Rheta Childe Dorr.

What eight million women want online

. (page 8 of 14)
Online LibraryRheta Childe DorrWhat eight million women want → online text (page 8 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of anxiety and deprivation.

The employers were firm in their determination to go out of business
before treating with the strikers as a group. A hand, mind you, exists
as an individual, a very humble individual, but one to be received and
conferred with. Hands, considered collectively, have no just right to
exist. An employers' association is a necessity of business life. A
labor union is an insult to capital.

This was the situation at the end of ten weeks. One day a motor car
stopped in front of the offices of the mills and a lady emerged. Mrs.
Glendower Evans, conservative, cultured, one might say Back Bay
personified, had come to Roxbury to see the carpet manufacturer. Her
powers of persuasion, plus her social position and her commercial
connections, were sufficient to wring consent from the firm to receive
John Golden, president of the United Textile Workers.

John Golden, intelligent, honest, a fine type of workingman, educated
in the English school of unionism, held two conferences with the firm.
He was able to make the employers see the whole situation in an entirely
new light. They were men of probity; they wanted to be fair; and when
they saw the human side of the struggle they surrendered. When they
perceived the justice of the collective bargain, the advantages to both
sides of a labor organization honestly conducted, they consented to
recognize the union. And the women went back, their group unbroken.

Thus are women working, women of all classes, to humanize the factory.
From the outside they are working to educate the legislatures and the
judiciary. They are lending moral and financial support to the women of
the toiling masses in their struggle to make over the factory from the
inside. Together they are impressing the men of the working world, law
makers and judges, with the justice of protecting the mothers of the
race.

Now that the greatest stumbling block to industrial protective
legislation has been removed, we may hope to see a change in legal
decisions handed down in our courts. The educational process is not
yet complete. Not every judge possesses the prophetic mind of the
late Justice Brewer, who wrote the decision in the Oregon Case. Not
every court has learned that healthy men and women are infinitely more
valuable to a nation than mere property. But in time they will learn.

In distant New Zealand, not long ago, there was a match factory in which
a number of women worked for low wages. After fruitless appeals to the
owner for better wages the workers resorted to force. They did not
strike. In New Zealand you do not have to strike, because in that
country a substitute for the strike is provided by law. To this
substitute, a Court of Arbitration, the women took their grievance. The
employer in his answer declared, just as employers in this country might
have done, that his business would not stand an increase in wages. He
explained that the match industry was newly established in New Zealand,
and that, until it was on a secure basis, factory owners could not
afford to pay high wages.

The judge ordered an inquiry. In this country it would have been an
inquiry into the state of the match industry. There it was an inquiry
into the cost of living in the town where the match factory was located.
And then the judge summoned the factory owner to the Court of
Arbitration, and this is what he said to the man:

"It is impossible for these girls to live decently or healthfully on the
wages you are now paying. It is of the utmost importance that they
should have wholesome and healthful conditions of life. The souls and
bodies of the young women of New Zealand are of more importance than
your profits, and if you cannot pay living wages it will be better for
the community for you to close your factory. _It would be better to
send the whole match industry to the bottom of the ocean, and go back to
flints and firesticks, than to drive young girls into the gutter._ My
award is that you pay what they ask."

Does that sound like justice to you? It does to me; it does to the eight
million women in the world who have learned to think in human terms.





CHAPTER VII

BREAKING THE GREAT TABOO


At the threshold of that quarter of old New York called Greenwich
Village stands Jefferson Market Court. Almost concealed behind the
towering structure of the Sixth Avenue Elevated, the building by day is
rather inconspicuous. But when night falls, swallowing up the
neighborhood of tangled streets and obscure alleyways, Jefferson Market
assumes prominence. High up in the square brick tower an illuminated
clock seems perpetually to be hurrying its pointing hands toward
midnight. From many windows, barred for the most part, streams an
intense white light. Above an iron-guarded door at the side of the
building floats a great globe of light, and beneath its glare, through
the iron-guarded door, there passes, every week-day night in the year, a
long procession of prodigals.

