John Spargo.

The Bitter Cry of the Children online

. (page 7 of 22)
Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 7 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the younger children are not so sensitive. He says that “unquestionably
a majority of the children are improperly fed, especially in the lower
grades.” Out of a total attendance of 5150 children in 5 Chicago schools
122 were reported as breakfastless, 1464 as having only bread with
coffee or tea, a total of 30.79 per cent.[51]

In Philadelphia several inquiries were made, with the result that of
4589 children 189 were reported as going generally or often without
breakfast of any kind, while 2504 began the day on coffee or tea and
bread, a total of 58.52 per cent.[52] In Cleveland, Boston, and Los
Angeles, among many other cities, teachers and others declare that the
evil is quite as extensive.

Massing the figures given from New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and
Chicago, we get a total of 40,746 children examined, of which number
14,121, or 34.65 per cent, either went breakfastless to school or got
miserably poor breakfasts of bread and tea or coffee. At least bread and
tea must prove to be a poor diet, wholly insufficient to meet the
demands of a growing human body, and the difficulty of obtaining good,
wholesome bread in our cities intensifies the evil. The wholesale
adulteration of food is indeed a most serious menace to life and health
to which the poor are constantly subjected.

These figures are not put forward as being in any sense a statistical
measure of the problem. The investigations described, and others of a
like nature, afford no adequate basis for scientific estimates. They are
all confined to the one morning meal, and the standard adopted for
judging of the adequateness of the meals given to the children is
necessarily crude and lacking in scientific precision. It cannot be too
strongly emphasized that it is not a question of whether so many
children go without breakfast occasionally, but whether they are
_underfed_, either through missing meals more or less frequently or
through feeding day by day and week by week upon food that is poor in
quality, unsuitable, and of small nutritive value, and whether in
consequence the children suffer physically or mentally, or both. Only a
comprehensive examination by experts of a large number of children in
different parts of the country, a careful inquiry into their diet and
their physical and mental development, would afford a satisfactory basis
for any statistical measure of the problem which could be accepted as
even approximately correct. Yet such inquiries as those described cannot
be ignored; in the absence of more comprehensive and scientific
investigations they are of great value, on account of the mass of
observed facts which they give; and the results certainly tend to show
that the estimate that fully 2,000,000 children of school age in the
United States are badly underfed is not exaggerated.


VII

As stated, all the investigations described were confined to the
breakfast meal. There has been practically no effort made, so far as I
am aware, to determine how many children there are who go without
lunches back to their lessons, or, what is quite as important, how many
there are to whom are given small sums of money to procure lunches for
themselves; and what kind of lunches they buy. Even in Europe most of
the investigations made have been confined to the morning meal. Yet this
lunch question is probably even more important than the other. There are
doubtless many more children who go without lunch than without
breakfast. Thousands of children who get some sort of breakfast, even if
it is only coffee and bread, get nothing at all for lunch, and a still
larger number—in some schools I have found as many as 20 per cent—get
small sums of money, ranging from one to five cents, to buy lunches for
themselves. And in most cases the condition of these is just as
deplorable as if they had nothing at all, if not much worse. Their
tragedy lies in the fact that in most cases the money they spend would
be quite sufficient to provide decent, nourishing meals if it were
wisely spent, instead of which they get what is positively injurious.

When a child of eight or nine years of age whose breakfast consists of
tea and bread lunches day after day upon pickles, its digestive system
must of necessity be impaired. Wise discrimination cannot be expected
from young children, and the temptation of the candy stores and of the
push carts laden with ice cream or fruit is great. Often the fact that
children in the very poorest districts spend so many pence is urged as
evidence that no serious problem of poverty exists, but that is a wholly
unwarranted assumption. There may not be absolute destitution; the
family income may be sufficient to keep its members above the line of
primary poverty, but the conditions under which it is earned,
necessitating the employment of the mother, involve the suffering of the
children. The mother is taken away from her legitimate work, the care of
her home and children, and they are left to their own resources. In the
course of these investigations I have found hundreds of children going
back to their lessons without having had any lunch, and hundreds more of
the class just described. In one class of 40 in an East Side school I
found 11 with pennies to buy their own lunches. These children were all
between the ages of eight and ten years. In another school the principal
said that there were 50 such children known to her out of a total of
less than 500. In 4 other schools, with an attendance of 4500, the
principals’ estimates of the number of such children aggregated 521, or
11.51 per cent.

