John Spargo.

The Bitter Cry of the Children online

. (page 3 of 22)
Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 3 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

poverty. These figures and the table which follows are not introduced
for that purpose; I have taken only a few of the diseases more
conspicuously associated with defective nutrition and other conditions
comprehended by the term poverty, and, supported by a strong body of
medical testimony, made certain more or less arbitrary allowances for
poverty’s influence upon the sum of mortality from each cause. Some of
the estimates may perhaps be criticised as being too high,—no man
knows,—but I am convinced that upon the whole the table is a
conservative one. No competent judge will dispute the statement that
some of the estimates are very low, and when it is remembered that only
a few of the many causes of infantile mortality are included and that
there are many others not enumerated in which poverty plays an important
part, I think it can safely be said that in this country, the richest
and greatest country in the world’s history, poverty is responsible for
at least 80,000 infant lives every year—more than two hundred every day
in the year, more than eight lives each hour, day by day, night by night
throughout the year. It is impossible for us to realize fully the
immensity of this annual sacrifice of baby lives. Think what it means in
five years—in a decade—in a quarter of a century.


Measles │ 8,465│ 85 │ 7,195
Inanition │ 10,687│ 90 │ 9,618
Convulsions │ 14,288│ 70 │ 10,000
Consumption │ 4,454│ 60 │ 2,648
Pneumonia │ 37,206│ 45 │ 14,340
Bronchitis │ 10,900│ 50 │ 5,450
Croup │ 10,897│ 45 │ 4,900
Debility and Atrophy│ 12,130│ 75 │ 9,397
Cholera Infantum │ 25,563│ 45 │ 11,502
Diarrhœa │ 3,962│ 45 │ 1,782
Cholera Morbus │ 3,180│ 45 │ 1,431
│ 151,732│ 51.57 │ 78,263


There are doubtless many persons, lay and medical, who will think that
the foregoing figures exaggerate the evil. But I would remind them that
I have only ascribed 30 per cent of the infantile death-rate to
“socially preventable causes,” and only 85 per cent of that number to
poverty in the broadest sense of that word.[C] I have purposely set my
estimate much lower than I am convinced it should be. All the facts
point irresistibly to the conclusion that even 50 per cent would be a
conservative estimate.

In connection with the New York Foundling Asylum on Randall’s Island, it
was decided some few years ago to introduce the Straus system of
Pasteurizing the milk given to the babies. The year before the system
was introduced there were 1181 babies in the asylum, of which number
524, or 44.36 per cent, died. In the year following, during which the
system was in operation, the number of children was 1284 and the number
of deaths only 255, or 19.80 per cent. In other words, there were 8.03
per cent more children and 48.66 per cent fewer deaths.[18]

Even more important is the testimony furnished by the Municipal “Clean
Milk” depots of Rochester, New York. Some years ago the Health Officer,
Dr. George W. Goler, called the attention of the city authorities to the
high infantile mortality occurring over a period of several years during
the months of July and August. After thorough investigation it was
fairly established that impure milk was one very important reason for
this high death-rate among children under five years of age. Accordingly
the Pasteurization system was introduced. Depots were opened in the
poorest parts of the city and placed in charge of trained nurses. After
three years it was decided that instead of Pasteurizing the milk
obtained from all sorts of places, with all its contained bacteria and
dirt, a central depot on a farm should be established and all energies
should be devoted to the insuring of a pure, clean, and wholesome supply
by keeping dirt and germs out of the milk and sterilizing all bottles
and utensils. Strict control is also exercised in this way over the
farmer with whom the contract for supplying the milk is made.



Deaths in Children Under 5 Years of Age

_1892 Began Efficient Milk Inspection._

_1897 Municipal Milk Stations Established._

_1900 Established A Municipal Standard of 100000 Bacteria per c.c._

Some idea of the important effects of this scientific attention by the
Board of Health to the staple diet of the vast majority of children may
be gathered from the following figures, which do not, however, tell the
whole story. In the months of July and August during the eight years,
1889–1896, prior to the establishment of the Municipal Milk Stations,
there were 1744 deaths under five years of age from all causes; in the
same months during eight following years, 1897–1904, there were only 864
deaths under five years of age from all causes, a decrease of 50.46 per
cent, despite a progressive increase of population.[19] It can hardly be
questioned, I think, that these figures suggest that my estimate is
altogether conservative.

