than two months old when the Cooper Union meeting
was held, and the employers showed no signs of giving in. It was agreed
that a general strike of shirt-waist makers ought to be declared. But
the union was weak, there were no funds, and most of the shirt-waist
makers were women and unused to the idea of solidarity in action. Could
they stand together in an industrial struggle which promised to be long
President Gompers was plainly fearful that they could not.
Suddenly a very small, very young, very intense Jewish girl, known to
her associates as Clara Lemlich, sprang to her feet, and, with the
assistance of two young men, climbed to the high platform. Flinging up
her arms with a dramatic gesture she poured out a flood of speech,
entirely unintelligible to the presiding Gompers, and to the members of
the Women's Trade Union League. The Yiddish-speaking majority in the
audience understood, however, and the others quickly caught the spirit
of her impassioned plea.
The vast audience rose as one man, and a great roar arose. "Yes, we
will all strike!"
"And will you keep the faith?" cried the girl on the platform. "Will you
swear by the old Jewish oath of our fathers?"
Two thousand Jewish hands were thrust in air, and two thousand Jewish
throats uttered the oath: "If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge,
may this hand wither and drop off from this arm I now raise."
Clara Lemlich's part in the work was accomplished. Within a few days
forty thousand shirt-waist makers were on strike.
The Women's Trade Union League, under the direction of Miss Helen Marot,
secretary, at once took hold of the strike.
There were two things to be done at once. The forty thousand had to be
enrolled in the union, and those manufacturers who were willing to
accept the terms of the strikers had to be "signed up." Clinton Hall,
one of the largest buildings on the lower East Side, was secured, and
for several weeks the rooms and hallways of the building and the street
outside were crowded almost to the limit of safety with men and women
strikers, anxious and perspiring "bosses," and busy, active associates
of the Women's Trade Union League.
The immediate business needs of the organization being satisfied the
League members undertook the work of picketing the shops. Picketing, if
this activity has not been revealed to you, consists in patrolling the
neighborhood of the factories during the hours when the strike breakers
are going to and from their nefarious business, and importuning them to
join the strike.
Peaceful picketing is legal. The law permits a striker to speak to the
girl who has taken her place, permits her to present her cause in her
most persuasive fashion, but if she lays her hand, ever so gently on the
other's arm or shoulder, this constitutes technical violence.
Up to the time when the League began picketing there had been a little
of this technical, and possibly an occasional act of real, violence.
After the League took a hand there was none. Each group of union girls
who went forth to picket was accompanied by one or more League members.
Some of these amateur pickets were girls fresh from college, and among
these were Elsie Cole, the brilliant daughter of Albany's Superintendent
of Schools, Inez Milholland, the beautiful and cherished daughter of a
millionaire father, leader of her class, of 1909, in Vassar College,
Elizabeth Dutcher and Violet Pike, both prominent in the Association of
Collegiate Alumnae. These young women went out day after day with girl
strikers, endured the insults and threats of the police, suffered arrest
on more than one occasion, and faced the scorn and indignation of
magistrates who--well, who did not understand.
The strike received an immense amount of publicity, and organizations of
women other than the Women's Trade Union League began to take an
interest in it. They sent for Miss Marot, Miss Cole, Miss Gertrude
Barnum, and other women known to be familiar with the industrial world
of women, and begged for enlightenment on the subject of the strike.
They particularly asked to hear the story from the striking women in
The exclusive Colony Club, to which only women of the highest social
eminence are eligible, was called together by Miss Anne Morgan and
several others, including Mrs. Egerton Winthrop, wife of the president
of the New York Board of Education, to hear the story from the strikers'
own lips. The Colony Club was swept into the shirt-waist strike. More
than thirteen hundred dollars was collected in a few minutes. A dozen
women promised influence and personal service in behalf of the strikers.
A week later Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, mother of the Duchess of Marlborough,
leader of a large Woman Suffrage Association, engaged the Hippodrome,
and packed it to the roof with ten thousand interested spectators.
Something like five thousand dollars was donated by this meeting.
At the beginning of the strike fully five hundred waist houses were
involved. Many of these settled within a few days on the basis of
increased pay, a fifty-two-hour working week, and recognition of the
union. Others settled later, and under the influence of the "uptown
scum," as the employers' association gallantly termed the Women's Trade
Union League, the Colony Club, and the Suffragists, still others
reluctantly gave in. Late in January all except about one hundred out of
the five hundred had settled with the union, and only about three
thousand of the workers were still out of work.
Women have been called the scabs of the labor world. That they would
ever become trade unionists, ever evolve the class consciousness of the
intelligent proletarian men, was deemed an impossible dream. Above all,
that their progress towards industrial emancipation would ever be helped
along by the wives and daughters of the employing classes was
unthinkable. That the releasing of one class of women from household
labor by sending another class of women into the factory, there to
perform their historic tasks of cooking, sewing, and laundry work, was
to result in the humanizing of industry, no mind ever prophesied.
Yet these things are coming. The scabs of the labor world are becoming
the co-workers instead of the competitors of men. The women of the
leisure classes, almost as fast as their eyes are opened to the
situation, espouse the cause of their working sisters. The woman in the
factory is preparing to make over that factory or to close it.
The history of a recent strike, in a carpet mill in Roxbury,
Massachusetts, is a perfect history, in miniature, of the progress of
the working women.
