WORK AND POVERTY
Those who criticized industrialization by linking it to the apparent rise in poverty faced deeply held views about the responsibility of society to assist the poor. Many of those ideas were articulated by Francis Wayland, a professor at Yale University who in 1837 published a widely read book, The Elements of Political Economy in 1837. Part of his book is excerpted below.
Although God has designed men to labor, yet he has not designed them to labor without reward... As it is unnatural to labor without receiving benefit from it, men will not labor continuously nor productively, unless they receive such benefit. And, hence, the greater this benefit, the more active and spontaneous will be their exertion.
In order that every man may enjoy, in the greatest degree, the advantages of his labor...that, he be allowed to gain all that he can; and, 2d. That having gained all that he can, he be allowed to use it as he will...
A man may possess himself, either dishonestly or by begging, of the property for which he has not labored. The dishonest acquisition of property, as by cheating, stealing, or robbery, will be prevented by the strict and impartial administration of just and equitable laws. Hence, we see that the benefit of such laws is two fold. They encourage industry, first, by securing to the industrious the righteous reward of their labor; and secondly, by inflicting upon the indolent the just punishment of their idleness...
...The support of the poor, simply because he is poor; and of provision to supply his wants, without requiring the previous exertion of his labor...we suppose to be injurious, for several reasons.
1. They are at variance with the fundamental law of government, that he who is able to labor, shall enjoy only that for which he has labored...
2. They remove from men the fear of want, one of the most natural and universal stimulants to labor. Hence, in just so far as this stimulus is removed, there will be in a given community less labor done; that is, less production created.
3. By teaching a man to depend upon others, rather than upon himself, they destroy the healthful feeling of independence... It is in evidence…that, after a family has once applied for assistance...it rarely ceases to apply regularly, and, most frequently, in progress of time, for a larger and larger measure of assistance.
4. Hence, such a system must tend greatly to increase the number of paupers. It is a discouragement to industry, and a bounty upon indolence...
5. They are, in principle, destructive to the right of property, because they must proceed upon the concession that the rich are under obligation to support the poor...
6. Hence, they tend to insubordination. For, if the rich are under obligation to support the poor, why not to support them better; nay, why not to support them as well as themselves, hence, the more provision there is of this kind, the greater will be the liability to collision between the two classes.
If this be so, we see, that in order to accomplish the designs of our Creator in this respect, and thus present the strongest inducement to industry,
1. Property should be universally appropriated, so that nothing is left in common.
2. The right of property should be perfectly protected, both against individual and social spoliation.
3. There should be no common funds for the support of those who are not willing to labor.
4. That if a man be reduced, by indolence or prodigality, to such extreme penury that he is in danger of perishing... that he be furnished with work, and be remunerated with the proceeds.
5. That those who are enabled only in part to earn their subsistence, be provided for, to the amount of that deficiency, only. And hence that all our provisions for the relief of the poor be so devised as not to interfere with this law of our nature.
By so directing our benevolent energies, the poor are better provided for; they are happier themselves; and a great and constantly increasing burden is removed from the community.
Source: Francis Wayland, The Elements of Political Economy (New York, 1837), 111, 134—127 reprinted in Richard W. Leopold, Arthur S. Link and Stanley Corbin, eds. Problems in American History (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966), p. 317-319.
HENRY WARD BEECHER: THE WORKER'S STANDARD OF LIVING
Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, minister of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, and one of the nation's most prominent religious leaders, discussed his views of the workingmen's plight during the national railroad strikes of 1877.
...It is true that $1 a day is not enough to support a man and five children, if the man insists on smoking and drinking beer. Is not a dollar a day enough to buy bread? Water costs nothing. Men cannot live by bread, it is true; but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.
When a man is educated away from the power of self denial, he is falsely educated. A family may live on good bread and water in the morning, water and bread at midday, and good water and bread at night. Such may be called the bread of affliction, but it is fit that man should eat the bread of affliction...
The great laws of political economy cannot be set at defiance.
