Page:American Journal of Sociology Volume 4.djvu/756
736 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY
to five dollars a week was the average. The commission given was only temporary, and designed to give an extra impetus to the sale of the holiday goods. One girl who had worked there for seven years told me that she had never received more than five dollars a week ; and she had to keep up a respectable appearance. It was an openly acknowledged fact among the girls there that the paths of dishonor were traversed to supple- ment their small incomes. Some of them did not hesitate to advise newcomers of this lucrative employment. They viewed the matter solely from a commercial standpoint, and justified their conduct by the urgency of the need. The girls themselves said that more than a third of them were leading lives of shame. It was common to hear such expressions as this uttered in agonized seriousness : "If I don't get more wages I'll have to go bad. But I'd hate to disgrace my family." Lecherous men were always around ready to offer aid. They came, professedly, to buy, but it was not the wares of the store they wanted. The young and pretty girls yielded most easily. They would weep, sometimes, and say : "Good people look down on us. But they don't know — they don't know. We have to earn our living."
Surely any effort which is being made to bring the saleswo- man's wages up to a point where she can live without the wages of sin is worthy of the most respectful consideration. Whatever is done in this direction is manifestly a social good. And, moreover, the best interests of society demand that thinking people should consider this matter seriously. All the hardships of the shop girl's life fade into insignificance before this grave danger she has to face. Adequate support is the first necessity. Improved sanitary conditions and opportunity for rest may well take a second place. They can be secured by legislation; the other must come from united action on the part of the buyers, and the organization of the saleswomen themselves. The trades- union spirit should be fostered, and the working-women taught the power of united effort.
Many merchants in this city do give living wages, but there are others who do not. I know from actual experience, and I know from reliable testimony.