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underfeeding is responsible for much of the mental degeneracy among
school children and the resulting failure of so many of them to profit
by the education which we provide for them. More than that, they point
unerringly to the remedy.


XI

Summarizing, briefly, the results of this investigation, the problem of
poverty as it affects school children may be stated in a few lines. All
the data available tend to show that not less than 2,000,000 children of
school age in the United States are the victims of poverty which denies
them common necessities, particularly adequate nourishment. As a result
of this privation they are far inferior in physical development to their
more fortunate fellows. This inferiority of physique, in turn, is
responsible for much mental and moral degeneration. Such children are in
very many cases incapable of successful mental effort, and much of our
national expenditure for education is in consequence an absolute waste.
With their enfeebled bodies and minds we turn these children adrift
unfitted for the struggle of life, which tends to become keener with
every advance in our industrial development, and because of their lack
of physical and mental training they are found to be inefficient
industrially and dangerous socially. They become dependent, paupers, and
the procreators of a pauper and dependent race.

Here, then, is a problem of awful magnitude. In the richest country on
earth hundreds of thousands of children are literally damned to
lifelong, helpless, and debasing poverty. They are plunged in the
earliest and most important years of character formation into that
terrible maelstrom of poverty which casts so many thousands, ay,
millions, of physical, mental, and moral wrecks upon the shores of our
social life. For them there is little or no hope of escape from the
blight and curse of pauperism unless the nation, pursuing a policy of
enlightened self-interest and protection, decides to save them. In the
main, this vast sum of poverty is due to causes of a purely impersonal
nature which the victims cannot control, such as sickness, accident, low
wages, and unemployment. Personal causes, such as ignorance,
thriftlessness, gambling, intemperance, indolence, wife-desertion, and
other vices or weaknesses, are also responsible for a good deal of
poverty, though by no means most of it as is sometimes urged by
superficial observers. There are many thousands of temperate and
industrious workers who are miserably poor, and many of those who are
thriftless or intemperate are the victims of poverty’s degenerating
influences.[83] But whether a child’s hunger and privation is due to
some fault of its parents or to causes beyond their control, the fact of
its suffering remains, and its impaired physical and mental strength
tends almost irresistibly to make it inefficient as a citizen. Whatever
the cause, therefore, of its privation, society must, as a measure of
self-protection, take upon itself the responsibility of caring for the
child.

There can be no compromise upon this vital point. Those who say that
society should refuse to do anything for those children who are the
victims of their parents’ vices or weaknesses adopt a singularly
indefensible attitude. In the first place it is barbarously unjust to
allow the sins of the parents to bring punishment and suffering upon the
child, to damn the innocent and unoffending. No more vicious doctrine
than this, which so many excellent and well-intentioned persons are fond
of preaching, has ever been formulated by human perversity. Carried to
its logical end, it would destroy all legislation for the protection of
children from cruel parents or guardians. It is strange that the
doctrinaire advocates of this brutal gospel should overlook its
practical consequences. If discrimination were to be made at all, it
should be in favor of, rather than against, the children of drunken and
profligate parents. For these children have a special claim upon society
for protection from wrongs in the shape of influences injurious to their
physical and moral well-being, and tending to lead them into evil and
degrading ways. The half-starved child of the inebriate is not less
entitled to the protection of society than the victim of inhuman
physical torture.

