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must be added with little or no moral restriction either. Where regard
for child life does not express itself in humane laws for its
preservation, it may generally be presumed to be non-existent.

In Maine the age limit for employment is twelve years. Children of that
age may be employed by day or night, provided that girls under eighteen
and boys under sixteen are not permitted to work more than ten hours in
the twenty-four or sixty hours in a week. In 1900 there were 117
establishments engaged in the preservation and canning of fish. Small
herrings are canned and placed upon the market as “sardines.”[128] This
industry is principally confined to the Atlantic coast towns,—Lubec and
Eastport, in Washington County, being the main centres. I cannot speak
of this industry from personal investigation, but information received
from competent and trustworthy sources gives me the impression that
child slavery nowhere assumes a worse form than in the “sardine”
canneries of Maine. Says one of my correspondents in a private letter:
“In the rush season, fathers, mothers, older children, and babies work
from early morn till night—from dawn till dark, in fact. You will
scarcely believe me, perhaps, when I say ‘and babies,’ but it is
literally true. I’ve seen them in the present season, no more than four
or five years old, working hard and beaten when they lagged. As you may
suppose, being out here, far away from the centre of the state, we are
not much troubled by factory inspection. I have read about the
conditions in the Southern mills, but nothing I have read equals for
sheer brutality what I see right here in Washington County.”

In the sweatshops and, more particularly, the poorly paid home
industries, the kindergartens are robbed to provide baby slaves. I am
perfectly well aware that many persons will smile incredulously at the
thought of infants from three to five years old working. “What can such
little babies do?” they ask. Well, take the case of little Anetta
Fachini, for example. The work she was doing when I saw her, wrapping
paper around pieces of wire, was very similar to the play of
better-favored children. As play, to be put aside whenever her childish
fancy wandered to something else, it would have been a very good thing
for little Anetta to do. She was compelled, however, to do it from early
morning till late at night and even denied the right to sleep. For her,
therefore, what might be play for some other child became the most awful
bondage and cruelty. What can four-year-old babies do? Go into the
nursery and watch the rich man’s four-year-old child, seated upon the
rug, sorting many-colored beads and fascinated by the occupation for
half an hour or so. That is play—good and wholesome for the child. In
the public kindergarten, other four-year-old children are doing the same
thing with zest and laughing delight. But go into the dim tenement
yonder; another four-year-old child is sorting beads, but not in play.
Her eyes do not sparkle with childish glee; she does not shout with
delight at finding a prize among the beads. With tragic seriousness she
picks out the beads and lays them before her mother, who is a
slipper-beader—that is, she sews the beaded designs upon ladies’ fancy
slippers. She works from morn till night, and all the while the child is
seated by her side, straining her little eyes in the dim light, sorting
the beads or stringing them on pieces of thread.

In the “Help Wanted” columns of the morning papers, advertisements
frequently appear such as the following, taken from one of the leading
New York dailies:—

WANTED.—Beaders on slippers; good pay; steady home work. M. B——,
West —— Street.

In the tenement districts women may be seen staggering along with sack
loads of slippers to be trimmed with beadwork, and children of four
years of age and upward are pressed into service to provide cheap,
dainty slippers for dainty ladies. What can four-year-old babies do? A
hundred things, when they are driven to it. “They are pulling basting
threads so that you and I may wear cheap garments; they are arranging
the petals of artificial flowers; they are sorting beads; they are
pasting boxes. They do more than that. I know of a room where a dozen or
more little children are seated on the floor, surrounded by barrels, and
in those barrels is found human hair, matted, tangled, and
blood-stained—you can imagine the condition, for it is not my hair or
yours that is cut off in the hour of death.”[129]



Both of the children work and sleep with the mother.

