WHO BETRAYS HER?
AGAIN we reproduce in condensed form, an - article from _ Pearson’s Magazine, on a sex topic. It is a pertinent article—too pertinent, some
people may say. Look at the great stores, the great factories—yes and the little one? too—look at the horde of unskilled girl? they employ. Consider how much these employers pay these girls. Consider that these girls love fun and a good time just as any girl does, and then consider W WJ US '10 BLAME? "The procuress? The cadet? The man higher up? ' Ur is it the saintly head of the store—the man who leads in Laymen's Missionary Movements; who sends checks to Eoreign Missions; who astounds the nation with his gifts to organized charities?
The following condensation from Pearson’s Magazine is written from an American standpoint but the deductions apply to Canada. We don't say that this is the last word on the matter. We are open to conviction if the Canadian employer tells us that he is “the victim of the system” or if he has anything else to say. But if some employers would take more interest in their employees and less in foreign missions or the latest improvements in motor cars, their boast that “no girl receives less than $5 a week in my employ” might be turned into a shame. For what girl can live on $5 a week and live as nature makes her wish to live? Precious few.
This is the article:
When a girl goes to work in a department store she faces three obvious temptations.
1. The Procuress. This is an insidious evil, one most difficult for an unsophisticated girl to know until it is too late. One day one of her woman customers, handsomely dressed, expresses a warm interest in the young girl behind the counter. The girl, poor, struggling to make a neat and pretty appearance on wages which are not even sufficient to buy the necessities of life, is flattered and dazzled by the vista that opens before her. Her new-found friend asks her to call some Sunday or some evening, and she leaves an address that to the girl seems to be in a fashionable part of the city. If the girl calls, if she is weak, if her soft desires for ease and luxury for one moment get the upper hand, she is doomed. She joins the army of prostitution.
2. The Cadet. Or one day a young man speak_, to her. He is versed in superficial manners that her unformed taste pronounces grand. She flirts a little. He asks her to a dance, or he takes her out some evening to a moving-picture show.
Perhaps he promises marriage; perhaps lie uses one of the black arts of seduction ; perhaps neither is necessary. If she falls she becomes a member of the same army, under a different banner.
3. The Man Higher Up. Or soon she finds that all hard and disagreeable tasks are falling to her. She has more than her share of work; however well she may perform her extra duties she does not advance. Then one day the floor walker, or the chief clerk, or the department manager explains to her, perhaps bluntly, perhaps attractively, how she may advance, or how she “may make a little on the side.” She enrolls under another banner—but it is the same army.
Many, many of the girls never fall, never falter. They march on valiantly, true to themselves, shunning the pitfalls, scorning the temptations. Yet these temptations are always there, ever ready, ever insistent ; the procuress, the cadet and the man higher up.
And yet neither the procuress nor the cadet nor the man higher up represents the class to be considered in seeking an answer to that question, who betrays the working girl? They are but secondary manifestations of a great sore spot in our civilization. Let us probe the primary cause. Let us discover who is the original betrayer of the working girl.
The owner of a department store is never a man of moderate means. He is either a spectacular bankrupt or a millionaire. If a bankrupt, he either gets out of the business or else his bankruptcy is but a temporary and not disgraceful step im his rise to independent fortune. As a rule, he is a millionaire, and most often a multi-millionaire.
How does he acquire, in his own name, this enormous amount of money? By business acumen, by skillful manipulation of the buying and the selling markets, by shrewd location, judicious advertising, consistent policies, and by paying starvation wages to the great bulk of his employees.
On the credit side of his ledger, then, we have—acumen, perseverance, industry, executive skill. On the debit side— heartlessness.
A writer, contributing material for this article, stood in a room in Chicago with
an employer, looking on 600 girls at work.
“What do you pay these girls?” asked the writer, and added, sarcastically, “Five dollars a week?”
“No! No!” quickly responded the employer, resenting an implied affront. “Only a small number of these girls get as little as five dollars. The average wage of the 600 is seven dollars a week.”
He spoke proudly, as if to imply that he was no slave-driver, no unjust tyrant. He considered himself a very fair man, a generous employer. Yet the National Consumers’ League, after an exhaustive and accurate study of the question, has announced that it is impossible for a working girl in a city to live on less than eight dollars a week, if she supports herself, and has the necessities of life.
