“The low wages and long hours of the great majority of the women workers, the gradual breaking and loss of the normal health of many lives through undernourishment and physical strain, are, in my judgment, the most serious danger in the laundries. The loss of a finger, the maiming of a hand, even the mutilation of the poor girl who lost the use of both of her hands—the occasional casualties for a few girls in the laundries—are, though so much more salient, far less grave than the exhaustion and underpayment of the many.
“This, then, is the situation in general for women workers in the commercial laundries. With respect to sanitation, the heat is excessive wherever ironing is done by machinery. Many of the rooms are full of steam. Some of the laundries have insanitary toilet and cloak rooms. With respect to danger of injury, in a large proportion of places there is unguarded or inadequately guarded machinery. In respect to hours of labor, these often extend over the sixty-hour limit in rush seasons. The hours are not only long, but irregular. A twelve to fourteen-hour working-day is not infrequent. In a few places closing on Mondays and Saturdays, or open for short hours on Mondays, the working-day runs up on occasions to seventeen hours. Almost all the laundry work is done standing. Wages for the majority of the workers are low.”
The League’s conclusions in regard to legislation will be placed at the close of the following accounts of the laundries of the large New York hospitals and hotels, the first report being written by Miss Elizabeth Howard Westwood, the second report by Miss Mary Alden Hopkins.
“By a decision of the District Attorney, hotel and hospital laundries, provided they do no outside work, do not come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor. Women may work far beyond the sixty-hour limit on seven days of the week without any interference on the part of the government. Nor is there any authority that can force hospitals and hotel keepers to guard their machinery.
“While the hospitals did not, as a rule, exceed legal hours, were excellent as a rule in point of sanitation, and paid better wages than the commercial laundries to all but the more skilled workers, the machinery was adequately guarded in only one of the eight hospital laundries where I worked.
“In some, the belt that transfers the power was left unscreened, to the danger of passing workers. In others the mangle guard was insufficient. In all the hospitals I heard of casualties. Fingers had been mashed. A hand had been mashed. An arm had been dragged out. Unguarded machinery was, of course, a striking inconsistency, more inexcusable in the hospitals than in hotels or in commercial laundries. For hospitals are not engaged in a gainful pursuit, regardless of all humanitarian considerations. On the contrary, they are not only avowedly philanthropic in aim, but are carried on solely in the cause of health.