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exceedingly doubtful if that good is sufficient to counterbalance the
harm which comes from the non-enforcement of the law.

I have dwelt mainly upon the grosser vices associated with street
employment, as with employment in factories and mines, because it is a
phase of the subject about which too little is known. I need scarcely
say, however, that these vices are not the only ones to which serious
attention should be given. Crime naturally results from such conditions.
Of 600 boys committed to the New York Juvenile Asylum by the courts, 125
were newsboys who had been committed for various offences ranging from
ungovernableness and disorderly conduct to grand larceny.[138] Mr.
Nibecker, Superintendent of the House of Refuge at Glen Mills, near
Philadelphia, was asked, “Have you, in disproportionate numbers, boys
who formerly were engaged in some one particular occupation?” He replied
promptly, “Yes, district messengers.”[139] It seems to be the almost
unanimous opinion of probation officers and other competent authorities
in our large cities that messenger boys and newsboys furnish an
exceedingly large proportion of cases of juvenile delinquency. I wrote
to six probation officers in as many large cities asking them to give me
their opinions as to the classes of occupation which seem to have the
largest number of juvenile delinquents. Their replies are summarized in
the following schedule:—


REPORT │ A │ B │ C │ D
1 │Messenger boys │Newsboys │Factory boys │Miscellaneous
2 │Newsboys │Messenger boys │Factory boys │Truants
3 │Newsboys │Messenger boys │Truants │Factory boys
4 │Messenger boys │Factory boys │Newsboys │Miscellaneous
5 │Messenger boys │Newsboys │Truants │Miscellaneous
6 │Factory boys │Truants │Messenger boys │Newsboys

In six smaller cities, where the number of factory workers is much
larger in proportion than in the great cities, and the number of
newsboys and messengers is much smaller, the results were somewhat
different. The following schedule is interesting as a summary of the
replies received from these towns:—


REPORT │ A │ B │ C │ D
1 │Mine boys │Truants │Messenger boys │Miscellaneous
2 │Glass-house │Other factory │Miscellaneous │Truants
│ boys │ boys │ │
3 │Mill boys │Messenger boys │Truants │Miscellaneous
4 │Mill boys │Mine boys │Truants │Miscellaneous
5 │Mill boys │Truants │Newsboys │Miscellaneous
6 │Mine boys │Messenger boys │Miscellaneous │Truants

These facts, and other facts of a like nature, are only indicative of
the ill effects of child labor upon the morals of the children. In some
cases the moral peril lies in the nature of the work itself, while in
others it lies, not in the work, but in the conditions by which it is
surrounded. In the Chicago Stock Yards, for example, judging by what I
saw there, I should say that in most, if not all, of the departments the
work itself is degrading and brutalizing, and that no person under
eighteen years of age ought to be permitted to work in them. In large
laundries little girls are very commonly employed as “sorters.” Their
work is to sort out the soiled clothes as they come in and to classify
them. While such work must be disagreeable and unwholesome for a young
girl, there is nothing necessarily demoralizing about it. But when such
little girls are compelled to work with men and women of the coarsest
and most illiterate type, as they frequently are, and to listen to
constant conversation charged with foul suggestions, it becomes a
soul-destroying occupation. At its best, even when all possible efforts
are made to keep the place of employment pure and above reproach—and I
know that there are many such places—still the whole tendency of child
labor is in the direction of a lower moral standard. The feeling of
independence caused by the ability to earn wages, the relaxation of
parental authority, with the result that the children roam the streets
at night or frequent places of amusement of questionable character; the
ruthless destruction of the bloom of youthful innocence and the forced
consciousness of life properly belonging to adult years—these are
inevitably associated with child labor.


These are some of the ills which child labor inflicts upon the children
themselves, ills which do not end with their childhood days but curse
and blight all their after years. The child who is forced to be a man
too soon, forced too early to enter the industrial strife of the world,
ceases to _be_ a man too soon, ceases to be _fit_ for the industrial
strife. When the strength is sapped in childhood there is an absence of
strength in manhood and womanhood; Ruskin’s words are profoundly true,
that “to be a man too soon is to be a small man.” We are to-day using up
the vitality of children; soon they will be men and women, without the
vitality and strength necessary to maintain themselves and their
dependants. When we exploit the immature strength of little children, we
prepare recruits for the miserable army of the unfit and unemployable,
whose lot is a shameful and debasing poverty.