The guarded door seldom admits any one as important, so to speak, as a
criminal. The criminal's case waits for day. The Night Court in
Jefferson Market sits in judgment only on the small fry caught in the
dragnet of the police. Tramps, vagrants, drunkards, brawlers, disturbers
of the peace, speeding chauffeurs, licenseless peddlers, youths caught
red-handed shooting craps or playing ball in the streets, - these are the
men with whom the Night Court deals. But it is not the men we have come
to see.

[Illustration: MISS MAUDE E. MINER]

The women of the Night Court. Prodigal daughters! Between December,
1908, and December, 1909, no less than five thousand of them passed
through the guarded door, under the blaze of the electric lights. There
is never an hour, from nine at night until three in the morning, when
the prisoners' bench in Jefferson Market Court is without its full quota
of women. Old - prematurely old, and young - pitifully young; white and
brown; fair and faded; sad and cynical; starved and prosper ous;
rag-draped and satin-bedecked; together they wait their turn at
judgment.

Quietly moving back and forth before the prisoners' bench you see a
woman, tall, graceful, black-gowned. She is the salaried probation
officer, modern substitute for the old-time volunteer mission worker.
The probation officer's serious blue eyes burn with no missionary zeal.
There is no spark of sentimental pity in the keen gaze she turns on each
new arrival.

When the bench is full of women the judge turns to her to inquire:
"Anybody there you want, Miss Miner?"

Miss Miner usually shakes her head. She diagnoses her cases like a
physician, and she wastes no time on incurables.

Once in a while, perhaps several times in the course of a night, Miss
Miner touches a girl on the arm. At once the girl rises and follows the
probation officer into an adjoining room. If she is what she appears,
young in evil, if she has a story which rings true, a story of poverty
and misfortune, rather than of depravity, she goes not back to the
prisoners' bench. When her turn at judgment comes Miss Miner stands
beside her, and in a low voice meant only for the judge, she tells the
facts. The girl weeps as she listens. To hear one's troubles told is
sometimes more terrible than to endure them.

Court adjourns at three in the morning, and this girl, with the
others - if others have been claimed by the probation officer - goes out
into the empty street, under the light of the tall tower, whose clock
has begun all over again its monotonous race toward midnight. No
policeman accompanies the group. The girls are under no manner of
duress. They have promised to go home with Miss Miner, and they go. The
night's adventure, entered into with dread, with callous indifference,
or with thoughtless mirth, ends in a quiet bedroom and a pillow wet with
tears.

[Illustration: IN THE NIGHT COURT, NEW YORK.]

Waverley House, as Miss Miner's home is known, has sheltered, during the
past year, over three hundred girls. Out of that number one hundred and
nineteen have returned to their homes, or are earning a living at useful
work.

One hundred and nineteen saved out of five thousand prodigals! In point
of numbers this is a melancholy showing, but in comparison with other
efforts at rescue work it is decidedly encouraging.

Nothing quite like Waverley House has appeared in other American cities,
but it is a type of detention home for girls which is developing
logically out of the probation system. Delinquent girls under sixteen
are now considered, in all enlightened communities, subjects for the
Juvenile Court. They are hardly ever associated with older delinquents.
But a girl over sixteen is likely to be committed to prison, and may be
locked in cells with criminal and abandoned women of the lowest order.
Waverley House is the first practical protest against this stupid and
evil-encouraging policy.

The house, which stands a few blocks distant from the Night Court, was
established and is maintained by the Probation Association of New York,
consisting of the probation officers in many of the city courts, and of
men and women interested in philanthropy and social reform. The District
Attorney of New York County, Charles S. Whitman, is president of the
Association, Maude E. Miner is its secretary, Mrs. Russell Sage, Miss
Anne Morgan, Miss Mary Dreier, president of the New York Women's Trade
Union League, Mrs. Richard Aldrich, formerly president of the Women's
Municipal League, Andrew Carnegie, Edward T. Devine, head of New York's
organized charities, Homer Folks, and Fulton Cutting are among the
supporters of Waverley House. Miss Stella Miner is the capable and
sympathetic superintendent of the house.