Now let us look at the employer’s side of the question for a moment. I have talked with many of them; I know their attitude, their “reasons” for this wage tyranny.
“That is all the girls are worth,” the employer says. “They are stupid, careless, ignorant. If they show unusual aptitude they may advance. I have women I pay as high as $5,000 a year. I have many that get from fifteen to thirty dollars a week, but the run of them are worth only what they get—a few dollars a week.”
“Very well,” I replied. “But suppose it were difficult to get girls to work in your store, suppose your competitors were bidding for their services, would that not raise the wages?”
He laughed. “The unskilled girl is a drug on the labor market. We can always get more than we can possibly use. The supply far exceeds the demand.”
“Then it is simply because you do not have to pay any more. Is that the reason of low wages?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you ever consider what a girl needs instead of what you can get her for?”
He looked at me blankly, almost as stupidly as one of his green girls looks at her -first customer. “No,” he snapped. “We pay the market price.” He added proudly, with the self-satisfaction of a
business man in good standing, “And we pay it.”
The law of supply and demand, then, rules the wages of working girls at the present time. The French have a more accurate term to express this economic law. Offer and demand, they say. That is surely what it is. The girls “offer,” humbly, beseechingly, trustingly, often thankfully. The employer “demands” rigorously, utterly.
“Why not make your profits a little less—they would still be generous—and give'the girls a little more?” I asked ar employer whose pay-roll concerns over 3,000 women every week.
He replied frankly and patiently: “The whole structure of our business world would be disrupted. I might pay a few cents more per week, but a few dollars more to each woman each week would eventually mean that the wages of every working woman in this town would rise, and that would lower our margin of surplus.”
“You mean your profits?”
“No, surplus. You must understand that every big business must have a pretty good-sized sinking fund, a reserve, a sort of sheet anchor. We must always be ready for emergencies—panics, suspended credit, bad business.”
“But your dividends are enormous.”
“Only a fair return on the capital invested.
I went no further on this line. I had no expectation of convincing that individual. I said nothing of watered stock. Especially did I say nothing of the sop that nearly every millionaire employer throws to his conscience, in the form of what he so proudly calls “charity.” Let us consider that here, not in an accusing frame of mind, but soberly, in an attempt to diagnose this disease before we name a remedy.
Take Marshall Field. He died “worth” a quarter of a billion. The credit side of his ledger was piled high with business virtues. He had out-generaled, outgamed every rival. He was a merchant prince of the first rank.
But the debit side of his ledger was pretty black. In his stores thousands of girls had met procuresses, cadets and
puny, impertinent, slimy “men higher up.” On his starvation wages thousands of girls had faced but two alternatives, a life of shame or a life of pitiful self-denial.
How did Marshall Field square things ✓ith himself? He threw a magnificent sop to his conscience—the Field Museum. He built a wonderful palace on the site of the world’s fair and stocked it with treasores of art and science, and “gave’’ it to the public. A generous man, a princely man, a public-spirited citizen 1
But I remember well a conversation I heard between two of Marshall Field’s employees the day that museum was opened. “Let us go out Sunday and see the old man’s hobby,” said one.
“I’ll never set foot in it,” said the other. “To call that the ‘Field Museum’ is an Insult to you and me. He picked our pockets so he could put his name on that stuff. And what do I want of it? If I ever entered that place I’d be blinded with the tears that would come when I thought of the theatres, the new ribbons, the actual bread and butter I had been compelled to give un so he could ‘donate’ that thing. I want the right to spend the money I make myself. It’s bad enough to have to live ten hours a day under Marshall Field’s rules. I want my nights and Sundavs to myself.”
The cost of the Field Museum and all his other charities did not amount to more than three or four per cent, of Marshall Field’s total income. Yet if he had abstained from “charity” and had indulged in the justice of paying just a little more to the girls in his stores, he might not have been known as such a princely giver.
There is the rub. Tbe millionaire employer is almost childishlv human. Justice is too subtle, too modest, too self-repressive a virtue for his pagan and barbaric mind to comprehend. “Charity” is to him the more attractive virtue.