The yearly loss of these priceless baby lives does not, however,
represent the full measure of the awful cost of the poverty which
surrounds the cradle. It is not only that 75,000 or 80,000 die, but that
as many more of those who survive are irreparably weakened and injured.
Not graves alone but hospitals and prisons are filled with the victims
of childhood poverty. They who survive go to school, but are weak,
nervous, dull, and backward in their studies. Discouraged, they become
morose and defiant, and soon find their way into the “reformatories,”
for truancy or other juvenile delinquencies. Later they fill the
prisons, for the ranks of the vagrant and the criminal are recruited
from the truant and juvenile offender. Or if happily they do not become
vicious, they fail in the struggle for existence, the relentless
competition of the crowded labor mart, and sink into the abysmal depths
of pauperism. Weakened and impaired by the privations of their early
years, they cannot resist the attacks of disease, and constant sickness
brings them to the lowest level of that condition which the French call
_la misère_.


However interesting and sociologically valuable such an analysis might
be, the separation of the different features of poverty so as to
determine their relative influence upon the sum of mortality and
sickness is manifestly impossible. We cannot say that bad housing
accounts for so many deaths, poor clothing for so many, and hunger for
so many more. These and other evils are regularly associated in cases of
poverty, the underfed being almost invariably poorly clad, and housed in
the least healthy homes. We cannot regard them as distinct problems;
they are only different phases of the same problem of poverty,—a problem
which does not lend itself to dissection at the hands of the
investigator. Still, notwithstanding that for many years all efforts to
reduce the rate of mortality among infants have dealt only with
questions of bad housing and of unhygienic conditions in general,—on the
assumption that these are the most important factors making for a high
rate of infant mortality,—it is now generally admitted that, important
as they are in themselves, these are relatively unimportant factors in
the infant death-rate. “Sanitary conditions do not make any real
difference at all,” and “It is food and food alone,” was the testimony
of Dr. Vincent before the British Interdepartmental Committee,[20] and
he was supported by some of the most eminent of his colleagues in that
position. That the evils of underfeeding are intensified when there is
an unhygienic environment is true, but it is equally true that defect in
the diet is the prime and essential cause of an excessive prevalence of
infantile diseases and of a high death-rate.

Perhaps no part of the population of our great cities suffers so much
upon the whole from overcrowding and bad housing as the poorest class of
Jews, yet the mortality of infants among them is much less than among
the poor of other nationalities, as, for instance, among the Irish and
the Italians. Dr. S. A. Knopf, one of our foremost authorities upon the
subject of tuberculosis, places underfeeding and improper feeding first,
and bad housing and insanitary conditions in general second as factors
in the causation of children’s diseases. In Birmingham, England, an
elaborate study of the vital statistics of nineteen years showed that
there had been a large decrease in the general death-rate, due,
apparently, to no other cause than the extensive sanitary improvements
made in that period, but the rate of infantile mortality remained
absolutely unchanged. The average general death-rate for the nine years,
1873–1881, was 23.5 per thousand; in the ten years, 1882–1891, it was
only 20.6. But the infantile death-rate was not affected, and remained
at 169 per thousand during both periods. There had been a reduction of
12 per cent in the general death-rate, while that for infants showed no
reduction. Had this been decreased in like degree, the infantile
mortality would have fallen from 169 to 148 per thousand.[21]

Extensive inquiries in the various children’s hospitals and dispensaries
in New York, and among physicians of large practice in the poorer
quarters of several cities, point with striking unanimity to the same
general conclusion. The Superintendents of six large dispensaries, at
which more than 25,000 children are treated annually, were asked what
proportion of the cases treated could be ascribed, on a conservative
estimate, primarily to inadequate nutrition, and the average of their
replies was 45 per cent.

In one case the Registrar in a cursory examination of the register for a
single day pointed out eleven cases out of a total of seventeen, due
almost beyond question entirely to undernutrition.

The Superintendent of the New York Babies’ Hospital, Miss Marianna
Wheeler, kindly copied from the admission book particulars of sixteen
consecutive cases. The list shows malnutrition as the most prominent
feature of 75 per cent of the cases. Miss Wheeler says: “The large
majority of our cases are similar to these given; in fact, if I kept on
right down the admission book, would find the same facts in case after