The place is in no sense a reformatory. It is an experiment station, a
laboratory where the gravest and most baffling of all the diseases which
beset society is being studied. Girls arrested for moral delinquency and
paroled to probation officers are taken to Waverley House, where they
remain, under closest study and searching inquiry, until the best means
of disposing of them is devised. Some are sent to their homes, some to
hospitals, some to institutions, some placed on long probation.

Maude E. Miner, who declined a chair of mathematics in a woman's college
to work in the Night Court, is one of an increasing number of women who
are attempting a great task. They are trying to solve a problem which
has baffled the minds of the wisest since civilization dawned. They have
set themselves to combat an evil fate which every year overtakes
countless thousands of young girls, dragging them down to misery,
disease, and death. At the magnitude of the effort these women have
undertaken one stands appalled. Will they ever reach the heart of the
problem? Can they ever hope to do more than reclaim a few individuals?
This much did the missionaries before them.

"We could reclaim fully seventy-five per cent," declares Miss Miner, "if
only we could find a way to begin nearer the beginning."

To begin the reform of any evil at the beginning, or near the beginning,
instead of near the end is now regarded as an economy of effort. That is
what educators are trying to do with juvenile delinquency; what
physicians are doing with disease; what philanthropists are beginning to
do with poverty.

Hardly any one has suggested that the social evil might have a cause,
and that it might be possible to attack it at its source. Yet that any
large number of girls enter upon such a horrible career, willingly,
voluntarily, is unbelievable to one who knows anything of the facts.
There must be strong forces at work on these girls, forces they find
themselves entirely powerless to resist.

Miss Miner and her fellow probation officers are the visible signs of a
very important movement among women to discover what these forces are.
Meager, indeed, are the facts at hand. We have had, and we still have,
in cities east and west, committees and societies and law and order
leagues earnestly engaged in "stamping out" the evil. It is like trying
to stamp out a fire constantly fed with inflammables and fanned by a
strong gale. The protests of most of these leagues amount to little
more than vain clamor against a thing which is not even distantly
comprehended.

The _personnel_ of these agencies organized to "stamp out" the evil
differs little in the various cities. It is largely if not wholly
masculine in character, and the evil is usually dealt with from the
point of view of religion and morals. Women, when they appear in the
matter at all, figure as missionaries, "prison angels," and the like. As
evangelists to sinners women have been permitted to associate with their
fallen sisters without losing caste. Likewise, when elderly enough, they
have been allowed to serve on governing boards of "homes" and
"refuges." Their activities were limited to rescue work. They might
extend a hand to a repentant Magdalene. A Phryne they must not even be
aware of. In other words, this evil as a subject of investigation and
intelligent discussion among women was absolutely prohibited. It has
ever been their Great Taboo.

Nevertheless, when eight million women, in practically every civilized
country in the world, organized themselves into an International Council
of Women, and began their remarkable survey of the social order in which
they live, one of their first acts was to break the Great Taboo.

[Illustration: MISS SADIE AMERICAN]

At early congresses of the International Council Miss Sadie American,
Mrs. Kate Waller Barrett, Mrs. Elizabeth Grannis, among American
delegates, Miss Elizabeth Janes of England, Miss Elizabeth Gad of
Denmark, Dr. Agnes Bluhm of Germany, and others interested in the moral
welfare of girls, urged upon the Council action against the "White
Slave" traffic. No extensive argument was required to convince the
members of the Council that the "White Slave" traffic and the whole
subject of the moral degradation of women was a social phenomenon too
long neglected by women.

These women declared with refreshing candor that it was about time that
the social evil was dealt with intelligently, and if it was to be dealt
with intelligently women must do the work. The fussy old gentlemen with
white side whiskers and silk-stocking reformers and the other well
meaning amateurs, who are engaged in "stamping out" the evil, deserve to
be set aside. In their places the women propose to install social
experts who shall deal scientifically with the problem.