That particular mill is very old and very well known. When it was
established, more than a generation ago, the owner was a man who knew
every one of his employees by name, was especially considerate of the
women operatives, and was loved and respected by every one. Hours of
labor were long, but the work was done in a leisurely fashion, and wages
were good enough to compensate for the long day's labor.
The original owner died, and in time the new firm changed to a
corporation. The manager knew only his office force and possibly a few
floor superintendents and foremen. The rest of the force were "hands."
The whole state of the industry was altered. New and complicated
machinery was introduced. The shortened work day was a hundred times
more fatiguing to the workers because of the increased speed and
nerve-racking noise and jar of the machinery. Other grievances
developed. The quality of the yarn furnished the weavers was often so
bad that they spent hours of unpaid labor mending a broken warp or
manipulating a rotten shuttle full of yarn. Wages, fixed according to
the piece system, declined, it is said, at least one-fourth. Women who
had formerly earned thirteen dollars a week were reduced to seven and
The women formed a union and struck. Some of them had been in the mills
as long as forty years, but they walked out with the girls.
There you have the story of women's realization of themselves as a
group. Next you encounter the realization of the sisterhood of women.
The Boston Branch of the Women's Trade Union League, through its
secretary, Mabel Gillespie, Radcliffe graduate, joined the strikers.
Backed up by the Boston Central Labor Union, and the United Textile
Workers of Fall River, the strikers fought their fight during ten weeks
of anxiety and deprivation.
The employers were firm in their determination to go out of business
before treating with the strikers as a group. A hand, mind you, exists
as an individual, a very humble individual, but one to be received and
conferred with. Hands, considered collectively, have no just right to
exist. An employers' association is a necessity of business life. A
labor union is an insult to capital.
This was the situation at the end of ten weeks. One day a motor car
stopped in front of the offices of the mills and a lady emerged. Mrs.
Glendower Evans, conservative, cultured, one might say Back Bay
personified, had come to Roxbury to see the carpet manufacturer. Her
powers of persuasion, plus her social position and her commercial
connections, were sufficient to wring consent from the firm to receive
John Golden, president of the United Textile Workers.
John Golden, intelligent, honest, a fine type of workingman, educated
in the English school of unionism, held two conferences with the firm.
He was able to make the employers see the whole situation in an entirely
new light. They were men of probity; they wanted to be fair; and when
they saw the human side of the struggle they surrendered. When they
perceived the justice of the collective bargain, the advantages to both
sides of a labor organization honestly conducted, they consented to
recognize the union. And the women went back, their group unbroken.
Thus are women working, women of all classes, to humanize the factory.
From the outside they are working to educate the legislatures and the
judiciary. They are lending moral and financial support to the women of
the toiling masses in their struggle to make over the factory from the
inside. Together they are impressing the men of the working world, law
makers and judges, with the justice of protecting the mothers of the
Now that the greatest stumbling block to industrial protective
legislation has been removed, we may hope to see a change in legal
decisions handed down in our courts. The educational process is not
yet complete. Not every judge possesses the prophetic mind of the
late Justice Brewer, who wrote the decision in the Oregon Case. Not
every court has learned that healthy men and women are infinitely more
valuable to a nation than mere property. But in time they will learn.
In distant New Zealand, not long ago, there was a match factory in which
a number of women worked for low wages. After fruitless appeals to the
owner for better wages the workers resorted to force. They did not
strike. In New Zealand you do not have to strike, because in that
country a substitute for the strike is provided by law. To this
substitute, a Court of Arbitration, the women took their grievance. The
employer in his answer declared, just as employers in this country might
have done, that his business would not stand an increase in wages. He
explained that the match industry was newly established in New Zealand,
and that, until it was on a secure basis, factory owners could not
afford to pay high wages.
The judge ordered an inquiry. In this country it would have been an
inquiry into the state of the match industry. There it was an inquiry
into the cost of living in the town where the match factory was located.
And then the judge summoned the factory owner to the Court of
Arbitration, and this is what he said to the man:
"It is impossible for these girls to live decently or healthfully on the
wages you are now paying. It is of the utmost importance that they
should have wholesome and healthful conditions of life. The souls and
bodies of the young women of New Zealand are of more importance than
your profits, and if you cannot pay living wages it will be better for
the community for you to close your factory. _It would be better to
send the whole match industry to the bottom of the ocean, and go back to
flints and firesticks, than to drive young girls into the gutter._ My
award is that you pay what they ask."
Does that sound like justice to you? It does to me; it does to the eight
million women in the world who have learned to think in human terms.
BREAKING THE GREAT TABOO
At the threshold of that quarter of old New York called Greenwich
Village stands Jefferson Market Court. Almost concealed behind the
towering structure of the Sixth Avenue Elevated, the building by day is
rather inconspicuous. But when night falls, swallowing up the
neighborhood of tangled streets and obscure alleyways, Jefferson Market
assumes prominence. High up in the square brick tower an illuminated
clock seems perpetually to be hurrying its pointing hands toward
midnight. From many windows, barred for the most part, streams an
intense white light. Above an iron-guarded door at the side of the
building floats a great globe of light, and beneath its glare, through
the iron-guarded door, there passes, every week-day night in the year, a
long procession of prodigals.
