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infectious disease or verminous heads. The excessive prevalence of
“granular lids,” or trachoma, which is an acquired disease,[174] has led
to a good deal of attention being given of late to the whole subject of
defective vision. But practically no effort at all has been made to
combine remedial treatment with inspection. Children suffering from
infectious diseases are simply excluded from the schools, and those
found to be suffering from defective vision are given notes asking their
parents to provide them with suitable glasses. In a very large
proportion of cases, probably a majority, the requests are ignored. I
have had children pointed out to me who were suffering from such serious
defects of vision as materially to handicap them in their school work,
whose parents had taken no notice whatever of repeated notices and
warnings from the school doctors. Many parents are too poor to buy
glasses, many more are too ignorant to understand the importance of
complying with the request. I know many parents of this type. On the
other hand, I know many cases in which it would be just as reasonable to
ask the parents to make glasses for their children as to buy them. For
instance, I know of one public school in which the teachers have
repeatedly reported upon the number of children with defective vision,
but without appreciable effect. I spoke to the priest to whose church a
majority of the children’s parents belong about it, and he replied:
“What can they do? They cannot afford to buy glasses. Of the 300
families belonging to my church, I am in a position to say that there
are not more than 10 in which the father earns more than $9 a week. Many
of them earn only six or seven. They have all they can do to get food;
glasses are impossible.” Now, while it is true that in many of these
families there will be supplementary wages from the children or the
mothers, it is perfectly obvious that there must be many unable to
procure glasses for their children.



Little or no attention has been given as yet to the ears, teeth, nervous
and respiratory systems, and the general health of our school children.
The inspections conducted by Dr. Cronin and his assistants in New York
City are by far the most important yet made in the United States, and
show the importance of this largely neglected subject. When I have stood
in some of our American public schools and observed the way in which the
medical inspections were made,—as many as 2000 children being
“inspected” in ten or twelve minutes,—I have with shame contrasted the
farcical proceeding with the thorough, systematic work done in several
European countries. In this, as in so many other matters, the United
States and England are far behind countries like Belgium, France,
Germany, Italy, Norway, and Switzerland.[175]

In Brussels every child in the public elementary schools is medically
examined once every ten days. “Its eyes, teeth, ears, and general
physical condition are overhauled. If it looks weak and puny, they give
it cod-liver oil or some suitable tonic. At midday it gets a square meal
... and the greatest care is taken to see that no child goes ill shod,
ill clad, or ill fed.”[176] In Norway there is a very similar system.
Sickly children are put upon a special dietary and given special
individual medical care. There are sanatoria and convalescent homes in
connection with the schools.[177] In Switzerland again poor children are
fed and frequently clothed or shod at the public expense. Day homes are
provided for the very young children. Every child is medically examined
before being admitted to the schools, and periodically thereafter. Sick
children are sent to the school sanatoria and convalescent homes for
treatment. “Holiday Colonies” are provided, to which hundreds of
children are sent each year for a period of twenty-five days each. The
cost of this is partly borne by the city, out of the “Alcoholzehntel”;
partly by private contributions to the “school fund,” and partly by the
payments received from parents. The “Alcoholzehntel” is perhaps worthy
of explanation. It originates in this manner,—the manufacture of spirits
is a federal monopoly, and yields a handsome profit. This is divided
among the various cantons, which are bound to spend one-tenth of the sum
so received to combat the effects of alcohol.[178]

Very similar to the Swiss Holiday Colonies are the _Colonies Scolaires_
of France. These “School Colonies” take two forms. In one case the
arrondissement hires or borrows a boarding-school in the country for the
summer months, to which it sends several hundred children. In the other
case, it acquires a former château in the country, to which it
despatches relays of children during the year. The ordinary stay for
each child is three weeks, and the effect upon the physique of the
children is remarkable.[179] Berlin and, I believe, several other German
cities, not only provide for the regular, thorough medical examination
of every child, but weak, sickly children, especially those who are
predisposed to tuberculosis, are sent to school homes in the country,
not far from the city, where, amid the most healthful surroundings, they
are given special medical and tutorial care until they are entirely well
and strong.[180]

In view of such facts as these, which might be multiplied almost
indefinitely, it will be seen that there is nothing impracticable or
Utopian in the proposal that there should be a regular medical
examination of every child, both before its admission to the school, and
at stated, frequent periods during the whole of its school life. In
fact, there should be two inspections, one medical, the other
dental.[181] Every school should have a well-equipped dispensary
connected with it, and a dental laboratory, so that the children could
get prompt treatment. Provision should also be made to remove physically
weak and sick children from the crowded city schools to more favorable
surroundings with a view to preventing their degeneration, and restoring
them to health and vigor. While the responsibility for these things
should rest upon and be accepted by the municipality, with, possibly,
some subvention from the state, there seems to be no good reason why
some of our puzzled millionaires, who find the wise bestowal of their
wealth an increasingly difficult problem, should not contribute to the
city treasuries for that special purpose.