This wrong to helpless childhood carries with it, therefore, a certain
and dreadful retribution. It is not possible to injure a child without
injuring society. Whatever burden society lays, or permits to be laid,
upon the shoulders of its children, it must ultimately bear upon its
own. Society’s interest in the child may be well expressed in a slight
paraphrase of the words of Jesus, “Whatsoever is done to one of the
least of these little ones is done unto me.” It is in that spirit that
the advocates of child-labor legislation would have the nation forbid
the exploitation, literally the exhaustion, of children by
self-interested employers. For the abuse of childhood by individual
antisocial interests, society as a whole must pay the penalty. If we
neglect the children of to-day, and sap their strength so that they
become weaklings, we must bear the burden of their failures when they
fail and fall:—

“There is a sacred Something on all ways—
Something that watches through the Universe;
One that remembers, reckons and repays,
Giving us love for love, and curse for curse.”

It is a well-known fact that the competition of children with their
elders entails serious consequences of a twofold nature,—first, in the
displacement of adults, and, second, in the lowering of their wage
standards. There are few things more tragic in the modern industrial
system than the sight of children working while their fathers can find
no other employment than to carry dinners to them. I know that many
persons are always ready to suggest that the fathers like this unnatural
arrangement, that they prefer to live upon the earnings of their little
ones, and there are, no doubt, cases in which this is true. But in the
majority of cases it is not true. Every one who is at all familiar with
the lives of the workers must realize that when applied indiscriminately
to the mass of those who find themselves in that condition of dependence
upon their children’s labor, this view is a gross libel. Some months
ago, I stood outside of a large clothing factory in Rochester, N.Y. Upon
the front of the building, as upon several others in the street, there
hung a painted sign, such as I have seen there many times, bearing the
inscription, “Small Girls Wanted.” While I stood there two men passed by
and I heard one of them say to the other: “That’s fourteen places we’ve
seen they want kids to-day, Bill, but we’ve tramped round all week an’
never got sight of a job.” I have known many earnest, industrious men to
be weeks at a time seeking employment while their children could get
places without difficulty. The displacement of adult workers by their
children is a stern and sad feature of the competition of the labor
market, which no amount of cynicism can dispose of.

A brief study of the returns published in the bulletins and reports of
the various bureaus of labor and the labor unions will show that child
labor tends to lower the wages of adult workers. Where the competition
of children is a factor wages are invariably lowest. Two or three years
ago I was associated in a small way with an agitation carried on by the
members of the Cigarmakers’ Union in Pennsylvania against the “Cigar
Trust.” One of the principal issues in that agitation was the employment
of young children. The labor unions have always opposed child labor, for
the reason that they know from experience how its employment tends to
displace adult labor and to reduce wages. In the case of the
cigarmakers’ agitation the chief grievance was the fact that children
were making for $2 and $2.50 per thousand the same class of cigars as
the men were paid from $7.50 to $8 per thousand for making.[140] The men
worked under fairly decent, human conditions, but the conditions under
which the children worked were positively inhuman. That such competition
as that, if extensive, must result in the gradual displacement of men
and the employment of children, accompanied by the reduction of the
wages of the men fortunate enough to be allowed to remain at work, is, I
think, self-evident. In their turn the unemployment of adults and the
lowering of wages are fruitful sources of poverty, and force the
employment of many children.

These are some of the most obvious immediate economic consequences of
child labor, simple facts which we can readily grasp. But there are
other, subtler and less obvious, economic consequences of even greater
importance, so vast that their magnitude cannot be measured nor even
guessed. It is impossible to conceive how much we lose through the
lessened productive capacity of those who have been prematurely
exploited, and even if that were possible, we should still have to face
the stupendous problem of determining how much of our expenditure for
the relief of poverty, caring for the diseased and crippled, and the
expensive maintenance of a large criminal class in prisons and
reformatories, has been rendered necessary by that same fundamental
cause. It is an awful, bewildering problem, this ultimate economic cost
of child labor to society. If it were proposed to saddle the bulk of
these expenditures for the relief of the necessitous and the maintenance
of the diseased, maimed, and criminal classes upon the industries in
which their energies were used up, their bodies maimed, or their moral
natures perverted and destroyed, there would be a great outcry. Yet, it
would be much more reasonable and just than the present system, which
permits the physical, mental, and moral ruin to be carried on in the
selfish and sordid interests of a class, and the imposition of the
resulting burden of misery and failure upon the shoulders of society as
a whole.


