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she sat upon her bed sewing, only pausing to cough when the plague
seemed to choke her, she told her story: “It’s awful,” she said, “but I
must work else we shall get nothing to eat and be turned into the street
besides. I have no time for anything but work. I must work, work, work,
and work. Often we go to our beds as we left them when I haven’t time or
strength to shake them up, and Joe, my husband, is too tired or sick to
do it. Cooking? Oh, I cook nothing, for I haven’t time; I must work. I
send the little girl out to the store across the way and she gets what
she can,—crackers, cake, cheese, anything she can get—and I’m thankful
if I can only make some fresh tea.” Neither of this woman’s two little
children has ever known the experience of being decently fed, and their
weak, rickety bodies tell the results. From a bare account of their diet
it might be inferred that the mother must be ignorant or neglectful, but
she is, on the contrary, a most intelligent woman and devoted to her
children. Under better conditions she would perhaps have been a model
housewife and mother, but it is not within the possibilities of her
toil-worn, hunger-wasted body to be these and at the same time a
wage-earner. So, without attempting to minimize the part which ignorance
plays, it is well to emphasize the fact, so often lost sight of and
forgotten, that what appears to be ignorance or neglect is very
frequently only poverty in one of its many disguises.


As a contributory cause of excessive mortality and sickness among young
children, the employment of mothers away from their homes is even more
important. There is no longer any serious dispute upon that point,
though twenty-five years ago it was the subject of a good deal of
vigorous controversy on both sides of the Atlantic.[28] Professor Jevons
thoroughly established his claim that the employment of mothers and the
ensuing neglect of their infants is a serious cause of infantile
mortality and disease. So important did he consider the question to be
that he strenuously advocated the enactment of legislation forbidding
the employment of mothers until their youngest children were at least
three years old.[29] When one who is familiar with the facts considers
all that the employment of mothers involves, it is difficult to imagine
how its evil effects upon the children could ever have been questioned.
In too many cases the toil continues through the most critical periods
of pregnancy; the infants are weaned early in order that the mother may
return to her employment, and placed in charge of some other
person—often a mere child, inexperienced and ignorant. These “little
mothers” have been much praised and idealized until we have become prone
to forget that their very existence is a great social menace and crime.
It is true that many of them show a wonderful amount of courage and
precocity in dealing with the babies intrusted to their care. But in
praising these qualities we must not forget that they are still
children, necessarily unfitted for the responsibilities thus placed upon
them. Moreover, they themselves are the victims of a great social crime
when their childhood is taken away and the cares of life which belong to
grown men and women are thrust upon them.



The mothers of all these babies work away from their homes.

In a personal letter to the writer, Mr. Roscoe Doble, Clerk to the
Health Board of Lawrence, Massachusetts, says: “Relative to the high
infantile mortality, I can only say that ignorance in the preparation of
food, illy ventilated tenements, and, in many cases, unavoidable neglect
occasioned by the mothers being obliged to work away from the homes,
often leaving their babies in the care of other children, seem to be the
prime factors in the high mortality among children.” Similar testimony
has been given by physicians and nurses wherever I have made inquiries,
indicating a general consensus of opinion among experts upon the
subject. A striking instance of the ignorance of these little girls to
whom infants are intrusted was observed in Hamilton Fish Park when one
of them gave a baby, apparently not more than four or five months old,
soda water, banana, ice cream, and chewed cracker—all inside of twenty

In several factory towns I made careful investigations of the home
conditions of a number of families where the mothers were employed away
from their homes, noting particularly the rates of infantile mortality
among them. The following typical schedule relates to five cases noted
in the course of a single day in one of the small towns of New York:—