This phase of the problem of child hunger is not peculiar to New York.
The reports of teachers in many cities and towns and my own observations
show that this evil is invariably associated with poverty; and European
investigations all support that view.[53] It is probable that in some of
the smaller manufacturing towns it prevails to a larger proportional
extent than in cities like New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and St.
Louis, but of that matter there are no data. The answers of teachers and
others to inquiries as to what such children buy have been monotonously
alike. They buy candy, cream puffs, ice cream, fruit (very often
damaged, decayed, or unripe), pickles, and other unwholesome things. One
cold day last winter I visited the neighborhood of a large school with
an idea that it might be possible to ascertain just exactly what a
number of children would buy for lunch. Any one who has ever watched the
outpouring of children from a large school will realize how utterly
impossible it is to keep any considerable number of them under
observation. Like a great river that has broken its banks the human
torrent rushes through the streets and crowds them awhile, then spreads
far and wide. I found 14 children in a delicatessen store, 8 boys and 6
girls. Seven of them bought pickles and bread; 4 bought pickles only; 2
bought bologna sausage and rye bread, and 1 bought pickled fish and
bread. In a neighboring street I made similar observations one day
during the summer. Out of 19 children 8 bought pickles, 2 of them with
bread, the others without; 6 bought ice cream, 2 bought bananas, and 3
others bought candy. For the children of the poor there seems to be some
strange fascination about pickles. One lad of ten said that he always
bought pickles with his three cents. “I must have pickles,” he said. It
would seem that the chronic underfeeding creates a nervous craving for
some kind of a stimulant which the child finds in pickles. The adult
resorts to whiskey very often for much the same reason. There is every
reason to believe that this malnutrition lays the foundation for
inebriety in later years. The custom of giving the children money
instead of prepared lunches is also responsible for a good deal of
gambling, especially among the boys. Little Tony plays “craps” and loses
his lunch, and the boy who wins gets a particularly big unwholesome
“blow out,” or adds a packet of cigarettes to his meal of pickles or
cream puffs.

In one large school on the West Side the principal confidently declared
that 10 per cent would be altogether too low an estimate of the number
of badly underfed children in that school. “If you mean only the
breakfastless ones,” she said, “why, it is too high, but if you include
those whose breakfasts are totally inadequate, and those who have no
lunches, those whose lunches at home are as inadequate as their
breakfasts, and those who get only the bad things they buy for lunch—in
a word, if you include all who suffer on account of defective, low
nutrition, the estimate of 10 per cent is too low for this school. There
are whole blocks in this district from which we scarcely get a child who
is not, at some time or other in the course of a year, in want of food.
The worst cases are in the primary grades, for many of the older
children drop out. The boys find odd jobs to do, and the girls are
needed at home to care for the smaller children.” The population of this
district is largely Irish and most of the men belong to that class of
unskilled laborers which, more than any other industrial class, suffers
from irregularity of employment. Many are longshoremen, others are
truck-men, builders’ laborers, and so on. No other class of workers
suffers so much from what may be called accidental causes as this. A war
in some far-away land may for a while seriously divert the stream of
commerce, and the longshoreman of New York suffers unemployment and its
attendant poverty; a strike of bricklayers or carpenters will throw the
laborers and their families into the maws of all-devouring misery, or a
week of bad weather may cause inexpressible hardship. When employment is
steady the wages they receive are in most cases only sufficient to keep
their families just above the line of poverty; when there is sickness or
unemployment, even for a couple of weeks, there is privation and the
growth of a burden of debt which remains to crush them downward when
wages begin to come in again. Want actually continues in such cases
through what, judged by the wage standard, appears to be a time of
normal prosperity. It is hardly to be wondered at that there is a good
deal of intemperance and improvidence. These conditions are the economic
soil in which intemperance, thriftlessness, and irresponsibility
flourish.

In this district, with the coöperation of a well-trained and experienced
woman investigator, a careful investigation of the condition of 50
families represented in the school was made. The number of children
attending school from the 50 families was 79. Of that number there were
24 who had no breakfast of any kind on the days they were visited, while
of the 55 more fortunate ones no less than 30 had only bread with tea or
coffee. Only 35 of the children had any lunch, or money with which to
procure any, 44 missing that meal entirely. Terrible as they are, these
figures do not tell the whole story. It is impossible to appreciate what
going without lunch means to these children unless we take into account
the fact that those who go without lunch, and those who eat only the
deleterious things they buy, are in most cases the same children who
either go breakfastless or have only bread and coffee day after day. And
their evening meal is very often a repetition of the morning meal, bread
and coffee or tea. From the schedule showing the actual dietary of the
children in question contained in the report of my co-investigator I
give, in the following table, the particulars relating to 6 families.
They are perfectly typical cases and demonstrate very clearly the woful
inadequacy of diet common to children of the poor.

