Some of the worst villains of the city are the employers of these women. They beat them down to the last penny, and try to cheat them out of that. The woman must deposit a dollar or two before she gets the garments to work on. When the work is done it is sharply inspected, the most insignificant flaws picked out, and the wages refused, and sometimes the dollar deposited not given back. The Women’s Protective Union reports a case where one of these poor souls, finding a place where she could get more wages, resolved to change employers, and went to get her pay for work done. The employer says: “I hear you are going to leave me?”—“Yes,” she said, “and I have come to get what you owe me.” He made no answer. She said: “Are you not going to pay me?”—“Yes,” he said, “I will pay you;” and he kicked her down the stairs.
How are these evils to be eradicated? What have you to answer, you who sell coats, and have shoes made, and contract for the Southern and Western markets? What help is there, what panacea, what redemption? Some say: “Give women the ballot.” What effect such ballot might have on other questions I am not here to discuss; but what would be the effect of female suffrage upon woman’s wages? I do not believe that woman will ever get justice by woman’s ballot.
Indeed, women oppress women as much as men do. Do not women, as much as men, beat down to the lowest figure the woman who sews for them? Are not women as sharp as men on washerwomen, and milliners, and mantua-makers? If a woman asks a dollar for her work, does not her female employer ask her if she will not take ninety cents? You say “only ten cents difference;” but that is sometimes the difference between heaven and hell. Women often have less commiseration for women than men. If a woman steps aside from the path of virtue, man may forgive,—woman never! Woman will never get justice done her from woman’s ballot.
Neither will she get it from man’s ballot. How, then? God will rise up for her. God has more resources than we know of. The flaming sword that hung at Eden’s gate when woman was driven out will cleave with its terrible edge her oppressors.
But there is something for our women to do. Let our young people prepare to excel in spheres of work, and they will be able, after a while, to get larger wages. If it be shown that a woman can, in a store, sell more goods in a year than a man, she will soon be able not only to ask but to demand more wages, and to demand them successfully. Unskilled and incompetent labor must take what is given; skilled and competent labor will eventually make its own standard. Admitting that the law of supply and demand regulates these things, I contend that the demand for skilled labor is very great, and the supply very small.
Start with the idea that work is honorable, and that you can do some one thing better than any one else. Resolve that, God helping, you will take care of yourself. If you are, after a while, called into another relation, you will all the better be qualified for it by your spirit of self-reliance; or if you are called to stay as you are, you can be happy and self-supporting.