As in all human problems, ignorance plays an important rôle in this
great problem of childhood’s suffering and misery. The tragedy of the
infant’s position is its helplessness; not only must it suffer on
account of the misfortunes of its parents, but it must suffer from their
vices and from their ignorance as well. Nurses, sick visitors,
dispensary doctors, and those in charge of babies’ hospitals tell
pitiful stories of almost incredible ignorance of which babies are the
victims. A child was given cabbage by its mother when it was three weeks
old; another, seven weeks old, was fed for several days in succession on
sausage and bread with pickles! Both died of gastritis, victims of
ignorance. In another New York tenement home a baby less than nine weeks
old was fed on sardines with vinegar and bread by its mother. Even more
pathetic is the case of the baby, barely six weeks old, found by a
district nurse in Boston in the family clothes-basket which formed its
cradle, sucking a long strip of salt, greasy bacon and with a bottle
containing beer by its side. Though rescued from immediate death, this
child will probably never recover wholly from the severe intestinal
disorder induced by the ignorance of its mother. Yet, after all, it is
doubtful whether the beer and bacon were worse for it than many of the
patent “infant foods” of the cheaper kinds commonly given in good faith
to the children of the poor. If medical opinion goes for anything, many
of these “foods” are little better than slow poisons.[22] Tennyson’s
awful charge is still true, that:—

“The spirit of murder works in the very means of life.”

Nor is the work of this spirit of murder confined to the concoction of
“patent foods” which are in reality patent poisons. The adulteration of
milk with formaldehyde and other base adulterants is responsible for a
great deal of infant mortality, and its ravages are chiefly confined to
the poor. It is little short of alarming that in New York City, out of
3970 samples of milk taken from dealers for analysis during 1902, no
less than 2095, or 52.77 per cent, should have been found to be
adulterated.[23] Mr. Nathan Straus, the philanthropist whose Pasteurized
milk depots have saved many thousands of baby lives during the past
twelve years, has not hesitated to call this adulteration by its proper
name, child-murder. He says:—

“If I should hire Madison Square Garden and announce that at eight
o’clock on a certain evening I would publicly strangle a child, what
excitement there would be!

“If I walked out into the ring to carry out my threat, a thousand men
would stop me and kill me—and everybody would applaud them for doing so.

“But every day children are actually murdered by neglect or by poisonous
milk. The murders are as real as the murder would be if I should choke a
child to death before the eyes of a crowd.

“It is hard to interest the people in what they don’t see.”[24]

Ignorance is indeed a grave and important phase of the problem, and the
most difficult of all to deal with. Education is the remedy, of course,
but how shall we accomplish it? It is not easy to educate after the
natural days of education are passed. Mrs. Havelock Ellis has advocated
“a noviciate for marriage,” a period of probation and of preparation and
equipment for marriage and maternity.[25] But such a proposal is too far
removed from the sphere of practicality to have more than an academic
interest at present. Simply worded letters to mothers upon the care and
feeding of their infants, supplemented by personal visits from
well-trained women visitors, would help, as similar methods have helped,
in the campaign against tuberculosis. Many foreign municipalities have
adopted this plan, notably Huddersfield, England, and several American
cities have followed their example with marked success. There should be
no great difficulty about its adoption generally. One great obstacle to
be overcome is the resentment of the mothers whom it is most necessary
to reach, as many of those engaged in philanthropic work know all too
well. One poor woman, whose little child was ailing, became very irate
when a lady visitor ventured to offer her some advice concerning the
child’s clothing and food, and soundly berated her would-be adviser.
“You talk to me about how to look after my baby!” she cried. “Why, I
guess I know more about it than you do. I’ve buried nine already!” It is
not the naïve humor of the poor woman’s wrath that is most significant,
but the grim, tragic pathos back of it. Those four words, “I’ve buried
nine already!” tell more eloquently than could a hundred learned essays
or polished orations the vastness of civilization’s failure. For,
surely, we may not regard it as anything but failure so long as women
who have borne eleven children into the world, as had this one, can say,
“I’ve buried nine already!”

But circular letters and lady visitors will not solve the problem of
maternal ignorance; such methods can only skim the surface of the evil.
This ignorance on the part of mothers, of which the babies are victims,
is deeply rooted in the soil of those economic conditions which
constitute poverty in the broadest sense of the term, though there may
be no destitution or absolute want. It is not poverty in the narrow
sense of a lack of the material necessities of life, but rather a
condition in which these are obtainable only by the concentrated effort
of all members of the family able to contribute anything and to the
exclusion of all else in life. Young girls who go to work in shops and
factories as soon as they are old enough to obtain employment frequently
continue working up to within a few days of marriage, and not
infrequently return to work for some time after marriage. Especially is
this true of girls employed in mills and factories; their male
acquaintances are for the most part fellow-workers, and marriages
between them are numerous. Where many women are employed men’s wages
are, as a consequence, almost invariably low, with the result that after
marriage it is as necessary that the woman should work as it was before.