When we come to deal with the child-labor problem, or, rather, with the
problem of its repression by legislative enactment, we are at once
confronted with a great difficulty that arises out of our political
system rather than out of industrial conditions. The child-labor problem
is a national one, but when we face the question of its solution, we are
handicapped by the division of the country into forty odd states, a
division which makes it almost impossible to deal with any of our great
social and industrial problems nationally upon uniform principles. The
same difficulty exists, of course, in connection with all our social and
industrial problems. We have legislation in the various states of a
conflicting character, adding to the complexity of the problem the
legislators meant to solve. But because this is conspicuously so in the
case of child-labor legislation,—every advance made in the Northern
states serving as a premium upon reaction and delay in the Southern
states,—I have chosen to deal with it in this connection.



Up to the present time, the advocates of child-labor legislation have,
apparently, shrunk from making any definite proposals upon this
important question, while fully recognizing its tremendous importance.
Sooner or later, if ever our greatest social problems are to be
intelligently dealt with, the question of state rights will have to be
fought out and the paramountcy of the nation in all such matters
established, and I can imagine no better issue for raising that question
than the legislative protection of children. Here, again, we must turn
for guidance and suggestion to the Old World. In Germany they have had
to face a similar problem, the difference being one of degree only, and
they have found a solution which might well be adopted in the United
States. Child labor in Germany is regulated partly by the ordinances of
the federal council and partly by the legislation of the different
states of the Empire. The federal enactments establish a minimum
standard for the whole Empire, and it is specifically provided that each
state may enact more stringent measures as it may desire.[182] It is
difficult to see why this principle could not be applied to the problem
here in the United States, giving us a uniform minimum standard of
legislation throughout the whole country. Such a law should prohibit the
employment of any child under fifteen years of age at any employment
whatsoever, and the employment of any child or young person under
eighteen years of age in all “dangerous occupations” specified by a
federal commission. It would be well, also, to insist upon a certain
educational test up to eighteen years, the test to be made in all cases
by the school authorities.[183]

Coming to details for legislation within the states, it is perfectly
obvious that legislation necessary for, and suited to, big cities would
be useless and unsuited to the small towns and rural communities. In the
case of messengers and newsboys, for example, in a town of 10,000
inhabitants, conditions are entirely different from those existing in a
city of 50,000 or 100,000. What would be a perfectly harmless and
unobjectionable occupation in the former city becomes in the latter a
serious menace to health and morals. In the smaller community, the boy
is under the supervision of his parents, his employers, and many of the
citizens who know him personally. His paper business is not of the kind
which takes him out upon the streets as early as four or five o’clock in
the morning and as late as midnight, or after. The New York legislature,
in April, 1903, amended the law relating to children employed in the
streets and public places in cities of the first class, of which there
are two—New York and Buffalo. The amendment provided “that no male child
under ten and no girl under sixteen shall, in any city of the first
class, sell or expose for sale newspapers in any street or public place.
No male child actually or apparently under fourteen years of age shall
sell or expose for sale unless provided with a permit and a badge. No
child to whom such a permit and badge are issued shall sell papers after
ten o’clock at night.” Such a law as that might, I think, be applied to
the smallest town in the country without injustice to any one, but it is
almost ridiculously inadequate to a great city. The city ordinance of
Boston is a good deal better, though it is also inadequate to the needs
of a great city. The ordinance provides that no child shall work as a
bootblack or newsboy unless he is over ten years of age, nor sell any
other article unless he is over twelve years of age. No minor under
fourteen years of age is allowed to sell or expose for sale, in any
street or public place, any books, newspapers, pamphlets, fuel, fruit,
or provisions, unless he has a minor’s license. These minors’ licenses
are only granted upon the recommendation of the principal of the school,
or school district to which the child belongs. Of this law, again, I
should say that it might very well be adopted as applying to all towns
and villages in the United States up to a certain size, but that, in
view of the terrible menace to the health and morals accompanying these
occupations in our great cities, they should be absolutely forbidden for
children or young persons under eighteen years of age. It should be
borne in mind that the usual objection urged against child-labor
legislation—that it would inflict hardship upon the parents—scarcely
applies at all to these boys of the streets in our large cities. Most of
them, it has been shown over and over again, are not at all subject to
parental control, and contribute little or nothing at all to the support
of their families.[184]

It seems to me important also that, in the larger cities at least, and
perhaps generally, the present system of allowing boys and girls to work
during the vacation period should be abolished. The system not only robs
the child of the rest the vacation was intended to give it, but it is a
fruitful source of child labor. Many of those who go to work during the
vacation periods never return to school again. The parents become
dependent upon the extra earnings of the children in a surprisingly
short time, and the children themselves are naturally unwilling to lose
their newly acquired freedom and the extra pocket money which their
labor entitles them to. The ideal system would be to establish summer
school camps, something like the school colonies of Europe, in the
country, where recreation amid healthful surroundings could be combined
with a certain amount of instruction.