Should these children be excluded from any system of feeding adopted by
the state upon the ground that their parents have not fulfilled their
parental responsibilities, society joins in a conspiracy against their
very lives. And that conspiracy ultimately and inevitably involves
retribution. In the interests and name of a beguiling economy, fearful
that if it assumes responsibility for the care of the child of inebriate
parents, it will foster and encourage their inebriety and neglect,
society leaves the children surrounded by circumstances which
practically force them to become drunkards, physical and moral wrecks,
and procreators of a like degenerate progeny. _Then_ it is forced to
accept the responsibility of their support, either as paupers or
criminals. That is the stern Nemesis of retribution. Where an
enlightened system of child saving has been followed, this principle has
been clearly recognized. In Minnesota, for example, the state assumes
the responsibility for the care of such children as a matter of
self-protection. To quote the language of a report of the State Public
School at Owatonna: “It is for economic as well as for humane reasons
that this work is done. The state is thus protecting itself from dangers
to which it would be exposed in a very few years if these children were
reared in the conditions which so injuriously affect them.”[84] Whatever
steps may be taken to punish, or make responsible to the state, those
parents who by their vice and neglect bring suffering and want upon
their children, the children themselves should be saved.

To the contention that society, having assumed the responsibility of
insisting that every child shall be educated, and providing the means of
education, is necessarily bound to assume the responsibility of seeing
that they are made fit to receive that education, so far as possible,
there does not seem to be any convincing answer. It will be objected
that for society to do this would mean the destruction of the
responsibility of the parents. That is obviously true. But it is equally
true of education itself, the responsibility for which society has
assumed. Some individualists there are who contend that society is wrong
in doing this, and their opposition to the proposal that it should
undertake to provide the children with food is far more logical than
that of those who believe that society should assume the responsibility
of educating the child, but not that of equipping it with the necessary
physical basis for that education. The fact is that society insists upon
the education of the children, not, primarily, in their interests nor in
the interests of the parents, but in its own. All legislation upon child
labor, education, child guardianship in general, is based upon a denial
of proprietary rights to children by their parents. The child belongs to
society rather than to its parents.

Further, private charity, which is the only alternative suggestion
offered for the solution of this problem, equally removes responsibility
from the parents and is open to other weightier objections. In the first
place, where it succeeds, it is far more demoralizing than such a system
of public support provided at the public cost, as the child’s
birthright, could possibly be. Still more important is the fact that
private charity does not succeed in the vast majority of instances. To
their credit, it must be remembered that the poor as a class refuse to
beg or to parade their poverty. They suffer in silence and never seek
alms. Pride and the shame of begging seal their lips. Here, too, the
question of the children of inebriate, dissolute, worthless parents
enters. Every one who has had the least experience of charitable work
knows that these are the persons who are most relieved by charity. They
do not hesitate to plead for charity. “I have not strength to dig; to
beg I am ashamed,” is the motto of the self-respecting, silent,
suffering poor. The failure of charity is incontestable. As some witty
Frenchman has well said, “Charity creates one-half the misery she
relieves, but cannot relieve one-half the misery she creates.”

It is impossible to enter here into a discussion of the question of
cost, but the argument that society could not afford to undertake this
further responsibility must be briefly considered. In view of our
well-nigh boundless resources there is small reason for the belief that
we cannot provide for the needs of all our children. If it were true
that we could not provide for their necessities, then wholesale death
would be merciful and desirable. At any rate, it would be far better to
feed them first, neglecting their education altogether, than to waste
our substance in the brutally senseless endeavor to educate them while
they starve and pine for bread. There can be little doubt that the
economic waste involved in fruitless charity, and the still vaster waste
involved in the maintenance of the dependent and criminal classes whose
degeneracy is mainly attributable to underfeeding in childhood, amount
to a sum far exceeding the cost of providing adequate nutrition for
every child. It is essentially a question of the proper adjustment of
our means to our needs. Otherwise we must admit the utter failure of our
civilization and confess that, in the language of Sophocles, it is

“Happiest beyond compare
Never to taste of life;
Happiest in order next,
Being born, with quickest speed
Thither again to turn
From whence we came.”[D]

[Illustration:

COMMUNAL SCHOOL KITCHEN, WHERE THE SCHOOL MEALS ARE PREPARED,
CHRISTIANIA, NORWAY
]

- - -

Footnote D:

_Œdipus Coloneus._




III
THE WORKING CHILD

“In this boasted land of freedom there are bonded baby slaves,
And the busy world goes by and does not heed.
They are driven to the mill, just to glut and overfill
Bursting coffers of the mighty monarch, Greed.
When they perish we are told it is God’s will,
Oh, the roaring of the mill, of the mill!”
—ELLA WHEELER WILCOX.