│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ Total │ │
│ │Average │ │ number │ No. of │ No. of
Name│Age│ Weekly │ Husband’s Work, Wages, │ of │Children│Children
│ │Earnings│ etc. │Children│ having │ now
│ │ │ │ Born │ Died │ Alive
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │Mill laborer. Wages $9.00 │ │ │
Mrs.│43 │ $7.00 │ week but is often sick. │ 5 │ 5 │
M. │ │ │ Drinks heavily. │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │Laborer. Often unemployed.│ │ │
Mrs.│ │ │ Average wage the year │ │ │
K. │38 │ $6.50 │round not more than $7.00 │ 7 │ 5 │ 2
│ │ │ a week. │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
Mrs.│ │ │ │ │ │
C. │34 │ $7.00 │ Deserted wife. │ 6 │ 4 │ 2
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
Mrs.│ │ │Sick two years and unable │ │ │
S. │29 │ $6.00 │ to work. Was a laborer │ 6 │ 3 │ 3
│ │ │ formerly. │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │
│ │ │ Dead 6 months. Was a │ │ │
│ │ │ laborer, often sick and │ │ │
Mrs.│41 │ $6.00 │unemployed. Widow does not│ 8 │ 5 │ 3
H. │ │ │ think he earned $6.00 a │ │ │
│ │ │ week the year round. │ │ │
│ │ │ │ │ │

│ │ │ How │
│ │ │Children│
│Nationality│ Age of │ are │
Name│ of the │Youngest│ cared │ General Remarks
│ Parents │ Child │ for │
│ │ │ while │
│ │ │ Mother │
│ │ │ Works │
│ │ │ │All five died under 18 months of
│ Mother, │ │ │age; three of them under 6 months.
Mrs.│ Irish; │ │ │All the children were cared for by
M. │ Father, │ │ │other children while mother worked.
│ Scotch. │ │ │Three died of convulsions, two of
│ │ │ │diarrhœa.
│ Mother, │ │ │All five that died were under 12
Mrs.│ Irish │ 10 │By girl,│months of age. Two of them died of
K. │ American; │months. │ aged 9 │convulsions, one of acute gastritis,
│ Father, │ │ years. │two of measles. The baby is a puny
│ Swede. │ │ │little thing.
│ Mother, │ │ By │
Mrs.│ German; │ 18 │ oldest │One child was scalded to death while
C. │ Father, │months. │ girl, │mother was at work; one died of
│ Austrian. │ │ aged 9 │convulsions and two of bronchitis.
│ │ │ years. │
│ │ │ │The first two children and the last
│ Mother │ │ By │born are alive; the third, fourth,
Mrs.│ English; │ │ father │and fifth are dead, each of them
S. │ Father, │2 years.│and girl│dying within the first year. Mother
│ American. │ │ of 7 │says they were poor, puny babies.
│ │ │ years. │Causes of death: Debility, 2;
│ │ │ │convulsions, 1.
│ Mother, │ │ By │The first two and the eighth born
│ American; │ │ oldest │are alive; the five intervening are
Mrs.│ Father │ 20 │girl, 11│dead. Four of these died within the
H. │(deceased),│months. │ years │first year. Causes of death:
│ French- │ │ old. │Debility, 2; intestinal dyspepsia,
│ Canadian. │ │ │2; bronchitis, 1.

It will be observed that out of a total of 32 children born only 10 were
alive at the time of the inquiry, and that of the number dead no less
than 18 were under one year of age, the cause of death in most cases
being associated with neglect and defective diet. Of the ten children
surviving, six were decidedly weak, and the mothers said that they were
“generally sick” and that somehow it seemed as if they “took” every sort
of disease, a well-known condition of the undernourished child.

In the same town the case of a poor Hungarian mother was brought to my
attention by one perfectly familiar with all the details, a witness of
unassailable veracity. This poor Hungarian child-wife and mother was
barely fifteen when her baby was born, but she had been working fully
three years in the mill. When the child was born the father disappeared.
“He was afraid he could never pay the cost,” the wife said in his
defence. On the ninth day after her confinement she returned to her
work, leaving the baby in charge of a girl nine years old.