The guarded door seldom admits any one as important, so to speak, as a
criminal. The criminal's case waits for day. The Night Court in
Jefferson Market sits in judgment only on the small fry caught in the
dragnet of the police. Tramps, vagrants, drunkards, brawlers, disturbers
of the peace, speeding chauffeurs, licenseless peddlers, youths caught
red-handed shooting craps or playing ball in the streets,--these are the
men with whom the Night Court deals. But it is not the men we have come
[Illustration: MISS MAUDE E. MINER]
The women of the Night Court. Prodigal daughters! Between December,
1908, and December, 1909, no less than five thousand of them passed
through the guarded door, under the blaze of the electric lights. There
is never an hour, from nine at night until three in the morning, when
the prisoners' bench in Jefferson Market Court is without its full quota
of women. Old--prematurely old, and young--pitifully young; white and
brown; fair and faded; sad and cynical; starved and prosper ous;
rag-draped and satin-bedecked; together they wait their turn at
Quietly moving back and forth before the prisoners' bench you see a
woman, tall, graceful, black-gowned. She is the salaried probation
officer, modern substitute for the old-time volunteer mission worker.
The probation officer's serious blue eyes burn with no missionary zeal.
There is no spark of sentimental pity in the keen gaze she turns on each
When the bench is full of women the judge turns to her to inquire:
"Anybody there you want, Miss Miner?"
Miss Miner usually shakes her head. She diagnoses her cases like a
physician, and she wastes no time on incurables.
Once in a while, perhaps several times in the course of a night, Miss
Miner touches a girl on the arm. At once the girl rises and follows the
probation officer into an adjoining room. If she is what she appears,
young in evil, if she has a story which rings true, a story of poverty
and misfortune, rather than of depravity, she goes not back to the
prisoners' bench. When her turn at judgment comes Miss Miner stands
beside her, and in a low voice meant only for the judge, she tells the
facts. The girl weeps as she listens. To hear one's troubles told is
sometimes more terrible than to endure them.
Court adjourns at three in the morning, and this girl, with the
others--if others have been claimed by the probation officer--goes out
into the empty street, under the light of the tall tower, whose clock
has begun all over again its monotonous race toward midnight. No
policeman accompanies the group. The girls are under no manner of
duress. They have promised to go home with Miss Miner, and they go. The
night's adventure, entered into with dread, with callous indifference,
or with thoughtless mirth, ends in a quiet bedroom and a pillow wet with
[Illustration: IN THE NIGHT COURT, NEW YORK.]
Waverley House, as Miss Miner's home is known, has sheltered, during the
past year, over three hundred girls. Out of that number one hundred and
nineteen have returned to their homes, or are earning a living at useful
One hundred and nineteen saved out of five thousand prodigals! In point
of numbers this is a melancholy showing, but in comparison with other
efforts at rescue work it is decidedly encouraging.
Nothing quite like Waverley House has appeared in other American cities,
but it is a type of detention home for girls which is developing
logically out of the probation system. Delinquent girls under sixteen
are now considered, in all enlightened communities, subjects for the
Juvenile Court. They are hardly ever associated with older delinquents.
But a girl over sixteen is likely to be committed to prison, and may be
locked in cells with criminal and abandoned women of the lowest order.
Waverley House is the first practical protest against this stupid and
The house, which stands a few blocks distant from the Night Court, was
established and is maintained by the Probation Association of New York,
consisting of the probation officers in many of the city courts, and of
men and women interested in philanthropy and social reform. The District
Attorney of New York County, Charles S. Whitman, is president of the
Association, Maude E. Miner is its secretary, Mrs. Russell Sage, Miss
Anne Morgan, Miss Mary Dreier, president of the New York Women's Trade
Union League, Mrs. Richard Aldrich, formerly president of the Women's
Municipal League, Andrew Carnegie, Edward T. Devine, head of New York's
organized charities, Homer Folks, and Fulton Cutting are among the
supporters of Waverley House. Miss Stella Miner is the capable and
sympathetic superintendent of the house.
The place is in no sense a reformatory. It is an experiment station, a
laboratory where the gravest and most baffling of all the diseases which
beset society is being studied. Girls arrested for moral delinquency and
paroled to probation officers are taken to Waverley House, where they
remain, under closest study and searching inquiry, until the best means
of disposing of them is devised. Some are sent to their homes, some to
hospitals, some to institutions, some placed on long probation.
Maude E. Miner, who declined a chair of mathematics in a woman's college
to work in the Night Court, is one of an increasing number of women who
are attempting a great task. They are trying to solve a problem which
has baffled the minds of the wisest since civilization dawned. They have
set themselves to combat an evil fate which every year overtakes
countless thousands of young girls, dragging them down to misery,
disease, and death. At the magnitude of the effort these women have
undertaken one stands appalled. Will they ever reach the heart of the
problem? Can they ever hope to do more than reclaim a few individuals?
This much did the missionaries before them.
"We could reclaim fully seventy-five per cent," declares Miss Miner, "if
only we could find a way to begin nearer the beginning."
To begin the reform of any evil at the beginning, or near the beginning,
instead of near the end is now regarded as an economy of effort. That is
what educators are trying to do with juvenile delinquency; what
physicians are doing with disease; what philanthropists are beginning to
do with poverty.
Hardly any one has suggested that the social evil might have a cause,
and that it might be possible to attack it at its source. Yet that any
large number of girls enter upon such a horrible career, willingly,
voluntarily, is unbelievable to one who knows anything of the facts.
There must be strong forces at work on these girls, forces they find
themselves entirely powerless to resist.
Miss Miner and her fellow probation officers are the visible signs of a
very important movement among women to discover what these forces are.