I

It is a startling and suggestive fact that the very force which
Aristotle, the profoundest thinker of antiquity, regarded as the only
agency through which the abolition of slavery might be made possible,
served, when at last it was evolved, not to destroy slavery, but to
extend it; to enslave in a new form of bondage those who hitherto had
been free. Aristotle regarded slavery as a basic institution and saw no
possible means whereby it might ever be dispensed with, “except perhaps
by the aid of machines.” He said, “If every tool ... could do the work
that befits it, just as the creations of Dædalus moved of themselves, or
the tripods of Hephæstos went of their own accord; if the weavers’
shuttles were to weave of themselves, then there would be no need of
apprentices for the master workers, or slaves for the lords.”[85] When
more than two thousand years had passed, a machine, a wonderful, complex
tool, almost literally fulfilling his conditions, was invented.

We speak of the power-loom as Cartwright’s invention, but in truth it
was the joint production of numberless inventors, most of them unknown
to history, and some of whom lived and labored long before Aristotle sat
at Plato’s feet in the great school at Athens. Looking at a modern
power-loom in one of our great factories not long ago, I asked the name
of the inventor, which was readily enough given. But as I watched the
marvellous mechanism with its many wheels, levers, and springs, I
wondered how much of it could be said to have had its origin in the
brain of the inventor in question. Who invented the wheel, the lever,
the spring? Who invented the first rude loom, reproduced, in principle,
in the wonderful looms of the twentieth century? No man knows. We do not
know the name of the inventor of the loom figured in all its details
upon the tomb of the ancient Egyptian at Beni Hassan;[86] we do not know
who invented the loom which the Greek vase of 400 B.C. depicts,—a loom
which, so William Morris tells us, is in all respects like those in use
in Iceland and the Faroe Islands in the latter half of the nineteenth
century.[87] Many thousands of years ago, in the simple tribal communism
of primitive man, the great bed-rock inventions were evolved. Thousands
of years of human experience led up to the ribbon-loom which, in the
early part of the sixteenth century, brought sentence of death upon the
poor inventor of Danzig[88] whose very name has been forgotten. This
ribbon-loom was a near approach to the wonderful tool of which Aristotle
dreamed as the liberator of enslaved man.

The work of improvement went on, and the power-loom came; “weavers’
shuttles were to weave of themselves” in a well-nigh literal sense. The
great machine tool became an accomplished fact. It had been forged upon
the anvil of human necessity through countless centuries. But the
revolution it wrought, or, rather, the revolution of which it was the
expression, was not a revolution of liberation. A hundred and twenty
years have elapsed since then, and still the prophecy of freedom has not
been fulfilled; there are still “slaves for the lords.”

“Fast and faster, our iron master,
The thing we made, for ever drives,
Bids us grind treasure and fashion pleasure,
For other hopes and other lives.”

Children have always worked, but it is only since the reign of the
machine that their work has been synonymous with slavery. Under the old
form of simple, domestic industry even the very young children were
assigned their share of the work in the family. But this form of child
labor was a good and wholesome thing. There may have been abuses;
children may have suffered from the ignorance, cupidity, and brutality
of fathers and mothers, but in the main the child’s share in the work of
the family was a good thing. In the first place, the child was
associated in its work with one or both of its parents, and thus kept
under all those influences which we deem of most worth, the influences
of home and parental care. Secondly, the work of the child constituted a
major part of its education. And it was no mean education, either, which
gave the world generation after generation of glorious craftsmen. The
seventeenth-century glass-blower of Venice or Murano, for instance,
learned his craft from his father in this manner, and in turn taught it
to his son. There was a bond of interest between them; a parental pride
and interest on the part of the father infinitely greater and more
potent for good than any commercial relation would have allowed. On the
part of the child, too, there was a filial pride and devotion which
found its expression in a spirit of emulation, the spirit out of which
all the rich glory of that wonderfully rich craft was born. So, too, it
was with the potters of ancient Greece, and with the tapestry weavers of
fourteenth-century France. In the golden age of the craftsman, child
labor was child training in the noblest and best sense. The training of
hand and heart and brain was the end achieved, even where it was not the
sole purpose of the child’s labor.

