MAKING BOTH ENDS MEET
The Income and Outlay of New York Working Girls
SUE AINSLIE CLARK and EDITH WYATT
New York The Macmillan Company
TO FLORENCE KELLEY THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
This book is composed of the economic records of self-supporting women living away from home in New York. Their chronicles were given to the National Consumers' League simply as a testimony to truth; and it is simply as a testimony to truth that these narratives are reprinted here.
The League's inquiry was initiated because, three years ago in the study of the establishment of a minimum wage, only very little information was obtainable as to the relation between the income and the outlay of self-supporting women workers. The inquiry was conducted for a year and a half by Mrs. Sue Ainslie Clark, who obtained the workers' budgets as they were available from young women interviewed in their rooms, boarding places, and hotels, and at night schools and clubs. After Mrs. Clark had collected and written these accounts, I supplemented them further in the same manner; and rearranged them in a series of articles for Mr. S.S. McClure. The budgets fell naturally into certain industrial divisions; but, as will be seen from the nature of the inquiry, the records were not exhaustive trade-studies of the several trades in which the workers were engaged. They constituted rather an accurate kinetoscope view of the yearly lives of chance passing workers in those trades. Wherever the facts ascertained seemed to warrant it, however, they were so focussed as to express definitely and clearly the wisdom of some industrial change.
In two instances in the course of the serial publication of the budgets such industrial changes were undertaken and are now in progress. The firm of Macy & Co. in New York has inaugurated a monthly day of rest, with pay, for all permanent women-employees who wish this privilege. The change was made first in one department and then extended through a plan supplied by the National Civic Federation to all the departments of the store.
The Manhattan Laundrymen's Association, the Brooklyn Laundrymen's Association, and the Laundrymen's Association of New York State held a conference with the Consumers' League after the publication of the Laundry report, and asked to cooperate with the League in obtaining the establishment of a ten-hour day in the trade, additional factory inspection, and the placing of hotels and hospital laundries under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor. Largely through the efforts of the Laundrymen's Association of New York State, a bill defining as a factory any place where laundry work is done by mechanical power passed both houses of the last legislature at Albany. A standard for a fair house was discussed and agreed upon at the conference. It is the intention of the League to publish within the year a white list of the New York steam laundries conforming to this standard in wages, hours, and sanitation.
The New York of the workers is not the New York best known to the country at large. The New York of Broadway, the New York of Fifth Avenue, of Central Park, of Wall Street, of Tammany Hall,—these are by-words of common reference; and when two years ago the daily press printed the news of the strike of thirty thousand shirt-waist makers in the metropolis, many persons realized, perhaps for the first time, the presence of a new and different New York—the New York of the city's great working population. The scene of these budgets is a corner of this New York.
The authors of the book are many more than its writers whose names appear upon the title-page. The second chapter is chiefly the word-of-mouth tale of Natalya Perovskaya, one of the shirt-waist workers, a household tale of adventure repeated just as it was told to the present writer and to her hostess' family and other visitors during a call on the East Side on a warm summer evening. The sixth chapter is almost entirely the contribution of Miss Carola Woerishofer, Miss Elizabeth Howard Westwood, and Miss Mary Alden Hopkins, three young college-bred women from Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley, respectively, who made an inquiry for the National Consumers' League in the hospital, hotel, and commercial steam laundries of New York. The fifth chapter is composed largely from a chronicle of the New York cloak makers' strike written by Dr. Henry Moskowitz, one of the most efficient leaders in attaining the final settlement last fall between the employers and the seventy thousand members of the Cloak Makers' Union. Mr. Frederick Winston Taylor gave the definition of "Scientific Management" which prefaces the last chapter. It is a pleasure to acknowledge help of several kinds received from Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Perkins, and Miss Johnson of the Consumers' League; from Miss Neumann, of the Woman's Trade-Union League; from Miss Pauline and Josephine Goldmark, and Mr. Louis p. Brandeis; from Miss Willa Siebert Cather of McClure's Magazine; and from Mr. S.S. McClure.
To record rightly any little corner of contemporary history is a communal rather than an individual piece of work. While no title so pompous as that of a cathedral could possibly be applied except with great absurdity to any magazine article, least of all to these quiet, journalistic records, yet the writing of any sincere journalistic article is more comparable, perhaps, to cathedral work than to any sort of craft in expression. If the account is to have any genuine social value as a narrative of contemporary truth, it will be evolved as the product of numerous human intelligences and responsibilities. Especially is this true of any synthesis of facts which must be derived, so to speak, from many authors, from many authentic sources.
Unstandardized conditions in women's work are so frequently mentioned in the first six chapters that their connection with the last chapter will be sufficiently clear. What is the way out of the unstandardized and unsatisfactory conditions obtaining for multitudes of women workers? Legislation is undoubtedly one way out. Trade organization is undoubtedly one way out. But legislation is ineffectual unless it is strongly backed by conscientious inspection and powerful enforcement. In the great garment-trade strikes in New York, in spite of their victories, the trade orders have gone in such numbers to other cities that neither the spirit of the shirt-waist makers' strike nor the wisdom of the Cloak Makers' Preferential Union Agreement have since availed to provide sufficient employment for the workers. Further, neither legislation nor trade organization are permanently valuable unless they are informed by justice and understanding. In the same manner, unless it is informed by these qualities, the new plan of management outlined in the last chapter is incapable of any lasting and far-reaching industrial deliverance. But it provides a way out, hitherto untried. With an account of this way as it appears to-day our book ends, as a testimony to living facts can only end, not with the hard-and-fast wall of dogma, but with an open door.
CHICAGO, March 19, 1911.
CHAPTER I THE INCOME AND OUTLAY OF SOME NEW YORK SALESWOMEN
CHAPTER II THE SHIRT-WAIST MAKERS' STRIKE
CHAPTER III THE INCOME AND OUTLAY OF SOME NEW YORK FACTORY WORKERS. (UNSKILLED AND SEASONAL WORK)
CHAPTER IV THE INCOME AND OUTLAY OF SOME NEW YORK FACTORY WORKERS. (MONOTONY AND FATIGUE IN SPEEDING)
CHAPTER V THE CLOAK MAKERS' STRIKE AND THE PREFERENTIAL UNION SHOP
CHAPTER VI WOMEN LAUNDRY WORKERS IN NEW YORK
CHAPTER VII SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT AS APPLIED TO WOMEN'S WORK
THE INCOME AND OUTLAY OF SOME NEW YORK SALESWOMEN
One of the most significant features of the common history of this generation is the fact that nearly six million women are now gainfully employed in this country. From time immemorial, women have, indeed, worked, so that it is not quite as if an entire sex, living at ease at home heretofore, had suddenly been thrown into an unwonted activity, as many quoters of the census seem to believe. For the domestic labor in which women have always engaged may be as severe and prolonged as commercial labor. But not until recently have women been employed in multitudes for wages, under many of the same conditions as men, irrespective of the fact that their powers are different by nature from those of men, and should, in reason, for themselves, for their children, and for every one, indeed, be conserved by different industrial regulations.
What, then, are the fortunes of some of these multitudes of women gainfully employed? What do they give in their work? What do they get from it? Clearly ascertained information on those points has been meagre.
About two years ago the National Consumers' League, through the initiative of its Secretary, Mrs. Florence Kelley, started an inquiry on the subject of the standard of living among self-supporting women workers in many fields, away from home in New York. Among these workers were saleswomen, waist-makers, hat makers, cloak finishers, textile workers in silk, hosiery, and carpets, tobacco workers, machine tenders, packers of candy, drugs, biscuits, and olives, laundry workers, hand embroiderers, milliners, and dressmakers.
The Consumers' League had printed for this purpose a series of questions arranged in two parts. The first part covered the character of each girl's work—the nature of her occupation, wages, hours, overtime work, overtime compensation, fines, and idleness. The second part of the questions dealt with the worker's expenses—her outlay for shelter, food, clothing, rest and recreation, and her effort to maintain her strength and energy. In this way the League's inquiry on income and outlay was so arranged as to ascertain, not only the worker's gain and expense in money, but, as far as possible, her gain and expense in health and vitality. The inquiry was conducted for a year and a half by Mrs. Sue Ainslie Clark.
The account of the income and outlay of self-supporting women away from home in New York may be divided, for purposes of record, into the chronicles of saleswomen, shirt-waist makers, women workers whose industry involves tension, such as machine operatives, and women workers whose industry involves a considerable outlay of muscular strength, such as laundry workers.
Among these the narrative of the trade fortunes of some New York saleswomen is placed first. Mrs. Clark's inquiry concerning the income and outlay of saleswomen has been supplemented by portions of the records of another investigator for the League, Miss Marjorie Johnson, who worked in one of the department stores during the Christmas rush of 1909-1910.
