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The matron of a Day Nursery examining a child’s throat. The two
“Little Mothers” are typical.







New York

_All rights reserved_


Set up and electrotyped. Published February, 1906.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



_Fide et Amore_

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I count myself fortunate in having had a hand in bringing this
remarkable and invaluable volume into existence. Quite incidentally in
my book _Poverty_ I made an estimate of the number of underfed children
in New York City. If our experts or our general reading public had been
at all familiar with the subject, my estimate would probably have passed
without comment, and, in any case, it would not have been considered
unreasonable. But the public did not seem to realize that this was
merely another way of stating the volume of distress, and, consequently,
for several days the newspapers throughout the country discussed the
statement and in some instances severely criticised it. One prominent
charitable organization, thinking that my estimate referred to starving
children, undertook, without delay, to provide meals for the children.
In the midst of the excitement Mr. Spargo kindly volunteered to
investigate the facts at first hand. His inquiry was so searching and
impartial and the data he gathered so interesting and valuable that I
urged him to put his material in some permanent form. The following
admirable study of this problem is the result of that suggestion.

I am safe in saying that this book is a truly powerful one, destined, I
believe, to become a mighty factor in awakening all classes of our
people to the necessity of undertaking measures to remedy the conditions
which exist. The appeal of adults in poverty is an old appeal, so old
indeed that we have become in a measure hardened to its pathos and
insensitive to its tragedy. But this book represents the cry of the
child in distress, and it will touch every human heart and even arouse
to action the stolid and apathetic. The originality of the book lies in
the mass of proof which the author brings before the reader showing that
it is not alone, as most of our charitable experts believe, the misery
of the neglected or the actively maltreated child that should receive
attention. Even more important is the misery of that one whose whole
future is darkened and perhaps blasted by reason of the fact that during
his early years of helplessness he has not received those elements of
nutritious food which are necessary to a wholesome physical life.

Few of us sufficiently realize the powerful effect upon life of adequate
nutritious food. Few of us ever think of how much it is responsible for
our physical and mental advancement or what a force it has been in
forwarding our civilized life. Mr. Spargo does not attempt in this book
to make us realize how much the more favored classes owe to the fact
that they have been able to obtain proper nutrition. His effort here is
to show the fearful devastating effect upon a certain portion of our
population of an inadequate and improper food supply. He shows the
relation of the lack of food to poverty. The child of poverty is brought
before us. His weaknesses, his mental and physical inferiority, his
failure, his sickness, his death, are shown in their relation to
improper and inadequate food. He first proves to our satisfaction that
this child of misery is born into the world with powerful
potentialities, and he then shows, with tragic power, how the lack of
proper food during infancy makes it inevitable that this child become,
if he lives at all, an incompetent, physical weakling. It is perhaps
unnecessary to point out that the problem of poverty is largely summed
up in the fate of this child, and when the author deals with this
subject he is in reality treating of poverty in the germ.

There have been many books written about the children of the poor, but,
in my opinion, none of them give us so impressive a statement as is
contained here of the most important and powerful cause of poverty.
Among many reasons which may be found for the existence of distress, the
author has taken one which seems to be more fundamental than the others.
But, while this is true, there is no dogmatic treatment of the problem,
for the author realizes that the causes of poverty in this country of
abundance are numerous. Indeed, wherever one looks, one may see
conditions which are fertile in producing it. Students of the poor find
some of these causes in the conditions surrounding the poor. Students of
finance and of modern industry find causes of poverty in the methods and
constitution of this portion of our society. The causes, therefore, of
poverty cannot be gone into fully in any partial study of modern
society. It is even maintained, and not without reason, that if all men
were sober, competent, and industrious, there would be no less poverty
in the world. But however that may be, one thing is certain, and that is
that as the race as a whole could not have advanced beyond savagery
without a fortuitous provision of material necessities, so it is not
possible for the children of the poor to overcome their poverty until
they are assured in their childhood of the physical necessities of life.
We should have no civilization to-day, our entire race would still be a
wild horde of brutalized savages, but for the meat and milk diet or the
grain diet assured to our earliest forefathers. And it should not be
forgotten that as this is true of the life of the race, so is it true of
that portion of our community which lives in poverty unable to procure
proper food to give its children. This is the great fundamental fact
which lies at the base of the problem of poverty and which is the theme
of this book. It is a fact which should be best known to the men and
women who work in the field of our philanthropies, and yet it must be
said that it is a fact which has heretofore been almost entirely ignored
by this class of workers.

