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little children worked from six in the morning till seven in the
evening, _and after that they were supposed to be educated_! “The poor
children hated their slavery; many absconded; ... at thirteen or fifteen
years old, when their apprenticeship expired, they commonly went off to
Edinburgh or Glasgow, ... altogether admirably trained for swelling the
mass of vice and misery in the towns.[94] And all this while British
philanthropists were agitating the question of negro emancipation, and
raising funds for that object!”

Thanks, mainly, to the agitation of Owen, a movement was begun to
endeavor to improve the lot of these little child slaves. This movement
received a tremendous impetus from the fearful epidemic which, in
1799–1800, spread through the factory districts of Manchester and the
surrounding country. An inquiry into the causes of this epidemic
ascribed it to overwork, scant and poor food, wretched clothing, bad
ventilation, and overcrowding, especially among the children.[95] As a
result the first act for the protection of child workers was passed
through the parliamentary exertions of Sir Robert Peel, himself a master
manufacturer. It was a very small measure of relief which this act
afforded, but it is nevertheless a most important statute to students of
industrial legislation as the “first definitely in restraint of modern
factory labor and in general opposition to the _laissez-faire_ policy in
industry.”[96] It was the first factory act ever passed by the British
Parliament. It placed no limit upon the age at which children might be
employed; it applied only to apprentices, and not to children “under the
supervision of their parents;” it reduced the hours of labor to twelve
per day, and provided for the clothing, instruction, and religious
training of the children. These provisions were clearly a survival of an
industrial system based upon paternal interest and authority.

One immediate effect of the act of 1802 was the practical break-up of
the pauper apprentice system. But it must be remembered that this system
was already outworn, and it is extremely improbable that it would have
continued to any great extent, even if the act of 1802 had not been
passed. It had served its purpose, but was no longer essential to the
manufacturers.[97] Notwithstanding that it introduced a revolutionary
principle, as we have seen, the act excited no opposition from the
manufacturers. The reason for this is not difficult to determine. Wages
had been forced down to the starvation level through the competition of
the pauper apprentices with free, adult labor, with the result that
poverty abounded. Parents were ready now to send their children into the
mills. Hunger had conquered their prejudices—the iron man had triumphed
over human flesh and blood.

It is not my purpose to trace the growth of English legislation against
child labor. This brief historical sketch is introduced for quite
another purpose, to wit, to show the origin of our modern problem of
child slavery and degradation. Suffice it to say, then, that the “free”
children who went into the mills by their parents’ “consent” were almost
as badly off as the pauper apprentices had been. They were treated just
as brutally. Even in 1830, before a meeting of philanthropists and
clergy in Bradford, Richard Oastler, the “King of the Factory Children,”
could hold up an overseer’s whip, saying, “_This_ was hard at work in
this town last week.”[98] And on the 16th of March, 1832, Michael
Sadler, M.P., in moving the second reading of his Ten Hours Bill in the
House of Commons, could say: “Sir, children are beaten with thongs
prepared for the purpose. Yes, the females of this country, no matter
whether children or grown up, I hardly know which is the more disgusting
outrage, are beaten upon the arms, face, and bosom—beaten in your ‘free
market’ of labour, as you term it, like slaves.... These are the
instruments!” (Here, says the report in _Hansard’s Parliamentary
Debates_, the honorable member exhibited some black, heavy leathern
thongs, one of them fixed in a sort of handle, the smack of which, when
struck upon the table, resounded through the House.) “They are quite
equal to breaking an arm, but the bones of the young ... are pliant. The
marks, however, are long visible, and the poor wretch is flogged, I say,
like a dog, by the tyrant overlooker. We speak with execration of the
cart-whip of the West Indies, but let us see this night an equal feeling
against the factory thong of England.”[99] In some memorable verses this
noble parliamentary leader of the movement for factory legislation has
described such a whipping scene. The poem is too long to quote in its

“‘Father, I’m up, but weary,
I scarce can reach the door,
And long the way and dreary—
Oh, carry me once more!’

“Her wasted form seemed nothing—
The load was at his heart,
The sufferer he kept soothing
Till at the mill they part.
The overlooker met her,
As to her frame she crept,
And with his thong he beat her
And cursed her as she wept.