There are more than 23,000 licensed “home factories” in New York City
alone, 23,000 groups of workers in the tenements licensed to manufacture
goods. How difficult it is to protect children employed in these
tenement factories can best be judged by the following incident: Two
small Italian children, a boy of five and his sister aged four, left a
West-side kindergarten and were promptly followed up by their
kindergartner, who found that the children were working and could not,
in the opinion of their mother, be spared to attend the kindergarten.
They were both helping to make artificial flowers. The truant officer
was first applied to and asked whether the compulsory education law
could not be used to free them, part of the time at least, from their
unnatural toil. But attendance at school is not compulsory before the
eighth year, so that was a useless appeal. Then the factory inspector
was applied to, and he showed that the work of the children was entirely
legal; they received no wages and were, therefore, not “employed” in the
technical sense of that term. They were working in their own family. The
room was not dirty or excessively overcrowded. No law was broken, and
there was no legal means whereby the enslavement of those little
children might be prevented.[130]

This kind of child labor, be it remembered, is very different from that
wholesome employment of children in the domestic industry which preceded
the advent of the system of machine production. Then there was hope in
the work and joy in the leisure which followed the work. Then
competition was based on human qualities; man against man, hand against
hand, eye against eye, brain against brain. To-day the competition is
between man and the machine, the child and the man,—and even the child
and the machine. Children are employed in the textile mills because
their labor is cheaper than that of adults; boys are employed in the
glass factories at night because their labor is cheaper to buy than
machinery; children in the tenements paste the fancy boxes in which we
get our candies and chocolate bonbons for the same reason. Such child
labor has no other objective than the increase of employers’ profits; it
has nothing to do with training the child for the work of life. On the
contrary, it saps the constitution of the child, robs it of hope, and
unfits it for life’s struggle. Such child labor is not educative or
wholesome, but blighting to body, mind, and spirit.


There has been no extensive, systematic investigation in this country of
the physical condition of working children. In 1893–1894 volunteer
physicians examined and made measurements of some 200 children, taken
from the factories and workshops of Chicago.[131] These records show a
startling proportion of undersized, rachitic, and consumptive children,
but they are too limited to be of more than suggestive value. So far as
they go, however, they bear out the results obtained in more extensive
investigations in European countries. It is the consensus of opinion
among those having the best opportunities for careful observation that
physical deterioration quickly follows a child’s employment in a factory
or workshop.

It is a sorry but indisputable fact that where children are employed,
the most unhealthful work is generally given them.[132] In the spinning
and carding rooms of cotton and woollen mills, where large numbers of
children are employed, clouds of lint-dust fill the lungs and menace the
health. The children have often a distressing cough, caused by the
irritation of the throat, and many are hoarse from the same cause. In
bottle factories and other branches of glass manufacture, the atmosphere
is constantly charged with microscopic particles of glass. In the
wood-working industries, such as the manufacture of cheap furniture and
wooden boxes, and packing cases, the air is laden with fine sawdust.
Children employed in soap and soap-powder factories work, many of them,
in clouds of alkaline dust which inflames the eyelids and nostrils. Boys
employed in filling boxes of soap-powder work all day long with
handkerchiefs tied over their mouths. In the coal-mines the breaker boys
breathe air that is heavy and thick with particles of coal, and their
lungs become black in consequence. In the manufacture of felt hats,
little girls are often employed at the machines which tear the fur from
the skins of rabbits and other animals. Recently, I stood and watched a
young girl working at such a machine; she wore a newspaper pinned over
her head and a handkerchief tied over her mouth. She was white with dust
from head to feet, and when she stooped to pick anything from the floor
the dust would fall from her paper head-covering in little heaps. About
seven feet from the mouth of the machine was a window through which
poured thick volumes of dust as it was belched out from the machine. I
placed a sheet of paper on the inner sill of the window and in twenty
minutes it was covered with a layer of fine dust, half an inch deep. Yet
that girl works midway between the window and the machine, in the very
centre of the volume of dust, sixty hours a week. These are a few of the
occupations in which the dangers arise from the forced inhalation of

