The idea of establishing summer camps for schoolchildren may not have originated in the United States—it was certainly put into operation in Switzerland and France several years ago; but the most characteristic and highly organised institution of the kind is the George Junior Republic at Freeville, near Ithaca, in the State of New York, and some account of this attempt to recognise the “rights of children,” and develop the political capacity of boys and girls, may form an appropriate ending to this chapter. The republic was established by Mr. William R. George, in 1895. It occupies a large tent and several wooden buildings on a farm forty-eight acres in extent. In summer it accommodates about two hundred boys and girls between the ages of twelve and seventeen; and about forty of these remain in residence throughout the year. The republic is self-governing, and its economic basis is one of honest industry. Every citizen has to earn his living, and his work is paid for with the tin currency of the republic. Half of the day is devoted to work, the other half to recreation. The boys are employed in farming and carpentry; the girls sew, cook, and so on. The rates of wages vary from 50 cents to 90 cents a day according to the grade of work. Ordinary meals cost about 10 cents, and a night’s lodging the same; but those who have the means and the inclination may have more sumptuous meals for 25 cents, or board at the “Waldorf” for about $4 (16s.) a week. As the regular work offered to all is paid for at rates amply sufficient to cover the expenses of board and lodging, the idle and improvident have either to go without or make up for their neglect by overtime work. Those who save money receive its full value on leaving the republic, in clothes and provisions to take back to their homes in the slums of New York. Some boys have been known to save $50 (L10) in the two months of summer work. The republic has its own legislature, court-house, jail, schools, and the like. The legislature has two branches. The members of the lower house are elected by ballot weekly, those of the senate fortnightly. Each grade of labour elects one member and one senator for every twelve constituents. Offences against the laws of the republic are stringently dealt with, and the jail, with its bread-and-water diet, is a by no means pleasant experience. The police force consists of thirteen boys and two girls; the office of “cop,” with its wages of 90 cents a day, is eagerly coveted, but cannot be obtained without the passing of a stiff civil service examination.
So far this interesting experiment is said by good authorities to have worked well. It is not a socialistic or Utopian scheme, but frankly accepts existing conditions and tries to make the best of them. It is not by any means merely “playing at house.” The children have to do genuine work, and learn habits of real industry, thrift, self-restraint, and independence. The measures discussed by the legislature are not of the debating society order, but actually affect the personal welfare of the two hundred citizens. It has, for example, been found necessary to impose a duty of twenty-five per cent. “on all stuff brought in to be sold,” so as to protect the native farmer. Female suffrage has been tried, but did not work well, and was discarded, largely through the votes of the girls themselves.