Meager, indeed, are the facts at hand. We have had, and we still have,
in cities east and west, committees and societies and law and order
leagues earnestly engaged in "stamping out" the evil. It is like trying
to stamp out a fire constantly fed with inflammables and fanned by a
strong gale. The protests of most of these leagues amount to little
more than vain clamor against a thing which is not even distantly
The _personnel_ of these agencies organized to "stamp out" the evil
differs little in the various cities. It is largely if not wholly
masculine in character, and the evil is usually dealt with from the
point of view of religion and morals. Women, when they appear in the
matter at all, figure as missionaries, "prison angels," and the like. As
evangelists to sinners women have been permitted to associate with their
fallen sisters without losing caste. Likewise, when elderly enough, they
have been allowed to serve on governing boards of "homes" and
"refuges." Their activities were limited to rescue work. They might
extend a hand to a repentant Magdalene. A Phryne they must not even be
aware of. In other words, this evil as a subject of investigation and
intelligent discussion among women was absolutely prohibited. It has
ever been their Great Taboo.
Nevertheless, when eight million women, in practically every civilized
country in the world, organized themselves into an International Council
of Women, and began their remarkable survey of the social order in which
they live, one of their first acts was to break the Great Taboo.
[Illustration: MISS SADIE AMERICAN]
At early congresses of the International Council Miss Sadie American,
Mrs. Kate Waller Barrett, Mrs. Elizabeth Grannis, among American
delegates, Miss Elizabeth Janes of England, Miss Elizabeth Gad of
Denmark, Dr. Agnes Bluhm of Germany, and others interested in the moral
welfare of girls, urged upon the Council action against the "White
Slave" traffic. No extensive argument was required to convince the
members of the Council that the "White Slave" traffic and the whole
subject of the moral degradation of women was a social phenomenon too
long neglected by women.
These women declared with refreshing candor that it was about time that
the social evil was dealt with intelligently, and if it was to be dealt
with intelligently women must do the work. The fussy old gentlemen with
white side whiskers and silk-stocking reformers and the other well
meaning amateurs, who are engaged in "stamping out" the evil, deserve to
be set aside. In their places the women propose to install social
experts who shall deal scientifically with the problem.
The double standard of morals, accepted in fact if not in principle, in
every community, and so rigidly applied that good women are actually
forbidden to have any knowledge of their fallen sisters, was for the
first time repudiated by a body of organized women. The arguments on
which the double standard of morals is based was, for the first time,
seriously scrutinized by women of intelligence and social importance.
The desirability of the descent of property in legal paternal line
seemed to these women a good enough reason for applying a rigid standard
of morals to women. But they found reasons infinitely greater why the
same rigid standard should be applied to men.
The International Council of Women and women's organizations in every
country number among their members and delegates women physicians, and
through these physicians they have been able to consider the social evil
from an altogether new point of view. Certain very ugly facts, which
touch the home and which intimately concern motherhood and the welfare
of children, were brought forth--facts concerning infantile blindness,
almost one-third of which is caused by excesses on the part of the
fathers; facts concerning certain forms of ill health in married women,
and the increase of sterility due to the spread of specific diseases
among men. The horrible results to innocent women and children of these
maladies, and their frightful prevalence,--seventy-five per cent of city
men, according to reliable authority, being affected,--aroused in the
women a sentiment of indignation and revolt. The International Council
of Women put itself on record as protesting against the responsibility
laid upon women, the unassisted task of preserving the purity of the
In the United States, women's clubs, women's societies, women's medical
associations, special committees of women in many cities have
courageously undertaken the study of this problem, intending by means of
investigation and publicity to lay bare its sources and seek its remedy.
The sources of the evil are about the only phase of the problem which
has never been adequately examined. It is true that we have suspected
that the unsteady and ill-adjusted economic position of women furnished
some explanation for its existence, but even now our information is
vague and unsatisfactory.
A number of years ago, in 1888 to be exact, the Massachusetts Bureau of
Labor Statistics made an interesting investigation. This was an effort
to determine how far the entrance of women into the industrial world,
usually under the disadvantage of low wages, was contributing to
profligacy. The bureau gathered statistics of the previous occupations
of nearly four thousand fallen women in twenty-eight American cities.
Of these unfortunates over eight hundred had worked in low-waged trades
such as paper-box making, millinery, laundry work, rope and cordage
making, cigar and cigarette making, candy packing, textile factory and
shoe factory work.
About five hundred women had been garment workers, dressmakers, and
seamstresses, but how far these were skilled or unskilled was not
The department store, at that time little more than a sweat shop so far
as wages and long hours of work were concerned, contributed one hundred
and sixteen recruits to the list.
On the whole, these groups were what the investigators had expected to
There were two other large groups of prodigals, and these were entirely
unexpected by the investigators. Of the 3,866 girls examined 1,236, or
nearly thirty-two per cent, reported no previous occupation. The next
largest group, 1,115, or nearly thirty per cent, had been domestic
servants. The largest group of all had gone straight from their homes
into lives of evil. A group nearly as large had gone directly from that
occupation which is constantly urged upon women as the safest and most
suitable means of earning their living--housework.
Now you may, if you want to drop the thing out of your mind as something
too disagreeable to think about, infer from this that at least sixty-two
per cent of those 3,866 women deserved their fate. Some of them were too
lazy to work, and the rest preferred a life of soiled luxury to one of
honest toil in somebody's nice kitchen. Apparently this was the view
taken by the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, because it never
carried the investigation any farther. It never tried to find out _why_
so many girls left their homes to enter evil lives. It never tried to
find out _why_ housework was a trade dangerous to morals.
