It is a popular belief, already referred to elsewhere, that the working-women form a large proportion of the numbers who fill houses of prostitution; and that “night-walkers” are made up chiefly from the same class. Nothing could be further from the truth,—the testimony of the fifteenth annual report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor being in the same line as that of all in which investigation of the subject has been made, and all confirming the opinion given. The investigation of the Massachusetts Bureau in fourteen cities showed clearly that a very small proportion among working-women entered this life. The largest number, classed by occupations, came from the lowest order of worker, those employed in housework and hotels; and the next largest was found among seamstresses, employees of shirt-factories, and cloak-makers, all of these industries in which under pay is proverbial. The great majority, receiving not more than five dollars a week, earn it by seldom less than ten hours a day of hard labor, and not only live on the sum, but assist friends, contribute to general household expenses, dress so as to appear fairly well, and have learned every art of doing without. More than this, since the deepening interest in their lives, and the formation of working-girls’ clubs and societies of many orders, they contribute from this scanty sum enough to rent meeting-rooms, pay for instruction in many classes, and provide a relief fund for sick and disabled members.
This is the summary of conditions as a whole, and we pass now to the specific evils and abuses in trades and general industries.
SPECIFIC EVILS AND ABUSES IN FACTORY LIFE AND IN GENERAL TRADES.
“Has civilization civilized?” is the involuntary question, as one by one the fearful conditions hedging about workers on either side of the sea become apparent. At once, in any specific investigation, we face abuses for which the system of production rather than the employer is often responsible, and for which science has as yet found either none or but a partial remedy. Alike in England and on the Continent work and torture become synonyms, and flesh and blood the cheapest of all nineteenth-century products. The best factory system swarms with problems yet unsolved; the worst, as it may be found in many a remote district of the Continent and even in England itself, is appalling in both daily fact and final result. It would seem at times as if the workshop meant only a form of preparation for the hospital, the workhouse, and the prison, since the workers therein become inoculated with trade diseases, mutilated by trade appliances, and corrupted by trade associates, till no healthy fibre, mental, moral, or physical, remains.