Wednesday July 15, 1914
From The Labor World: Pauline Newman on the Menace of Child Labor
In this issue we are running as a special article a speech made by Pauline M. Newman, general organizer of the Garment Workers' Union on the Menace of Child Labor.
Upon receipt of this article from the National Child Labor Committee we also received from the Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, the following interesting figures on "child workers."
The total number of children of both sexes engaged in gainful occupations, between the ages of 10 and 15, during 1910 was 1,990,225, or close to one-fifth of the total number of children between those ages. Of this number 637,086 were female. In 1900 the number employed was 1,750,178, and in 1880 1,118,356.
This increase in the total number of child workers is attributed to the increase of children engaged in agricultural pursuits. The number of children employed in non-agricultural pursuits is said to have decreased. This decrease amounting to 129,236 or 18.8 per cent.
Child labor should make this nation blush with shame. To think of a land employing little children when there is a constant reserve army of unemployed of close to 2,000,000 able-bodied men, should make us hide our faces from savage and barbarous peoples.
A story is told of an old Indian chieftain being taken through one of the cotton factories on a sight-seeing trip. There he saw the human-like machines spinning thousands of yards of threads and those machines tended by little children of tender age. Upon being asked what impressed him most in that enormous mill, he answered without hesitation, "The little child at work." And yet many of us are proud of our civilization.
True we have made wonderful progress in the manufacturing of machinery, etc., but the manufacturing of machinery is the smallest part of progress. The real measure of that progress is the uses we make of theses inventions. Where we have allowed manufactures to use those inventions to enslave little children and women at starvation wages on the plea of competition then our progress has been in name only.
Some day let us hope this nation will rise above the ancient dodge of the Southern Democrat, of state rights, and enact a drastic measure preventing child labor throughout the breadth of the United States.
CHILD LABOR-A MENACE!
BY PAULINE M. NEWMAN
International Ladies' Garment Workers Union
There is no movement and no subject nearer to my heart than the movement which tends to do away with the unnecessary evil-child labor. This subject is near to my heart simply because I happen to know the evils of child labor not from observation, or investigation, but from bitter experience. I shall probably never forget the day when I first went to work; it was then that I realized the disappointment and painfulness of child labor. I was a child-not quite fourteen-and to me, one of sixteen and even seventeen is still a child. The factory I worked in was situated facing a park strange as this may seem, for the factory districts in New York do not as a rule, have parks around them. However that was the case about fourteen years ago. Through the window I could see children playing in the park. Some of them seemed to be older than I, some younger, but all seemed to be very happy. All were playing with the trees, caressing the grass, smiling at the flowers-in short, those children were enjoying the beauty of a summer's day, under a bright blue sky.Pauline Newman
To this very day I don't know how but I suddenly stopped working and was looking out of the window. How I wanted to be out in the open and play with those children! How my young soul yearned to be free at that moment! But suddenly I felt a firm hand upon my shoulder and heard a voice informing me that I didn't come there to dream, but that I had come to work. It was then that I learned the fact that even though one is dreamer by nature, one must forget it while at work. One must not dream in a mill, mine or factory; one must work, work, and work. Get up at half-past five or six o'clock in the morning, hardly any time to breakfast, rush off to work, come back tired and worn out, just ready to go to sleep; get up again, at the same hour, go in the same direction, see the same faces, do the same work, week after week, month after month, and year after year. How tiresome! How monotonous!
It was long after I had left the factory that I wanted to get my experience in a mill. I always believed in getting first hand information. One can hardly realize what mill work means unless one has really been there. I worked in a cotton mill in Wauregan, Conn., and I claim that there is no other industry-and I have worked in quite a few-which is more deadening to the mind and body than mill work. From the noise of the looms one is apt to become deaf-personally I could not hear for several days. The air is suffocating; the work itself is tying on your patience and on your nerves. After working for one year in a mill one must become a nervous wreck.
In these mills you will find girls, young girls who operate as may as eight looms at one time. In passing let me say this to you: whenever you hear of a union objecting to a six and eight loom system, do not misunderstand them, for they mean well. We claim that two looms is more than enough for any man or woman to attend. To operate more than two is to disregard one's health and one's life. Let it also be remembered that even those women who run six and eight looms, are not earning more than seven or eight dollars a week.
