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in the glass factories, carrying red-hot bottles to the ovens. In each
case machinery has been invented to do the work, and it is used to a
small extent. If these occupations, and scores of others, were
absolutely prohibited, and the prohibitory law rigidly enforced, streets
would still be swept, but by mechanical sweepers, and bottles would
still be taken to the annealing ovens, but by mechanical means. The
world will probably, let us hope, never become the paradise dreamed of
by the German dreamer, Etzler, who believed that all the work of the
world would be done by machinery in the future, and human labor become
altogether unnecessary.[147] But there is no doubt that much of the work
which to-day degrades body, brain, and soul could be done just as well
by mechanical agents. Not, however, through sermonizing or appealing to
the employers will these mechanical devices be generally adopted to take
the place of the life-destroying labor of boys and girls; but by making
it increasingly difficult, and finally impossible, for them to employ
child labor at all.

Not long ago I was in a glass factory where the “carrying-in boys” had
been displaced by automatic machinery. As I watched the machine doing
the work I had been accustomed to seeing little boys perform, I asked
the manager of the factory why it had been introduced. His answer was
simple and direct, “Why, because it had become too difficult to get
boys.” A few days later I went into another factory where boys were, as
usual, employed in doing the work. I asked the owner of the factory why
he did not use machinery instead of employing boys. “Because it is not
practicable,” he replied. “We must have boys and can’t do without them.”
When I told him that I had seen the work done by machinery with perfect
satisfaction, he laughed. “Yes, that is true, but I still say that it is
not a practicable proposal,” he rejoined. “I mean that it is not a
practical business proposition. I am not interested in machinery, as
machinery, and if I can get all the boys I want, at wages making their
labor no more expensive than the cost of running machinery, why should I
tie up two or three thousand dollars of my capital to install machines?
So long as I can get boys enough, I don’t want to bother with machines.”
Then I asked: “What would you do if you could not get boys—if their
employment was forbidden, and the law strictly enforced?” His reply was
suggestive. “Why, then machinery would be the only thing; then it would
be a practical business proposition,” he said.



I have given this manufacturer’s opinion, as nearly as possible in his
own words, because it is an admirably clear statement of what I believe
to be the natural attitude of the employing class upon a grave question.
All that stands in the way of a general use of machinery to do the work
now performed at such an enormous cost in human life and happiness, is
the temporary inconvenience of the employers from having to tie up some
of their capital. Just as the woollen manufacturers in England, as soon
as they were debarred from employing children, adopted the piecing
machine,[148] so the employers of America to-day would have no
difficulty about securing machinery, much of it already invented, if the
employment of children should be forbidden. But, generally speaking,
they will not of themselves make the change.


It is less easy to understand the problem of child labor in its relation
to parental responsibility. It is continually asked: “Why do parents
send their little ones to work at such an early age? Is it possible that
there are so many parents who are so indifferent to the welfare of their
children that they send them to work, and surround them with perils and
evil influences, or are there other, deeper reasons? Are the parents
helpless to save their little ones?” These are questions which have
never yet been satisfactorily answered; they deal with a phase of the
problem which has never been fully investigated, notwithstanding that it
is of vital importance.

As already noted, when the manufacturers of England sought first to get
child workers for the cotton and woollen mills, they found the parents
arrayed against them, defending their children. For a long time no
self-respecting father or mother would allow a child to go to the
factories to work, and it remained for many years a brand of social
disgrace to have one’s children so employed. Not until their pride was
conquered by poverty, not until they were subjugated by hunger and
compelled to surrender and accept the inevitable, did the parents send
their children into the factories. It was poverty, bitter poverty, which
led the first “free” child into the mills to economic servitude, and I
am disposed to think that poverty is still the main reason why parents
send their children to body-and-soul-destroying toil.