════════╤════════╤═════════════════╤═════════════════╤═════════════════
Family │ No. of │ Breakfast │ Lunch │ Supper
│ School │ │ │
│Children│ │ │
────────┼────────┼─────────────────┼─────────────────┼─────────────────
1 │ 2 │Bread and tea │None. │Bread and tea.
│ │ only. │ │
2 │ 1 │None. │Soup from │Coffee and bread.
│ │ │ charity. │
3 │ 1 │Coffee and rolls │Coffee and bread.│Tea and bread.
│ │ (no butter or │ │
│ │ jam). │ │
4 │ 3 │Bread and tea │None. │Bread and tea
│ │ only. │ │ only.
5 │ 2 │None. │Soup with the │Piece of bread.
│ │ │ soup-meat. │
6 │ 1 │Bread and jam │None. │Tea and bread
│ │ with coffee. │ │ with jam.
════════╧════════╧═════════════════╧═════════════════╧═════════════════

It is a horrible fact that many of these children whose diet is so
unwholesome cannot eat decent food, even when they are most hungry. It
is not merely a question of appetite, but of stomachs too weak by reason
of chronic hunger and malnutrition to stand good and nutritious food.
This has been frequently observed in connection with Fresh Air Outings
for poor children in the tenement districts. I have known scores of
instances. Very often these children have to be patiently taught to eat.
Sometimes it takes several days to induce them to take milk and eggs.
They crave for their accustomed food—coffee and bread, or pickles. The
same fact has been observed in connection with adults in the hospitals.
When the Salvation Army started its free breakfast stations in New York,
the newspapers made a good deal of the fact that the children refused to
eat the good soup and milk porridge at first provided. That was regarded
as conclusive evidence that they were not hungry, for a hungry child is
supposed to eat almost anything. That is true in a measure of children
who are merely hungry, but these children are more than hungry. They are
weak and unhealthy as the result of chronic underfeeding. I myself saw
many children at the Salvation Army free breakfast depots whose hunger
was only too apparent try bravely to eat the soup until they actually
vomited. They would beg for a piece of bread, and when it was given them
eat it ravenously. In an uptown school a little English boy fainted one
morning while at his lessons. He had fainted the day before in the
school yard, but the teacher thought that it was due to overexertion
while at play. When he fainted the second time she took him to the
principal’s office, and they discovered that he had not eaten anything
that day, and only a piece of bread the day before. The principal sent
for some milk, and when it was warmed in the school kitchen she gave it
to the lad with a couple of dainty chicken sandwiches from her own
lunch, expecting him to enjoy a rare treat. But he didn’t. He took only
a bite or two and a sup of milk, then began to vomit. He could not be
induced to eat any more nor even to drink the milk. Presently, however,
he said to the teacher, “I think I could eat some bread, teacher,” and
when they sent out for some rolls and coffee he ate as though he had
seen no food for a week. Very few people, it may be added, incidentally,
realize how much the teachers and principals of schools in the poorest
districts give out of their slender incomes to provide children with
food, clothing, and shoes. But how little it all amounts to in the way
of solving the problem is best expressed in the words of one principal,
“What I can give in that way to the worst cases only lessens the evil in
just the same degree as a handful of sands taken from the seashore
lessens the number of grains.”