For this reason I welcome this volume. I am convinced that it will mark
the beginning of an epoch of deeper study and of sounder philanthropy. I
look to see in the near future some effort made to establish a standard
of physical well-being for the children. I expect to see the community
insisting that some provision shall be made whereby every child born
into the world will receive sufficient food to enable him to possess
enough vitality to overcome unnecessary and preventable disease and to
grow into a manhood physically capable of satisfactorily competing in
industrial or intellectual pursuits. I do not believe that this is a
dream impossible of realization. About a hundred years ago our
forefathers decided that there should be a universal standard of
literacy. To bring this about the following generations of men
established a free school system which was meant to assure to every
child a certain minimum of education. If that can be done for the mind,
the other thing can be done for the body. And when it is done for the
body, we shall make another striking advance in civilization not unlike
that recorded in the history of mankind when the free people of this
American continent established a system of free and universal education.

If such a momentous thing should follow the publication of this book,
and similar studies which will without doubt subsequently be made, its
publication would indeed mark an epoch. But, of course, it must be said
that before any far-reaching result can come, the general public must be
acquainted with the conditions which exist. It is for this reason that I
hope Mr. Spargo’s book will be read by hundreds of thousands of people,
and that it will awaken in them a determination to respond wisely and
justly to the bitter cry of the children of the poor.



The purpose of this volume is to state the problem of poverty as it
affects childhood. Years of careful study and investigation have
convinced me that the evils inflicted upon children by poverty are
responsible for many of the worst features of that hideous
phantasmagoria of hunger, disease, vice, crime, and despair which we
call the Social Problem. I have tried to visualize some of the principal
phases of the problem—the measure in which poverty is responsible for
the excessive infantile disease and mortality; the tragedy and folly of
attempting to educate the hungry, ill-fed school child; the terrible
burdens borne by the working child in our modern industrial system.

In the main the book is frankly based upon personal experience and
observation. It is essentially a record of what I have myself felt and
seen. But I have freely availed myself of the experience and writings of
others, as reference to the book itself will show. I have tried to be
impartial and unbiassed in my researches, and have not “winnowed the
facts till only the pleasing ones remained.” At times, indeed, I have
found it necessary, while writing this book, to abandon ideas which I
had held and promulgated for years. That is an experience not uncommon
to those who submit opinions formed as a result of general observation
to strict scientific scrutiny. I had long believed and had promulgated
the opinion that the great mass of the children of the poor were
blighted before they were born. The evidence given before the British
Interdepartmental Committee, by recognized leaders of the medical
profession in England, pointed to a fundamentally different view.
According to that evidence, the number of children born healthy and
strong is not greater among the well-to-do classes than among the very
poorest. The testimony seemed so conclusive, and the corroboration
received from many obstetrical experts in this country was so general,
that I was forced to abandon as untenable the theory of antenatal

In view of the foregoing, I need hardly say that I do not claim any
originality for the view that Nature starts all her children, rich and
poor, physically equal, and that each generation gets practically a
fresh start, unhampered by the diseased and degenerate past.[A] The
tremendous sociological significance of this truth—if truth it be—will,
I think, be generally recognized. Readers of Ruskin’s _Fors Clavigera_
will remember the story of the dressmaker with a broken thigh, who was
told by the doctors in St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, that her bones
were in all probability brittle because her _mother’s grandfather_ had
been employed in the manufacture of sulphur. If this theory of antenatal
degeneration is wrong, and we have not to reckon with grandfathers and
great-grandfathers, the solution of the problem of arresting and
repairing the deterioration of the race is made so much easier. It may
be thought by some readers that I have accepted the brighter, more
hopeful view too readily, and with too much confidence. I can only say
that I have read all the available evidence upon the other side, and
found myself at last obliged to accept the brighter view. I cannot but
feel that the actual experience of obstetricians dealing with thousands
of natural human births every year is far more valuable and conclusive
than any number of artificial experiments upon guinea pigs, mice, or
other animals.

