Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/690

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aided, handicapped, and sometimes intimidated by unprogressive employers. When measures come before our Legislatures to better the conditions under which females toil in shops and mills, and to raise the age limit after which the child may be condemned to labor, women, with noble exceptions like Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, are conspicuously absent, while even many clergymen enroll themselves on the side of laissez faire. True, our sex is conservative, frightened by prophecies of socialist rule? inclined to regard factory legislation as anarchistic instead of remedial and preventive. Another feminine inconsistency is that women busy themselves and beset the Solons about paupers and the degraded, about institutions and charities, though refusing to lift a hand or lend their indorsement to obtain protective legislation for respectable, self-sustaining working women and helpless children, who from dependence for employment on the favor of merchants and manufacturers are unable to speak in their own behalf. Yet these patient wage-earners, if properly safe-guarded from insanitary surroundings, dangerous and poisonous pursuits, long hours, and excessive strain while at work, would so seldom be found in hospitals, institutions, poorhouses, and prisons that the occupation of the board of lady managers would be gone.

Throughout the Union child labor is surely diminishing, as a result of growing public disapproval and of factory laws in half the States; but in large cities and in States that have inadequate factory inspection—practically all except Massachusetts—and no age limit for employment, the mill child and the "cash" child alike are victims of the same evils—low vitality, premature breakdown, dense ignorance, transient employment from shop to shop, and unthrifty habits. Some callings are positively fatal to children; other vocations cause them to be stunted, crooked, or atrophied—a race apart, haggard, wizened, old. The ignorance of working children is often appalling. They do not know their age or birthplace, or the name of the country they live in. They can read and write no language. To say that these little toilers are learning trades is the cruelest falsehood. Whether engaged only in what seem easy and harmless pursuits, standing in stores till eleven o'clock at night in holiday season, in a candy factory one week, in a box shop the next; whether trotting after the mule spinners thirty miles a day, or running forty miles a day fetching and carrying for the glass-blowers; whether tending cutting presses that chop off their fingers, or gilding frames whose metal poison paralyzes their hands, or roasting slowly before cracker ovens, the working children under fourteen years old are nearly everywhere the same—dwarfed, physically defective, mentally benighted, demoralized, unstable, migratory. "Little wonder," says Mrs. Stevens, Assistant Factory Inspector of Illinois,