In the mills of Fall River, I have met children who did not look to me more than 10 years of age. True, the state of Massachusetts has a 14-year age limit; nevertheless, I could not get myself to believe that those children were really fourteen years old. Physically they were not developed, dry of lip and shrunken in body: children without light in their eyes, without color in thee cheeks and without song on their lips: I remember asking one of the little boys whether he ever played. That little fellow looked at me with his lifeless eyes as though in surprise, and answered, "No, I never played." You who did have some years in which to play, will hardly be in a position to realize what it all means, but use your imagination and try to place yourself in that child's position, for a few moments at least, and you will then understand the significance of the child's answer. Think what it must mean to a child who never can play: who is deprived of sunshine and air, of love, and of life itself! And let us not forget that we only have one childhood!
A Misguided People
If every person would only realize this simple fact, that we are depriving the children of something which we can never return to them again, they would surely act differently and understand the problem of child labor better. We are often not conscious of our mistakes. Child labor in this country-by some people at least-is taken for granted. Some of them think that it makes the "kiddies independent." There are other people again, who say that "the children want to work, and as long as they want to why should society prevent them?" It is curious that the children of the rich are never accused of "wanting" to go to work. The whole theory is wrong, and the only hope that some of us can see is in the work of two movements, more and more people, who will together, not only regulate child labor, but abolish it entirely. These two movements are none other than the National Child Labor Committee, and the Organized Labor Movement.
Organized labor appreciates the work of the National Child Labor Committee, for we are trying to discourage and to do away with child labor as much as it is possible and we are succeeding to an extent. While we are trying to do the work on the economic field, the National Child Labor Committee does it on the political field. Here you have both armies working, each in its own way, to wipe out this blot of our civilization-child labor. In my opinion there is no greater crime in the world than that of murdering little children. For murder it is indeed.
Child labor is not necessary in this country, in so far as industry is concerned. Bear this in mind. The only reason for child labor today, is that a child's labor and skill is bought cheaper than that of an adult. The effect of this employment of children is not only to reduce wages of adults, but absolutely to preclude the possibility of the children themselves growing into sane and healthy adults. There is no doubt in my mind as to the connection between exploited child labor and vagrancy. And what else are we to expect? Are they even once given a chance to develop their minds? How can we expect them to grow up into intelligent men and women when they are robbed of every chance to develop the best that is within them?
The outlook upon life of a child of twelve or fourteen, emerging illiterate and listless from five or six years of labor at hard and monotonous work is hopelessly blank, and it is no wonder so many children with such a past develop into tramps and useless beings-useless so far as humanity is concerned.
Let it be understood that no one person is to be blamed for it. The whole system is wrong; child labor is by no means the only evil. But times are changing and better times are coming. The work of organized labor proves it, and the work of all other movements wherein men and women feel that something is wrong. And no sooner do people begin to think that something is wrong in society, that that "something" will not last long.
Every one realizes that the industrial system does not have to depend upon the labor and skill of humanity's tender buds. All over this country we are confronted with the terrible problem of unemployment. Cities and states have been spending thousands upon thousands of dollars in investigating the causes of unemployment. Every person is asking the vital question as to what is to be done with the "unemployed?" My answer is this: take out the children from the mines, mills, and factories and put the unemployed adults in their stead. Don't you think that this would solve the unemployed problem? And while this problem is now in an acute position, nevertheless there is always an army of unemployed people who are eager and willing to work, but who are denied the opportunity.
I would shorten the hours of labor thereby giving other people a chance to work a few hours a day. Oh, I have remedies all right if I only had the power. You see, friends, it is because such remedies can cure the existing evils, and because men and women are at last beginning to think of these evils and remedies that we can hope for the best.
In conclusion I want to say that the time is coming when all of us, regardless of our political belief, nationality or creed, will get together and devise the best ways and means to do away with things that are detrimental to individuals as well as to society as a whole. And in the future, which is not so very far off, we shall all come together and view our work of the past, for then, child labor will be a thing long forgotten. To do this you must all join this movement with your heart and soul, and you must be ready to help every other movement which tends to abolish all evils, including the greatest evil of all-child labor.-National Child Labor Committee.
[emphasis and photograph added]
The Labor World
(Duluth, Minnesota & Superior, Wisconsin)
-of July 11, 1914
1). "Abolish Child Labor"
2). Pauline Newman
3). The Labor World July 11, 1914
Bread and Roses-Kate Vikstrom