PERHAPS the most popular phase of philanthropic endeavor at the present time is that which deals with the improvement of industrial conditions for women. That their lot is unduly hard is evidenced by the facts of the case. Women have always worked and are therefore no innovation in industrial life; yet the spectacle of their toiling in ever increasing thousands in this country has stirred alike alarmists and reformers, and they have given publicity to hardships always endured by the workers, but hitherto undreamed of by the more favored members of society. Eight millions of women are now engaged in gainful occupations and the great majority of them are under twenty-four years of age.
The youthfulness of so large a number of women makes its own appeal for sympathy, even though it is not powerful to bring about more equitable arrangements in industry. Society, it would seem, is usually lavish with sympathy, but niggardly with justice. But of late we have become obsessed with the idea of meting out justice to the unborn. The inevitable outcome of this, of course, must be fair treatment to the potential mothers. In so far as it results in sane activity in their behalf well and good. Four millions of the eight classed as women in gainful occupations are industrial wage earners, a group sufficiently large to leave its impress on the health and morals of the future.
It can not be denied that modern methods of industry tend to push oppressively hard upon unskilled young women, who have neither ability nor training to enable them to engage in interesting tasks. They are often forced into the most monotonous kinds of labor, where they are poorly paid and obliged to work at nerve-destroying speed. A dawning interest in public health has focused attention upon the physical effects of such toil, and it has also, coupled with certain moral conditions, led to the important investigations into industrial conditions for women that have been carried on during the past few years. People who, a decade or two ago, neither knew nor cared how or where their clothes or food were made, or by whom, now exhibit a lively interest in these matters. It is an awakening of social conscience that omens well for the worker. But even an awakened community works slowly in the matter of reforms. It takes a long time to enact and enforce desirable legislation. In the interim something must be done. Much in fact has