Further informal reports made by the shop-girls in the early summer of 1910 proved that the income and expenditures of women workers in the stores had remained practically unchanged since the winter of Mrs. Clark's report.
So that it would seem that the budgets, records of the investigator, and statements given by the young women interviewed last June may be reasonably regarded as the most truthful composite photograph obtainable of the trade fortunes of the army of the New York department-store girls to-day.
The limitations of such an inquiry are clear. The thousands of women employed in the New York department stores are of many kinds. From the point of view of describing personality and character, one might as intelligently make an inquiry among wives, with the intent of ascertaining typical wives. The trade and living conditions accurately stated in the industrial records obtained have undoubtedly, however, certain common features.
Among the fifty saleswomen's histories collected at random in stores of various grades, those that follow, with the statements modifying them, seem to express most clearly and fairly, in the order followed, these common features—low wages, casual employment, heavy required expense in laundry and dress, semidependence, uneven promotion, lack of training, absence of normal pleasure, long hours of standing, and an excess of seasonal work.
One of the first saleswomen who told the League her experience in her work was Lucy Cleaver, a young American woman of twenty-five, who had entered one of the New York department stores at the age of twenty, at a salary of $4.50 a week.
In the course of the five years of her employment her salary had been raised one dollar. She stood for nine hours every day. If, in dull moments of trade, when no customers were near, she made use of the seats lawfully provided for employees, she was at once ordered by a floor-walker to do something that required standing.
During the week before Christmas, she worked standing over fourteen hours every day, from eight to twelve-fifteen in the morning, one to six in the afternoon, and half past six in the evening till half past eleven at night. So painful to the feet becomes the act of standing for these long periods that some of the girls forego eating at noon in order to give themselves the temporary relief of a foot-bath. For this overtime the store gave her $20, presented to her, not as payment, but as a Christmas gift.
The management also allowed a week's vacation with pay in the summer-time and presented a gift of $10.
After five years in this position she had a disagreement with the floor-walker and was summarily dismissed.
She then spent over a month in futile searching for employment, and finally obtained a position as a stock girl in a Sixth Avenue suit store at $4 a week, a sum less than the wage for which she had begun work five years before. Within a few weeks, dullness of trade had caused her dismissal. She was again facing indefinite unemployment.
Her income for the year had been $281. She lived in a large, pleasant home for girls, where she paid only $2.50 a week for board and a room shared with her sister. Without the philanthropy of the home, she could not have made both ends meet. It was fifteen minutes' walk from the store, and by taking this walk twice a day she saved carfare and the price of luncheon. She did her own washing, and as she could not spend any further energy in sewing, she bought cheap ready-made clothes. This she found a great expense. Cheap waists wear out very rapidly. In the year she had bought 24 at 98 cents each. Here is her account, as nearly as she had kept it and recalled it for a year: a coat, $10; 4 hats, $17; 2 pairs of shoes, $5; 24 waists at 98 cents, $23.52; 2 skirts, $4.98; underwear, $2; board, $130; doctor, $2; total, $194.50. This leaves a balance of $86.50. This money had paid for necessaries not itemized,—stockings, heavy winter underwear, petticoats, carfare, vacation expenses, every little gift she had made, and all recreation.
She belonged to no benefit societies, and she had not been able to save money in any way, even with the assistance given by the home. So much for her financial income and outlay.
After giving practically all her time and force to her work, she had not received a return sufficient to conserve her health in the future, or even to support her in the present without the help of philanthropy. She was ill, anaemic, nervous, and broken in health.
Before adding the next budget, two points in Lucy Cleaver's outlay should, perhaps, be emphasized in the interest of common sense. The first is the remarkable folly of purchasing 24 waists at 98 cents each. In an estimate of the cost of clothing, made by one of the working girls' clubs of St. George's last year, the girls agreed that comfort and a presentable appearance could be maintained, so far as expenditure for waists was concerned, on $8.50 a year. This amount allowed for five shirt-waists at $1.20 apiece, and one net waist at $2.50.
In extenuation of Lucy Cleaver's weak judgment as a waist purchaser, and the poor child's one absurd excess, it must, however, be said that the habit of buying many articles of poor quality, instead of fewer articles of better quality, is frequently a matter, not of choice, but of necessity. The cheap, hand-to-mouth buying which proves paradoxically so expensive in the end is no doubt often caused by the simple fact that the purchaser has not, at the time the purchase is made, any more money to offer. Whatever your wisdom, you cannot buy a waist for $1.20 if you possess at the moment only 98 cents. The St. George's girls made their accounts on a basis of an income of $8 a week. Lucy Cleaver never had an income of more than $5.50 a week, and sometimes had less. The fact that she spent nearly three times as much as they did on this one item of expenditure, and yet never could have "one net waist at $2.50" for festal occasions, is worthy of notice.
The other point that should be emphasized is the fact that she did her own washing. The more accurate statement would be that she did her own laundry, including the processes, not only of rubbing the clothes clean, but of boiling, starching, bluing, and ironing. This, after a day of standing in other employment, is a vital strain more severe than may perhaps be readily realized. Saleswomen and shop-girls have not the powerful wrists and muscular waists of accustomed washerwomen, and are in most instances no better fitted to perform laundry work than washerwomen would be to make sales and invoice stock. But custom requires exactly the same freshness in a saleswoman's shirt-waist, ties, and collars as in those of women of the largest income. The amount the girls of the St. George's Working Club found it absolutely necessary to spend in a year for laundering clothes was almost half as much as the amount spent for lodging and nearly two-thirds as much as the amount originally spent for clothing.
Where this large expense of laundry cannot be met financially by saleswomen, it has to be met by sheer personal strength. One department-store girl, who needed to be especially neat because her position was in the shirt-waist department, told us that sometimes, after a day's standing in the store, she worked over tubs and ironing-boards at home till twelve at night.
It is worth noting, as one cause of the numerous helpless shifts of the younger salesgirls, that, living, as most of them do, in a semidependence, on either relatives or charitable homes, it is almost impossible for them to learn any domestic economy, or the value of money for living purposes. It seems significant that quite the most practical spender encountered among the saleswomen was a widow, Mrs. Green, whose accounts will be given below, who was for years the manager of her own household and resources, and not a wage-earner until fairly late in life.
This helplessness of a semidependent and uneducated girl may be further illustrated by the chronicle of Alice Anderson, a girl of seventeen, who had been working in the department stores for three years and a half.
She was at first employed as a check girl in a Fourteenth Street store, at a wage of $2.62-1/2 a week; that is to say, she was paid $5.25 twice a month. Her working day was nine and a half hours long through most of the year. But during two weeks before Christmas it was lengthened to from twelve to thirteen and a half hours, without any extra payment in any form. She was promoted to the position of saleswoman, but her wages still remained $2.62-1/2 a week. She lived with her grandmother of eighty, working occasionally as a seamstress, and to her Alice gave all her earnings for three years.
It was then considered better that she should go to live with an aunt, to whom she paid the nominal board of $1.15 a week. As her home was in West Hoboken, she spent two and a half hours every day on the journey in the cars and on the ferry. During the weeks of overtime Alice could not reach home until nearly half past eleven o'clock; and she would be obliged to rise while it was still dark, at six o'clock, after five hours and a half of sleep, in order to be at her counter punctually at eight. By walking from the store to the ferry she saved 30 cents a week. Still, fares cost her $1.26 a week. This $1.26 a week carfare (which was still not enough to convey her the whole distance from her aunt's to the store) and the $1.15 a week for board (which still did not really pay the aunt for her niece's food and lodging) consumed all her earnings except 20 cents a week.
Alice was eager to become more genuinely self-dependent. She left the establishment of her first employment and entered another store on Fourteenth Street, as cash girl, at $4 a week. The hours in the second store were very long, from eight to twelve in the morning and from a quarter to one till a quarter past six in the afternoon on all days except Saturday, when the closing hour was half past nine.
After she had $4 a week instead of $2.62-1/2, Alice abandoned her daily trip to West Hoboken and came to live in New York.
Here she paid 6 cents a night in a dormitory of a charitably supported home for girls. She ate no breakfast. Her luncheon consisted of coffee and rolls for 10 cents. Her dinner at night was a repetition of coffee and rolls for 10 cents. As she had no convenient place for doing her own laundry, she paid 21 cents a week to have it done. Her regular weekly expenditure was as follows: lodging, 42 cents; board, $1.40; washing, 21 cents; clothing and all other expenses, $1.97; total, $4.
Of course, living in this manner was quite beyond her strength. She was pale, ill, and making the severest inroads upon her present and future health. Her experience illustrates the narrow prospect of promotion in some of the department stores.