“All night with tortured feeling,
He watched his speechless child,
While, close beside her kneeling,
She knew him not, nor smiled.
Again the factory’s ringing
Her last perceptions tried;
When, from her straw bed springing,
‘Tis time!’ she shrieked, and died!”[100]

A Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate the
grounds of Sadler’s demand for the Ten Hours Bill. From the mass of
evidence of almost unspeakable cruelty, I quote only one brief passage
from the testimony of one Jonathan Downe, himself a mill hand: “Provided
a child should be drowsy (there were plenty working at six years of
age), the overlooker walks around the room with a stick in his hand, and
he touches the child on the shoulder, and says, ‘Come here!’ In the
corner of the room is an iron cistern; it is filled with water; he takes
this boy, and holding him up by his legs, dips him overhead in the
cistern, and sends him to his task for the remainder of the day; and
that boy is to stand dripping as he is at his work—he has no chance of
drying himself.”[101]

Such, then, was child labor at its worst; such the immediate effects of
the introduction of great mechanical inventions which the wisest of the
ancients believed would liberate men from all forms of bondage and
destroy every vestige of slavery,—a hope which for many of us has not
been shattered, even by a century and a quarter of disappointment.
Happily, we in the United States have been practically free from some of
the worst evils of England’s experience, yet it is only too true that we
have to-day a child-labor problem of terrible magnitude, challenging the
heart and brain of the nation to find a solution. We, too, are
permitting the giant “iron men” to enslave our babies. The machine is
our modern Moloch, and we feed it with precious child lives.


I am not unmindful of the fact that the presentation of the darkest side
of England’s experience may have the effect of inducing in some minds a
certain spirit of content,—a pharisaical thanksgiving that we are “not
as other men” have been in a past that is not very remote. I accept,
gladly, the issue implied in that attitude. It is no part of my purpose
to discount the social and ethical gains which have resulted from the
struggle against child labor, or to paint in unduly dark colors the
problem as it presents itself to us in the United States to-day. No good
purpose is served by exaggeration; progress is not quickened by denying
the progress that has been made.



With the exception of the infant in arms these are all working
children. They were called away from the
photographer to go on with their work!

The inferno of child torture which the records of nineteenth-century
England picture so vividly has more than historical interest for us. It
was the result of a policy of _laissez faire_ on the part of the
government, and that policy has its advocates in the United States
to-day. In our legislative assemblies, and through the press, able and
earnest men—some of them earnest only in their devotion to Mammon—are
advocating that policy and forever crying out, in the words of the old
physiocrats, “Let alone; the world revolves of itself.” When that cry of
_laissez faire_ is raised, despite the fact that children of four years
are found at work in the canning factories of New York State,[102] and
little girls of five and six years are found working by night in
Southern cotton mills,[103] it is not too much to assume that only a
vigilant and constantly protesting public conscience protects us from
conditions as revolting as any of those experienced in the black night
of England’s orgy of greed. Capital has neither morals nor ideals; its
interests are always and everywhere expressible in terms of cash
profits. Capital in the United States in the twentieth century calls for
children as loudly as it called in England a century ago.

Whatever advance has been made in the direction of the legislative
protection of children from the awful consequences of premature
exploitation, has been made in the face of bitter opposition from the
exploiters. In the New York Legislature, during the session of 1903, the
owners of the canning factories of the state used their utmost power to
have their industry exempted from the humane but inadequate provisions
of the Child Labor Law, notwithstanding that babies four years old were
known to be working in their factories. The Northern owners of Alabama
cotton mills secured the _repeal_ of the law passed in that state in
1887 prohibiting the employment of children under fourteen years of age
for more than eight hours in a day; and when, later, the Alabama Child
Labor Committee sought to secure legislative protection for children up
to twelve years of age, paid agents of the mill owners appeared before
the legislature and persistently opposed their efforts.[104] Similar
testimony might be given from practically every state where any attempt
has been made to legislate against the evil of child labor. Even such a
responsible organ of capitalist opinion as the _Manufacturers’ Record_
editorially denounces all child-labor legislation as wrong and
immoral![105] There are, of course, honorable exceptions, but as a class
the employers of labor are persistent in their opposition to all such

According to the census of 1900 there were, in the United States in that
year, 1,752,187 children under sixteen years of age employed in gainful
occupations. Of itself that is a terrible sum, but all authorities are
agreed that it does not fully represent the magnitude of the child-labor
problem. It is well known that many thousands of children are working
under the protection of certificates in which they are falsely
represented as being of the legal age for employment. When a child of
twelve gets a certificate declaring its age to be fifteen, it needs only
to work a year, to be in reality thirteen years old, in order to be
classed as an adult over sixteen years of age. Such certificates have
been, and in many cases still are, ridiculously easy to obtain, it being
only necessary for one of the parents or guardians of a child to swear
before a notary that the child has reached the minimum age required by
law. The result has been the promotion of child slavery and illiteracy
through the wholesale perjury of parents and guardians.[106] I have
known scores of instances in which children ten or eleven years old were
employed through the possession of certificates stating that they were
thirteen or fourteen. I remember asking one little lad his age, in
Pittston, Pennsylvania, during the anthracite coal strike of 1902. He
certainly did not look more than ten years old, but he answered boldly,
“I’m thirteen, sir.” When I asked him how long he had been at work, he
replied, “More’n a year gone, sir.” Afterward I met his father at one of
the strikers’ meetings, and he told me that the lad was only a few days
over eleven years of age, and that he went to work as a “breaker boy”
before he was ten. “We’m a big fam’ly,” he said in excuse. “There’s six
kids an’ th’ missis an’ me. Wi’ me pay so small, I was glad to give a
quarter to have the papers (certificate) filled out so’s he could bring
in a trifle like other boys.” Afterward I came across several similar