Source: Howard Quint, Milton Cantor and Dean Albertson, Main Problems in American History, (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987) p. 51.
DOMESTIC SERVICE ONE WOMAN'S ACCOUNT
Although most 19th and early 20th Century women did not work outside the home, the vast majority who did were domestic servants maids, laundresses, cooks. In 1901 Inez A Godman, curious about the life and work of servants, left her middle class home to work as a maid. She was soon employed as a domestic servant for $2.75 a week doing general housework and cooking. In the passage below she outlines her duties during her first day as a maid.
I rose at six and served breakfast promptly at seven. By half past nine the downstairs work was finished.
"Thursdays you will clean the sitting room," said my lady, "but you must tidy your own room first. I wish you always to put your own room in order before noon." So I spent ten minutes in my room and two hours in the sitting room. I could not finish in less time... Five times during the two hours I was called off by the door bell and twice I went down to look after my bread.
I finished soon after twelve, and hurried down to prepare luncheon; this I served at one. I had been on my feet steadily for seven hours and they began to complain. I was thankful for a chance to sit, and dawdled over my lunch for half an hour. It was half past two, everything was in order and I was preparing to go to my room when my lady appeared saying that the kitchen floor ought to be wiped. She was right. The floor was covered with oilcloth and it was getting dingy. The kitchen was large, and it took me half an hour; then I went to my room. I was very tired. In my own housekeeping I had taken frequent opportunities for short rests, here the strain had been steady. I was too much heated to dare a bath, but I rocked and rested, did a little mending, and tidied myself up a bit. It was astonishing how soon four o'clock came. It did not seem possible that I had been upstairs forty minutes.
There was a roast for dinner and I hastened down to heat the oven. Then came three hard hours. Dinner was a complex meal, and coming at night when I was tired was always something of a worry. To have the different courses ready at just the right moment, to be sure that nothing burned or curdled while I was waiting on the table, to think quickly and act calmly; all this meant weariness, and by the time the dishes were washed up my whole being was in a state of rebellion. I had started upstairs with a pail of hot water for my tired feet when I remembered the ice water [for the mistress]. For a moment I hesitated. It meant another trip and had not been asked for. Nevertheless I took it up and my lady smiled again, but not surprisedly this time. I assured you that I did not dally an hour with my toilet but was in bed and heavily asleep in twenty minutes.
Source: David A. Katzman, Seven Days A Week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 32 33.
WOMEN'S WORK AND WORKING WOMEN, 1900
In the following account Jacob Riis, a pioneer in investigative journalism, describes working women in New York City in 1900.
Six months have not passed since at a great public meeting in this city, the Working Women’s Society reported: “It is a known fact that men’s wages cannot fall below a limit upon which they can exist, but woman’s wages have no limit, since the paths of shame are always open to her. It is simply impossible for any woman to live without assistance on the low salary a saleswoman earns, without depriving herself of real necessities... It is inevitable that they must in many instances resort to evil.” It was only a few brief weeks before that verdict was uttered, that the community was shocked by the story of a gentle and refined woman who, left in direst poverty to earn her own living alone among strangers, threw herself from her attic window, preferring death to dishonor. I would have done any honest work, even to scrubbing,” she wrote, drenched and starving, after a vain search for work in a driving storm. She had tramped the streets for weeks on her weary errand and the only living wages that were offered her were the wages of sin.