Fortunately it did occur to the women's organizations to examine the
facts a little more carefully. In this article I am going to take you
over some of the ground they have covered and show you where their
investigations have led them.
South Chicago is a fairly good place to begin. Its ugliness and
forlornness can be matched in the factory section of almost any large
city. South Chicago is dominated by its steel mills,--enormous drab
structures, whose every crevice leaks quivering heat and whose towering
chimneys belch forth unceasingly a pall of ashes and black smoke. The
steel workers and their families live as a rule in two and three family
houses, built of wood, generally unpainted, and always dismally
utilitarian as to architectural details.
In South Chicago, four years ago, there was not such a thing as a park,
or a playground, or a recreation center. One lone social settlement was
just seeking a home for itself. There were public schools, quite
imposing buildings. But these were closed and locked and shuttered for
the day as soon as the classes were dismissed.
In a certain neighborhood of South Chicago there lived a number of young
girls, healthy, high-spirited, and full of that joy of life which always
must be fed--if not with wholesome food, then husks. For parents these
girls had fathers who worked twelve hours a day in the steel mills and
came home at night half dead from lack of rest and sleep; and mothers
who toiled equally long hours in the kitchen or over the washtub and
were too weary to know or care what the girls did after school. For
social opportunity the girls had "going downtown." Perhaps you know
what that means. It means trooping up and down the main street in lively
groups, lingering near a saloon where a phonograph is bawling forth a
cheerful air, visiting a nickel theater, or looking on at a street
accident or a fight.
About this time the panic of 1907 descended suddenly on South Chicago
and turned out of the steel mills hundreds of boys and men. Some of
these were mere lads, sixteen to eighteen years old. They, too, went
"downtown." There was no other place for them to go.
As a plain matter of cause and effect, what kind of a moral situation
would you expect to evolve out of these materials?
Eventually a woman probation officer descended on the neighborhood. Many
of the girls whom she rescued from conditions not to be described in
these pages were so young that their cases were tried in the Juvenile
Court. Most of them went to rescue homes, reformatories, or hospitals.
Some slipped away permanently, in all human probability to join the
never-ceasing procession of prodigals.
This is what "no previous occupation" really means in nine cases out of
ten. It means that the girl lived in a home which was no home at all,
according to the ideals of you who read these pages.
Sometimes it was a cellar where the family slept on rags. Sometimes it
was an attic where ten or twelve people herded in a space not large
enough for four. Some of these homes were never warm in winter. In some
there was hardly any furniture. But we need not turn to these extreme
cases in order to show that in many thousands of American homes virtue
and innocence are lost because no facilities for preserving them are
Annie Donnelly's case will serve as further illustration. Annie
Donnelly's father was a sober, decent man of forty, who drove a cab from
twelve to fifteen hours every day in the year, Sundays and holidays
included. Before the cab drivers' strike, a year or two ago, Donnelly's
wages were fifteen dollars a week, and the family lived in a four-room
tenement, for which they paid $5.50 a week. You pay rent weekly to a
tenement landlord. Since the strike wages are fourteen dollars a week
for cab drivers, and this fall the Donnelly rent went up fifty cents a
The Donnelly tenement was a very desirable one, having but a single
dark, windowless room, instead of two or three, like most New York
tenements. There were three children younger than Annie, who was
fourteen. The family of five made a fairly tight fit in four rooms.
Nevertheless, when the rent went up to six dollars Mrs. Donnelly took a
lodger. She had to or move and, remember, this was a desirable tenement
because it had only one dark room.
One day the lodger asked Annie if she did not want to go to a dance.
Annie did want to, but she knew very well that her mother would not
allow her to go. Once a year the entire family, including the baby,
attended the annual ball of the Coachman's Union, but that was another
thing. Annie was too young for dances her mother declared.
The Donnellys paid for and occupied three rooms, but they really lived
in one room, the others being too filled with beds to be habitable
except at night. The kitchen, the one living-room, was uncomfortably
crowded at meal times. At no time was there any privacy. It was
impossible for Annie to receive her girl friends in her home. Every bit
of her social life had to be lived out of the house.
When the weather was warm she often stayed in the street, walking about
with the other girls or sitting on a friend's doorstep, until ten or
even eleven o'clock at night. Every one does the same in a crowded city
neighborhood. There comes a time in a girl's life when this sort of
thing becomes monotonous. The time came when Annie found sitting on the
doorstep and talking about nothing in particular entirely unbearable. So
one balmy, inviting spring night she slipped away and went with the
lodger to a dance.
The dance hall occupied a big, low-ceiled basement room in a building
which was a combination of saloon and tenement house. In one of the
front windows of the basement room was hung a gaudy placard: "The Johnny
Sullivan Social Club."
The lodger paid no admission, but he deposited ten cents for a hat
check, after which they went in. About thirty couples were swinging in a
waltz, their forms indistinctly seen through the clouds of dust which
followed them in broken swirls through air so thick that the electric
lights were dimmed. Somewhere in the obscurity a piano did its noisiest
best with a popular waltz tune.
In a few minutes Annie forgot her timidity, forgot the dust and the heat
and the odor of stale beer, and was conscious only that the music was
piercing, sweet, and that she was swinging in blissful time to it. When
the waltz tune came to an end at last the dancers stopped, gasping with
the heat, and swaying with the giddiness of the dance.