That is only one of many reasons for supposing that the census figures
do not adequately represent the extent to which child labor prevails.
Another is the tremendous number of children of school age, and below
the age at which they may be legally employed, who do not attend school.
In New York State, for instance, there were more than 76,000 children
between the ages of ten and fourteen years who were out of school during
the whole of the twelve months covered by the census of 1900, and nearly
16,000 more in the same age period who attended school less than five
months in the year.[107] Careful investigation in Philadelphia showed
that in one year, “after deducting those physically unable to attend
school, 16,100 children, between the ages of eight and thirteen,” were
out of school, and a similar condition is reported to exist throughout
the whole of Pennsylvania.[108] The Child Labor Committee of
Pennsylvania gives a list of nearly one hundred different kinds of work
at which children between the ages of eight and thirteen were found to
be employed in Philadelphia alone. In practically every industrial
centre this margin of children of school age and below the legal age for
employment, who do not attend school, exists. It is impossible for any
one who is at all conversant with the facts to resist the conclusion
that, after making all possible allowances for other causes, by far the
larger part of these absentees are at work. Thousands find employment in
factories and stores; others find employment in some of the many street
trades, selling newspapers, peddling, running errands for small
storekeepers, and the like. Many others are not “employed” in the strict
sense of the word at all, because they work in their homes, assisting
their parents. Their condition is generally much worse than that of the
children regularly employed in factories and workshops. In excluding
them the census figures omit a very large class of child workers who are
the victims of the worst conditions of all. I am convinced that the
number of children under _fifteen_ years of age who work is much larger
than the official figures give, notwithstanding that these are supposed
to give the number of all workers under _sixteen_ years of age. It
would, I think, be quite within the mark to say that the number of child
workers under fifteen is at least 2,250,000.

From the point of view of the sociologist an accurate statistical
measure of the child-labor problem would be a most valuable gain, but to
most people such figures mean very little. If they could only see the
human units represented by the figures, it would be different. If they
could only see in one vast, suffering throng as many children as there
are men, women, and children in the state of New Jersey, they would be
able to appreciate some of the meaning of the census figures. Even so,
they would have only a vivid sense of the magnitude of such a number as
1,752,000; they would still have no idea of the awful physical, mental,
and moral wreckage hidden in the lifeless and dumb figures. If it were
only possible to take the consumptive cough of one child textile worker
with lint-clogged lungs, and to multiply its volume by tens of
thousands; to gather into one single compass the fevers that burn in
thousands of child toilers’ bodies, so that we might visualize the Great
White Plague’s relation to child labor, the nation would surely rise as
one man and put an end to the destruction of children for profit. If all
the people of this great republic could see little Anetta Fachini, four
years old, working with her mother making artificial flowers, as I saw
her in her squalid tenement home at eleven o’clock at night, I think the
impression upon their hearts and minds would be far deeper and more
lasting than any that whole pages of figures could make. The frail
little thing was winding green paper around wires to make stems for
artificial flowers to decorate ladies’ hats. Every few minutes her head
would droop and her weary eyelids close, but her little fingers still
kept moving—uselessly, helplessly, mechanically moving. Then the mother
would shake her gently, saying: “_Non dormire, Anetta! Solamente pochi
altri—solamente pochi altri._” (“Sleep not, Anetta! Only a few more—only
a few more.”)



And the little eyes would open slowly and the tired fingers once more
move with intelligent direction and purpose.

Some years ago, in one of the mean streets of Paris, I saw, in a dingy
window, a picture that stamped itself indelibly upon my memory. It was
not, judged by artistic canons, a great picture; on the contrary, it was
crude and ill drawn and might almost have been the work of a child.
Torn, I think, from the pages of the Anarchist paper _La Revolté_, it
was, perchance, a protest drawn from the very soul of some indignant
worker. A woman, haggard and fierce of visage, representing France, was
seated upon a heap of child skulls and bones. In her gnarled and knotted
hands she held the writhing form of a helpless babe whose flesh she was
gnawing with her teeth. Underneath, in red ink, was written in rude
characters, “The wretch! She devours her own children!” My mind goes
back to that picture: it is literally true to-day, that this great
nation in its commercial madness devours its babes.