It is significant in this point to compare the annals of this growing girl with those of a saleswoman of thirty-five, Grace Carr, who had been at work for twelve years. In her first employment in a knitting mill she had remained for five years, and had been promoted rapidly to a weekly wage of $12. The hours, however, were very long, from ten to thirteen hours a day. The lint in the air she breathed so filled her lungs that she was unable, in her short daily leisure, to counteract its effect. At the end of five years, as she was coughing and raising particles of lint, she was obliged to rest for a year.
Not strong enough to undertake factory work again, she obtained a position in the shoe department in one of the large stores, where she was not "speeded up," and her daily working time of nine hours was less severe than that of the knitting mill. In summer she had a Saturday half-holiday. There was a system of fines for lateness; but on the rare occasions of her own tardiness it had not been enforced. The company was also generous in grafting five-o'clock passes, which permitted a girl to leave at five in the afternoon, with no deduction from her wage for the free hour. She had been with this establishment for six years, earning $6 a week; and she had given up hope of advancing.
Miss Carr said that her work in the shoe department was exhausting, because of the stooping, the frequent sitting down and rising, and the effort of pulling shoes on and off. In the summer preceding the fall when she told of her experience in the store, she had, in reaching for a box of shoes, strained her heart in some way, so that she lost consciousness immediately, and was ill for seven weeks. She failed to recuperate as rapidly as she should have done, because she was so completely devitalized by overwork.
The firm was very good to her at this time, sending a doctor daily until she was in condition to go to the country. It then paid her expenses for two weeks in a country home of the Young Women's Christian Association, and during the three remaining weeks of her stay paid her full wage. Miss Carr praised this company's general care of the employees. A doctor and nurse were available without charge if a girl were ill in the store. A social secretary was employed.
Miss Carr lived in a furnished room with two other women, each paying a dollar a week rent. She cared nothing for her fellow-lodgers; her only reason for spending her time with them in such close quarters was her need of living cheaply. She cooked her breakfast and supper in the crowded room, at an expense of $1.95 a week. She said that her "hearty" meal was a noon dinner, for which she paid in a restaurant 15 cents a day.
After her experience in the summer, she realized that she should assure herself of income in case of illness. She joined a benefit society, to which she paid 50 cents a month. This promised a weekly benefit of $4 a week for thirteen weeks, and $200 at death. She paid also 10 cents a week for insurance in another company.
The room was within walking distance of the store, so that she spent nothing for carfare. The services and social life of a church were her chief happiness. Besides her contributions to its support, she had spent only $1 a year on "good times." She did her own washing.
Her outlay in health in these years had been extreme. She was very worn, thin, and wrinkled with hard work, severe economies, and anxiety, although she was still in what should have been the prime of life.
Her weekly budget was: lodging, $1; board, $1.95; luncheons, $1.05; insurance, 21 cents; clothing, contributions to church, occasional carfare, and other expenses, $1.79; total, $6.
Miss Carr said that her firm was generous in many of its policies, but she felt it profoundly discouraging not to advance to a wage that would permit decent living.
In connection with Miss Carr's budget the benefit system of New York stores should be mentioned. In many of the large department stores, monthly dues, varying with the wage of the employee, are deducted from the pay of each, although in many cases she does not know what the return for the dues is to be. These dues assure to her, while she remains in the store's employ, a weekly benefit in case of illness, and a death benefit. But if she leaves the store, or is discharged, the management retains the amount she has been forced to pay to it, and gives no return whatever in case of her subsequent sickness or death. While she is in the store's employ, the sick benefit varies from one-half the girl's wage to a regular payment of $5 a week for from five to thirteen weeks, according to the particular rules in each store. The employee must be ill five days or a week in order to draw it. Otherwise she is docked for absence.
The Mutual Benefit Fund of the New York Association of Working Girls' Societies has in this respect a better policy than the stores. Members of the clubs pay 55 cents a month for a benefit of $5 for six weeks in any one year, and 20 cents a month for a benefit of $3. Cessation of membership in a club does not terminate connection with the benefit fund, unless the reason for leaving is unsatisfactory to the board. Women not members of clubs may, under certain conditions, join the benefit fund as associate members, and pay 50 cents a month for a benefit of $5 a week, 30 cents for a benefit of $3 a week, or 80 cents for a benefit of $8 a week. These amounts are severally payable for six weeks in any one year.
A number of the stores have trained nurses and doctors in their employ, to whom the girls may go if they are ill. Several of the stores have recreation rooms; several have summer homes; several have employees' restaurants, where a really nourishing meal can be obtained for 15 cents.
Miss Carr, struggling against overwhelming odds, lived within $6 without charitable aid. With her experience may be compared those of two other older saleswomen, who were wholly self-supporting.
Mrs. Green, a shrewd-appearing woman of thirty-five, had been wage-earning only two years. She began work in Philadelphia in a commission house as a saleswoman and corset fitter. Here she was able to save from her salary. She also saved very carefully the wardrobe she had before she entered business. With these reserves, she came to New York to work in department stores for the purpose of gaining experience in salesmanship and a more thorough knowledge of corsets. She expected to be able to command a high salary as soon as she had thus increased her competence. She went at first to a new and attractive Sixth Avenue store, where, working eight hours and a quarter a day, she earned $10 a week. Laid off at the end of five months, she was idle a month before finding employment at another Sixth Avenue store.
In applying here she told the employer that she would not work for less than $12 a week. He offered her $9, and a commission on all sales beyond $400 a week. She refused, and the firm finally gave her what she asked.
It proved that her choice was wise, for she found that in her very busiest week, when she was exhausted from the day's rush, her sales never reached $400 a week, so that she would have received no income at all from the proffered commission.
She had a small room alone in an attractive hotel for working girls. For this and breakfasts and dinners she paid $5.10 a week. Luncheons cost, in addition, about $1.50 a week. She paid 50 cents a week for washing, besides doing some herself. Riding to and from work nearly every day increased her weekly expense 50 cents. This left her $4.40 a week for clothing and sundries.
Mrs. Green seemed extravagantly dressed; she said, however, that she contrived to have effective waists and hats by making and trimming them herself, and by purchasing materials with care at sales. In dressing economically without sacrificing effect she was aided palpably by skill and deftness.
She was in good health; and, though she did not save, she had not spent, even in her idle month, any of the reserve fund she had accumulated before she began to work.
Another self-supporting saleswoman aided by her experience in domestic economy was Zetta Weyman, a young woman of twenty-eight, who had begun to work for wages at the age of eleven; at this time she still attended school, but did housework out of school hours. When she was older, she was employed as a maid in the house of a very kind and responsive couple, who gave her free access to their interesting library, where she read eagerly. A trip to Europe had been especially stimulating. Her employer was considerate, and tried to make it possible for her to benefit by the experience.
Throughout this period she had been observant of dress and manner among the cultured people she saw, and had applied what she learned to her own dress and conduct. At twenty-six, wishing for larger opportunities than those she could have in personal service, she obtained work in a department store at $7 a week. Here she soon advanced to $10 in a department requiring more than average intelligence. At the end of two years she was very much interested in her work. It made demands upon her judgment, and offered opportunity for increasing knowledge and heightening her value to the company. She expected soon to receive a larger wage, as she considered her work worth at least $15 a week. Aside from underpay, she thought she was fairly treated. She greatly appreciated two weeks' vacation with full wages.
Zetta gave $2.50 a week for a furnished hall bedroom and the use of a bath-room. The warmth from the single gas-jet was the sole heat. She made coffee in her room for breakfast; a light luncheon sufficed; and dinner in a restaurant cost 25 to 35 cents a day. She was often entertained at dinner, by friends.
She usually rode to work, and walked home, eight blocks, spending thus 30 cents a week carfare. All living expenses for the week came to about $6. She paid for six years $24 a year on an insurance policy which promised her $15 a week in case of illness, and was cumulative, making a return during the life of the holder; $290 would be due from it in about a year.
Zetta said that she was extravagant in her expense for clothing, but she considered that her social position depended upon her appearance. She was very attractive looking. Her manner had quiet and grace, and there was something touching, even moving, in the dignity of her pure, clear English, acquired in the teeth of a fortune that forced her to be a little scullion and cook at the age of eleven. She was dressed with taste and care at the time of the interview. Through watching sales and through information obtained from heads of departments, she contrived to buy clothing of excellent quality, silk stockings, and well-cut suits comparatively cheaply. By waiting until the end of the season, she had paid $35, the winter before, for a suit originally costing $70; $35 was more than she had intended to spend, but the suit was becoming and she could not resist the purchase. She managed to have pretty and well-designed hats for from $2 to $5, because a friend trimmed them.