In some occupations, such as silk-winding, flax-spinning, and various
processes in the manufacture of felt hats, it is necessary, or believed
to be necessary, to keep the atmosphere quite moist. The result of
working in a close, heated factory, where the air is artificially
moistened, in summer time, can be better imagined than described. So
long as enough girls can be kept working, and only a few of them faint,
the mills are kept going; but when faintings are so many and so frequent
that it does not pay to keep going, the mills are closed. The children
who work in the dye rooms and print-shops of textile factories, and the
color rooms of factories where the materials for making artificial
flowers are manufactured, are subject to contact with poisonous dyes,
and the results are often terrible. Very frequently they are dyed in
parts of their bodies as literally as the fabrics are dyed. One little
fellow, who was employed in a Pennsylvania carpet factory, opened his
shirt one day and showed me his chest and stomach dyed a deep, rich
crimson. I mentioned the incident to a local physician, and was told
that such cases were common. “They are simply saturated with the dye,”
he said. “The results are extremely severe, though very often slow and,
for a long time, almost imperceptible. If they should cut or scratch
themselves where they are so thoroughly dyed, it might mean death.” In
Yonkers, N.Y., are some of the largest carpet factories in the United
States, and many children are employed in them. Some of the smallest
children are employed in the “drum room,” or print-shop, where the yarns
are “printed” or dyed. Small boys, mostly Slavs and Hungarians, push the
trucks containing boxes of liquid dye from place to place, and get it
all over their clothing. They can be seen coming out of the mills at
night literally soaked to the skin with dye of various colors. In the
winter time, after a fall of snow, it is possible to track them to their
homes, not only by their colored footprints, but by the drippings from
their clothing. The snow becomes dotted with red, blue, and green, as
though some one had sprinkled the colors for the sake of the variegated

Children employed as varnishers in cheap furniture factories inhale
poisonous fumes all day long and suffer from a variety of intestinal
troubles in consequence. The gilding of picture frames produces a
stiffening of the fingers. The children who are employed in the
manufacture of wall papers and poisonous paints suffer from slow
poisoning. The naphtha fumes in the manufacture of rubber goods produce
paralysis and premature decay. Children employed in morocco leather
works are often nauseated and fall easy victims to consumption. The
little boys who make matches, and the little girls who pack them in
boxes, suffer from phosphorous necrosis, or “phossy-jaw,” a gangrene of
the lower jaw due to phosphor poisoning. Boys employed in type foundries
and stereotyping establishments are employed on the most dangerous part
of the work, namely, rubbing the type and the plates, and lead poisoning
is excessively prevalent among them as a result. Little girls who work
in the hosiery mills and carry heavy baskets from one floor to another,
and their sisters who run machines by foot-power, suffer all through
their after life as a result of their employment. Girls who work in
factories where caramels and other kinds of candies are made are
constantly passing from the refrigerating department, where the
temperature is perhaps 20 degrees Fahr., to other departments with
temperatures as high as 80 or 90 degrees. As a result, they suffer from
bronchial troubles.

These are only a few of the many occupations of children that are
inherently unhealthful and should be prohibited entirely for children
and all young persons under eighteen years of age. In a few instances it
might be sufficient to fix the minimum age for employment at sixteen, if
certain improvements in the conditions of employment were insisted upon.
Other dangers to health, such as the quick transition from the heat of
the factory to the cold outside air, have already been noted. They are
highly important causes of disease, though not inherent in the
occupation itself in most cases. A careful study of the child-labor
problem from this largely neglected point of view would be most
valuable. When to the many dangers to health are added the dangers to
life and limb from accidents, far more numerous among child workers than
adults,[133] the price we pay for the altogether unnecessary and
uneconomic service of children would, in the Boer patriot’s phrase,
“stagger humanity,” if it could be comprehended.