Many of those whose work for the enactment of legislation to protect the
children from the ills of premature labor entitles them to lasting honor
and gratitude, have shown an inclination to minimize the extent to which
poverty is responsible for child labor. The opponents of child-labor
legislation have so strongly insisted upon the hardships which would
follow if parents were deprived of their children’s earnings, and have
so eloquently pleaded the cause of the “poor widowed mothers,” as almost
to make the employment of children appear as a philanthropic enterprise.
Very often, it seems to me, the advocates of child-labor legislation, in
their eagerness to refute their critics, have resorted to arguments
which rest upon exceedingly slight foundations of fact, and, in this
case especially, laid insufficient stress upon the logical answer. The
more closely the problem is scrutinized and investigated, the larger the
influence of poverty will appear, I think. At the same time, it is well
to remember that poverty is not the only cause by any means. There are
many other causes, some closely associated with poverty, others only
remotely or not at all. Ignorance, cupidity, indifference, feverish
ambition to “get on,”—these are a few of the many other causes which
might be named.

It is declared, then, that actual inquiry has shown that the claim that
the earnings of the children are necessary to the support of the family,
and that widows and others would suffer serious poverty if their
children under fifteen were not permitted to work, is “rarely if ever
justified.” Mrs. Frederick Nathan, of the Consumers’ League of the City
of New York, whose splendid devotion to the cause of social
righteousness lends weight to her words, expresses this view with
admirable clearness. She says: “Whenever preventive measures for child
labor are enacted or enforced, there is always a wail heard to the
effect that the child’s labor is absolutely requisite for the living
expenses of the family. Yet, upon investigation, this statement is
rarely corroborated. In Illinois, there was recently enacted a law
prohibiting children under sixteen from working more than eight hours a
day, or after 7 P.M. Thousands of diminutive toilers were discharged.
Then a cry of hardship went up in behalf of hundreds of families.
Philanthropic women undertook an investigation, supposing they would
find a number of cases in which the wages of the working child were
absolutely necessary to the family income. To their amazement they found
only three families in Chicago, and five in the remainder of the state,
where this was true. In every other case it was discovered that either
the parent or older children could support the family, or some relative
was willing to assist until the child reached the legal age.”[149]

Where there are so many coöperating causes, it would be easy to
overestimate the importance of any one, and correspondingly easy to
underestimate it. How the investigations in Illinois were conducted,
what standards were adopted by the investigators, I do not know, and
cannot, therefore, in the absence of specified data, express an opinion
upon the validity of the conclusions drawn. Frankly, however, I distrust
them. Not long since I heard of a case in which a “philanthropic lady
investigator” decided that the wages of a child of thirteen were not
necessary to the maintenance of the family, because she “had a father in
regular employment.” It did not, apparently, occur to her that $9 a week
was too little to support decently a family of six persons.

Whatever the nature of the Illinois investigation, I am certain that in
my own experience the proportion of cases in which there is actual
dependence upon what the children earn is very much larger. It must not
be forgotten in discussing this question that although a child may earn
only $1.50 a week, that sum may mean a great deal to the family. It may
mean the difference between living in a comparatively good house on a
decent street and going to a foul tenement in a bad neighborhood. It may
mean the difference between coal and no coal in winter, or ice and no
ice in summer. As a poor woman said to me quite recently, “Joe only
earns thirty cents a day, but that thirty cents means supper for all
five in the family.” The investigations of Mr. Nichols in the
coal-mining and textile-manufacturing towns,[150] of Mr. Kellogg
Durland,[151] and, particularly, the inquiries made in New Jersey
concerning the immediate effects of the Child Labor Law of 1904,[152]
all tend to show that the dependence of families upon children’s
earnings is much greater than the Illinois figures would indicate. I
venture the opinion that there is not a Settlement worker in America who
has studied this problem whose experience would confirm the optimism of
the Illinois investigators. I am certain that within a radius of three
blocks from the little Settlement in which this is written, and with
which I am at present most familiar, there are more families known to be
absolutely dependent upon the earnings of young children than were found
in the whole State of Illinois, according to the report quoted. I know
of at least twice as many such families as were found in Illinois living
in this little city with its population of about sixty thousand as
against the nearly 5,000,000 in Illinois. Settlement workers in various
parts of the country have, without exception, declared the Illinois
report to be absolutely at variance with their experience.