It is estimated that at least one hundred and fifty thousand women and girls earn their own living in New York; but there is reason to believe that this estimate falls far short of the truth when sufficient account is taken of the large number who are not wholly dependent upon their own labor, while contributing by it to the family’s earnings. These alone constitute a large class of the women wage-earners, and it is characteristic of the situation that the very fact that some need not starve on their wages condemns the rest to that fate. The pay they are willing to accept all have to take. What the “everlasting law of supply and demand,” that serves as such a convenient gag for public indignation, has to do with it, one learns from observation all along the road of inquiry into these real woman’s wrongs. To take the case of the saleswomen for illustration: The investigation of the Working Women’s Society disclosed the fact that wages averaging from $2 to $4.50 a week were reduced by excessive fines, “the employers placing a value upon time lost that is not given to services rendered.” A little girl, who received two dollars a week, made cash-sales amounting to $167 in a single day, while the receipts of a fifteen-dollar male clerk in the same department footed up only $125; yet for some trivial mistake the girl was fined sixty cents out of her two dollars. The practice prevailed in some stores of dividing the fines between the superintendent and the time-keeper at the end of the year. In one instance they amounted to $3,000, and “the superintendent was heard to charge the time-keeper with not being strict enough in his duties.” One of the causes for fine in a certain large store was sitting down. The law requiring seats for saleswomen, generally ignored, was obeyed faithfully in this establishment. The seats were there, but the girls were fined when found using them.
Source: Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives (1905) reprinted in Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, ed. America Firsthand. vol.2 (New York: 1989), p. 151-52.
CHILD LABOR IN 19TH CENTURY AMERICA
The passage below, a description of the workforce in a Massachusetts textile mill, is part of testimony by Otis Lynch, the mill owner, before a 1896 Congressional Committee on child labor.
Q. How much help do you employ?
A. We have, I think, 485 on our pay roll.
Q. How many of those are men?
A. I cannot answer that exactly; about one seventh.
Q. The rest are women and children, I suppose?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. How many of them would you class as women and how many as children?
A. I think about one third of the remainder would be children and two thirds women. That is about the proportion.
Q. What is the average wages that you pay?
A. Eighty two cents a day for the last six months, or in that neighborhood.
Q. What do the women make a day?
A. About $1
Q. And the men?
A. About $1 a day.
Q. What do the children make on an average?
A. About from 35 to 75 cents a day.
Q. You employ children of ten years and upward?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you employ any below the age of ten?
Q. Do you think it well that children between the ages of say ten and fourteen years should be required to work more than about half the time in a factory?
A. Well, I don't know that I can answer that question satisfactorily. I don't know whether they should be compelled to work at all in the factory unless the circumstances made it necessary.
Q. Do the children remain in the mill during the whole eleven hours as the older operatives do?
Q. How as to their chance of getting some education in your free schools?
A. Well, in individual cases they sometimes quit the mill and go to school some of them do.
Q. For how long periods?
A. Indefinite periods. Some of the parents take their children out when they feel that they can do without them for a while and send them to school, and afterwards when it becomes necessary they send them back to the mill again. There is no rule about it.
Q. But most of them remain in the mill one year after another, I suppose.
A. Oh, yes; but they change a good deal out and in.
Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand, Vol. II, (New
York, 1989), pp. 84 86.
AMERICAN URBANIZATION, 1860 1900
20 Largest Cities: 1880 20 Largest Cities: 1900
1. New York, N.Y. 1,164,673 1. New York, N.Y. 3,437,202
2. Philadelphia, PA 874,170 2. Chicago, IL 1,698,575
3. Brooklyn, N.Y. 599,495 3. Philadelphia, PA 1,293,697
4. Chicago, IL 503,185 4. St. Louis, MO 575,238
5. Boston, MA 362,839 5. Boston, MA 560,892
6. St. Louis, MO 350,518 6. Baltimore, MD 508,957
7. Baltimore, MD 332,313 7. Pittsburgh, PA 451,512
8. Cincinnati, OH 255,739 8. Cleveland, OH 381,768
9. Pittsburgh, PA 235,071 9. Buffalo, N.Y. 352,387
10. San Francisco, CA 233,959 10. San Francisco, CA 342,782
11. New Orleans, LA 216,090 11. Cincinnati, OH 325,902
12. Washington, D.C. 177,624 12. New Orleans, LA 287,104
13. Cleveland, OH 160,146 13. Detroit, MI 285,704
14. Buffalo, N.Y. 155,134 14. Milwaukee, WI 285,315
15. Newark, N.J. 136,508 15. Washington, D.C. 278,718
16. Louisville, KY 123,758 16. Newark, N.J. 246,070
17. Jersey City, N.J. 120,722 17. Jersey City, N.J. 206,433
18. Detroit, MI 116,340 18. Louisville, KY 204,731
19. Milwaukee, WI 115,587 19. Minneapolis, MN 202,718
20. Providence, R.I. 104,859 20. Providence, R.I. 175,597
A LETTER FROM ELLIS ISLAND
Today millions of Americans visit Ellis Island to commemorate and celebrate the arrival of their 19th and early 20th Century ancestors to the United States unaware, for the most part, of the suffering that many of the newcomers initially encountered upon arrival. This vignette, written by Russian immigrant and former Petersburg University student Alexander Rudnev, who was detained at Ellis Island on July 4, 1909, appeared originally in the Jewish Daily Forward.