"Come along," said the lodger, "and have a beer." When Annie shook her
head he exclaimed: "Aw, yuh have to. The Sullivans gets the room rent
free, but the fellers upstairs has bar privileges, and yuh have to buy
a beer off of 'em oncet in a while. They've gotta get something out of
I do not know whether Annie yielded then or later. But ultimately she
learned to drink beer for the benefit of philanthropists who furnish
dance halls rent free, and also to quench a thirst rendered unbearable
by heat and dust. They seldom open the windows in these places.
Sometimes they even nail the windows down. A well-ventilated room means
poor business at the bar.
Annie Donnelly became a dance-hall _habitue_. Not because she was
viciously inclined; not because she was abnormal; but because she was
decidedly normal in all her instincts and desires.
Besides, it is easy to get the dance-hall habit. At almost every dance
invitations to other dances are distributed with a lavish hand. These
invitations, on cheap printed cards, are scattered broadcast over chairs
and benches, on the floors, and even on the bar itself. They are locally
known as "throw-aways." Here are a few specimens, from which you may
form an idea of the quality of dance halls, and the kind of
people--almost the only kind of people--who offer pleasure to the
starved hearts of girls like Annie Donnelly. These are actual
invitations picked up in an East Side dance hall by the head worker of
the New York College Settlement:
"_Second annual reception and ball, given by Jibo and Jack, at New
Starlight Hall, 143 Suffolk Street, December 25. Music by our
favorite. Gents ticket 25 cents, Ladies 15 cents._"
"_Don't miss the ball given by Joe the Greaser, and Sam Rosenstock,
at Odd Fellows' Hall, January 29th._"
"_See the Devil Dance at the Reception and Ball given by Max Pascal
and Little Whity, at Tutonia Hall, Tuesday evening, November
_ "Reception and Ball given by two well known friends, Max Turk and
Sam Lande, better known as Mechuch, at Appollo Hall, Chrystmas
night. Floor manager, Young Louis. Ticket admit one 25 cents._"
In addition to these private affairs which are arranged purely for the
profit of "Jibo and Jack" and their kind, men who make a living in this
and in yet more unspeakable ways, there are hundreds of saloon dance
halls, not only in New York, but in other cities. These are simply
annexes to drinking places, and people are not welcome there unless they
drink. No admission is charged.
There are also numberless dancing academies. Dancing lessons are given
four nights in the week, as a rule, and the dancing public buys
admission the other three nights and on Sunday afternoons. Some dancing
academies, even in tenement house quarters, are reputable institutions,
but to most of them the lowest of the low, both men and women, resort.
There, as in the dance halls, the "White Slaver" plies his trade, and
the destroyer of womanliness lays his nets.
Annie Donnelly soon learned the ways of all these places. She learned to
"spiel." You spiel by holding hands with your partner at arms' length,
and whirling round and round at the highest possible speed. The girl's
skirts are blown immodestly high, which is a detail. The effect of the
spiel is a species of drunkenness which creates an instant demand for
liquor, and a temporary recklessness of the possible results of strong
Annie also learned to dance what is known as the "half time," or the
"part time" waltz. This is a dance accompanied by a swaying and
contorting of the hips, most indecent in its suggestion. It is really a
very primitive form of the dance, and probably goes back to the pagan
harvest and bacchic festivals. You may see traces of it in certain crude
peasant dances in out-of-the-way corners of Europe. Now they teach it to
immigrant girls in New York dancing academies and dance halls, and tell
the girls that it is the _American_ fashion of waltzing.
Annie Donnelly's destruction was accomplished in less than a year. It
was the more rapid because of the really superior character of her home.
There was nothing the matter with that home except that it was too
crowded for the family to stay in it. Father and mother were
respectable, hard-working people, and after Annie's first real
misadventure, into which she fell almost unwittingly, she was afraid to
The dance hall, as we have permitted it to exist, practically
unregulated, has become a veritable forcing house of vice and crime in
every city in the United States. It is a straight chute down which,
every year, thousands of girls descend to the way of the prodigal. No
one has counted their number. All we know of the unclassed is that they
exist, apparently in ever-increasing masses.
It was estimated in Chicago, not long ago, that there were about six
thousand unfortunate women known to the police, and something like
twenty thousand who managed to avoid actual collision with the law. That
is, the latter lived quietly and plied their trade on the street so
unostentatiously that they were seldom arrested. How many of these
unfortunates reached the streets through the dance hall is impossible to
know--we only know that it constantly recruits the ranks of the
[Illustration: A DANCE HALL]
The dance hall may be in the rear of a saloon, or over a saloon; it may
occupy a vacant store building, or a large loft. Somewhere in its
immediate vicinity there is a saloon. A dance lasts about five minutes,
and the interval between dances is from ten to twenty minutes. Waiters
circle among the dancers, importuning them to drink. The dance hall
without a bar, or some source of liquid supply, does not often exist,
except as it has been established by social workers to offset the
influence of the commercial dance hall.
Some dance halls are small and wretchedly lighted. Others are large and
pretentious. Some of them have direct connections with Raines Law hotels
and their prototypes. Of hardly a single dance hall can a good word be
said. They are almost entirely in the hands of the element lowest in
society, in business, and in politics.
From the old-fashioned German family picnic park to Coney Island in New
York, Revere Beach in Boston, The White City in Chicago, Savin Rock in
New Haven, and their like, is a far cry.
Some of these summer parks try to keep their amusements clean and
decent, and some, notably Euclid Park, Cleveland, succeed. But drink and
often worse evils are characteristic of most of them. There are parts
of Coney Island where no beer is sold, where the vaudeville and the
moving pictures are clean and wholesome, where dancing is orderly. But
the nearest side street has its "tough joint." The same thing is true of
the big summer resorts of other cities.