She spent her vacation with relatives on a farm in the country. Railroad fares and the occasional purchase of a magazine were her only expenditures for pleasure. But she had many "good times" going to the beaches in the summer with friends who paid her way.
She considered that with careful planning a girl could live in fair comfort for $10 a week. But she saved nothing.
The drawback she mentioned in her own arrangements—the best she could obtain for her present wage—was not the cold of her hall bedroom, warmed only by the gas-jet, but that she had no suitable place for receiving men friends. She was obliged to turn to trolley rides and walks and various kinds of excursions,—literally to the streets,—for hospitality, when she received a man's visit. She spoke frequently of one man with whom she had many "good times." She could not take him to her room. Trolley rides, and walks in winter, would pall. She hated park benches as a resort for quiet conversation. Where, then, was she to see him? Although she disapproved of it, she and another girl who had a larger and more attractive room than her own had received men there.
Zetta's income for the year had been $520. She had spent $130 for rent; $105 for dinners; $55 for breakfasts, luncheons, and washing; $195 for clothing, summer railway fares, and incidentals; $15 for carfare; and $20 for insurance.
Zetta's interest in her daily occupation is somewhat unusual in the trade chronicles of the shop-girls. One frequently hears complaint of the inefficiency and inattention of New York saleswomen and their rudeness to plainly dressed customers. While this criticism contains a certain truth, it is, of course, unreasonable to expect excellence from service frequently ill paid, often unevenly and unfairly promoted, and, except with respect to dress, quite unstandardized.
Further, it must be remembered that the world in which the shop-girl follows her occupation is a world of externals. The fortunes, talents, tastes, eager human effort spent in shop-window displays on Fifth Avenue, the shimmer and sparkle of beautiful silks and jewels, the prestige of "carriage trade," the distinction of presence of some of the customers and their wealth and their freedom in buying—all the worldliness of the most moneyed city of the United States here perpetually passes before the eyes of Zettas in their $1.20 muslin waists so carefully scrubbed the midnight before, and of Alices who have had breakfasts for 10 cents. Is it surprising that they should adopt the New York shop-window-display ideal of life manifested everywhere around them?
The saleswomen themselves are the worst victims of their unstandardized employment; and the fact that they spend long years of youth in work involving a serious outlay of their strength, without training them in concentration or individual responsibility or resourcefulness, but apparently dissipating these powers, seems one of the gravest aspects of their occupation.
A proud and very pretty pink-cheeked little English shop-girl, with clear hazel eyes, laid special stress upon unevenness of promotion, in telling of her fortunes in this country.
She was sitting, as she spoke, in the parlor of a Christian "home," which, like that of many others where shop-girls live, was light and clean, but had that unmistakably excellent and chilling air so subtly imparted by the altruistic act of furnishing for others—the air that characterizes spare rooms, hotel parlors, and great numbers of settlement receiving rooms.
"I had always wanted to come to America," she said in her quick English enunciation. "And I saved something and borrowed ten pounds of my brother, and came. Oh, it was hard the first part of the time I was here. I remember, when I first came in at the door of this house, and registered, one of the other shop-girls here was standing at the desk. I had on a heavy winter coat, just a plain, rough-looking coat, but it's warm. That girl gave me such a look, a sort of sneering look—oh, it made me hot! But that's the way American shop-girls are. I never have spoken to that girl.
"I got down to 50 cents before I had a job. There was one store I didn't want to go to. It was cheap, and had a mean name. One afternoon, when it was cold and dark, I walked up to it at last; and it looked so horrid I couldn't go in. There was another cheap store just beyond it, and another. All the shoppers were hurrying along. Oh, it was a terrible time that afternoon, terrible, standing there, looking at those big, cheap New York stores all around me.
"But at last I went in, and they took me on. It wasn't so bad, after all. In about two months I had a chance to go to a better store. I like it pretty well. But I can't save anything. I had $8 a week. Now I have $9. I pay $4.50 a week here for board and lodging, but I always live up to my salary, spending it for clothes and washing. Oh, I worry and worry about money. But I've paid back my $50. I have a nice silk dress now, and a new hat. And now I've got them," she added, with a laugh, "I haven't got anywhere to wear them to. I look forward to Sunday through the week days; but when Sunday comes, I like Monday best.
"Though I think it doesn't make much difference how you do in the store about being promoted. A girl next me who doesn't sell half as much as I do gets $12 where I have $9; and the commission we have on sales in Christmas week wasn't given to me fairly. The store is kind in many ways, and lets the girls sit down every minute when customers aren't there, and has evening classes and club-rooms. But yet the girls are discouraged about not having promotions fairly and not having commissions straight. Right is right."
The charmlessness of existence noticeable in most of the working girls' homes was emphasized by a saleswoman in the china department of a Broadway department store, Kate McCray, a pretty young Irishwoman of about twenty-three, who was visited in a hotel she said she didn't like to mention to people, for fear they would think it was queer. "You see, it's a boat, a liner that a gentleman that has a large plantation gave for a hotel for working girls. It seems peculiar to some people for a girl to be living on the river."
Miss McCray paid $3.50 a week board at the Maverick Deep-Sea Hotel. Her salary was $8 a week. She had been in the same department for four years, and considered it wrong that she received no promotion. She could save nothing, as she did none of her own washing on account of its inroads of fatigue, and she was obliged to dress well. She was, however, in excellent health and especially praised the store's policy of advising the girls to sit down and to rest whenever no customers were present.
It was misty and raining on the occasion of my visit to the Maverick Deep-Sea Hotel, a liner anchored in the East River; and Miss McCray conducted me into the cabin to a large party of boys, elderly women, and children, most of them visitors like myself, and all listening to a powerful-wristed youth happily playing, "You'll Come Back and Hang Around," with heavily accented rag-time, on an upright piano.
"About seventy girls board on this boat. That young lady going into the pantry now is a stenographer—such a bright girl."
Absorbed in the spectacle of a hotel freedom which permitted a guest to go to a pantry at will, whatever the force of her brightness, I followed Miss McCray about the boat. It was as if the hotel belonged to the girls, while in the Christian homes it had been as if everything belonged, not to the girls, but to benevolent though carefully possessive Christians. Miss McCray praised highly the manager and his wife.
"About twenty men and boys stay on a yacht anchored right out here. They board on this boat, and go to their own boat when the whistle blows at ten o'clock," she continued, leading me to the smoking-room, where she introduced a number of very young gentlemen reading magazines and knocking about gutturally together. They, too, seemed proud of their position as boarders, proud of the Maverick Deep-Sea Hotel. They were nice, boyish young fellows, who might have been young mechanicians.
She showed me the top deck with especial satisfaction as we came out into the fresh, rainy air. The East River shipping and an empty recreation pier rose black on one side, with the water sparkling in jetted reflection between; and on the other quivered all the violet and silver lights of the city. There were perhaps half a dozen tents pitched on deck.
"Some of the girls sleep outdoors up here," said Miss McCray in her gentle voice. "They like it so, they do it all winter long. Have plenty of cover, and just sleep here in the tents. Oh, we all like it! Some of the men that were here first have married; and they like it so well, they keep coming back here with their wives to see us. It's so friendly," said the girl, quietly; "and no matter how tired I am when I come here in the evening, I sit out on the deck, and I look at the water and the lights, and it seems as if all my cares float away."
The good humor of the Maverick Deep-Sea Hotel, its rag-time, its boarders from the yacht, the charm of the row of tents with the girls in them sleeping their healthful sleep out in the midst of the river wind, the masts, the chimneys, stars, and city lights, all served to deepen the impression of the lack of normal pleasure in most of the shop-girls' lives.
This starvation in pleasure, as well as low wages and overwork, subjects the women in the stores to a temptation readily conceivable.
The girls in the stores are importuned, not only by men from without these establishments, but also, to the shame of the managements, by men employed within the stores.
The constant close presence of this gulf has more than one painful aspect. On account of it, not only the poor girls who fall suffer, but also the girls who have the constant sense of being "on guard," and find it wise, for fear of the worst suspicion, to forego all sorts of normal delights and gayeties and youthful pleasures. Many girls said, "I keep myself to myself"; "I don't make friends in the stores very fast, because you can't be sure what any one is like." This fear of friendship among contemporaries sharing the same fortune, fear, indeed, of the whole world, seemed the most cruel comment possible on the atmosphere of the girls' lives in their occupation.
Another kind of meanness in human relations was abundantly witnessed by Miss Johnson, the League's inquirer, who worked in one of the stores during the week of Christmas good-will.