In the hope that I might be able to gather sufficient accurate data to
warrant some fairly definite conclusions upon this point, I spent
several weeks making careful personal investigations into the matter in
four states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. I
made inquiries into 213 cases, first getting the children’s stories and
then carefully investigating them. The results are clearly set forth in
the accompanying schedule, but explanation of a few points may be
helpful to the reader.

In choosing a wage standard to represent the primary poverty line, I
somewhat arbitrarily fixed upon $10 per week. In either of the four
states named, such a wage must mean poverty and lead to the employment
of children at the earliest possible moment. Intemperance appears in
four cases, but that does not mean that it did not enter into other
cases at all. In the four cases noted the fathers were earning from $12
to $18 per week, and while it is possible that with such wages they
might be honestly and honorably poor, since even $18 is not a very
princely wage, it is a fact that their expenditures upon drink
constituted the real cause of the poverty which forced their children to
work. On the other hand, I do not suppose that all the cases of child
labor due to the primary poverty of their families are noted. In the
last column several cases are given of children who were “sick when
attending school,” or who “could not get on at school.” For reasons
given in an earlier chapter, I am inclined to believe that these cases
would have to be transferred to the other column if it were only
possible to investigate them more fully.


No. of │ Occupations[F] │Reasons given which│Reasons given Other
Children │ │ indicate Primary │ than Apparent
│ │ Poverty │ Primary Poverty
Boys, 34.│Glass factory │Wages of father 9│Parents saving 8
│ Workers.[G] │ less than $10 │ money to buy
│ │ per week │ their homes,
│ │ │ etc.
│ │Father sick or 5│Children working 2
│ │ injured │ to keep father
│ │ │ who is able to
│ │ │ work but won’t
│ │Father dead 2│
│ │Father 1│
│ │ unemployed │
│ │Father in prison 1│Not determined 6
Boys, 23.│Textile mill │Wages of father 14│Tired of school 13
│ workers. │ less than $10 │
│ │ per week │
Girls, 57.│ │Father 6│Discouraged by 6
│ │ unemployed │ being “put
│ │ │ back” at
│ │ │ school every
│ │ │ time family
│ │ │ moved
│ │Father dead 5│Parents saving 5
│ │ │ the money
│ │Father sick or 6│Because 9
│ │ injured │ companions
│ │ │ went to work
│ │Father deserted 2│To get better 4
│ │ family │ clothes
│ │Father drunkard 1│Not determined 9
Boys, 33.│Cigarette, │Father’s wage 14│Because friends 6
│ cigar, and │ less than $10 │ worked
│ tobacco │ per week │
│ workers. │ │
Girls, 22.│ │Father dead 3│Tired of school 5
│ │Father sick or 4│Parents saving 4
│ │ injured │ money
│ │Father 4│To get better 3
│ │ unemployed │ clothes
│ │Father drunkard 3│Sick while at 2
│ │ │ school
│ │ │Not determined 7
Boys, 18.│Delivery wagon 4│Wages of father 15│Couldn’t get on 6
│ boys │ less than $10 │ at school
│ │ per week │
Girls, 26.│Match packers 12│Father dead 2│To get better 4
│ │ │ clothes
│Candy factory 10│Father sick or 4│Because friends 3
│ girls │ injured │ went to work
│Wire factory 7│Father 2│Sick while at 3
│ workers │ unemployed │ school
│Rubber factory 11│Father deserted 2│Not determined 3
│ workers │ family │
Boys, 108.│ │Low wages 52│School 30
│ │ │ difficulties
Girls, 105.│ │Unemployment 13│Because friends 18
│ │ │ went to work
│ │Father’s death 12│To get better 11
│ │ │ clothes
│ │Father’s 19│To enable 17
│ │ sickness │ parents to
│ │ │ save
│ │Father’s 4│Sickness of 5
│ │ desertion of │ child while at
│ │ family │ school
│ │Father’s 4│Father’s 2
│ │ intemperance │ laziness
│ │Father in prison 1│Not determined 25
Total, 213.│ │Total, 105 = 49.30%│Total, 108 = 50.70%

I do not offer this table as conclusive testimony upon the point under
discussion. The number of cases investigated is too small to give the
results more than suggestive value. Personally, I believe that the cases
given are fairly typical, and that is the opinion also of some of the
leading authorities upon the subject to whom I have submitted the table.
No private investigator can ever hope to investigate a sufficient number
of cases to establish anything conclusively in this connection. What is
needed most of all is a coöperative investigation under the direction of
the leading sociological students of the country until such extensive
returns are gathered as will justify more positive conclusions. In the
meantime such tables as this can at best only serve to call attention to
what _may_ be a general fact.