When the years which under more favored conditions would have been spent
at home in preparation for the duties of wifehood and motherhood are
spent behind the counter, at the bench, or amid the whirl of machinery
in the factory, it is scarcely to be wondered at that the knowledge of
domestic economy is scant among them, and that so many utterly fail as
wives and mothers. Deprived of the opportunities of helping their
mothers with the housework and cooking and the care of the younger
children, marriage finds them ill-equipped; too often they are slaves to
the frying-pan, or to the stores where cooked food may be bought in
small quantities. Bad cooking, extravagance, and mismanagement are
incidental to our modern industrial conditions.


But there is a great deal of improper feeding of infants which,
apparently due to ignorance, is in reality due to other causes, and the
same is true of what appears to be neglect. In every large city there
are hundreds of married women and mothers who must work to keep the
family income up to the level of sufficiency for the maintenance of its
members. According to the census of 1900 there were 769,477 married
women “gainfully employed” in the United States, but there is every
reason to believe that the actual number was much greater, for it is a
well-known fact that married women, especially in factories, often
represent themselves as being single, for the reason, possibly, that it
is considered more or less of a disgrace to have to continue working
after marriage. Moreover, it is certain that many thousands of women who
work irregularly, a day or two a week, or, as in many cases, only at
intervals during the sickness or unemployment of their husbands, were
omitted. A million would probably be well within the mark as an estimate
of the number of married women workers, the census figures
notwithstanding. These working mothers may be conveniently divided into
two classes, the home workers, such as dressmakers, “finishers” employed
in the clothing trades, and many others; and the many thousands who are
employed away from their homes in cigar-making, cap-making, the textile
industries, laundry work, and a score of other occupations including
domestic service.

The proportion of married women having small children is probably larger
among those employed in the home industries than in those which are
carried on outside of the homes. Out of 748 female home “finishers” in
New York, for instance, 658 were married and 557 had from one to seven
children each.[26] The percentage could hardly equal that in the outside
industries. While there are exceptional cases, as a rule no married
woman, especially if she has young children, will go out to work unless
forced to do so by sheer necessity. Dr. Annie S. Daniel, in a most
interesting study of the conditions in 515 families where the wives
worked as finishers, found that no less than 448, or 86.78 per cent of
the whole, were obliged to work by reason of poverty arising from low
wages, frequent unemployment, or sickness of their husbands. Of the
other 67 cases, 45 of the women were widows, 15 had been deserted, and 7
had husbands who were intemperate and shiftless. Of all causes low wages
was the most common, the average weekly income of the men being only
$3.81. The average of the combined weekly earnings of man and wife was
$4.85, and rent, which averaged $8.99 per month, absorbed almost
one-half of this. In addition to the earnings of the men and women,
there were other smaller sources of income, such as children’s wages and
money received from lodgers, which brought the average income per family
of 4½ persons up to $5.69 per week.[27]



Nothing could be further from the truth than the comfortable delusion
under which so many excellent people live, that so long as the work is
done at home the children will not be neglected nor suffer. While it is
doubtless true that home employment of the mother is somewhat less
disadvantageous to the child than if she were employed away from
home,—though more injurious from the point of view of the mother
herself,—the fact is that such employment is in every way prejudicial to
the child. Even if the joint income of both parents raises the family
above want, the conditions under which that income is earned must
involve serious neglect of the child. The mother is taken away from her
household duties and the care of her children; her time is given an
economic value which makes it too precious to be spent upon anything but
the most important thing of all,—provision for their material needs. She
has no time for cooking and little for eating; the children must shift
for themselves.

Thus the employment of the mother is responsible for numerous evils of
underfeeding, improper feeding, and neglect. She works from early morn
till night, pausing only twice or thrice a day to snatch a hasty meal of
bread and coffee with the children. Her pay varies with the kind of work
she does, from one-and-a-half to ten cents an hour. Ordinarily she will
work from twelve to fourteen hours daily, but sometimes, when the work
has to be finished and delivered by a fixed time, she may work sixteen,
eighteen, or even twenty hours at a stretch. And then there are the
“waiting days” when work is slack, and hunger, or the fear of hunger,
weighs heavily upon her and crushes her down. Hard is her lot, for when
she works there is food, but little time for eating and none for cooking
or the care of her children; when there is no work there is time enough,
but little food.

In Brooklyn, in a rear tenement in the heart of that huge labyrinth of
bricks and mortar near the Great Bridge, such a mother lives and
struggles against poverty and the Great White Plague. She is an
American, born of American parents, and her husband is also native-born
but of Scotch parentage. He is a laborer and when at work earns $1.75
per day, but partly owing to frequently recurring sickness and partly
also to the difficulty of obtaining employment, it is doubtful whether
his wages average $6 a week the year through. Of six children born only
two are living, their ages being seven years and two-and-a-half years
respectively. Both are rickety and weak and stunted in appearance. As

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 3 of 22)