The "rush" had begun when Miss Johnson was transferred in this Christmas week from the neckwear to the muffler department on the first floor of one of the cheaper stores. All the girls stood all day long—from eight to twelve and from one to eight at night on the first days; from one at noon to ten and eleven at night, as the season progressed; and, on the last dreadful nights, from noon to the following midnight. The girls had 35 cents supper money. Except for that, all this extra labor was unpaid for.
The work was incessant. The girls were nervous, hateful, spiteful with one another. The manager, a beautiful and extremely rough girl of nineteen, swore constantly at all of them. The customers were grabbing, insistent, unreasonable from morning to evening, from evening to midnight. Behind the counter, with the advance of the day, the place became an inferno of nervous exhaustion and exasperation. In the two weeks of Miss Johnson's service one customer once thanked her; and one tipped her 5 cents for the rapid return of a parcel. Both these acts of consideration took place in the morning. Miss Johnson said that this was fortunate for her, as, at one word of ordinary consideration toward the end of her long day's work, she thought she must have burst into tears.
There was a little bundler in the department, Catriona Malatesta, a white, hungry-looking little North Italian of fourteen with a thin chin and a dark-shadowed, worried face. She had an adored sick sister of four, besides six other younger brothers and sisters, and a worshipped mother, to whom she gave every cent of her wages of three dollars and a half a week. An older brother, a day laborer, paid the rent and provided food for all of them. Every other family expense was met by Catriona's three dollars and a half, so that she was in the habit of spending only five cents for her own lunch, and, on the nights of overtime, five cents for her own dinner, in order to take home the extra thirty cents; and every day she looked whiter and older.
At the beginning of the week before Christmas, the store raised Catriona's wage to four dollars. Her mother told her she might have the extra half dollar for herself for Christmas. Though Catriona had worked for some months, this was the first money of her own she had ever had. With pride she told the department how it was to be spent. She was going to surprise her mother with a new waist for Christmas, a waist Catriona had seen in the store marked down to forty-nine cents. A ten per cent discount was allowed to employees, so that the waist would cost forty-five cents. With the remaining five cents Catriona would buy her sick Rosa a doll. All her life Rosa had wanted a doll. Now, at last, she could have one.
On the day when she received the money, Catriona kept it close at hand, in a little worn black leather purse, in a shabby bag hanging from her arm, and not out of sight for an instant.
Her purchases were to be made in the three-quarters of an hour allowed for supper. The time Catriona consumed in eating her five-cent meal was never long, so that, even allowing for prolonged purchasing, her absence of an hour was strange.
"D—— your soul, where in hell have you been all this time, Catie?" the manager screamed at her, angrily, without glancing at her, when she came back at last.
Catriona looked more anxious and white than ever before. Her face was stained with weeping. "I lost my purse," she said in a dazed, unsteady voice. "It was gone when I opened my bag in the lunch-room. I've looked for it everywhere."
There was a sudden breathless change in the air of the department. You could have heard a pin drop.
"Better go down to the basement and wash your face," said the manager, awkwardly, with unbelievable gentleness.
"Well," she continued suddenly, the minute Catriona was out of ear-shot, "I'm not so poor but I can help to make that up." She took a dollar bill from her pocket-book. Every one contributed something, though several girls went without their supper for this purpose, and one girl walked home four miles after midnight. Altogether they could give nearly ten dollars.
The manager sidled awkwardly toward Catriona, when she came back from washing her face. "Here, kid," she muttered sheepishly, pushing the money into the little girl's hand. Catriona, pale and dazed, looked up at her—looked at the money, with a shy excitement and happiness dawning in her eyes. Then she cried again with excitement and joy, and every one laughed, and sent her off again to wash her face.
That night everything was different in the department. There had been a real miracle of transfiguration. The whole air of intercourse was changed. All the girls were gentle and dignified with each other. Catriona's eyes sparkled with pleasure. Her careworn air was gone. She was a child again. She had never had any physical loveliness before; but on that night hundreds of passing shoppers looked with attention at the delight and beauty of her face.
On the next day everything went on as before. The girls snapped at each other and jostled each other. The beautiful manager swore. One girl came, looking so ill that Miss Johnson was terrified.
"Can't you stop, Kitty? You look so sick. For heaven's sake, go home and rest."
"I can't afford to go home."
Cross and snappish as the girls were, they managed to spare Kitty, and to stand in front of her to conceal her idleness from the floor-walker, and give her a few minutes' occasional rest sitting down. She went through the first hours of the morning as best she might, though clearly under pressure of sharp suffering. But at about ten the floor-walker, for whom it must be said that he was responsible for the sales and general presentability of the department, saw her sitting down. "Why aren't you busy?" he called. "Get up."
At midnight on Christmas eve, as the still crowd of girls walked wanly out of the great store into the brilliant New York street, some one said, "How are you, Kitty?"
She made no reply for a minute. Then she said wretchedly, "Oh—I hope I'll be dead before the next Christmas."
The sheer and causeless misery this girl endured was, of course, attributable, not only to the long hours and to the standing demanded by her occupation, but to the fact that this occupation was continued at a period when the normal health of great numbers of women demands reasonable quiet and rest.
With a few honorable exceptions it may be said to be the immemorial custom of department stores in this country to treat women employees, in so far as ability to stand and to stand at all seasons goes, exactly as if they were men.
The expert testimony collected by the publication secretary of the National Consumers' League, Miss Josephine Goldmark, for the brief which obtained the Illinois Ten-Hour Law, gives the clearest possible record of the outlay of communal strength involved in these long hours of standing for women.
Report of "Lancet" Sanitary Commission on Sanitation in the Shop. 1892
Without entering upon the vexed question of women's rights, we may nevertheless urge it as an indisputable physiological fact that, when compelled to stand for long hours, women, especially young women, are exposed to greater injury and greater suffering than men.
British Sessional Papers. Vol. XII. 1886. Report from Select Committee on Shop Hours Regulation Bill
Witness, W. Abbott, M.D.
"Does their employment injuriously affect them, as child-bearing women in after years?"
"According to all scientific facts, it would do so."
"And you, as a medical man of a considerable number of years' experience, would not look to girls who have been worked so many hours in one position as the bearers of healthy, strong children?"
"I should not."
"Then it naturally follows, does it not, that this is a very serious matter in the interest of the nation as a whole, apart from the immediate injury to the person concerned?"
"Yes. As regards the physical condition of the future race."
British Sessional Papers. Vol. XII, 1895. Report from the Select Committee on Shops. Early Closing Bill
Witness, Dr. Percy Kidd, M.D., of the University of Oxford, Fellow of the College of Physicians and Member of the College of Surgeons, attached to London Hospital and Brompton, Hospital.
"Would this be a fair way of putting it: It is not the actual work of people in shops, but having to be there and standing about in bad air; it is the long hours which is the injurious part of it?"
"Quite so; the prolonged tension."
Official Information from the Reports of the [German] Factory Inspectors. Berlin, Bruer, 1898
The inspector in Hesse regards a reduction of working hours to ten for women in textile mills as "absolutely imperative," as the continuous standing is very injurious to the female organism.
Fourteenth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography. Berlin, September, 1907. Vol. II, Sec. IV. Fatigue Resulting from Occupation. Berlin, Hirschwald, 1908
Doctor Emil Roth:
"My experience and observations do not permit me to feel any uncertainty in believing that the injury to health inflicted upon even fully capable workers by the special demands of a periodically heightened rush of work is never compensated for. Under this head we may consider the demands of all seasonal work, ... as also the special rush season in shops before Christmas."
Night Work of Women in Industry. Reports on its Importance and Legal Regulation. Preface by Etienne Bauer. Night Work of Women in Industry in Austria. Ilse Von Arlt. Jena, Fischer, 1903
The suitable limits of working time vary with individuals, but it is acknowledged that not only is a regularly long day of work injurious, but also that a single isolated instance of overstrain may be harmful to a woman all the rest of her life.
Proceedings of the French Senate, July 7, 1891. Report on the Industrial Employment of Children, Young Girls, and Women.
When I ask, when we ask, for a lessening of the daily toil of women, it is not only of the women that we think, it is not principally of the women, it is of the whole human race. It is of the father, it is of the child, it is of society, which we wish to reestablish on its foundation, from which we believe it has perhaps swerved a little.
In New York State, the hours of labor of adult women (women over twenty-one) in mercantile establishments are not limited in any way by law.
The law concerning seats in stores is as follows:—
Seats for Women in Mercantile Establishments
Chairs, stools, or other suitable seats shall be maintained in mercantile establishments for the use of female employees therein, to the number of at least one seat for every three females employed, and the use thereof by such employees shall be allowed at such times and to such extent as may be necessary for the preservation of their health.