The dance hall, both winter and summer types, have had a deteriorating
effect upon the old-fashioned dancing academy. Formerly these were
respectable establishments where people paid for dancing lessons. Now
they are a _melange_ of dancing classes and public entertainments. The
dancing masters, unable to compete with the dance hall proprietors, have
been obliged to transfer many of the dance hall features to their
Oddly enough it is rather an unusual thing for a girl to be escorted to
a dance in any kind of a dance hall. The girls go alone, with a friend,
or with a group of girls. The exceptional girl, who is attended by a
man, must dance with him, or if she accepts another part ner, she must
ask his permission. An escort is deemed a somewhat doubtful advantage.
Those who go unattended are always sure of partners. Often they meet
"fellows" they know, or have seen on the streets. Introductions are not
necessary. Even if a girl is unacquainted with any "fellows," if she
possesses slight attractions, she is still sure of partners.
The amount of money spent by working girls for dance-hall admissions is
considerable. A girl receiving six or seven dollars a week in wages
thinks nothing of reserving from fifty cents to a dollar for dancing.
In going about among the dance halls one is struck with the number of
black-gowned girls. The black gown might almost be called the mark of
the dance-hall _habitue_, the girl who is dance mad and who spends all
her evenings going from one resort to another. She wears black because
light evening gowns soil too rapidly for a meager purse to renew.
An indispensable feature of the dancing academy is the "spieler." This
is a young man whose strongest recommendation is that he is a skilled
and untiring dancer. The business of the spieler is to look after the
wall-flowers. He seeks the girl who sits alone against the wall; he
dances with her and brings other partners to her. It would not do for a
place to get the reputation of slowness. The girls go back to those
dance halls where they have had the best time.
The spieler is not uncommonly a worthless fellow; sometimes he is a
sinister creature, who lives on the earnings of unfortunate girls. The
dance hall, and especially the dancing academy, because of the youth of
many of its patrons, is a rich harvest field for men of this type.
Beginning with the saloon dance hall, unquestionably the most brutally
evil type, and ending with the dancing academy, where some pretense of
chaperonage is made, the dance hall is a vicious institution. It is
vicious because it takes the most natural of all human instincts, the
desire of men and women to associate together, and distorts that
instinct into evil. The boy and girl of the tenement-dwelling classes,
especially where the foreign element is strong, do not share their
pleasures in the normal, healthy fashion of other young people. The
position of the women of this class is not very high. Men do not treat
her as an equal. They woo her for a wife. In the same manner the boy
does not play with the girl. The relations between young people very
readily degenerate. The dance hall, with its curse of drink, its lack of
chaperonage and of reasonable discipline, helps this along its downward
Sadie Greenbaum, as I will call her, was an exceptionally attractive
young Jewish girl of fifteen when I first knew her. Although not
remarkably bright in school she was industrious, and aspired to be a
stenographer. She was not destined to realize her ambition. As soon as
she finished grammar school she was served, so to speak, with her
working papers. The family needed additional income, not to meet actual
living expenses, for the Greenbaums were not acutely poor, but in order
that the only son of the family might go to college. Max was seventeen,
a selfish, overbearing prig of a boy, fully persuaded of his superiority
over his mother and sisters, and entirely willing that the family should
toil unceasingly for his advancement.
Sadie accepted the situation meekly, and sought work in a muslin
underwear factory. At eighteen she was earning seven dollars a week as a
skilled operator on a tucking machine. She sat down to her work every
morning at eight o'clock, and for four hours watched with straining eyes
a tucking foot which carried eight needles and gathered long strips of
muslin into eight fine tucks, at the rate of four thousand stitches a
minute. The needles, mere flickering flashes of white light above the
cloth, had to be watched incessantly lest a thread break and spoil the
continuity of a tuck. When you are on piece wages you do not relish
stopping the machine and doing over a yard or two of work.
So Sadie watched the needle assiduously, and ignored the fact that her
head ached pretty regularly, and she was generally too weary when lunch
time came to enjoy the black bread and pickles which, with a cup of
strong tea, made her noon meal. After lunch she again sat down to her
machine and watched the needles gallop over the cloth.
At the end of each year Sadie Greenbaum had produced for the good of the
community _four miles_ of tucked muslin. In return, the community had
rendered her back something less than three hundred dollars, for the
muslin underwear trade has its dull seasons, and you do not earn seven
dollars every week in the year.
Each week Sadie handed her pay envelope unopened to her mother. The
mother bought all Sadie's clothes and gave her food and shelter.
Consequently, Sadie's unceasing vigil of the needle paid for her
existence and purchased also the proud consciousness of an older brother
who would one day own a doctor's buggy and a social position.
The one joy of this girl's life, in fact all the real life she lived,
was dancing. Regularly every Saturday night Sadie and a girl friend,
Rosie by name, put on their best clothes and betook themselves to
Silver's Casino, a huge dance hall with small rooms adjoining, where
food and much drink were to be had.
There was a good floor at Silver's and a brass band to dance to. It was
great! The girls never lacked partners, and they made some very
In the dressing room, between dances, all the girls exchanged
conversation, views on fashions, confidences about the young men and
other gossip. Some of the girls were nice and some, it must be admitted,
were "tough." What was the difference? The tough girls, with their
daring humor, their cigarettes, their easy manners, and their amazingly
smart clothes, furnished a sort of spice to the affair.