The table shows more than mere poverty. First of all there is the
senseless, feverish, natural ambition of the immigrant to save money, to
be rich. “Ma boy getta much mona—I get richa man,” said one of the
Italians included in the first line of the fourth column of the
foregoing table. How often I have heard that speech! Not always in the
broken music of Italian-English, but in the many-toned, curious English
of Bohemian, Lithuanian, Scandinavian, Russian, Pole, and Greek—all
drawn by the same powerful magnet of wealth—all sacrificing, ignorantly
and blindly, the lives of themselves and their children in their fevered
quest. In this, as in so many other problems of the republic, the
immigration of hundreds of thousands of people of alien races, customs,
and speech enters. Whether their admission is wise or unwise is a
subject outside the scope of this discussion, but one thing is certain,
and as vital as it is true, namely, that hospitality has its obligations
and duties. If the nation is to receive these immigrants, the nation
must accept the responsibility of protecting them and itself. It must
protect the immigrants from the dangers which their ignorance does not
permit them to see, and protect itself from having to bear in the near
future an Atlantean load; an economic burden which must come to it if
these “strangers within the gates” in their ignorance are allowed to
barter the manhood of their sons and the womanhood of their daughters
for gold.

The virtual breakdown of our school system is one of the gravest
problems indicated by the table and enforced by general observation. The
children who go to work in factories and mines because they are “tired
of school,” or “because they could not learn,” are, it is to be feared,
not always but too often, the victims of undernutrition. The school
spends all its energies in the vain attempt to educate wasting minds in
starving bodies, and then the child, already physically and mentally
ruined, goes to the mine or the factory, there to linger on as
half-starved plants in arid soil sometimes linger, or to fade away as a
summer flower fades in a day. Poverty began the ruin of the child by
denying it proper nourishment, and ignorance and greed combine to
complete the ruin by sending the child in its weakness forth to labor.

The other reasons for the employment of children shown in the table
cannot be discussed separately. The moral contagion of poverty and
ignorance, evidenced by the number of those who work, not from
necessity, but because their friends work, is not new to those who have
studied this and kindred problems. The influence of a single family in
lowering the moral and economic standards of a whole street, especially
in our smaller towns, is notorious. The pathos of the mothers of
families who are worse than widows, with their drunken, dissolute
husbands, and the tragedy of little child lives crushed by brutal,
selfish, indolent fathers who place the responsibility of maintaining
the family upon their young shoulders, are familiar phases of the
problem of child labor.

It is a solemn responsibility which the presence of this menacing evil
of child labor places upon the nation. It is not only the interests of
the children themselves that are menaced; even more important and
terrible is the thought that civilization itself is imperilled when
children are dwarfed physically, mentally, and morally by hunger, heavy
toil, and unwholesome surroundings. If one of the forts along our
far-stretching coasts were attacked by an enemy, or if a single square
mile of our immense territory were invaded, the nation would rise in
patriotic unison, and there would be no lack either of men or money for
the defence. Surely, it is not too much to hope that, before long, the
nation will realize in the destruction of its future citizens by greed
and ignorance a far more serious attack upon the republic than any that
could be made by fleets or armed legions. To sap the strength and weaken
the moral fibres of the children is to grind the seed corn, to wreck the
future for to-day’s fleeting gain.

A great Frenchman once said of the alphabet, “These twenty-six letters
contain all the good things that ever were, or ever can be, said,—only
they need to be arranged.” To complete the truth of this aphorism, he
should have included all the bad things as well. And so it is with the
children of a nation. Capable of expressing all the good or evil the
world has known or may know, it is essentially a matter of arrangement,
opportunity, environment. Whether the children of to-day become

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 14 of 22)