“Fresh Air Fund” children from tenement homes.


In this brief sketch of suggested remedial measures, I have confined
myself entirely to those measures which have been successfully tried
elsewhere. I have simply tried to correlate the constructive work in
child saving which has thus far been accomplished into something like a
definite and comprehensive policy. Discussion by earnest men and women
who have given the matters dealt with careful and patient study will,
doubtless, show the need of many changes, both in the direction of
modification and of extension. The important thing at the present time
is to secure an intelligent discussion of the whole problem of the duty
of society to the child, and I venture to hope that the foregoing may
help in that direction. While I have insisted mainly upon the
legislative aspect of the problem, I am not insensible of the importance
of individual responsibility and effort. Much of the child labor of
to-day, for example, is due to the carelessness and indifference of
purchasers’ forever demanding “cheap” goods; and a recognition on their
part of all the monstrous wrong and tragedy hidden in that word “cheap”
would do much to diminish the evil.

We need in our modern life something of that spirit which prompted David
to pour out upon the ground the precious cooling draught his brave
followers, at the risk of their lives, brought him from the well by
Bethlehem’s gate. The water had been obtained at too great a cost, the
risking of human lives, and David could not drink it.[185] We need that
spirit to be applied to our social relations. Those things which are
cheap only by reason of the sacrifice, or risk of sacrifice, of human
life and happiness are too costly for human use. While it is to a large
extent true that there is no problem which depends more completely upon
collective action, through the channels of government, it is also true
that there is abundant room for well-directed private effort. The
coöperation of all the constructive forces in society, private and
public, is necessary if the children are to be saved from the evils by
which they are surrounded, and the future well-being of the race made
possible and certain. Here is the real reconstruction of society—the
building of healthy bodies and brains to insure a citizenship free from
physical and moral decay, worthy of liberty and aspiring to brotherhood.

- - -

Footnote H:


Footnote I:

See Appendices A and B.

Footnote J:

Appendix A.


There is an affinity between children and flowers. To me the sight of a
blossom often suggests a baby, and the sight of a baby often suggests a
favorite flower.

Many a mother singing lullabies to the baby at her breast calls it her

And children, healthy children, are fond of flowers.

I once saw a boy of ten who didn’t know what a flower was. He knew what
each card in a pack was, and he wasn’t afraid of a policeman. But he was
afraid of a grassy and daisy-spangled field. London had destroyed for
him all sense of kinship with Nature.

But most children, even city children, love flowers. The country child
loves familiarly as it loves its own mother, but the city child loves
and worships. Yesterday I saw a group of little girls with their noses
pressed flat against a florist’s window. “My, ain’t they sweet!” they
cried in chorus.

_If only the flowers could know!_

Some sympathetic and leisured ladies have formed themselves into a guild
to give such children as I saw at the florist’s window growing flowers
to tend and love. I do not know the ladies. We live in the same city,
but in a different world.

And yet we have some things in common, these good ladies and I. Perhaps
many things, but chief of all a love for children and flowers. In our
different worlds, so little alike, this love flourishes with equal
freedom. My wife loves blossoms and babies, too, but she is not a member
of the guild. Its meetings are not held in our world.

The guild got together 10,000 little children from the tenements of this
great city of New York. To each child a potted plant was given, in the
hope that its presence would brighten the home, and its care “refine”
and “spiritualize” the child.

Good, generous ladies of the guild!

And from each child was exacted the promise that upon a given date at
the end of a full year, the plant should be brought back and placed upon
exhibition. Ribbons were promised as prizes to those children whose
plants should be in the most flourishing condition.

The year passed. The day of the exhibition arrived. Richly gowned women,
calling themselves “patronesses,” were there. They went in luxuriously
equipped automobiles to smile and be condescending toward children who
went in rags and were hungry.

But not all the children to whom the year before they had given flowers
were there. Some of them had drooped during the summer and died like
flowers in parched ground.

And many of the plants were withered and dead, too.

What an exhibition, to be sure! Geraniums without fragrance. Geraniums
which a year ago bore deep, rich, green leaves and bright scarlet
blossoms, were now straggling and wretched, with pale-green—almost
white—stems, with poor, sickly-looking little leaves and with no
flowers. And many a pot containing only a withered and rotted stick,
with maybe a little note, “Please, ma’am, it died because our rooms is

Some of the richly gowned women wept as they looked at the long rows of
pitiful flowers, and at the long rows of withered and dead flowers.