Upon the day the baby was two weeks old, word came to the mother while
at work that it had been taken suddenly ill and imploring her to return
to it at once. Terrified, she sought the foreman of her department and
begged to be allowed to go home. “Ma chil seek! Ma chil die!” she cried.
But the foreman needed her and scowled; they were “rushed” in the
winding-room. And so he refused to grant her the permission she
sought—refused with foul objurgations. Heartbroken, she went to another,
superior, foreman and in broken English begged to be allowed to go to
her sick babe. “Ma chil seek! Ma chil die!” she cried incessantly. This
foreman also refused at first to let her go. Perhaps it was because he
thought of his own daughter that he relented at last and gave her
permission to go home—_permission_ to give a mother’s care to the child
born of her travail! Eye-witnesses say that she sank down upon her knees
and, with hysterical gratitude, kissed the foreman’s rough, dirty hands.
“You good man! You good man!” she shrieked, then fled from the mill with
frenzied haste.

But when she reached her little tenement home in “Hunk’s town” the baby
was already dead, and there was only a lifeless form for her to clasp in
her arms. The life of an infant child is too frail a thing, and too
uncertain, to permit us to say that a mother’s care would have sufficed
to save that babe. But the doctor said neglect was the cause of death,
and the poor mother has moaned daily these many months, “If I no work,
ma chil die not. I work an’ kill ma chil!”

Thirty-five years ago Paris was besieged by Germany’s vast army. For
months the war raged with terrible cost to invader and invaded; industry
was paralyzed and factories were closed down, with the result that there
was the most frightful poverty due to unemployment. But, because the
mothers were forced to stay at home, and were thus enabled to give their
children their personal care and attention instead of trusting them to
the “little mothers,” the mortality of infants decreased by 40 per cent.
No other explanation of that striking fact, so far as I am aware, has
ever been attempted.[30] Very similar was the effect upon the infantile
death-rate during the great cotton famine in Lancashire as a result of
the prolonged unemployment of so many hundreds of mothers.
Notwithstanding the immense increase in poverty, the fact that the
mothers could personally care for their infants more than compensated
for it and lowered the rate of mortality in a most striking manner.[31]
These examples of a profound social fact are sufficient for our present
purpose, though, were it necessary, they might be indefinitely


Perhaps the employment of mothers too close to the time of childbirth,
both before and after, is almost as important as the subsequent neglect
and intrusting of children to the tender mercies of ignorant and
irresponsible caretakers. Élie Reclus tells us that among savages it is
the universal custom to exempt their women from toil during stated
periods prior to and following childbirth,[32] and in most countries
legislation has been enacted forbidding the employment of women within a
certain given period from the birth of a child. In Switzerland the
employment of mothers is prohibited for two months before confinement
and the same period afterwards.[33] At present the English law forbids
the employment of a mother within four weeks after she has given birth
to a child, and the trend of public opinion seems to be in favor of the
extension of the period of exemption to the standard set by the Swiss
law.[34] So far as I am aware there exists no legislation of this kind
in the United States, in which respect we stand alone among the great
nations, and behind the savage of all lands and ages.

Wherever women are employed in large numbers, as, for example, in the
textile industries and in cigar-making, the need for such legislation
has presented itself, and it is impossible, unfortunately, to think that
the absence of it in this country indicates a like absence of need for
it. Cases in which women endure the agony of parturition amid the roar
and whirl of machinery, and the bed of childbirth is the factory floor,
are by no means uncommon. From a large mill, less than twenty miles from
New York City, four such cases were reported to me in less than three
months. Careful personal investigation in each case revealed the fact
that the unfortunate women had begged in vain that they might be allowed
to go home. One such case occurred on the morning of June 27 of this
year, and was reported to me that same evening by letter. The writer of
the letter is well known to me and his testimony unimpeachable.