But with the coming of the machine age all this was changed. The
craftsman was supplanted by the tireless, soulless machine. The child
still worked, but in a great factory throbbing with the vibration of
swift, intricate machines. In place of parental interest and affection
there was the harsh, pitiless authority of an employer or his agent,
looking, not to the child’s well-being and skill as an artificer, but to
the supplying of a great, ever widening market for cash gain.

It is not without its significance that the ribbon-loom which in the
latter part of the seventeenth century caused the workmen of England to
riot, the same machine which, later, was publicly burnt in Hamburg by
order of the Senate, should have been described as “enabling a totally
inexperienced boy” to set the whole loom with all its shuttles in
motion, “by simply moving a rod backwards and forwards.”[89] It was as
though the new mechanical invention had been designed with the express
purpose of laying the burden of the world’s work upon child shoulders;
as though some evil genius had deliberately contrived that the nation of
progress should

“—Stand, to move the world, on a child’s heart.”


II

There is no more terrible page in history than that which records the
enslavement of mere babies by the industrial revolution of the
eighteenth century in England. Not even the crucifixion of twenty
thousand slaves along the highways by Scipio excels it in horror.

Writing in 1795, Dr. Aikin gives a vivid account of the evils which had
already been introduced in the factory districts by the new system of
manufacture.[90] He mentions the destruction of the best features of
home life, the spread of filth, thriftlessness, poverty, and disease,
and says that the demand for “children for the cotton mills” had become
very great. To get children for the cotton mills was not easy at first.
Parental love and pride were ranged against the new system, denying its
demands. Accustomed to the old domestic system, the association of all
the members of the family in manufacture as part of the domestic life,
they regarded the new industrial forms with repugnance. It was
considered a degradation for a child to be sent into the factories,
especially for a girl, whose whole life would be blasted thereby. The
term “factory girl” was an insulting epithet, and the young woman who
bore it could not hope for other, better employment, nor yet for
marriage with any but the very lowest and despised of men. Not till they
were forced by sheer hunger and misery, through the reduction of wages
to the level of starvation, could the respectable workers be induced to
send their children into the factories. In the meantime they made war
upon the “iron men,” as the machines were called, but of course in vain.
To such a conflict there could be only one end,—human beings of flesh
and blood could not prevail against the iron monsters, their
competitors.

But the manufacturers wanted children, and they got them from the
workhouses. It was not difficult to persuade Bumbledom to get rid of its
pauper children, especially when its conscience was salved by the
specious pretext that the children were to be taught new trades, as
apprentices. “Alfred,” the anonymous author of the _History of the
Factory Movement_,[91] gives a thrilling description of the horrible
inhumanity and wickedness of this practice of sending parish
apprentices, “without remorse or inquiry, to be _used up_ as the
cheapest raw material in the market.” The mill owners would first
communicate with the overseers of the poor, and the latter would fix
suitable dates for the manufacturers or their agents to examine the
children. Those chosen were then conveyed to their destination, closely
packed in wagons or canal-boats. Thenceforth they were doomed to the
most miserable slavery. A class of “traffickers” in child slaves arose.
These men made a profitable business of supplying children to the
manufacturers. They deposited their victims in dark, dank cellars, where
the sales to the manufacturers or their agents were made. “The mill
owners, by the light of lanterns being able to examine the children,
their limbs and stature having undergone the necessary scrutiny, the
bargain was struck, and these poor innocents were conveyed to the
mills.” Their plight was appalling. They received no wages, and they
were so cheap, their places so easily filled, that the mill owners did
not even take the trouble to give them decent food or clothing. “In
stench, in heated rooms, amid the whirling of a thousand wheels, little
fingers and little feet were kept in ceaseless action, forced into
unnatural activity by blows from the heavy hands and feet of the
merciless overlooker, and the infliction of bodily pain by instruments
of punishment invented by the sharpened ingenuity of insatiable
selfishness.”