We, the unfortunate who are imprisoned on Ellis Island, beg you to have pity on us and print our letter in your worthy newspaper, so that our brothers in America may know how we suffer.
The people here are from various countries, most of them are Russian Jews, many of who can never return to Russia. These Jews are deserters from the Russian army and political escapees, whom the Czar would like to have returned to Russia. Many of the families sold everything they owned to scrape together enough for passage to America. They haven't a cent but they figured that, with the help of their children, sisters, brothers and friends, they could find means of livelihood.
You know full well how much the Jewish immigrant suffers till he gets to America. First he has a hard enough time at the borders, then with the agents. After this he goes through a lot till they send him, life baggage, on the train to a port. There he lies around in the immigrant sheds till the ship finally leaves. Then follow the torment on the ship where every sailor considers a steerage passenger a dog. And when, with God's help, he has endured all this, and he is at last in America, he is give for 'dissert' an order that he must show that he possesses twenty-five dollars.
But where can we get it? Who ever heard of such an outrage, treating people so? If we had known before, we would have provided for it somehow back at home. What nonsense this is! We must have money on arrival, not a few hours later (when relatives come) it's too late. For this kind on nonsense they ruin so many people and send them back to the place they escaped from
It is impossible to describe all that is taking place here, but we want to convey at least a little of it. We are packed into a room where there is space for two hundred people, but they have crammed in about a thousand. The don't let us out into the yard for a little fresh air. We like about on the floor in the spittle and filth. We're wearing the same shirts for three or four weeks, because we don't have our baggage with us.
Everyone goes around dejected and cries and wails. Women with little babies, who have come to their husbands, and are being detained. Who can stand this suffering? Men are separated from their wives and children and only when they take us out to eat can they see them. When a man wants to ask his wife something, or when a father wants to see his child, they don't let him. Children get sick, they are taken to a hospital, and if often happens that they never come back.
Because today is a holiday, the Fourth of July, they didn't send anyone back. But Tuesday, the fifth, the begin again to lead us to the 'slaughter,' that is, to the boat. And God know how many Jewish lives this will cost, because more than one mind dwells on the though of jumping into the water when the take him to the boat.
All our hope is that you, Mr. Editor, will not refuse us, and print our letter which is signed by many immigrants. The women have not signed, because they don't let us get to them.
Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand: From Reconstruction to the Present Vol. 2 (New York, 1989) pp. 128-129.