A poor Slav woman, little more than a child in years, begged for
permission to go home because she felt ill and unable to stand.
Notwithstanding that her condition was perfectly evident, her appeal was
denied with most brutal oaths. Cowering with fear she shrank away back
to her loom with tears of shame and physical agony. Soon afterward her
shrieks were heard above the din of the mill and there, in the presence
of scores of workers of both sexes,—many of whom were girls of fourteen
years of age,—her child was born. Perhaps it is fortunate that the child
did not live to be a constant reminder to the poor woman of that hour of
unspeakable shame and suffering! The young daughter of my correspondent
was one of the witnesses of this shameful, inhuman thing. Subsequently I
secured ample corroboration of the story from the local Slav priest who
knew the poor woman and visited her soon after the occurrence. When I
showed the letter of my informant to a local physician, he acknowledged
that he had heard of other similar cases occurring and begged me to see
one of the principal owners of the mill and secure the discharge of the
foreman whose name was given. As if that could do any good! What good
would be accomplished by securing the discharge of the man, and possibly
bringing him and his family to poverty? That it would salve the
conscience of the mill owner is probable. That it would be a
well-deserved rebuke of the foreman’s inhumanity is likewise true. But
it would not contribute in any way to the solution of the problem of
which the case in question was but one of many examples.



Careful investigation showed this report to be absolutely correct
except for the fact that the birth was normal and not “premature.”

Not long ago, in one of the largest cigar factories in New York, a woman
left her bench with a cry of agony and sank down in a corner of the
factory, where, in the presence of scores of workers of both sexes,
whose gay laughter and chatter her shrieks had stilled, she became a
mother. The poor woman afterwards confessed that she had feared that it
might happen so, but said she “wanted to get in another day so as to
have a full week’s pay and money for the doctor.” Within two weeks she
was back again at her trade, but in another shop, her baby being left in
the care of an old woman of seventy who supports herself by caring for
little children at a charge of five cents per day. In another factory a
woman returned to work on the seventh day after her confinement, but was
sent back by the foreman. This woman, a Bohemian, explained that she did
not feel well enough to work but feared that she might lose her place if
she remained longer away. The dread prospect of unemployment and hunger
had forced her from her bed to face the awful perils attendant upon
premature exertion and exposure. Had she been a “savage heathen” in the
kraal of some Kaffir tribe in Africa she would have been shielded,
protected, and spared this peril, but she was in a civilized country, in
the richest city of the world, and therefore unprotected!

In many factories, probably a majority, women in whom the signs of
approaching motherhood are conspicuous are discharged. “It don’t take
two people to run this loom,” or “Two can’t work at one job,” are
typically brutal examples of the language employed by bosses of a
certain type upon such occasions. The fear of being discharged causes
many a poor woman to adopt the most pitiful means to hide her condition
from the boss. “It wouldn’t be so bad if we were only laid off for a few
weeks, but it’s getting fired and the trouble of finding a new job that
hurts,” they say. But the consequences are too serious alike to mother
and child, to justify legislative neglect or the dependence upon the
wisdom or humanity of employers or foremen. In many cases, doubtless,
sympathy for the women themselves and the knowledge that discharge, or
even suspension for a few weeks, would mean increased poverty and
hardship, induces foremen to allow them to remain at work as long as
they can stand. But in many other instances the condition of business
and the needs of the employer at the moment determine the question. If
the mill or factory is busy and in need of hands, the pregnant woman is
rarely discharged; if there is difficulty in obtaining workers in
certain unpopular departments, like the winding-room of a textile mill,
for instance, such a woman will frequently be given the option of
ceasing work or going into the less popular department, generally at
less wages.

The evil is apparent, but the remedy is not so obvious. That no woman
should be permitted to work during a period of six or eight weeks
immediately before and after childbirth may be agreed, but then the
necessity arises for some adequate means of securing her proper
maintenance during her necessary and enforced idleness. To forbid her
employment without making provision for her needs would possibly be an
even greater evil than now cries for remedy. The question really
resolves itself into this: Is civilized man equal to the task which the
savage everywhere fulfils? Private philanthropy has occasionally
grappled with this problem and the results have been highly significant
of what might be accomplished if what has been done as a matter of
charity in a few cases could be done generally as a matter of justice
and right. Of these private experiments perhaps the most famous of all
are those of the celebrated Alsatian manufacturer, M. Jean Dolphus, and

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 4 of 22)