[Illustration:

NEW YORK CELLAR PRISONERS

These children were found by Settlement Workers in New York City.
Illegally employed, they were never
allowed to go out of doors, their only recreation being taken in a
dark, filthy cellar.
]

Robert Blincoe, himself an apprentice who, at seven years of age, was
sent from a London workhouse to a cotton mill near Nottingham, gives a
harrowing but well-authenticated account of actual experience.[92] He
tells how the apprentices used to be fed upon the same coarse food as
that given to the master’s pigs, and how he and his fellow-victims used
joyfully to say when they saw the swine being fed, “The pigs are served;
it will be our turn next.” ... “When the swine were hungry,” he says,
“they used to grunt so loud, they obtained the wash first to quiet them.
The apprentices could be intimidated, and made to keep still.” Blincoe
describes how, for fattening, the pigs were often given meat balls, or
dumplings, in their wash, and how he and the other apprentices who were
kept near the pigsties used to slip away and slyly steal as many of
these dumplings from the pigs as possible, hastening away with them to a
hiding-place, where they were greedily devoured. “The pigs ... learned
from experience to guard their food by various expedients. Made wise by
repeated losses, they kept a sharp lookout, and the moment they
ascertained the approach of the half-famished apprentices, they set up
so loud a chorus of snorts and grunts, it was heard in the kitchen, when
out rushed the swineherd, armed with a whip, from which combined means
of protection for the swine this accidental source of obtaining a good
dinner was soon lost. Such was the contest carried on for some time at
Litton Mill between the half-famished apprentices and the well-fed
swine.”

The children were worked sixteen hours at a stretch, by day and by
night. They slept by turns and relays in beds that were never allowed to
cool, one set being sent to bed as soon as the others had gone to their
toil. Children of both sexes and all ages, from five years upward, were
indiscriminately herded together, with the result that vice and disease
flourished. Sometimes the unfortunate victims would try to run away, and
to prevent this all who were suspected of such a tendency had irons
riveted on their ankles with long links reaching up to their hips. In
these chains they were compelled to work and sleep, young women and
girls as well as boys. Many children contrived to commit suicide, some
were unquestionably beaten to death; the death-rate became so great that
it became the custom to bury the bodies at night, secretly, lest a
popular uprising be provoked.[93]

Worse still, the cupidity of British Bumbledom was aroused, and it
became the custom for overseers of the poor to insist that one imbecile
child at least should be taken by the mill owner, or the trafficker,
with every batch of twenty children. In this manner the parish got rid
of the expense of maintaining its idiot children. What became of these
unhappy idiots will probably never be known, but from the cruel fate of
the children who were sane, we may judge how awful that of the poor
imbeciles must have been.

Even in the one factory of the time which was heralded as a model for
the manufacturers to copy, the mill at New Lanark, Scotland, owned by
Mr. David Dale and afterward made famous by the great and good Robert
Owen, his son-in-law, conditions were, from a twentieth-century point of
view, simply shocking, despite the fact that it was the subject of
glowing praise in the _Annual Register_ for 1792, and that, like some of
our modern factories, it had become generally regarded as a
semi-philanthropic establishment. Robert Owen tells us in his
autobiography that “children were received as early as six years old,
the pauper authorities declining to send them at any later age.” These


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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 9 of 22)