The enforcement of this law is very difficult. The mercantile inspectors can compel the requisite number of seats. They have successfully issued one hundred and fourteen orders on this point to the stores within the year 1909. But the use of these seats to such extent as may be necessary for the preservation of the health of the women employees is another matter. For fear of being blacklisted by the merchants, the saleswomen will not testify in court in those cases where employers practically forbid the use of seats, by requesting the employees to do something requiring a standing position whenever they sit down. So that in these cases the inspectors cannot bring prosecution successfully, on account of lack of sufficient evidence.
Further, in one store the management especially advises the saleswomen to be seated at every moment when the presence of a customer does not require her to stand. But the saleswoman's inability to attract possible customers while she is seated still keeps her standing, in order not to diminish her sales.
Curiously enough, it would seem that the shopping public of a nation professedly democratic will not buy so much as a spool of thread from a seated woman. There is, of course, much work for women—such as ironing for instance—in which standing is generally considered absolutely necessary. Salesmanship is not work of this character. It is primarily custom that demands the constant standing seen in the stores; and, until shoppers establish a habit of buying of shop-girls who are seated, and the stores provide enough seats for all saleswomen and permit them to sell when seated, the present system of undermining the normal health of women clerks will continue unchecked.
The New York State law in regard to the work of the younger women (minors)—in mercantile establishments is as follows:—
Hours of Labor of Minors
No female employee between sixteen and twenty-one years of age shall be required, permitted, or suffered to work in or in connection with any mercantile establishment more than sixty hours in any one week; or more than ten hours in any one day, unless for the purpose of making a shorter work day of some one day of the week; or before seven o'clock in the morning or after ten o'clock in the evening of any day. This section does not apply to the employment of persons sixteen years of age or upward, between the eighteenth day of December and the following twenty-fourth day of December, both inclusive.
That is to say, that, for the holiday season, the time of all others when it might seem wise and natural to protect the health of the younger women working in the great metropolitan markets, for that season, of all others, the State specifically provides that the strength of its youth is to have no legal safeguard and may be subjected to labor without limit.
Substantially, all the present legal protection for workers in the stores was obtained in 1896, after the investigation of mercantile establishments conducted in 1895 by the Rinehart Commission. Ever since, an annual attempt has been made to perfect the present law and to secure its enforcement, which had been left in the hands of the local Boards of Health, and was practically inoperative until 1908. Enforcement was then transferred to the Labor Commissioner, and has since that time been actively maintained.
The hearings on the law relative to mercantile establishments are held in Albany in a small room in the Capitol before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate and the Assembly Commission on Labor. These hearings are very fiery. The Support is represented by Attorney Mornay Williams, and Mrs. Nathan, Mrs. Kelley, Miss Stokes, Miss Sanford, and Miss Goldmark of the New York and National Consumers' Leagues, and delegates from the Child Labor Committee, the Working-Girls' Clubs, and the Woman's Trade-Union League. Both men and women speak fox the amendment. The Support's effort for legislation limiting hours has regularly been opposed by the Retail Dry-Goods Merchants' Association, which yearly sends an influential delegation to Albany.
"These ladies have been coming here for sixteen years," said one of the merchants, resentfully, last spring. Looking around, and observing changes in the faces watching him among adherents of the Support, he added: "Well, perhaps not the same ladies. But they have come."
"These ladies are professional agitators," said another merchant at another hearing. "Why, they even misled Mr. Roosevelt, when he was Governor, into recommending the passage of their bill."
Such are some of the reasons offered by the opposition for not limiting women's hours of labor in mercantile establishments.
Among the several common features of the experiences of these New York saleswomen, low wages, casual employment, heavy required expense in laundry and dress, semidependence, uneven promotion, lack of training, absence of normal pleasure, long hours of standing, and an excess of seasonal work, the consideration of this last common condition is placed last because its consequences seem the most far-reaching.
Looking back at these common features in the lives of these average American working girls, one has a sudden sense that the phenomenon of the New York department stores represents a painful failure in democracy. What will the aspect of the New York department stores be in the future? For New York doubtless will long remain a port of merchandise, one of the most picturesque and most frequented harbors of the Seven Seas. Doubtless many women still will work in its markets. What will their chances in life be?
First, it may be trusted that the State law will not forever refuse to protect these women and their future, which is also the future of the community, from the danger of unlimited hours of labor. Then, the fact that in a store in Cincinnati the efficiency of the saleswomen has been standardized and their wages raised, the fact that in a store in Boston the employees have become responsible factors in the business, and the fact that a school of salesmanship has been opened in New York seem to indicate the possibility of a day when salesmanship will become standardized and professional, as nursing has within the last century. Further, it may be believed that saleswomen will not forever acquiesce in pursuing their trade in utterly machinal activity, without any common expression of their common position.
Very arresting is the fact that, year after year, the Union women go to Albany to struggle for better chances in life for the shop-women who cannot at present wisely make this struggle for themselves. The fact that the Union women fail is of less moment than that they continue to go.
But what have the organized women workers, the factory girls who so steadfastly make this stand for justice for the shop-girls, attained for themselves in their fortunes by their Union? It was for an answer to this question that we turned to the New York shirt-waist makers, whose income and outlay will be next considered in this little chronicle of women's wages.
[Footnote 1: In the last six months further accounts from working women in the trades mentioned in New York have been received by Miss Edith Wyatt, Vice-President of the Consumers' League of Illinois. Aside from the facts ascertained through the schedules filled by the workers, and through Mrs. Clark's and Miss Wyatt's visits to them, information has been obtained through Miss Helen Marot, Secretary of the New York Woman's Trade-Union League, Miss Marion MacLean, Director of the Sociological Investigation Committee of the Young Women's Christian Association of the United States, Miss May Matthews, Head Worker of Hartley House, Miss Hall, Head Worker of the Riverside Association, Miss Rosenfeld, Head Worker of the Clara de Hirsch Home, the Clinton Street Headquarters of the Union, the St. George Working Girls' Clubs, the Consumers' League of the City of New York, and the offices or files of the Survey, the Independent, the Call, and the International Socialist Review.]
[Footnote 2: It remains to be said that there are both among saleswomen and among women in business for the department stores, buyers, assistant buyers, receivers of special orders, advertisers, and heads of departments, earning salaries of from twenty dollars to two hundred dollars a week. But this experience does not represent the average fortune the League was interested in learning.]
[Footnote 3: Here are the estimates made by the St. George's Working Girls' Club of the smallest practicable expenditure for self-supporting girls in New York: General expense per week: room, $2; meals, $3; clothes, $1.25; washing, 75 cents; carfare, 60 cents; pleasures, 25 cents; church, 10 cents; club, 5 cents: total $8. Itemized account of clothing for the year at $1.25 a week, or $65 a year: 2 pair of shoes at $2, and mending at $1.50, $5.50; 2 hats at $2.50, $5; 8 pair of stockings at 12-1/2 cents, $1; 2 combination suits at 50 cents, $1; 4 shirts at 12-1/2 cents, 50 cents; 4 pairs of drawers at 25 cents, $1; 4 corset covers at 25 cents, $1; 1 flannel petticoat, 25 cents; 2 white petticoats at 75 cents, $1.50; 5 shirt-waists at $1.20, $6; 1 net waist, $2.50; 2 corsets at $1, $2; gloves, $2; 2 pairs rubbers at 65 cents, $1.30; 1 dozen handkerchiefs at 5 cents, 60 cents; 3 nightgowns at 50 cents, $1.50; 1 sweater, $2; 2 suits at $15, $30: total, $65.65.]
[Footnote 4: This worker later, however, in the winter of 1911, considered she had been paid and promoted fairly.]
[Footnote 5: Macy and Company of New York give to those of their permanent women employees who desire it a monthly day of rest with pay. The Daniels and Fisher Company of Denver refund to any woman employee who requests it the amount deducted for a monthly day of absence for illness. This excellent rule is, however, said to represent here rather a privilege than a practice, and not to be generally taken advantage of, because not generally understood. The present writer has not been able to learn of other exceptions.]
[Footnote 6: Ninth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor, p. 127.]
[Footnote 7: See page 16 (foot-note), "Scientific Management as applied to Women's Work."]
[Footnote 8: This statement does not include the excellent New York Child Labor Law for children under sixteen, which allows of no exception at Christmas time.]
[Footnote 9: Italics ours.]
[Footnote 10: A New York State Commission, appointed for this purpose in the year 1895, through the efforts of the Consumers' League of the city of New York.]
[Footnote 11: For fear of a permanent loss of position the saleswomen themselves have never been urged to appear in support of this legislation, nor, except in a few instances where this difficulty has been nullified, have they been present at these hearings.]