The part of the book devoted to the discussion of remedial measures will
probably attract more criticism than any other. I expect, and am
prepared for, criticism from those, on the one hand, who will accuse me
of being too radical and revolutionary, and, on the other hand, those
who will say I have ignored almost all radical measures. I have
purposely refrained from considering any of the far-reaching
speculations of the “schools,” and confined myself entirely to those
measures which have been tried in various places with sufficient success
to warrant their general adoption, and which do not involve any
revolutionary change in our social system. I have tried, in other words,
to formulate a programme of practical measures, all of which have been
subjected to the test of experience.

A word of personal explanation may not be out of place here. I have been
privileged to know something of the leisure and luxury of wealth, and
more of the toil and hardship of poverty. When I write of hunger I write
of what I have experienced—not the enviable hunger of health, but the
sickening hunger of destitution. So, too, when I write of child labor. I
_know_ that nothing I have written of the toil of little boys and girls,
terrible as it may seem to some readers, approaches the real truth in
its horror. I have not tried to write a sensational book, but to present
a careful and candid statement of facts which seem to me to be of vital
social significance.

As far as possible, I have freely acknowledged my indebtedness to other
writers, either in the text or in the list of authorities at the end of
the book. It was, however, impossible thus to acknowledge all the help
received from so many willing friends in this and other countries.
Hundreds of school principals and teachers, physicians, nurses,
settlement workers, public officials, and others, in this country and in
Europe, have aided me. It is impossible to name them all, and I can only
hope that they will find themselves rewarded, in a measure, by the work
to which they have contributed so much.

I take this opportunity, however, of expressing my sincere thanks to Mr.
Robert Hunter; to Mr. Owen R. Lovejoy, of the National Child Labor
Committee; to Dr. George W. Goler, of Rochester, N.Y.; to Dr. S. E.
Getty, of St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Yonkers, N.Y.; to Dr. Louis
Lichtschein, of New York City; to Dr. George W. Galvin, of Boston,
Mass.; and to Professor G. Stanley Hall, of Clark University, for many
valuable suggestions and criticisms. To Mr. Fernando Linderberg, of
Copenhagen; to his Excellency, Baron Mayor des Planches, the Italian
Ambassador at Washington; and to Professor Emile Vinck, of Brussels, I
am indebted for assistance in securing valuable reports which would
otherwise have been inaccessible. I am also indebted to my colleague,
Miss C. E. A. Carman, of Prospect House; and especially to Mr. W. J.
Ghent for his expert assistance in preparing the book for the press.
Finally, I am indebted to my wife, whose practical knowledge of factory
conditions, especially as they relate to women and children, has been of
immense service to me.

J. S.

December, 1905.

- - -

Footnote A:

For the necessary qualifications of this broad generalization see the
illustrative material in Appendix C, I.











