I walked out to supper with a girl named Kate, who had sprained her ankle a week ago. I said, “Hasn’t the doctor seen it?” She turned on me. “My God! when do I get time to see a doctor?” She has a bad humor on her face, which is scarlet, and sometimes, in the morning, covered with fine white scale. She obtains relief by wiping her cheeks with the damp napkins she shakes.
After supper I went up to the dormitory for a minute. Here I found a cousin of Theresa’s giving her some tea in bed, where I urged her to stay. The cousin shook her head. “Ah, na,” she said, “she must na’ give up; she’s new yet at the job—they wou’na like her to be sick.” Theresa arose and crawled back to the shaking-table, to work until seven o’clock.
Throughout the evening
I stood beside a girl, whose foot, when
she walked, hurt her “’way to the top of her head.” She said,
“I’ve been on it ever since half past seven.”
On my way back to the dormitory at half past eight, one of the girls told me how her arms ached and her legs ached. In the dormitory, the girl who had been in bed all day was sobbing and feverish. She had a sore throat, and was spitting blood. She had been lying there all day, with no care, except to have tea and toast brought to her by a maid.
In looking back on this
past week, it seems impossible it
could have been true. Watching these women has been like seeing
“Such a day of long hours as this generally follows some large festivity. The Hudson-Fulton celebration, or the automobile show, or a great charity ball, or the dinner of an excellent sociological society are the occasions of increased hotel entertainment and a lavish use of beautiful table linen, to be dried and mangled and folded next day by the laundry girls underground.
“All this pressure of extra work in the hotels here is produced, not by ill-willed persons who are consciously oppressive,—indeed, as will be seen, much of it was produced by sheer social good will and persons of most progessive intent,—but simply by the unregulated conditions of the laundries.”
Such, then, is the account of what women workers give and what they receive in their industry in the commercial, hotel, and hospital laundries of New York.
It cannot be said that the unfortunate features of the laundry conditions observed are due to the greed of employers. These features seem to be due rather to lack of system and regulation. Financial failures in the New York laundry business are frequent. Even in the short time elapsing between the Department of Labor’s inspection of laundry machinery, early in February, and a reinspection of the twenty-six establishments that had improperly guarded machinery, made in August by Miss Westwood, two out of these twenty-six firms had collapsed. Miss Westwood found some of the same unfortunate features that characterized commercial and hotel laundries in existence in hospital laundries, which are quite outside trade.