THE SHIRT-WAIST MAKERS' STRIKE
Among the active members of the Ladies Waist Makers' Union in New York, there is a young Russian Jewess of sixteen, who may be called Natalya Urusova. She is little, looking hardly more than twelve years old, with a pale, sensitive face, clear dark eyes, very soft, smooth black hair, parted and twisted in braids at the nape of her neck, and the gentlest voice in the world, a voice still thrilled with the light inflections of a child.
She is the daughter of a Russian teacher of Hebrew, who lived about three years ago in a beech-wooded village on the steppes of Central Russia. Here a neighbor of Natalya's family, a Jewish farmer, misunderstanding that manifesto of the Czar which proclaimed free speech, and misunderstanding socialism, had printed and scattered through the neighborhood an edition of hand-bills stating that the Czar had proclaimed socialism, and that the populace must rise and divide among themselves a rich farm two miles away.
Almost instantly on the appearance of these bills, this unhappy man and a young Jewish friend who chanced to be with him at the time of his arrest were seized and murdered by the government officers—the friend drowned, the farmer struck dead with the blow of a cudgel. A Christian mob formed, and the officers and the mob ravaged every Jewish house in the little town. Thirty innocent Jews were clubbed to death, and then literally cut to pieces. Natalya and her family, who occupied the last house on the street, crept unnoticed to the shack of a Roman Catholic friend, a woman who hid sixteen Jewish people under the straw of the hut in the fields where she lived, in one room, with eight children and some pigs and chickens. Hastily taking from a drawer a little bright-painted plaster image of a wounded saint, this woman placed it over the door as a means of averting suspicion. Her ruse was successful. "Are there Jews here?" the officer called to her, half an hour afterward, as the mob came over the fields to her house.
"No," said the woman.
"Open the door and let me see."
The woman flung open the door. But, as he was quite unsuspecting, the officer glanced in only very casually; and it was in utter ignorance that the rage of the mob went on over the fields, past the jammed little room of breathless Jews.
As soon as the army withdrew from the town, Natalya and her family made their way to America, where, they had been told, one had the right of free belief and of free speech. Here they settled on the sixth floor of a tenement on Monroe Street, on the East Side of New York. Nothing more different from the open, silent country of the steppes could be conceived than the place around them.
The vista of the New York street is flanked by high rows of dingy brick tenements, fringed with jutting white iron fire-escapes, and hung with bulging feather-beds and pillows, puffing from the windows. By day and by night the sidewalks and roads are crowded with people,—bearded old men with caps, bare-headed wigged women, beautiful young girls, half-dressed babies swarming in the gutters, playing jacks. Push carts, lit at night with flaring torches, line the pavements and make the whole thronged, talking place an open market, stuck with signs and filled with merchandise and barter. Everybody stays out of doors as much as possible. In summer-time the children sleep on the steps, and on covered chicken coops along the sidewalk; for, inside, the rooms are too often small and stifling, some on inner courts close-hung with washing, some of them practically closets, without any opening whatever to the outer air.
Many, many of Natalya's neighbors here are occupied in the garment trade. According to the United States census of 1900, the men's clothing made in factories in New York City amounted to nearly three times as much as that manufactured in any other city in the United States. The women's clothing made in factories in New York City amounted to more than ten times that made in any other city; the manufacture of women's ready-made clothing in this country is, indeed, almost completely in the hands of New York's immense Jewish population.
As soon after her arrival as her age permitted, Natalya entered the employment of a shirt-waist factory as an unskilled worker, at a salary of $6 a week. Mounting the stairs of the waist factory, one is aware of heavy vibrations. The roar and whir of the machines increase as the door opens, and one sees in a long loft, which is usually fairly light and clean, though sometimes neither, rows and rows of girls with heads bent and eyes intent upon the flashing needles. They are all intensely absorbed; for if they be paid by the piece, they hurry from ambition, and if they be paid by the week, they are "speeded up" by the foreman to a pace set by the swiftest workers.
In the Broadway establishment, which may be called the Bruch Shirt-waist Factory, where Natalya worked, there were four hundred girls—six hundred in the busy season. The hours were long—from eight till half past twelve, a half hour for lunch, and then from one till half past six.
Sometimes the girls worked until half past eight, until nine. There were only two elevators in the building, which contained other factories. There were two thousand working people to be accommodated by these elevators, all of whom began work at eight o'clock in the morning; so that, even if Natalya reached the foot of the shaft at half past seven, it was sometimes half past eight before she reached the shirt-waist factory on the twelfth floor. She was docked for this inevitable tardiness so often that frequently she had only five dollars a week instead of six. This injustice, and the fact that sometimes the foreman kept them waiting needlessly for several hours before telling them that he had no work for them, was particularly wearing to the girls.
Natalya was a "trimmer" in the factory. She cut the threads of the waists after they were finished—a task requiring very little skill. But the work of shirt-waist workers is of many grades. The earnings of makers of "imported" lingerie waists sometimes rise as high as $25 a week. Such a wage, however, is very exceptional, and, even so, is less high than might appear, on account of the seasonal character of the work.
The average skilled waist worker, when very busy, sometimes earns from $12 to $15 a week. Here are the yearly budgets of some of the better paid workers, more skilled than Natalya—operatives receiving from $10 to $15 a week.
Rachael, a shirt-waist operative of eighteen, had been at work three years. She had begun at $5 a week and her skill had increased until in a very busy week she could earn from $14 to $15 by piece-work. "But," she said, "I was earning too much, so I was put back at week's work, at $11 a week. The foreman is a bad, driving man. Ugh! he makes us work fast—especially the young beginners."
Rachael, too, had been driven out of Russia by Christian persecution. Her little sister had been killed in a massacre. Her parents had gone in one direction, and she and her two other sisters had fled in another to America.
Here in New York she lived in a tenement, sharing a room with two other girls, and, besides working in the shirt-waist factory, did her own washing, made her own waists, and went to night school.
Her income was seriously depleted by the seasonal character of her work. Out of the twelve months of the year, for one month she was idle, for four months she had only three or four days' work a week, for three months she had five days' work a week, and for four months only did she have work for all six days. Unhappily, during these months she developed a severe cough, which lost her seven weeks of work, and gave her during these weeks the expense of medicine, a doctor, and another boarding place, as she could not in her illness sleep with her two friends.
Her income for the year had been $348.25. Her expenses had been as follows: rent for one-third of room at $3.50 a month, $42; suppers with landlady at 20 cents each, $63; other meals, approximately, $90; board while ill, seven weeks at $7, $49; doctor and medicine (about) $15; clothing, $51.85; club, 5 cents a week, $2.60; total, $313.45, thus leaving a balance of $34.80.
Shoes alone consumed over one-half of the money used for clothing. They wore out with such amazing rapidity that she had needed a new pair once a month. At $2 each, except a best pair, costing $2.60, their price in a year amounted to $24.60.
In regard to Rachael's expenditure and conservation in strength, she had drawn heavily upon her health and energy. Her cough continued to exhaust her. She was worn and frail, and at eighteen her health was breaking.
Anna Klotin, another older skilled worker, an able and clever Russian girl of twenty-one, an operative and trimmer, earned $12 a week. She had been idle twelve weeks on account of slack work. For four weeks she had night work for three nights a week, and payment for this extra time had brought her income up to $480 for the year. Of this sum she paid $312 ($6 a week) for board and lodging alone in a large, pleasant room with a friendly family on the East Side. To her family in Russia she had sent $120, and she had somehow contrived, by doing her own washing, making her own waists and skirts, and repairing garments left from the previous year, to buy shoes and to pay carfare and all her other expenses from the remaining $48. She had bought five pairs of shoes at $2 each, and a suit for $15.
Fanny Wardoff, a shirt-waist worker of twenty, who had been in the United States only a year, helped her family by supporting her younger brother.
For some time after her arrival in this country the ill effects of her steerage voyage had left her too miserable to work. She then obtained employment as a finisher in a skirt factory, where her best wage was $7. But her earnings in this place had been so fluctuating that she was uncertain what her total income had been before the last thirteen weeks. At the beginning of this time she had left the skirt factory and become a finisher in a waist factory, where she earned from $10 to $12 a week, working nine and a half hours a day.
Her place to sleep, and breakfast and dinner, in a tenement, cost $2.50 a week. She paid the same for her younger brother, who still attended school. The weekly expense was palpably increased by 60 cents a week for luncheon and 30 cents for carfare to ride to work. She walked home, fifteen blocks.
Her clothing, during the eight months of work, had cost about $40. Of this, $8 had been spent for four pairs of shoes. Two ready-made skirts had cost $9, and a jacket $10. Her expense for waists was only the cost of material, as she had made them herself.
