“Naturally, the first question which faced me was that of finding a job. For this I turned to the laundry want ‘ads’ in the newspapers. To my surprise, as my investigation was made in the summer, which is, curiously enough, by far the slackest season in New York commercial laundries, I was never without work for more than a day at a time, although I changed continually, for the sake of experience, averaging about a week in a place.
“The first establishment to which I went was known as a model laundry. It was large and well ventilated and had a dry floor. These sanitary conditions may be said to be fairly typical. In only one laundry did I find a girl who was compelled to stand in a wet place, though water overflowed sometimes into the girls’ quarters from the wash-rooms, where the men worked. In some of these wash-rooms the water is at times ankle-deep, a condition due only to bad drainage, as other wash-rooms are absolutely dry. Whatever the condition of the work-rooms, the women’s dressing-rooms frequently had insanitary plumbing, and were verminous and unhealthful. In one laundry the water supply was contaminated, smelling and tasting offensively when it came from the faucet, and worse after it had passed through the cooler. The women here at first kept bottles of soda-water. Some old women had beer. But on a series of hot days, with hours from half past seven to twelve, and from one till any time up to ten at night, 10 cents’ worth of beer or soda-water a day did not go far to alleviate thirst, and soon drank a big hole in a wage of $5 a week. A complaint was sent to the Board of Health. After nearly three weeks, the Board of Health replied that the complaint must be sent to the Water Department. From the Water Department no reply could possibly come for several weeks more. And in the meantime, all the women workers in the laundry, impelled by intolerable thirst, drank the contaminated water.
“The work-room where I was employed had, on the whole, plenty of windows. These were left open. But when a room is large and full of machinery, artificial light is needed all day, and the outside air does not come in very far to drive away the heat and the dampness. On going out at noon from a laundry where I had dipped shirts in hot starch all the morning at a breakneck pace, I was struck by the coolness of the day. That night I discovered that the thermometer had been registering 96 deg. in the shade. A few fans should be put in each laundry. They could be run by the power that runs the machines.
“In the ‘model laundry,’ I worked at first at a mangle, running spreads and sheets and towels between two revolving cylinders. Here I found there was danger of slipping my fingers too far under the cylinders in the process of feeding. The mangle had a guard, to be sure,—a flexible metal bar about three-quarters of an inch above the feeding-apron in front of the cylinder. But I learned that this acted as a warning rather than a protection. ‘Once you get your fingers in, you never get them out,’ Jenny, the Italian girl beside me, said repeatedly. The Italian girls Anglicized their names, and Jenny had probably been Giovanna at home.