Sadie and Rosie sometimes discussed the tough girls, and the
conversation nearly always ended with one remarking: "Well, if they
don't get anything else out of livin', look at the clothes they put on
Perhaps you can understand that longing for pretty gowns, perhaps you
can even sympathize with it. Of course, if you have a number of other
resources, you can keep the dress hunger in its proper place. But if you
have nothing in your existence but a machine--at which you toil for
Sadie and Rosie continued to spend their Saturday evenings and their
Sunday evenings at Silver's Casino. At first they went home together
promptly at midnight. After midnight these casino dance halls change
their character. Often professional "pace makers" are introduced, men
and women of the lowest class, who are paid to inspire the other dancers
to lewd conduct. These wretched people are immodestly clothed, and they
perform immodest or very tough dances. They are usually known as
"Twisters," a descriptive title. When they make their appearance the
self-respecting dancers go home, and a much looser element comes in. The
pace becomes a rapid one. Manners are free, talk is coarse, laughter is
incessant. The bar does a lively business. The dancing and the revels go
on until daylight.
The first time Sadie and Rosie allowed themselves to be persuaded to
stay at Silver's after midnight they were rather horrified by the
abandoned character of the dancing, the reckless drinking, and the
fighting which resulted in several men being thrown out. The second time
they were not quite so horrified, but they decided not to stay so late
another time. Then came a great social event, the annual "mask and
shadow dance" of a local political organization. Sadie and Rosie
A "mask and shadow dance" is as important a function to girls of Sadie's
and Rosie's class as a cotillion is to girls of your class. Such affairs
are possible only in large dance halls, and to do them impressively
costs the proprietor some money. The guests rent costumes and masks and
appear in very gala fashion indeed. They dance in the rays of all kinds
of colored lights thrown upon them from upper galleries. During part of
a waltz the dancers are bathed in rose-colored lights, which change
suddenly to purple, a blue, or a green. Some very weird effects are
made, the lights being so manipulated that the dancers' shadows are
thrown, greatly magnified, on walls and floor. At intervals a rain of
bright-colored confetti pours down from above. The scene becomes
bacchanalian. Color, light, music, confetti, the dance, together
combine to produce an intense and voluptuous intoxication which the
revelers deepen with drink.
The events of the latter part of that night were very vague in Sadie's
memory when she awoke late the next morning. She remembered that she had
tolerated familiarities which had been foreign to her experience
heretofore, and that she had been led home by some friendly soul, at
daylight, almost helpless from liquor.
Frightened, haunted by half-ashamed memories of that dance, Sadie
spoiled a good bit of her work on Monday morning. The forewoman
descended on her with a torrent of coarse abuse, whereupon Sadie rose
suddenly from her machine, and in a burst of hysterical profanity and
tears rushed out of the factory, vowing never to return. There was only
one course, she decided, for her to take, and she took it.
"Sadie, why did you do it?" wailed Rosie the next time they met.
"It's better than the factory," said Sadie.
Tucking muslin underwear is dull work, but it is, in most ways, a more
agreeable task than icing cakes in a St. Louis biscuit factory. All day
Edna M---- stood over a tank filled with thick chocolate icing. The
table beside Edna's tank was kept constantly supplied with freshly baked
"lady-fingers," and these in delicate handfuls Edna seized and plunged
into the hot ooze of the chocolate. Her arms, up to the elbows, went
into the black stuff, over and over again all day. At noon, over their
lunch, the girls talked of their recreations, their clothes, their
Edna had not very much to contribute to the girls' stories of gayety and
adventure. She led a quieter existence than most of the other girls,
although her leanings were toward lively pleasures. She was engaged to a
young man who worked in a foundry and who was steady and perhaps rather
too serious. He was very jealous of Edna and exacted a stern degree of
fidelity of her.
Before her engagement Edna had gone to a decent dancing school and
dearly loved the dance. Now she was not permitted to dance with any one
but her prospective husband. The bright talk at the noon hour made Edna
feel that she was a very poor sport.
The young man's work in the foundry alternated weekly between day and
night duty. It occurred to Edna that her young man could not possibly
know what she did with those evenings he remained in the foundry. If she
chose to go with a group of girls to a dance hall, what harm? The long
years of married life stretched themselves out somewhat drably to Edna.
She decided to have a good time beforehand.
This girl from now on literally lived a double life. Evenings of the
weeks her young man was free from the foundry, she spent at home with
him, placidly playing cards, reading aloud, or talking. On the other
evenings she danced, madly, incessantly. Her mother thought she spent
the evenings with her girl friends. The dancing, plus the deceit, soon
had its effect on Edna. She began to visit livelier and livelier
resorts, curious to see all phases of pleasure.
Suspicion entered into the mind of her affianced. He questioned her;
she lied, and he was unconvinced. A night or two later the young man
stayed away from the foundry and followed Edna to a suburban resort. She
went, as usual, with a group of girls, but their men were waiting for
them near the door of the open-air dancing pavilion. Standing just
outside, the angry lover watched the girl "spiel" round and round with a
man of doubtful respectability. Soon she joined a noisy, beer-drinking
group at one of the tables, and her behavior grew more and more
reckless. Finally, amid laughter, she and another girl performed a
suggestive dance together.
Walking swiftly up to her, the outraged foundryman grasped her by the
shoulder, called her a name she did not yet deserve, and threw her
violently to the floor. A terrific fight followed, and the police soon
cleared the place.
Edna did not dare go home. An over-rigid standard of morals, an