The textile industries rank first in the enslavement of children. In the
cotton trade, for example, 13.3 per cent of all persons employed
throughout the United States are under sixteen years of age.[109] In the
Southern states, where the evil appears at its worst, so far as the
textile trades are concerned, the proportion of employees under sixteen
years of age in 1900 was 25.1 per cent, in Alabama the proportion was
nearly 30 per cent. A careful estimate made in 1902 placed the number of
cotton-mill operatives under sixteen years of age in the Southern states
at 50,000. At the beginning of 1903 a very conservative estimate placed
the number of children under fourteen employed in the cotton mills of
the South at 30,000, no less than 20,000 of them being under
twelve.[110] If this latter estimate of 20,000 children under twelve is
to be relied upon, it is evident that the total number under fourteen
must have been much larger than 30,000. According to Mr. McKelway, one
of the most competent authorities in the country, there are at the
present time not less than 60,000 children under fourteen employed in
the cotton mills of the Southern states.[111] Miss Jane Addams tells of
finding a child of five years working by night in a South Carolina
mill;[112] Mr. Edward Gardner Murphy has photographed little children of
six and seven years who were at work for twelve and thirteen hours a day
in Alabama mills.[113] In Columbia, S.C., and Montgomery, Ala., I have
seen hundreds of children, who did not appear to be more than nine or
ten years of age, at work in the mills, by night as well as by day.

The industrial revival in the South from the stagnation consequent upon
the Civil War has been attended by the growth of a system of child
slavery almost as bad as that which attended the industrial revolution
in England a century ago. From 1880 to 1900 the value of the products of
Southern manufactures increased from less than $458,000,000 to
$1,463,000,000—an increase of 220 per cent. Many factors contributed to
that immense industrial development of the South, but, according to a
well-known expert,[114] it is due “chiefly to her supplies of tractable
and cheap labor.” During the same period of twenty years in the cotton
mills outside of the South, the proportion of workers under sixteen
years of age decreased from 15.6 per cent to 7.7 per cent, but in the
South it remained at approximately 25 per cent. It is true that the
terrible pauper apprentice system which forms such a tragic chapter in
the history of the English factory movement has not been introduced; yet
the fate of the children of the poor families from the hill districts
who have been drawn into the vortex of this industrial development is
almost as bad as that of the English pauper children. These “poor
whites,” as they are expressively called, even by their negro neighbors,
have for many years eked out a scanty living upon their farms, all the
members of the family uniting in the struggle against niggardly nature.
Drawn into the current of the new industrial order, they do not realize
that, even though the children worked harder upon the farms than they do
in the mills, there is an immense difference between the dust-laden air
of a factory and the pure air of a farm; between the varied tasks of
farm life with the endless opportunities for change and individual
initiative, and the strained attention and monotonous tasks of mill
life. The lot of the pauper children driven into the mills by the
ignorance and avarice of British Bumbledom was little worse than that of
these poor children, who work while their fathers loaf. During the long,
weary nights many children have to be kept awake by having cold water
dashed on their faces, and when morning comes they throw themselves upon
their beds—often still warm from the bodies of their brothers and
sisters—without taking off their clothing. “When I works nights, I’se
too tired to undress when I gits home, an’ so I goes to bed wif me clo’s
on me,” lisped one little girl in Augusta, Ga.

There are more than 80,000 children employed in the textile industries
of the United States, according to the very incomplete census returns,
most of them being little girls. In these industries conditions are
undoubtedly worse in the Southern states than elsewhere, though I have
witnessed many pitiable cases of child slavery in Northern mills which
equalled almost anything I have ever seen in the South. During the
Philadelphia textile workers’ strike in 1903, I saw at least a score of
children ranging from eight to ten years of age who had been working in
the mills prior to the strike. One little girl of nine I saw in the
Kensington Labor Lyceum. She had been working for almost a year before
the strike began, she said, and careful inquiry proved her story to be
true. When “Mother” Mary Jones started with her little “army” of child
toilers to march to Oyster Bay, in order that the President of the
United States might see for himself some of the little ones who had
actually been employed in the mills of Philadelphia, I happened to be
engaged in assisting the strikers. For two days I accompanied the little
“army” on its march, and thus had an excellent opportunity of studying
the children. Amongst them were several from eight to eleven years of
age, and I remember one little girl who was not quite eleven telling me
with pride that she had “worked two years and never missed a day.”

One evening, not long ago, I stood outside of a large flax mill in
Paterson, N.J., while it disgorged its crowd of men, women, and children
employees. All the afternoon, as I lingered in the tenement district
near the mills, the comparative silence of the streets oppressed me.
There were many babies and very small children, but the older children,
whose boisterous play one expects in such streets, were wanting. “If
thow’lt bide till th’ mills shut for th’ day, thow’lt see plenty on
’em—big kids as plenty as small taties,” said one old woman to whom I
spoke about it. She was right. At six o’clock the whistles shrieked, and
the streets were suddenly filled with people, many of them mere
children. Of all the crowd of tired, pallid, and languid-looking

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 10 of 22)