FOREIGN BORN POPULATION OF THE U. S., 1870 1900
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN 1870 1880 1890 1900
Germany 1,690,500 1,966,700 2,784,900 2,663,400
Ireland 1,855,800 1,854,600 1,871,500 1,615,500
Eastern Europe 93,900 221,000 635,700 1,473,200
Scandinavia 498,400 723,000 1,257,800 1,419,600
Canada 493,500 717,200 980,900 1,179,900
Great Britain (excluding Ireland) 770,200 917,600 1,251,400 1,167,600
Southern Europe 25,900 58,300 206,600 530,000
Mexico & Latin America 57,900 89,500 107,300 137,500
Other Foreign Born 81,000 132,200 153,300 154,400
Total Foreign Born 5,667,200 6,679,900 9,249,600 10,341,300
Foreign Born as a
Percentage of the
Total Population 14% 13% 15% 18% __________________________________________________________________
FOREIGN BORN IN THE TWENTY LARGEST CITIES, 1900
City Population % Foreign Largest Nationalities
1. New York, N.Y. 3,437,202 37% Germans, Irish
2. Chicago, IL. 1,698,575 35 Germans, Irish
3. Philadelphia, PA. 1,293,697 23 Irish, Germans
4. St. Louis, MO. 575,238 19 Germans, Irish
5. Boston, MA. 560,892 35 Irish, Canadians
6. Baltimore, MD. 508,957 14 Germans, Russians
7. Pittsburgh, PA. 451,512 26 Germans, Irish
8. Cleveland, OH. 381,768 33 Germans, Irish
9. Buffalo, N.Y. 352,387 30 Germans, Poles
10. San Francisco, CA. 342,782 34 Germans, Irish
11. Cincinnati, OH. 325,902 18 Germans, Irish
12. New Orleans, LA. 287,104 11 Germans, Italians
13. Detroit, MI. 285,704 35 Germans, Irish
14. Milwaukee, WI. 285,315 31 Germans, Poles
15. Washington, D.C. 278,718 6 Germans, Irish
16. Newark, N.J. 246,070 29 Germans, Irish
17. Jersey City, N.J. 206,433 31 Germans, Irish
18. Louisville, KY. 204,731 8 Germans, Irish
19. Minneapolis, MN. 202,718 30 Swedes, Norwegians
20. Providence, R.I. 175,597 32 Irish, English
TWO VIEWS OF URBAN AMERICA
The two passages below provide a glimpse into urban life in the post Civil War era. The first is an account of the rapidly growing industrial city of Pittsburgh in January 1868 by James Barton, a reporter for the Atlantic Monthly. The second passage is from a Senate Committee investigation of living conditions on Baxter Street, a slum area in New York City in 1883.
Barton: There is one evening scene in Pittsburgh which no visitor should miss. Owing to the abruptness of the hill behind the town, there is a street along the edge of a bluff, from which you can look directly down upon all that part of the city which lies low, near the level of the rivers. On the evening of this dark day, we were conducted to the edge of the abyss, and looked over the iron railing upon the most striking spectacle we ever beheld. The entire space lying between the hills was filled with blackest smoke, from out of which the hidden chimneys sent forth tongues of flame, while from the depths of the abyss came up the noise of hundreds of steam hammers. There would be moments when no flames were visible; but soon the wind would force the smoky curtains aside, and the whole black expanse would be dimly lighted with dull wreaths of fire. It is an unprofitable business, view hunting; but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburgh, and looking over into hell with the lid taken off.
Committee: In Baxter Street in one room there are eight families, composed altogether of forty two people, and three quarters of them are so destitute of clothing that they cannot go into the street even to beg...
Q. Where is this room; is it above ground or under ground?
A. Well, it is a basement, a half cellar, and, when the tide comes in the water is eight inches deep on the floor; they have to put scantlings and slabs across to put their clothes on. One small stove is all that can be found in that enormous room to warm a whole crowd of people in the cold weather...
Q. Do you say that there are eight families in one room?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What is the size of the room?
A. It is a large room a whole basement. It is, perhaps, longer but not as wide as this room it extends back...
Q. Do you know how the people who live here employ themselves?
A. I think they are rag pickers, mainly. I say that the houses for the poor in this city are too dark, too damp, too much crowded, too poorly ventilated, and have altogether insufficient water, and hence are too vile to live in. I refer to the tenements for the masses. Who it is who owns these houses I do not know. I have been told that some of these tenements places of the lowest order are owned by people like the Astors. How they can ride in their carriages, and dress in silk and velvets, or sleep peacefully at night while they permit their tenants to have such dwellings, I cannot understand.
Source: James Barton, "Pittsburgh," The Atlantic Monthly, January 1868; Report of the Committee of the Senate on the Relations between Labor and Capital, 1885.