Wept? I wonder why.

I wonder if they wept because they began to appreciate faintly how
poverty withers and oppresses all life; or only because the sight of so
many dead flowers, and flowers worse than dead, overwhelmed them? Or had
they heard the flowers tell their sad little histories?

For every one of the flowers had a story to tell to understanding

Yes, madam, that tall, withered geranium stick, which made you weep as
you remembered how beautiful its scarlet blossoms had looked the year
before, when you gave it to little crippled Polly with the flaxen hair,
could unfold a story, if you could but understand it. But it is a story
of the tenement, not of your world. And you cannot understand.

But little Polly (who doesn’t understand either) can tell you enough to
give you cause for tears. Real tears. Human tears.

I could tell you, for I know the tenement. It is in my world. But let
Polly tell.

* * * * *

“When youse gived us th’ prutty flow’r, leddy, I put ’er in our winder
so’s all th’ kids ’ud see from th’ street. An’ mamma wus so proud! An’
me little baby bruver jes’ went wild, leddy. An’ when mamma wus washin’,
he’d stay so good and call out, so pert-like, ‘Putty! putty!’ An’ mamma
said ‘twus a blessin’, ’cause she wus able to do th’ washin’ when baby
wus playin’.

“But when winter comed, leddy, yer flow’r an’ th’ leaves wus all dead
like, an’ comed off. An’ me mamma said ’twus th’ cold. An’ when I put
’er by th’ airshaft she said ’twus too dark. An’ so yer flow’r jes’ died
like, an’ mamma wus so cut up washin’ days, for me bruver wus teethin’
an’ there warn’t no flow’r.

“But mamma said yer flow’r ’ud come up in th’ summer. So I jes’ kep’
waterin’, an’ when th’ fine days comed I put ’er in our winder again.
An’ it growed a bit, leddy, an’ mamma an’ me wus so glad! But ’twus
allus growin’ a bit an’ then dyin’ like, ’cause, mamma said, we didn’t
git no sun in our rooms. An’ I used to cry in th’ nights ’bout that
flow’r, leddy!

“An’ when summer comed an’ folks wus sleepin’ ’pon their fire-’scapes, I
put yer flow’r outside an’ watered ’er ev’ry day. But when me little
bruver wus sick, an’ th’ doctor said he mus’ go to th’ country
somewheres, yer flow’r jes’ died an’ dried up like a stick, leddy. Me
little bruver died, too, an’ th’ doctor said he’d ’a’ lived if he’d gone
into th’ country.

“I’m sorry, leddy, fur yer flow’r. P’raps ’twus ’cause it never went to
no country place. I tried me best, leddy, but—”

* * * * *

No, don’t reproach yourself, madam. You didn’t know. How could you know,
living in another world? It was really good of you to think of the
tenement children, and to give them your flowers.

Poor little children of the tenements! It was good of you to think of
them. Their homes are squalid, and flowers do make the home brighter.
And their little lives do need the refining and spiritualizing influence
of flowers.

_But neither the babies nor the blossoms can flourish there. They pine
and droop and die together. True, some of them live—babies and
blossoms—but how?_

You are a woman and you love children and flowers. Tell me, did not the
pale, sickly children and the pale, sickly plants impress you as even
more saddening than the dead plants—the constant reminders of dead

Their slow, prolonged dying is more terrible than death to me. And I
love them both, children and flowers.

I honor your tears. They proclaim you to be possessed of a human heart.
But you are a misfit in your sphere. Your place is in our world.

You mean well, but your guild is only a toy. The problem is not to be
solved so easily. If you would help solve it, you must give something
more than plants. You must give yourself.

And this is the work which calls for your service and sacrifice:—

To bring blossoms and babies together where both can thrive. To restore
the child-sense of kinship with Nature, that to every child may come the
joy of understanding Nature’s eternal harmonies. To bring the freedom
and beauty and companionship of beast and bird, flower and tree,
mountain and ocean, stream and star, into the life of every child.



“Fresh Air Fund” child from a crowded tenement district.

It is a big task, madam; flower shows and ribbons and tears will not
fulfil it. If you are serious, you will find more serviceable things to

_Some there are, the despised builders of Humanity’s temples, who are
laboring to give this vast heritage to the children of all the world.
They build patiently, for they have faith in their work._

_And this is their faith—that the power of the world springs from the
common labor and strife and conquest of the countless ages of human life
and struggle; that not for a few was that labor and that struggle, but
for all. And the common labor of the race for the common good and the
common joy will give blossoms and babies the fulness of life which
sordid greed with its blight makes impossible._

_Are you of the faith of the builders? Are you a builder?_


The problem of the underfeeding of children and its relation to the many

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 17 of 22)