What are the reasons for the employment of children? It is almost
needless to argue that child labor is socially unnecessary, that the
labor of little boys and girls is not required in order that wealth
sufficient for the needs of society may be produced. If such a claim
were made, it would be an all-sufficing reply to point to the great army
of unemployed men in our midst, and to say that the last man must be
employed before the employment of the first child can be justified. When
there is not an unemployed man, when there is not a man employed in
useless, unproductive, and wasteful labor, if there is then a shortage
of the things necessary for social maintenance, child labor may be
necessary and justifiable. Under any other conditions than these it is
unjustifiable and brutally wrong. In the primitive struggle with the
hostile forces of nature, such struggles as pioneers have had in all
lands before the deserts could be made to yield harvests of fruit and
grain, the labor of wives and children has been necessary to supplement
that of husbands and fathers. But what would be thought of the men,
under such conditions, if they forced their wives and children to work
while they idled, ate, and slept? Yet that is, essentially, the practice
of modern industrial society. Here is a great country with natural
resources unparalleled in human experience for their richness and
variety; here labor is so productive, and inventive genius so highly
developed, that wealth overflows our granaries and warehouses, and
forces us to seek foreign markets for its disposal. The children
employed in our factories are not employed because it would otherwise be
impossible to produce the necessities of life for the nation. The little
five-year-old girl seen by Miss Addams working at night in a Southern
cotton mill was not so employed because it was necessary in order that
the American people might have enough cotton goods to supply their
needs. On the contrary, she was making sheeting for the Chinese
Army![141] Not that she or those by whom she was employed had any
interest in the Chinese Army, but because there was a prospective profit
for the manufacturer in the making of sheeting for sale to China for the
use of her soldiers. The manufacturer would just as readily have
sacrificed little American girls in the manufacture of beads for
Hottentots, or gilt idols for poor Hindoo ryots, if the profit were



That is the root of the child-labor evil; it has no social justification
and exists only for the sordid gain of profit-seekers. It is not
difficult, therefore, to understand the manufacturers’ interest in child
labor, or their opposition to all efforts to legislate against it. Cheap
production is the maxim of success in industry, and a plentiful supply
of cheap labor is a powerful contributor to that end. The principal
items in productive cost are the raw material and the labor necessary,
the relative importance of each depending upon the nature of the
industry itself. Now, it is obviously to the interest of the
manufacturer, as manufacturer, to get both raw material and labor-power
as cheaply as possible, whether the industry in which he is interested
is governed by competitive, or monopolistic, or any intermediate
conditions. If competition rules, cheapness is vitally important to him,
since if he can get an advantage over his competitors in that respect he
can undersell them, while if he fails to get his supplies of labor and
raw material as cheaply as his competitors, he will be undersold. If, on
the other hand, monopoly conditions prevail, it is still an important
interest to secure them as cheaply as possible, thereby increasing his

It is an axiom of commercial economy that supply follows demand, and it
is certain that the constant demand for the cheap, tractable labor of
children has had much to do with the creation of the supply. At bottom
the employers, or, rather, the system of production for profit, must be
held responsible for child labor. There are evidences of this on every
hand. We see manufacturers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania getting
children from orphan asylums, regardless of their physical, mental, and
moral ruin, merely because it _pays_ them. When the glass-blowers of
Minotola, N.J., went on strike, in 1902, the child-labor question was
one of their most important issues. The exposures made of the frightful
enslavement of little children attracted widespread attention. There is
very little in the history of the English factory system which excels in
horror the conditions which existed in that little South Jersey town at
the beginning of the twentieth century.[142] When the proprietor of the
factory was asked about the employment of young boys ten and eleven
years of age, many of whom often fell asleep and were awakened by the
men pouring water over them, and at least two of whom died from
overexhaustion, he said: “If two men apply to me for work and one has
one or two or three children and the other has none, I take the man with
children. I need the boys.” In actual practice this meant that no man
could get work as a glass-blower unless he was able to bring boys with
him. A regular padrone system was developed in consequence of this: the
glass-blowers, determined to keep their own boys out of the factories if
possible, secured children from orphan asylums, or took the little boys
of Italian immigrants, boarded them, and paid the parents a regular
weekly sum.