The double standard of morals, accepted in fact if not in principle, in
every community, and so rigidly applied that good women are actually
forbidden to have any knowledge of their fallen sisters, was for the
first time repudiated by a body of organized women. The arguments on
which the double standard of morals is based was, for the first time,
seriously scrutinized by women of intelligence and social importance.
The desirability of the descent of property in legal paternal line
seemed to these women a good enough reason for applying a rigid standard
of morals to women. But they found reasons infinitely greater why the
same rigid standard should be applied to men.

The International Council of Women and women's organizations in every
country number among their members and delegates women physicians, and
through these physicians they have been able to consider the social evil
from an altogether new point of view. Certain very ugly facts, which
touch the home and which intimately concern motherhood and the welfare
of children, were brought forth - facts concerning infantile blindness,
almost one-third of which is caused by excesses on the part of the
fathers; facts concerning certain forms of ill health in married women,
and the increase of sterility due to the spread of specific diseases
among men. The horrible results to innocent women and children of these
maladies, and their frightful prevalence, - seventy-five per cent of city
men, according to reliable authority, being affected, - aroused in the
women a sentiment of indignation and revolt. The International Council
of Women put itself on record as protesting against the responsibility
laid upon women, the unassisted task of preserving the purity of the
race.

In the United States, women's clubs, women's societies, women's medical
associations, special committees of women in many cities have
courageously undertaken the study of this problem, intending by means of
investigation and publicity to lay bare its sources and seek its remedy.

The sources of the evil are about the only phase of the problem which
has never been adequately examined. It is true that we have suspected
that the unsteady and ill-adjusted economic position of women furnished
some explanation for its existence, but even now our information is
vague and unsatisfactory.

A number of years ago, in 1888 to be exact, the Massachusetts Bureau of
Labor Statistics made an interesting investigation. This was an effort
to determine how far the entrance of women into the industrial world,
usually under the disadvantage of low wages, was contributing to
profligacy. The bureau gathered statistics of the previous occupations
of nearly four thousand fallen women in twenty-eight American cities.

Of these unfortunates over eight hundred had worked in low-waged trades
such as paper-box making, millinery, laundry work, rope and cordage
making, cigar and cigarette making, candy packing, textile factory and
shoe factory work.

About five hundred women had been garment workers, dressmakers, and
seamstresses, but how far these were skilled or unskilled was not
stated.

The department store, at that time little more than a sweat shop so far
as wages and long hours of work were concerned, contributed one hundred
and sixteen recruits to the list.

On the whole, these groups were what the investigators had expected to
find.

There were two other large groups of prodigals, and these were entirely
unexpected by the investigators. Of the 3,866 girls examined 1,236, or
nearly thirty-two per cent, reported no previous occupation. The next
largest group, 1,115, or nearly thirty per cent, had been domestic
servants. The largest group of all had gone straight from their homes
into lives of evil. A group nearly as large had gone directly from that
occupation which is constantly urged upon women as the safest and most
suitable means of earning their living - housework.

Now you may, if you want to drop the thing out of your mind as something
too disagreeable to think about, infer from this that at least sixty-two
per cent of those 3,866 women deserved their fate. Some of them were too
lazy to work, and the rest preferred a life of soiled luxury to one of
honest toil in somebody's nice kitchen. Apparently this was the view
taken by the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, because it never
carried the investigation any farther. It never tried to find out _why_
so many girls left their homes to enter evil lives. It never tried to
find out _why_ housework was a trade dangerous to morals.

Fortunately it did occur to the women's organizations to examine the
facts a little more carefully. In this article I am going to take you
over some of the ground they have covered and show you where their
investigations have led them.

South Chicago is a fairly good place to begin. Its ugliness and
forlornness can be matched in the factory section of almost any large
city. South Chicago is dominated by its steel mills, - enormous drab
structures, whose every crevice leaks quivering heat and whose towering
chimneys belch forth unceasingly a pall of ashes and black smoke. The
steel workers and their families live as a rule in two and three family
houses, built of wood, generally unpainted, and always dismally
utilitarian as to architectural details.