She spent 35 cents a week for the theatre, and economized by doing her own washing.
Here are the budgets of some shirt-waist operatives earning from $7 to $10 a week, less skilled than the workers described above, but more skilled than Natalya.
Irena Kovalova, a girl of sixteen, supported herself and three other people, her mother and her younger brother and sister, on her slight wage of $9 a week. She was a very beautiful girl, short, but heavily built, with grave dark eyes, a square face, and a manner more mature and responsible than that of many women of forty. Irena Kovalova had not been out of work for one whole week in the year she described. She had never done night work; but she had almost always worked half a day on Sunday—except in slack weeks. She was not certain how many of these there had been; but there had been enough slack time to reduce her income for her family for the year to $450. They had paid $207 rent for four rooms on the East Side, and had lived on the remaining $243, all of which Irena had given to her mother.
Her mother helped her with her washing, and she had worn the clothes she had the year before, with the exception of shoes. She had been forced to buy four pairs of these at $2 a pair. They all realized that if Irena could spend a little more for her shoes they would wear longer. "But for shoes," she said, with a little laugh, "two dollars—it is the most I ever could pay."
She was a girl of unusual health and strength, and though sometimes very weary at night and troubled with eye strain from watching the needle, it was a different drain of her vitality that she mentioned as alarming. She was obliged to work at a time of the month when she normally needed rest, and endured anguish at her machine at this season. She had thought, she said gravely, that if she ever had any money ahead, she would try to use it to have a little rest then.
Molly Zaplasky, a little Russian shirt-waist worker of fifteen, operated a machine for fifty-six hours a week, did her own washing, and even went to evening school. She had worked for five months, earning $9 a week for five weeks of this time, and sometimes $6, sometimes $7, for the remainder. She and her sister Dora, of seventeen, also a shirt-waist maker, had a room with a cousin's family on the East Side.
Dora had worked a year and a half. She, too, earned $9 a week in full weeks. But there had been only twenty-two such weeks in that period. For seventeen weeks she had earned $6 a week. For four weeks she had been idle because of slackness of work, and for nine weeks recently she had been too ill to work, having developed tuberculosis. Dora, too, did her own washing. She made her own waists, and went to evening school. She had paid $2.75 a week for partial board and for lodging. The food, not included in her board, cost about $1 a week. The little Molly had paid for Dora's board and lodging in her nine weeks' illness. Dora, who had worked so valiantly, was quietly expecting just as valiantly her turn in the long waiting list of applicants for the Montefiore Home for consumptives. She knew that the chance of her return to Molly was very slight.
Her expenditure for food, shelter, and clothing for the year had been as follows: room and board (exclusive of nine weeks' illness), $161.25; clothing, $41.85; total, $203.10. As her income for the year had been $297.50, this left a balance of $94.40 for all other expenses. Items for clothing had been: suit, $12; jacket, $4.50; a hat, $2.50; shoes (two pairs), $4.25; stockings (two pairs a week at 15 cents), $15.60; underwear, $3; total, $41.85.
One point should be accentuated in this budget—the striking cost of stockings, due to the daily walk to and from work and the ill little worker's lack of strength and time for darning. The outlay for footwear in all the budgets of the operators is heavy, in spite of the fact that much of their work is done sitting.
Here are the budgets of some of the shirt-waist makers who were earning Natalya's wage of $6 a week, or less than this wage.
Rea Lupatkin, a shirt-waist maker of nineteen, had been in New York only ten months, and was at first a finisher in a cloak factory. Afterward, obtaining work as operator in a waist factory, she could get $4 in fifty-six hours on a time basis. She had been in this factory six weeks.
Rea was paying $4 a month for lodging in two rooms of a tenement-house with a man and his wife and baby and little boy. She saved carfare by a walk of three-quarters of an hour, adding daily one and a half hours to the nine and a half already spent in operating. Her food cost $2.25 a week so that, with 93 cents a week for lodging, her regular weekly cost of living was $3.18, leaving her 82 cents for every other expense. In spite of this, and although she had been forced to spend $3 for examination of her eyes and for eyeglasses, Rea contrived to send an occasional $2 back to her family in Europe.
Ida Bergeson, a little girl of fifteen, was visited at half past eight o'clock one evening, in a tenement on the lower East Side. The gas was burning brightly in the room; several people were talking; and this frail-looking little Ida lay on a couch in their midst, sleeping, in all the noise and light, in complete exhaustion. Her sister said that every night the child returned from the factory utterly worn out, she was obliged to work so hard and so fast.
Ida received the same wage as Natalya—$6 a week. She worked fifty-six hours a week—eight more than the law allows for minors. She paid $4 a week for board and a room shared with the anxious older sister, who told about her experience. Ida needed all the rest of her $2 for her clothing. She did her own washing. As the inquirer came away, leaving the worn little girl sleeping in her utter fatigue, she wondered with what strength Ida could enter upon her possible marriage and motherhood—whether, indeed, she would struggle through to maturity.
Katia Halperian, a shirt-waist worker of fifteen, had been in New York only six months. During twenty-one weeks of this time she was employed in a Wooster Street factory, earning for a week of nine-and-a-half-hour days only $3.50. Katia, like Natalya, was a "trimmer."
After paying $3 a week board to an aunt, she had a surplus of 50 cents for all clothing, recreation, doctor's bills, and incidentals.
To save carfare she walked to her work—about forty minutes' distance. Her aunt lived on the fourth floor of a tenement. After working nine and a half hours and walking an hour and twenty minutes daily, Katia climbed four flights of stairs and then helped with the housework.
Sonia Lavretsky, a girl of twenty, had been self-supporting for four years. She lived in a most wretched, ill-kept tenement, with a family who made artificial flowers. She had been totally unable to find work for the last five months, but this family, though very poor, had kept her with them without payment through all this time.
She had been three months an operative, putting cuffs on waists. Working on a time basis, she earned $3 the first week and $4 the second. She was then put on piece-work, and in fifty-four hours and a half could earn only $3. Laid off, she found employment at felling cloaks, earning from $3 to $6 a week. But after twelve weeks, trade in this place also had grown dull.
During her idle time she became "run down" and was ill three weeks. Fortunately, a brother was able to pay her doctor's bills, until he also was laid off during part of her idle time.
When Sonia had any money she gave her landlady, for part of a room in the poor tenement with the flower-makers, $3.50 a month, and about $2.50 a week for food. Before her dull season and slack work began, she had paid 20 cents a week dues to a self-education society and social club.
Her brother had given her all the clothing she had. The burden of her support evidently fell heavily upon him and upon the poverty-stricken family of her hostess. And Sonia was in deep discouragement. She was about to go away from New York in hopes of finding work in Syracuse.
Getta Bursova, an attractive Russian girl of twenty, had worked for eight years—ever since she was twelve. She had been employed as a waist operative for six years in London and for two in New York.
Here she worked nine and a half hours daily in a factory on Nineteenth Street, earning $5 to $6 a week. Of this wage she paid her sister $4 a week for food and lodging in an inside tenement room in very poor East Side quarters, so far from her work that she was obliged to spend 60 cents a week for carfare. In her busy weeks she had never more than $1.40 a week left, and often only 60 cents, for her clothing and every other expense.
Getta had been idle, moreover, for nearly six months. During this time she had been supported by her sister's family.
In spite of this defeat in her fortunes, her presence had a lovely brightness and initiative, and her inexpensive dress had a certain daintiness. She was eager for knowledge, and through all her busy weeks had paid 10 cents dues to a self-education society.
Nevertheless, her long dull season was a harassing burden and disappointment both for herself and her sister's struggling family.
Betty Lukin, a shirt-waist maker of twenty, had been making sleeves for two years. For nine months of the year she earned from $6 to $10 a week; for the remaining three months only $2 a week. Her average weekly wage for the year would be about $6. Of this she spent $3 a week for suppers and a place in a tenement to sleep, and about 50 cents a week for breakfast and luncheon—a roll and a bit of fruit or candy from a push cart. Her father was in New York, doing little to support himself, so that many weeks she deprived herself to give him $3 or $4.
She spent 50 cents a week to go to the theatre and 10 cents for club dues. She had, of course, very little left for dress. She looked ill clad, and she was, naturally, improperly nourished and very delicate.
Two points in Betty's little account are suggestive: one is that she could always help her father. In listening to the account of an organizer of the Shirt-waist Makers' Union, a man who had known some 40,000 garment workers, I exclaimed on the hardships of the trade for the number of married men it contained, and was about to make a note of this item when he eagerly stopped me. "Wait, wait, please," he cried generously. "When you put it down, then put this down, too. It is just the same for the girls. The most of them are married to a family. They, too, take care of others."