In the mills of the South it is frequently made a condition of the
employment of married men or women that all their children shall be
bound to work in the same mills. The following is one of the rules
posted in a South Carolina cotton mill:—

“All children, members of a family, above twelve years of age, shall
work regularly in the mill, and shall not be excused from service
therein without the consent of the superintendent for good

Many times I have heard fathers and mothers—in the North as well as in
the South—say that they did not want their children to work, that they
could have done without the children’s wages and kept them at school a
little longer, or apprenticed them to better employment, but that they
were compelled to send them into the mills to work, or lose their own
places. Even more eloquent as evidencing the keen demand of the
manufacturers for child labor is the fact to which Mr. McKelway calls
attention, that, in response to their demand, cotton-mill machinery is
being made with adjustable legs to suit small child workers. Mr.
McKelway rightly contrasts this with the experience in India when the
first cotton mills were erected there. Then, for the first time, it was
found necessary to manufacture spinning frames high enough from the
floor to accommodate adult workers.[144]

With such facts as these before us, it is easy to see that the urgency
of the employers’ demands for child labor is an important factor in the
problem. Underlying all other causes is the fundamental fact that the
exploitation of the children is in the interests of the employing class.
It may be urged that it is necessary for children to begin work at an
early age because the work they do cannot be done by men or women, but
the contention is wholly unsupported by facts. There is no work done by
boys in the glass factories which men could not do; no skill or training
is required to enable one to do the work done by breaker boys in the
coal-mines; the work done by children in the textile mills could be done
equally well by adults. The fact that in some cases adults are employed
to do the work which in other cases is done by children, is sufficient
proof that child labor is not resorted to because it is inevitable and
necessary, but on account of its cheapness.

It does not, of course, necessarily follow that low-priced labor is
really cheap labor; it may prove to be just as uneconomical to employ
such labor as to buy poor raw materials merely because they are
low-priced. The quantitative measure is no more satisfactory as a
standard of value when applied to labor than when applied to other
things. Thomas Brassey, the famous English engineer and contractor, used
to declare that the cost of carrying out great works in different
countries did not vary according to the wages paid, and that his
experience had been that in countries where wages were highest the rate
of profit was also highest. Very similar testimony has been given by
many large employers of labor, and the point seems to be fairly well
established. It is said, for instance, that the cost of erecting large
buildings does not differ very much in the great capitals of the world,
though the rate of wages differs enormously, and that in America, where
wages in the building trades are much higher than anywhere else in the
world, the labor cost is really less than elsewhere.[145] In view of
this economic fact, it has been urged that child labor is not cheap
labor, except in a false and uneconomic sense, that it is inefficient,
and that it would be to the interest of the employers themselves to
employ adult labor instead.

Doubtless this argument has been used in the true propagandist spirit of
appealing to as many interests as possible, and proving the sweet
reasonableness of the demand for the abolition of child labor, but I am
inclined to doubt its value. We may, I think, trust the employers to
look after their own interests. It is true that if you put an underpaid
and underfed Italian laborer at a dollar a day to work, and alongside
put a decently fed American laborer at double that wage, you will
probably find the labor of the latter the more profitable; just as
cheap, miserably paid coolie labor is the most expensive of all. But I
do not think it follows that adult labor would be cheaper than child
labor to the employer. Most child labor is made possible by machinery
and conditioned by it, and adult labor would be conditioned by it in the
same manner. There is very little scope for individual differences to
manifest themselves where the machine is the controlling power. In other
industries, such as glass manufacture, where machinery plays a
relatively unimportant part as yet, the labor of the boys is conditioned
by the speed of the men they serve. The men, urged on by the piecework
system, work at their utmost limit of speed, and the boys must keep pace
with them. It is unlikely that if men were employed to do the work now
done by the “snappers-up,” they would be able to increase the speed of
the glass-blowers, the only way in which their labor could prove
cheaper. On the contrary, there is every reason to suppose that men
would not consent to be driven as boys are driven. I have gathered from
glass-blowers themselves that they are very often as much opposed to the
introduction of adult helpers as are their employers, for the reason
that they believe adults would not serve them with the same speed as
boys. For these reasons, and many others into which it is impossible to
enter here, I am convinced that little good will result from a
propaganda aiming to show the employers that their economic interests
would be best served by the abolition of child labor.

In a similar way it has been urged, with ample evidence of its truth,
that the employment of children retards the introduction of mechanical
devices and their fullest development.[146] This is perfectly true, not
only of child labor, but of almost all forms of labor that are
unhealthful or degrading. There is absolutely no need of human street
sweepers, exposed in all weathers and constantly inhaling foul,
disease-laden dust, any more than there is need of little boys working

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 13 of 22)