In South Chicago, four years ago, there was not such a thing as a park,
or a playground, or a recreation center. One lone social settlement was
just seeking a home for itself. There were public schools, quite
imposing buildings. But these were closed and locked and shuttered for
the day as soon as the classes were dismissed.

In a certain neighborhood of South Chicago there lived a number of young
girls, healthy, high-spirited, and full of that joy of life which always
must be fed - if not with wholesome food, then husks. For parents these
girls had fathers who worked twelve hours a day in the steel mills and
came home at night half dead from lack of rest and sleep; and mothers
who toiled equally long hours in the kitchen or over the washtub and
were too weary to know or care what the girls did after school. For
social opportunity the girls had "going downtown." Perhaps you know
what that means. It means trooping up and down the main street in lively
groups, lingering near a saloon where a phonograph is bawling forth a
cheerful air, visiting a nickel theater, or looking on at a street
accident or a fight.

About this time the panic of 1907 descended suddenly on South Chicago
and turned out of the steel mills hundreds of boys and men. Some of
these were mere lads, sixteen to eighteen years old. They, too, went
"downtown." There was no other place for them to go.

As a plain matter of cause and effect, what kind of a moral situation
would you expect to evolve out of these materials?

Eventually a woman probation officer descended on the neighborhood. Many
of the girls whom she rescued from conditions not to be described in
these pages were so young that their cases were tried in the Juvenile
Court. Most of them went to rescue homes, reformatories, or hospitals.
Some slipped away permanently, in all human probability to join the
never-ceasing procession of prodigals.

This is what "no previous occupation" really means in nine cases out of
ten. It means that the girl lived in a home which was no home at all,
according to the ideals of you who read these pages.

Sometimes it was a cellar where the family slept on rags. Sometimes it
was an attic where ten or twelve people herded in a space not large
enough for four. Some of these homes were never warm in winter. In some
there was hardly any furniture. But we need not turn to these extreme
cases in order to show that in many thousands of American homes virtue
and innocence are lost because no facilities for preserving them are
possible.

Annie Donnelly's case will serve as further illustration. Annie
Donnelly's father was a sober, decent man of forty, who drove a cab from
twelve to fifteen hours every day in the year, Sundays and holidays
included. Before the cab drivers' strike, a year or two ago, Donnelly's
wages were fifteen dollars a week, and the family lived in a four-room
tenement, for which they paid $5.50 a week. You pay rent weekly to a
tenement landlord. Since the strike wages are fourteen dollars a week
for cab drivers, and this fall the Donnelly rent went up fifty cents a
week.

The Donnelly tenement was a very desirable one, having but a single
dark, windowless room, instead of two or three, like most New York
tenements. There were three children younger than Annie, who was
fourteen. The family of five made a fairly tight fit in four rooms.
Nevertheless, when the rent went up to six dollars Mrs. Donnelly took a
lodger. She had to or move and, remember, this was a desirable tenement
because it had only one dark room.

One day the lodger asked Annie if she did not want to go to a dance.
Annie did want to, but she knew very well that her mother would not
allow her to go. Once a year the entire family, including the baby,
attended the annual ball of the Coachman's Union, but that was another
thing. Annie was too young for dances her mother declared.

The Donnellys paid for and occupied three rooms, but they really lived
in one room, the others being too filled with beds to be habitable
except at night. The kitchen, the one living-room, was uncomfortably
crowded at meal times. At no time was there any privacy. It was
impossible for Annie to receive her girl friends in her home. Every bit
of her social life had to be lived out of the house.

When the weather was warm she often stayed in the street, walking about
with the other girls or sitting on a friend's doorstep, until ten or
even eleven o'clock at night. Every one does the same in a crowded city
neighborhood. There comes a time in a girl's life when this sort of
thing becomes monotonous. The time came when Annie found sitting on the
doorstep and talking about nothing in particular entirely unbearable. So
one balmy, inviting spring night she slipped away and went with the


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryRheta Childe DorrWhat eight million women want → online text (page 8 of 14)