There was once in San Francisco a merchant prince who also gave a museum to the city. He was not in his personal life as was Marshal Field, abstemious, self-denviner, absorbed in the mental problems of his vast affairs. Instead, he had the emotional nature of a Turk, the conscience of a Persian satrap, and the sexual instinct of Louis XVI.
This merchant was a bachelor, but he had eleven “homes” scattered judiciously in exclusive localities. These “homes” were peopled by concubines which he acquired from various sources, but the principal source was his own store. There he kept a man on the constant lookout for young, attractive girls, and, like Louis XVI, he wanted them “quite fresh.”
In this store a girl received from three to seven dollars a week, according to the length of her service. When the week’s work was done she could go on Sunday afternoon to Golden Gate Park and there be permitted, under the suspicous eyes of uniformed guards, to look for a brief time on the treasures amassed from scrimping her wages and the wages of the “likes of her.”
Or, she might be “fortunate” enough to be invited to one of the eleven “homes.” Then she could have a few treasures of art and dress every day in the week. But for her own normal, wholesome life, she had less than enough to supply the bare necessities. Such is the irony of a working girl’s life in a great city:
Or take the case of Nathan Straus, principal owner in two of the largest department stores in Greater New York. To the public at large Nathan Straus is known as a very public-spirited citizen, a generous man. . In fact, you find him listed in “Who’s Who” as a philanthropist.
For some years Nathan Straus has given annually about $100*000 for the pasteurization of milk for poor children. Recently the medical world has divided on the question of the Pasteurization of milk. It is now contended by many that pasteurization takes all the nourishment from milk, and that it is a useless thing to feed anybody. Babies are said not to grow strong on pasteurized milk.
However, Nathan Straus’s intention was to do some good to the poor. But he chose a spectacular way to do the “good.” columns and columns and columns of free advertising for Nathan Straus. Not long ago he announced that he would withdraw from the free milk depots. Then a group of prominent citizens appointed a committee to prevail upon him to stay in the “good” work.He “reluctantly” consented. More advertising. A banquet was
gotten up to applaud this great “philanthropist.” More advertising. So it goes.
Meanwhile the thousands of girls in Nathan Straus’s stores, whose wages are being each week mulcted to supply uncertain milk to the poor, toil on surrounded by the procuress, the cadet and the slimy little man higher up.
Why does not Nathan Straus do some justice and give less “charity?”
It is urged that all department-store owners, all employers of female labor, are not alike. Exceptions are mentioned. They are exceptions only in appearance.
For instance, a girl employed in a big New York store said to me, “I am very lucky to be .working for so-and-so. I was ill last winter for a month and I got my pay in full regularly all the time I was absent from duty.”
She was—and is—lucky. Not all employers are so fair. But if her wages had been right she could have taken care of herself when she was ill. Moreover, the rule under which she got her full pay concerned girls in that store who had been employed there at least two years. So it was a shrewd business move on the part of the employer. He wanted a tried and Droved girl back at work ; he wanted to keep other tried and proved employees loyal to him.
Then, there are stores now in every large city which supply grammar-school education for young cash girls while they are learning their business. They are paid very little—from two to three dollars a week—but then each day they are sent to a school in the store for three hours, A grammar-school education is considered essential for a department-store clerk. That is the reason for the apparent generosity.
There are stores that have reading rooms, resting rooms, medical attendance, even gymnasiums for their female employees. It is all a step forward, but always in the interests of “business,” that is, of improved efficiency..
These apparent generosities are always in the line of the exigent charities, always at the behest and under the regulation of the employer. The wages are not increased so the girls can afford to have those opportunities in their homes or in
any of the individual ways which induce self-respect, which build up character.
A census taken last year by the Woman’s Trade Union League, of Chicago, showed that from 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, of the women employed in the department stores on State Street were not receiving sufficient money to enable them to procure the necessities of life.
Miss Maud Miner, head of Waverly House, a New York home for women, is said to have declared that 16 per cent, of the girls who apply there for refuge, have entered a life of immorality in the greatest city in the country because of insufficient wages, which do not allow them to pav for food and lodging.