[Illustration:

A COSMOPOLITAN GROUP OF “FRESH AIR FUND” CHILDREN
]


VIII

The physical effects of such underfeeding cannot be easily
overestimated. No fact has been more thoroughly established than the
physical superiority of the children of the well-to-do classes over
their less fortunate fellows. In Moscow, N.V. Zark, a famous Russian
authority, found that at all ages the boys attending the Real schools
and the Classical Gymnasium are superior in height and weight to peasant
boys.[54] In Leipzic, children paying 18 marks school fees are superior
in height and weight to those paying only 9, and gymnasium boys are
superior to those of the lower Real and Burger schools.[55] Studies in
Stockholm and Turin show the same general results, the poorer children
being invariably shorter, lighter, and smaller of chest. The British
Anthropometric Committee found that English boys at ten in the
Industrial Schools were 3.31 inches shorter and 10.64 pounds lighter
than children of the well-to-do classes, while at fourteen years the
differences in height and weight were 6.65 inches and 21.85 pounds,
respectively.[56] Dr. Charles W. Roberts gives some striking results of
the examination of 19,846 English boys and men.[57] Of these, 5915
belong to the non-laboring classes of the English population, namely,
public school boys, naval and military cadets, medical and university
students. The remaining 13,931 belong to the artisan class. The
difference in height, weight, and chest girth, from thirteen to sixteen
years of age, is as follows:—

AVERAGE HEIGHT IN INCHES

═══════════════════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════
Age │ 13 │ 14 │ 15 │ 16
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Non-laboring class │ 58.79│ 61.11│ 63.47│ 66.40
Artisan class │ 55.93│ 57.76│ 60.58│ 62.93
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Difference │ 2.66│ 3.35│ 2.89│ 3.47
═══════════════════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════

AVERAGE WEIGHT IN POUNDS

═══════════════════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════
Age │ 13 │ 14 │ 15 │ 16
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Non-laboring class │ 88.60│ 99.21│ 110.42│ 128.34
Artisan class │ 78.27│ 84.61│ 96.79│ 108.70
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Difference │ 10.33│ 14.60│ 13.63│ 19.64
═══════════════════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════

AVERAGE CHEST GIRTH IN INCHES

═══════════════════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════╤═══════════
Age │ 13 │ 14 │ 15 │ 16
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Non-laboring class │ 28.41│ 29.65│ 30.72│ 33.08
Artisan class │ 25.24│ 26.28│ 27.51│ 28.97
───────────────────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────┼───────────
Difference │ 3.17│ 3.37│ 3.21│ 4.11
═══════════════════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════╧═══════════

It will be seen, therefore, that the children of the non-laboring class
at thirteen years of age exceed those of the artisan class in height
almost three inches, in weight almost ten and a half pounds, and in
chest girth almost three and a quarter inches. And these figures by no
means represent fully the contrast in physique which exists between the
very poorest and well-to-do children. The difference between the
children of the best-paid artisans and the poorest-paid of the same
class is nearly as great. Mr. Rowntree found that in York, England, the
boys of the poorest section of the working-class were on an average
three and one-half inches shorter than the boys of the better-paid
section of the working-class. As regards weight Mr. Rowntree found the
difference to be eleven pounds in favor of the child of the best-paid
artisan.[58]

Dr. W.W. Keen quotes the figures of Roberts with approval as applying
almost equally to this country,[59] and all the studies yet made by
American investigators seem to justify that opinion. There exists a
somewhat voluminous, but scattered, American literature tending to the
same general conclusions as the European. The classic studies of Dr.
Bowditch,[60] in Boston, and Dr. Porter,[61] in St. Louis, showed very
distinctly that the children of the poorer classes in those cities were
decidedly behind those of the well-to-do classes in both height and
weight. The more recent investigations of Dr. Hrdlicka[62] fully bear
out the results of these earlier studies.

The Report on Physical Training (Scotland) calls attention once more to
the fact that children in the pauper, reformatory, and industrial
schools are superior in physique to the children in the ordinary
elementary schools. Says the report: “The contrast between the condition
of such children as are seen in the poor day schools and the children of
parents who have altogether failed in their duty is both marked and
painful.”[63] Commenting upon which an English Socialist writer says:
“The obvious deduction is that if you are doing your duty ... and your
children are brought up in the way they should go, they will not be half
as well off as if they were truants or thieves. Therefore, ... the best
thing you can do for them ... is to turn your children into little
criminals.”[64] Without accepting these cynical deductions, the fact
remains that in a great many instances those children who, by reason of
the criminality of their parents or their complete failure to provide
for their offspring, find their way into such institutions, are far
better off, physically, than their fellows in the ordinary schools whose
parents are careful and industrious. But for the taint of institutional
life, and the crushing out of individuality which almost invariably
accompanies it, they would be far better equipped for the battle of
life.

The real significance of this physical superiority is not so obvious as
the writer quoted appears to assume. The fact is that these children are


1 2 3 4 5 7 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 7 of 22)