A. How Foreign Municipalities Feed their School
Children 271

B. Report on the Vercelli System of School Meals 288

C. Miscellaneous 291




1. A Typical Scene _Frontispiece_


2. Three “Little Mothers” and their Charges 1

3. Group of “Lung Block” Children 5

4. Rachitic Types 12

5. Babies whose Mothers Work 16

6. Police Station used as a “Clean Milk” Depot 35

7. Babies of a New York Day Nursery 39

8. Group of Children whose Mothers are employed away
from their Homes 42

9. A Sample Report (_facsimile letter_) 46

10. Babies whose Mothers work cared for in a _Crèche_ 53

11. A “Lung Block” Child in a Tragically Suggestive
Position 60

12. A Typical “Little Mother” 72

13. A Cosmopolitan Group of “Fresh Air Fund” Children 94

14. “Fresh Air Fund” Children enjoying Life in the
Country 117

15. Communal School Kitchen, Christiania, Norway 124

16. New York Cellar Prisoners 133

17. Little Tenement Toilers 140

18. Juvenile Textile Workers on Strike 147

19. Night Shift in a Glass Factory 158

20. Breaker Boys at Work 165

21. Home “Finishers”: A Consumptive Mother and her Two
Children at Work 172

22. Silk Mill Girls after Two Years of Factory Life 184

23. A “Kindergarten” Tobacco Factory in Philadelphia 197

24. A Glass Factory by Night 204

25. A Free Infants’ Milk Depot (Municipal), Brussels 225

26. A Group of Working Mothers 231

27. A “Clean Milk” Distribution Centre in a Baker’s
Shop 234

28. Packing Bottles of “Clean Milk” in Ice 240

29. “A Makeshift”: Hammocks swung between the Cots in
an Overcrowded Day Nursery 245

30. Interior of the Communal School Kitchen,
Christiania 252

31. Weighing Babies at the _Gota de Leche_, Madrid 257

32. Five o’Clock Tea in the Country 261

33. A Little Fisherman 268

NOTE.—I am indebted to Miss Marjory Hall of New York for the pictures of
day nurseries and _crèches_; to Dr. G. W. Goler of Rochester, N.Y., for
permission to use several illustrations of his work; to the Rev. Peter
Roberts for the excellent illustration, “Breaker Boys at Work”; and to
the Pennsylvania Child Labor Committee for several other illustrations
of working children.—J. S.



1. Diagram showing Relative Death-rates per 100,000
Persons in Different Classes 6

2. Table showing Number of Deaths in United States and
England and Wales, at Different Ages 12

3. Table showing Infantile Mortality from Eleven Given
Causes and the Estimated Influence of Poverty
thereon 21

4. Diagram showing the Infantile Death-rate of
Rochester, N.Y., and the Influence thereon of a
Pure Milk Supply 22

5. Schedule relating to Five Families in which the
Mothers are employed away from their Homes 40–41

6. Schedule showing Dietary of Children in Six
Families 93

7. Table showing Comparative Height, Weight, and Chest
Girth of English Boys according to Social Class 97

8. Occupations of Juvenile Delinquents in Six Large
Cities 188

9. Occupations of Juvenile Delinquents in Six Towns of
less than 100,000 Inhabitants 189

10. Table showing Reasons for the Employment of 213
Children 212, 213





“Oh, room for the lamb in the meadow,
And room for the bird on the tree!
But here, in stern poverty’s shadow,
No room, hapless baby! for thee.”


The burden and blight of poverty fall most heavily upon the child. No
more responsible for its poverty than for its birth, the helplessness
and innocence of the victim add infinite horror to its suffering, for
the centuries have not made tolerable the idea that the weakness or
wrongdoing of its parents or others should be expiated by the suffering
of the child. Poverty, the poverty of civilized man, which is everywhere
coexistent with unbounded wealth and luxury, is always ugly, repellent,
and terrible either to see or to experience; but when it assails the
cradle it assumes its most hideous form. Underfed, or badly fed,
neglected, badly housed, and improperly clad, the child of poverty is
terribly handicapped at the very start; it has not an even chance to
begin life with. While still in its cradle a yoke is laid upon its after
years, and it is doomed either to die in infancy, or, worse still, to
live and grow up puny, weak, both in body and in mind, inefficient and
unfitted for the battle of life. And it is the consciousness of this,
the knowledge that poverty in childhood blights the whole of life, which
makes it the most appalling of all the phases of the poverty problem.

Biologically, the first years of life are supremely important. They are
the foundation years; and just as the stability of a building must
depend largely upon the skill and care with which its foundations are
laid, so life and character depend in large measure upon the years of
childhood and the care bestowed upon them. For millions of children the
whole of life is conditioned by the first few years. The period of
infancy is a time of extreme plasticity. Proper care and nutrition at
this period of life are of vital importance, for the evils arising from
neglect, insufficient food, or food that is unsuitable, can never be
wholly remedied. “The problem of the child is the problem of the
race,”[1] and more and more emphatically science declares that almost

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