These are present day conditions. This is modern wage slavery, and the slaveholder is not any individual employer. It is the whole group of employers as a class. These employers, taking advantage of a condition of “offer and demand,” extract huge sums therefrom, and then, as a sop to conscience, throw back promiscuously and most often unwisely a tiny percentage to “charity.”
John B. Coleman, a special deputy attorney-general who investigated the milk trust last year, has this to say about these “philanthropists “A man who marks down the price of labor or marks up the price of a commodity and then contributes to some hospital, library or college or museum about one per cent, of the increase he realizes, is not a public-spirited citizen or a philanthropist. He is a thief that is restoring to the public one one-hundreth of the property he has stolen from them.”
What will we do about it?
So long as human nature is human nature it is not probable that men will dootherwise than make all the profits they can and then attempt to square themselves by donating to charity.
For centuries we have tried Christianitv. “Do onto others as ve would that others should do unto you.” With these eminent merchant princes Christianity has failed, although most of them are deacons and trustees in the church.
The trend of the times seems to be toward some sort of legislation that will institute a minimum wage law. We must approach this problem of a minimum wage law cautiously, and later consider the
objections to it; but as a proposition for the relief of the conditions outlined above, it seems the only solution.
Minimum wages! Suppose that we make it illegal for anyone to pay less than a certain amount for labor. Unconstitutional, say the judges. Illegal, say the lawyers.
But they are doing it in England, and the larger part of our jurisprudence comes from England. In London a year ago, in February, 1909, there was established the first minimum wage board. It is composed of selected committees of employers and employees who meet, confer and agree on rates of wages in all trades and employments that concern women and children. The English seem to think the men can take care of themselves. (Yet some of the women there want suffrage, which is another story.)
All the conferences are public. The information is furnished by the persons concerned—employers and employees—-and so must be trustworthy.
The results of this English scheme are yet to be known. Students of sociology throughout the world are eagerly awaiting a definite proof that the scheme is practicable ; or, if not, why not.
If such a law should be passed, and should survive the assaults that would surely be made upon it by the most skilful of attorneys, and should become a working efficacy with us, one of its first duties would be to answer a number of questions for which there is now no adequate or accurate answer.
For instance, what is the relation of wages to tuberculosis, melancholia and vice?^ How long is the trade life of women in the different industries, and how is this related to their wage and to the atre at which they enter the field of labor? How much may a girl legally spend on ribbons? Is recreation a necessity of life? Is sunlight a luxury?
White these questions go unanswered we provide reformatories for girls when we should be building penitentiaries for their employers. Some states already imprison the man who blights tbe life of one young girl. What should be done to an employer who, by overwork and under-
pay, blights the livéfc of hundreds and even thousands of young* girls?
Why not appoint a board which shall legally force employers to pay women a living wage, instead of striving to have the state appropriate money for a tuberculosis hospital to care for girls whose disease springs from a too meagre butcher’s bill, caused directly by a less than living wage?
Why should our “philthropists” build hospitals for the demented girls whose earliest symptom was a meek willingness to work for a telephone company every night in the year for six dollars a week"?
Why not check this “philanthropic” hysteria and circulate a little more beef juice in the home?
Why not pass a minimum wage law? There are two reasons.
First, it smacks of paternalism. It is a step toward socialism, under which benign rule the state, an unknown entity, becomes responsible for the individual. It is not all of socialism, but just a bite of it. As a remedy for our sociologie ills the minimum wage law might be compared to the morphia prescribed by a physician. It is a necessary remedy as the pain is desperate ; but its after effects will be depressing, and if the dose becomes too large, it may be fatal.
However, socialism or no socialism, the minimum wage law is bound to come if the “philanthropist” merchant princes do not do justice of their own accord (which is not likely), and if—
Second, the courts do not rule against it.
There is . an .old precedent in the law, coming from the days pf the earliest English common pleas riigirt down to date, which provides that in any and all circumstances every individual must have what is legally defined as “liberty of contract.”
That h^no one must be hindered, by legislation or otherwise, froin eôntracting to do anything he may please to do.Jpme and time again, generation after generation, the courts,¿have upheld the saicredness of that principle, “liberty of fcontract.”