No combination of figures can give any idea of that price. Statistics
cannot express the withering of child lips in the poisoned air of
factories; the tired, strained look of child eyes that never dance to
the glad music of souls tuned to Nature’s symphonies; the binding to
wheels of industry the little bodies and souls that should be free, as
the stars are free to shine and the flowers are free to drink the
evening dews. Statistics may be perfected to the extent of giving the
number of child workers with accuracy, the number maimed by dangerous
machines, and the number who die year by year, but they can never give
the spiritual loss, if I may use that word in its secular, scientific
sense. Who shall tally the deaths of childhood’s hopes, ambitions, and
dreams? How shall figures show the silent atrophy of potential genius,
the brutalizing of potential love, the corruption of potential purity?
In what arithmetical terms shall we state the loss of shame, and the
development of that less than brute view of life, which enables us to
watch with unconcern the toil of infants side by side with the idleness
of men?


The moral ills resulting from child labor are numerous and far-reaching.
When children become wage-earners and are thrown into constant
association with adult workers, they develop prematurely an adult
consciousness and view of life. About the first consequence of their
employment is that they cease almost at once to be children. They lose
their respect for parental authority, in many cases, and become
arrogant, wayward, and defiant. There is always a tendency in their
homes to regard them as men and women as soon as they become
wage-earners. Discipline is at once relaxed, at the very time when it is
most necessary. When children who have just entered upon that most
critical period of life, adolescence, are associated with adults in
factories, are driven to their tasks with curses, and hear continually
the unrestrained conversation, often coarse and foul, of the adults, the
psychological effect cannot be other than bad. The mothers and fathers
who read this book need only to know that children, little boys and
girls, in mills and factories where men and women are employed, must
frequently see women at work in whom the signs of a developing life
within are evident, and hear them made the butt of the coarsest taunts
and jests, to realize how great the moral peril to the adolescent boy or
girl must be.

No writer dare write, and no publisher dare publish, a truthful
description of the moral atmosphere of hundreds of places where children
are employed,—a description truthful in the sense of telling the whole
truth. No publisher would dare print the language current in an average
factory. Our most “realistic” writers must exercise stern artistic
reticence, and tone down or evade the truth. No normal boy or girl would
think of repeating to father or mother the language heard in the
mill—language which the children begin before long to use occasionally,
to _think_ oftener still. I have known a girl of thirteen or fourteen,
just an average American girl, whose parents, intelligent and honest
folk, had given her a moral training above rather than below the
average, mock a pregnant woman worker and unblushingly attempt to
caricature her condition by stuffing rags beneath her apron. I do not
make any charge against the tens of thousands of women who have worked
and are working in factories. Heaven forbid that I should seek to brand
as impure these women of my own class! But I do say that for the plastic
and impressionable mind of a child the moral atmosphere of the average
factory is exceedingly bad, and I know that none will more readily agree
with me than the men and women who work, or who have worked, in mills
and factories.

I know a woman, and she is one of many, who has worked in textile
factories for more than thirty years. She began to work as a child
before she was ten years old, and is now past forty. She has never
married, though many men have sought her in marriage. She is not an
abnormal woman, indifferent to marriage, but just a normal, healthy,
intelligent woman who has yearned hundreds of times for a man’s
affection and companionship. To her more intimate friends she confesses
that she chose to remain lonely and unwed, chose to stifle her longings
for affection, rather than to marry and bring children into the world
and live to see them enter the mills for employment before they became
men and women. When I say that the moral atmosphere of factory life is
contaminated and bad, and that the employment of children in mills and
factories subjects them to grave moral perils, I am confident that I
shall be supported, not, perhaps, by the owners of the mills and
factories, but by the vast majority of intelligent men and women
employed in them.

In a report upon the physical conditions of child workers in
Pennsylvania, the Rev. Peter Roberts has discussed at some length the
moral dangers of factory employment for children. He quotes an Allentown
physician as saying, “No vice was unknown to many of the girls of
fifteen working in the factories of the city;” and another physician in
the same city said, “There are more unhappy homes, ruined lives, blasted
hopes, and diseased bodies in Allentown than any other city of its size,
because of the factories there.” Another physician, in Lancaster, is
quoted as saying that he had “treated boys of ten years old and upwards
for venereal affections which they had contracted.”[134] In upwards of a
score of factory towns I have had very similar testimony given to me by
physicians and others. The proprietor of a large drug store in a New
England factory town told me that he had never known a place where the
demand for cheap remedies for venereal diseases was so great, and _that
many of those who bought them were boys under fifteen_.

Nor is it only in factories that these grosser forms of immorality
flourish. They are even more prevalent among the children of the street
trades, newsboys, bootblacks, messengers, and the like. The proportion
of newsboys who suffer from venereal diseases is alarmingly great. The
Superintendent of the John Worthy School of Chicago, Mr. Sloan, asserts
that “One-third of all the newsboys who come to the John Worthy School
have venereal disease, and that 10 per cent of the remaining newsboys at
present in the Bridewell are, according to the physicians’ diagnosis,
suffering from similar diseases.”[135] The newsboys who come to the
school are, according to Mr. Sloan, on an average one-third below the
ordinary standard of physical development, a condition which will be
readily understood by those who know the ways of the newsboys of our
great cities—their irregular habits, scant feeding, sexual excesses,
secret vices, sleeping in hallways, basements, stables, and quiet
corners. With such a low physical standard the ravages of venereal
diseases are tremendously increased.



The messenger boys and the American District Telegraph boys are
frequently found in the worst resorts of the “red-light” districts of
our cities. In New York there are hundreds of such boys, ranging in age
from twelve to fifteen, who know many of the prostitutes of the
Tenderloin by name. Sad to relate, boys like to be employed in the
“red-light” districts. They like it, not because they are bad or
depraved, but for the very natural reason that they make more money
there, receiving larger and more numerous tips. They are called upon for
many services by the habitués of these haunts of the vicious and the
profligate. They are sent out to place bets; to take notes to and from
houses of ill-fame; or to buy liquor, cigarettes, candy, and even
gloves, shoes, corsets, and other articles of wearing apparel for the
“ladies.” Not only are tips abundant, but there are many opportunities
for graft of which the boys avail themselves. A lad is sent, for
instance, for a bottle of whiskey. He is told to get a certain brand at
a neighboring hotel, but he knows where he can get the same brand for 50
per cent of the hotel price, and, naturally, he goes there for it and
pockets the difference in price. That is one form of messengers’ graft.
Another is overcharging for his services and pocketing the surplus, or
keeping the change from a “ten-spot” or a “fiver,” when, as often
happens, the “sports” are either too reckless to bother about such
trifles or too drunk to remember. From sources such as these the
messenger boy in a district like the Tenderloin will often make several
dollars a day.[136]

A whole series of temptations confronts the messenger boy. He smokes,
drinks, gambles, and, very often, patronizes the lowest class of cheap
brothels. In answering calls from houses of ill-repute messengers cannot
avoid being witnesses of scenes of licentiousness more or less
frequently. By presents of money, fruit, candy, cigarettes, and even
liquor, the women make friends of the boys, who quickly learn all the
foul slang of the brothels.[137] The conversation of a group of
messengers in such a district will often reveal the most astounding
intimacy with the grossest things of the underworld. That in their
adolescence, the transition from boyhood to manhood, fraught as it is
with its own inherent perils, they should be thrown into such an
environment and exposed to such temptations is an evil which cannot
possibly be overemphasized. The penal code of New York declares the
sending of minors to carry messages to or from a house of ill-fame to be
a misdemeanor, but the law is a dead letter. It cannot possibly be
enforced, and its repeal would probably be a good thing. While it may be
urged that the mere existence of such a law has a certain moral value as
a condemnation of such a dangerous employment for boys, it is

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 12 of 22)